When you hear the word “networking” what comes to mind?
Do you picture awkward meet-ups where everyone is passing out business cards?
What about sending manipulative, transactional messages to complete strangers online?
In my experience coaching people towards career acceleration, networking is almost a four-letter word.
Some look at leveraging relationships to get ahead as cheating. Or as somehow not “earning” your raises, promotions, or new job opportunities.
As usual, my intent is not to change anyone’s mind. You are free to walk away from this post seeing networking the same way that you do now.
I will not try to take your opinion away –– rather, I simply want to offer what my own experience has been, as something to consider.
First things first, this number speaks volumes:
24 of my 29 jobs came from some kind of connection.
Without those personal ties, I would never have been considered.
Bear in mind that these personal connections and referrals did not instantly get me hired.
In almost all cases –– even when someone put me into contention for a job –– I still had to interview and win people over myself.
When I got hired at Google I literally had to interview eleven times even though the guy who referred me was super well liked at the company.
My network opened doors, but I still had to walk through those doors and give a solid showing.
Not only that, none of these relationships came about in a sleazy or unnatural fashion.
Just the opposite –– like I talked about in What Does It Really Mean To Accelerate Your Career, I took advantage of the fact that I worked in cross-functional roles, and built real relationships with people throughout the companies where I worked.
“Okay, that’s cool, but what if I don’t work in a job like that?”
“How can I authentically create relationships from where I am right now?”
Well, there’s a whole process that I guide people through for building fresh connections in your network.
Today, though, I want to focus on tapping into the connections that are already close at hand.
Chances are, even if you don’t work in a cross-functional role at a Big Tech company, you HAVE a network already.
When I welcome a new client into our kCAP program, one of the first things we often do together is strategize on how to activate the network they don’t realize they have.
What do I mean by “the network they
don’t realize they have?”
- Past bosses
- Past co-workers
- Friends and family
- University professors and alumni
- Third-degree connections (i.e. people who the folks above know)
(Here’s an excellent New York Times article by Adam on the power of re-kindling dormant ties.)
No, not all of these people will be useful connections for a given target role, but you would be surprised how often a difference-making contact is sitting right under your nose.
The person who referred me to Google was on my college buddy’s temple softball team.
Once you get clear on your target roles and companies, you can systematically evaluate your current contacts, and decide how to reach out to them in an advantageous way.
The key is to use finesse and a light touch rather than force and a spaghetti-against-the-wall strategy.
In other words: you don’t want to bulk email all these people on one thread asking “do any of you know someone at Google.”
Instead, you might make a list of 15 or 20 people initially, then send each of them a thoughtful email with a light ask.
For instance, let’s say you’re a Customer Success Manager who wants to get into product management.
You then remember that your boss from your last company has a product background.
You could email that old boss and say:
“Hi John, it’s been a while. I still think of the projects our team worked on whenever I read an article about [TOPIC HERE]. Hope you’re doing great. I’m actually looking at pivoting into product management, and was curious if I could pick your brain about the space. Would you be open to chatting sometime in the coming weeks?”
Now, maybe your ex-boss is open to that and maybe they aren’t –– you can’t control how any one person responds.
What you can control is whether you make the attempt to activate your network, by reaching out to as many people you know who might be able to help as possible.
This is why, in kCAP, one of the weekly actions I hold clients accountable to is reaching out to (at least) 30 people per week at your target companies.
What you find, as you do this, is that networking quickly becomes a numbers game, and you eventually have 2 or 3 conversations that catapult you towards your career acceleration target.
In fact, sometimes, the conversations you have can even change your target altogether.
You might start out thinking you want one kind of a job, only to discover that, actually, you’re not cut out for it, and the right role is something else entirely.