Why we hate networking for jobs: confessions of a networking convert

Call centre

This is a guest post form one my favorite authors, Rebecca Farser-Thill. I decided to host it because it speaks not only to college students, to whom she gives a kick in the ass, it also speaks to jobseekers of all ages. I’m also hosting it because it’s one article that made my morning coffee go cold–a great sign of compelling writing.

Networking for jobs. When I mention the phrase to my Bates students, their noses wrinkle, their lips grow taut, and the tip of a tongue sometimes protrudes ever so slightly from their mouths. Disgust. That’s what they’re demonstrating. Pure disgust.
Ooo, there’s a balloon at the call center! That makes this job much more appealing. (Photo credit: Walt Jabsco)

I get it. I used to be an active member of United Anti-Networking Individualists. It’s a faith that effectively thwarts the creation of a fulfilling career, given that over 80% of jobs are unadvertised. My fellow worshipers and I were left with the plum jobs that everyone knows about, like these from a recent Monster search: Call Center Manager (the only thing worse than having people hang up on you is managing the people who get hung up on); Product Support Supervisor (you get to field calls from people who want to return faulty items; they should be fun to talk with); and Data Entry Clerk (entering client bills all day, every day – be sure to sign up for glasses and carpal tunnel surgery in advance!)

The thing is, I joined the dark side. I now – gasp – proselytize for job networking.

Yes, it’s true. As part of my mission, I offer you the top reasons we hate networking for jobs. And why we’re completely wrong. Based on psychological science, no less.

1. I Don’t Want to Bug People

Leave The Kids At Home And Turn Off The Damn P...Think people will react like this when you contact them? (Photo credit: Cayusa)

Let’s pause for a second and consider what happens when you contact someone with a networking request. You’re essentially saying to that person, hey, you’re in a great position in life and I’d like to emulate you, or at least get closer to emulating you, and I was wondering if I might ask you to talk about yourself for fifteen minutes or so, and share some of the awesome contacts that I’m envious you have made? Ah, yes, I see why this is “bugging people.” Not!

Number one:  People love to talk about themselves. That’s the cardinal rule of human psychology.

Number two: People love to be praised and to feel like they’re doing well on the social hierarchy. The second rule of human psychology.

So, “bugging people”? Uh, not so much.

2. I Want To Be Self-Sufficient

Ah, yes. The Western ideal run amock. I can do it myself! That’s what you think, right? Then why do humans fall apart when they’re socially excluded, suffering from depression and sometimes resorting to extreme aggression? Psychologists Baumeister and Leary claim that our “need to belong” drives much human behavior. In other words, we need one another to survive, both physically and psychologically. You’re going against your basic nature if you assert otherwise. When you’re in need (and when you’re out of work, you are in need) that’s the time to go with your evolutionary instincts, not fight against them. 

3. I Have the Wrong Personality For Networking

OK, you’re onto something here. Psychologists Wolff and Kim found that people who are extraverted and high in openness to experience are more likely to network for jobs than people with introverted, closed personalities. That said, personality does not dictate all of our behavior. We may have to go “against type” in order to network, but we’re required to go against type everyday for a variety of reasons.

I mean, for a true introvert, holding a spontaneous conversation can be excruciating. But introverts manage to do this all the time (thankfully). You’re not being asked to change who you are in order to begin networking for jobs; just to channel a different way of relating to the world. And only for a short while. Besides, if you are an introvert looking for a career, you’re probably drawn to career paths that other introverts love. Meaning you get to network with other introverts. That’s hella comforting (speaking from my introverted self).

4. I Don’t Have a Network

Isolated House - CasolareYou live here? (Photo credit: Aesum)

Oh wow, you’re a hermetic isolate who lives in a cave? I always wanted to meet someone like you (it’s very hard to do, seeing as how people like you never emerge from your dwellings). What, you’re not? You actually live in the real world? Then, hate to break it to you, you have a network. A network isn’t some fancy-schmancy secret club of Ivy League graduates who sit around drinking scotch while their chauffeurs polish the Mercedes. A network is just people. Plain ol’ people. If you ever talk to anybody, then you have a network. Period.

But wait, I feel my psychic skills abuzzing; your rebuttal is ringing in my ears:

5. No One In My Network Knows Anything About My Field

This may be true. Maybe your network is full of people with careers you detest, or with backgrounds you’d rather not admit. But who’s in their network? And in those people’s networks?

Here’s a tale from my anti-networking days:  I attended a career seminar at Cornell, back when I was plotting my great escape from grad school. To prove the power of networking, the career counselor made us each pair up with a random person in the room and see if we couldn’t comb their network for someone related to what we wanted to do (and they ours). My partner got an immediate bingo from me; my dad worked in his prospective field. I, on the other hand, came up with peanuts from him. Peanuts.

There, I thought, proof that networking is a joke.

Flickr friendsNone of your friends knows anything useful? Bummer… (Photo credit: Meer)

The counselor then went around the room, making everyone announce the connections they’d made. And they all had made connections. Except for me. (LOSER!)

When I professed my failure, the counselor kept hounding my partner and I, refusing to let the subject drop. You really have nothing to offer her? You can’t get anything from him?Nope, we said, nothing.

As the seminar concluded, I went over to my partner and offered my email address, so that he could get in touch with my dad. As I handed it to him, I noticed a word on his Izod shirt (this clothing choice alone offers insight into why we had nothing in common). “Falmouth,” I said, reading the word on his shirt. “As in Maine?”

“My Grandma lives there. Has her whole life.”

“That’s where I’m planning to move in a few months. To Falmouth, or nearby. And I don’t know a single soul there.”

The career counselor leaped over, like a possessed little jackal. “A-ha! I told you! Networking works!”

I glared at her, desperate to cling to my ideology. But as I talked to the grandma on the phone the next day, getting tips on where to live and where not to; the local publications in which to search for jobs; and the contact info of her niece who worked in social services, I couldn’t help but question my anti-networking faith. Could networking be this powerful? And this easy? But still:

6. I Hate Using People

Here’s the biggie, especially for you Millennials. Although you’ve come of age in the era of social networking, you’re loathe to “use” those networks for personal gain. They’re about self-expression and connection, right? Not about the trading of favors.

First, re-read Point #1 above.

Then stop and consider how you feel when you have a service you can offer to someone else. In the case of networking for jobs, it may be information about a certain career path, a connection to someone at your company, or the link to a friend or relative working in a particular industry. We humans are altruistic beings at heart, so when we give, we experience enhanced psychological well-being and decreased feelings of stress. We also earn social support from our actions.

As writer Elizabeth Scott says, “When people make altruistic personal sacrifices, they end up reaping what they sow in the form of favors from others. These individuals earn the reputation as altruistic people and end up receiving favors from others who they may not have even directly helped.”

So, in essence, when you’re asking others to help you, you’re giving them the opportunity to experience more well-being, less stress, and the likelihood of returned favors in their future. Oh yes, this sounds like “using” somebody alright. Whatever you say.

Final Thoughts

Chances are I haven’t made you a convert to networking for jobs just yet. It takes time. I know. But when you decide you’re ready to fail Career Avoidance 101, a great start is to accept networking into your life.

I’m not only a Nutty for Networking  member. I’m its President.

So what did I miss? What deters you from networking for jobs?

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12 thoughts on “Why we hate networking for jobs: confessions of a networking convert

  1. Randy Burbach

    I have networked. Constantly. for a year and a half. It’s a CROCK. unless you are lucky enough to know just the right people, or to meet just the right people, networking is a bunch of BS.

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  2. Shannon Mitchell

    Then explain the 90% failure rate.

    And no, some people do NOT like to talk about themselves. In fact, my #1 opposition to networking comes from putting myself in the other guy’s shoes. If some stranger came up to me and started blabbing about themselves, yeah, I’d be annoyed. I’d think that person was a whiny ass-kisser looking to use me as a stepping stone.

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    1. Things Career Related Post author

      Shannon, a little bit out of place. You make a good point that some/most people have a difficult time talking about themselves. But if done properly, not being a “whiny ass-kisser,” networking can be effective. Where you come up with the 90% failure rate is beyond me. Do you have the source? Is it you, or people you know? Are you talking about networking events, which I don’t put a lot of stock in?

      Randy, networking is about getting to know the right people. How you’ve been networking may be the reason for your disenchantment with it. Think about your approach. I personally hate the salesperson approach. As an introvert, I prefer listening first and then talking about myself in a natural way, not delivering my 30 second commercial. I don’t think that works.

      Networking isn’t only about what happens before you send your resume to an employer. It includes the connections you have at companies/organizations, or using LinkedIn to investigate who you’ll interview with, or letting those you know about an opportunity that might not be right for you.

      A story about a customer of mine who landed a job. He told me he didn’t network to get the job. No, he handed his resume to someone who handed it to the hiring manager who eventually hired him. I didn’t want to bust his bubble, but he had in fact networked.

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      1. Shannon

        Well, that number is just an educated guess on my part, calculated by the number of people who I’ve heard have stated that it doesn’t work. But still it is a number, which is more than any networking proponent has ever provided. So what about you? Surely you have some numbers. All you’ve provided is “anecdotal evidence” which is no evidence at all. “My grandma smoked till she was 93” “I rolled my SUV while I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt and walked away without a scratch. That sort of thing.

        And the excuse you gave Randy is pretty typical of most networking proponents. Networking doesn’t work? “Then you’re not doing it right”. So try one of these 1,678 alternate methods. Or “you’re not doing it enough”. You shouldn’t be going to the bathroom without handing business cards along the way. Then there’s “networking isn’t about finding a job, it’s about building relationships”. Oh, I’m sorry, I seem to have walked into a marriage counsellor’s office by mistake, I’m here to get a job. And then there’s my favorite, “it doesn’t work unless you believe in it.” I can say the same thing about putting on a cape and jumping off a building.

        By the way, I noted that you never actually provided Randy with an actual solution, just theories of what he’s doing wrong.

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      2. Things Career Related Post author

        Randy,

        Sorry to get back to you so late. Other than personal experience of my customers getting jobs through networking (no exact figure here), Richard Bolles, What Color is Your Parachute, puts it as high as 80%; and the DOL puts it at 60%.

        You can take it for what it’s worth. And in terms of networking advice, I’ll agree with you on one thing, don’t come across as stiff and salesy. Also, attending networking events isn’t for everyone. You never know where your next opportunity will come; maybe from a family member and other superficial connections…or maybe from Monster.com.

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      1. Shannon Mitchell

        But to clear up my my earlier compliment, if someone just came up and asked me for help, I’d just give it to them, because I know what it’s like to be in their position. If they started buttering me up like a corn on the cob, then I’d get annoyed. Read your Aesop, smart people don’t respond well to flattery.

        However, I should also point out that I’ve listened to some co-workers (not very nice coworkers) make jokes about the “pathetic” people who come up to them with networking requests.

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