Ask the Headhunter: Why you should stop networking

Having a meeting over a cup of coffee

There should be no begging, no asking for jobs or introductions. Results will come naturally.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees—just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: I’ve been trying to find a mentor who understands networking better than I do. I just don’t get it. We are not expert in everything, and this is one area where I want to get some help. Can you give me some clarity about networking?

Nick Corcodilos: So much has been written and said about networking that networking has become a business, an industry, a racket of enormous proportions. (See my article about LinkedIn.) Some readers have commented on this column that getting a job or hiring through networking is nepotism, and that it’s unfair — and imprudent — of employers to hire their friends and people who are personally referred to them.

Please! Stop doing that kind of “networking,” because it’s phony!

I want to barf every time I hear some silly lecture or read a pandering dissertation about how to deftly and cleverly force yourself on others to get ahead. Networking has become over-defined and, yes, bogus.

On the other hand, legit networking is a smart, healthy way to get a job and to hire. (For example, “How to get into a company that’s not hiring.”) And how to do it is simple:

Talk shop with people who do work you want to do (or need to have done, if you’re hiring).

There’s nothing phony or awkward or inappropriate about this, unless you’re not interested in your own work or someone else’s.

I’ll give you a few examples of what I mean.

You can meet people to talk shop online, in person, anywhere. If you read something about them in advance, just drop a quick note.

How to say it

Hey, I read this article about you and I see you’re working on [such and such]… I’d love to know what you think about X? How’d you do what was described in the article? What are you reading lately that has influenced your work?

That’s how to start a legitimate conversation, with someone that doesn’t know you, about a topic you really care about. (If you don’t care about it, then don’t contact them.)

If you’re talking with the person face to face, it’s even simpler.

How to say it

Tell me more about what you do… What kinds of challenges or problems did you encounter while working on that?

The magic is in asking them to talk about themselves and their work. This isn’t clever or sneaky: It’s human nature. People love to talk about their work, as long as you’re not being solicitous. And you won’t be if you just talk shop.

It takes time to make meaningful connections through these exchanges. Be patient. Don’t expect much, don’t expect it quickly, and good things will evolve in time. The best part: No matter what benefits you get or don’t get career-wise, you make new friends.

When you get to the point where you want to talk about your career challenges, here’s the magic sauce: Never ask for job leads. Never. Because it’s not appropriate to impose on others.

Instead, ask for advice and insight — if you really want it.

How to say it

May I ask your advice? If I wanted to shift over to doing XYZ [as your new job], what kind of advice would you give me? I’d love your insight about what it takes to be successful doing what you do.

See the difference? Never say anything that feels icky or phony. There’s no begging, no asking for jobs or introductions. Results will come naturally — people will eventually suggest someone else that you should talk to. And that’s what to keep track of — people you’re referred to, who they are, where they work, what they do.

Beware, or I’ll never talk to you again
Then there’s the most important thing. If someone recommends a person that you should talk with, or offers an introduction or referral — always make the contact and do it quickly. Never let a personal referral die on the vine. That’s very disrespectful.

If I give you a referral, I’ll usually tip off the third party to expect a call or e-mail from you. If I find out you didn’t follow up within 3-4 days, I’ll never do anything for you again. When the person I’m trying to help doesn’t make that contact, I’ve wasted an introduction and I look bad. I can’t emphasize this enough — it’s the single biggest networking mistake people make. If you want good mentors in your life, do not squander the investment they make in you. (See Mentoring & Getting Mentored.)

Networking should be as easy — and as honest — as talking shop with people who do the work you want to do. Or don’t do it.

Dear Readers: Next week, I’ll share my three ingredients for good, healthy networking. But, right now I’d like to know, What’s your way to get close to others professionally?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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