Ask The Headhunter: Hey, babe, don’t I know you from somewhere?

BY Nick Corcodilos  October 29, 2013 at 11:08 AM EDT

Social networks are the new phone books. If you can’t expect a cold call to get you a job, reaching out to an unknown “contact” won’t do it either. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Oleg Dulin.

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 am looking at new job opportunities. Your suggestion is to network to find out more information about a company, and to get to know the right people before you even think of trying to get a job there.

What is your view on making contact with people you don’t know at all via social networking sites, such as LinkedIn? I have joined some of the professional communities and this seems like a great way to make initial contact with people in a particular industry, but is this just a fake idea or is there actually some merit in this method?

Nick Corcodilos: Getting to know a company through people connected to it is the best way to land the right job, and it’s the best way to avoid mistakes. But social networking sites portray this inaccurately. They show you a cool database of names and information, and they suggest that the links between people’s records constitute “your contacts.”

What’s a Link?

That’s absurdly reductionist. It’s like suggesting that because your name sits alphabetically beside another, you share a “contact.” In the database, perhaps you do. But in real life, the fact that we both do business with a certain auto mechanic doesn’t hold any value. The only thing we share is a coincidence. To make that serendipitous “link” useful, one or both of us must invest a lot to create the shared experiences that lead to a relationship and friendship.

What Are You Going To Do for Me?

LinkedIn — like any other online social network — is just another social environment. Imagine walking up to someone at a friend’s party — someone you’ve never met — and asking them to recommend you to the president of their company. Other than the fact that you and the person “share a link” via the friend whose party you’re attending, there are no shared experiences between you. There’s no justification for asking for such a favor, and the person has no reason to trust your intentions. Even if the referral were made, the president of the company would not be able to obtain any useful judgments about you from the mutual contact because there’s no basis for such judgments. There are no shared experiences, just that serendipitous meeting.

That’s why you feel so awkward asking a favor of someone you don’t know and who doesn’t know you. And you should feel awkward because it’s inappropriate. It’s important to meet the right people.

The LinkedIn party is not much different. In both cases, the only way to make a real contact is to start a conversation on a legitimate topic you’re genuinely interested in. Use the normal rules of conversation. Invest in a real relationship that takes time to develop. But don’t expect someone who is “linked” to you in a database to feel any obligation to talk to you.

I Found You in the Phone Book

People construe the existence of a social network as permission to exploit nodes (people) even when there’s no substance in the links between them. That is, they think that belonging to a huge list of people means those people should help them. When help doesn’t come, LinkedIn turns a dumb expectation into a dumber process: “Make more links until you get what you need!” No one profits from that except LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is little more than a big phone book. No one’s going to take your call just because you looked them up. It takes more. (See also: LinkedIn’s New Button: Instantly dumber job hunting & hiring.)

Take a Hike

A social network is just one more list of people, like a phone book, and I always hang up when someone calls me from a list. The solicitation from an unknown person via LinkedIn is the new “Hey, Babe, don’t I know you from somewhere?” and it’s just as presumptuous — and just as offensive.

LinkedIn is a nice directory, and social networks are the new phone books. How you make new friends who care about you, however, hasn’t changed. You still have to hang out with them and share experiences that matter.

Readers: What do you think about social networks? How do you use them effectively? Is this blog a social network? Have you met anyone on the blog who’s become a contact?



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!

Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark. This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions