Ask The Headhunter: Networking for People Afraid of Being Obnoxious


Photo by Flickr user Samuel Mann.

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: What’s your opinion on networking the way most people seem to practice it? They ask you if you know about any jobs or if you can introduce them to somebody at Company XYZ. It’s all obnoxious — and frankly, it’s icky! I don’t want to bother people. But I realize that some introductions do lead to jobs when they are above board and done properly. Good networking and bad networking: What’s the definition?

Nick Corcodilos: Sadly, people squander many of the good relationships they already have because they don’t stay in touch. In “Tell me who your friends are,” I discuss what happens when we lose touch: We lose our best networks!

I think we all know what bad networking is: It’s obnoxious requests for introductions. Before I try to explain good networking, I’d like to expose some bad advice about networking, which you have already encountered.

Good networking is not about going to meetings, being on lists, and being seen. Woody Allen was wrong: Showing up is not 90 percent of success. While those things might work, they easily become rote and thoughtless behaviors that mark you as selfish. “Exposure” anywhere you can get it is not good networking.

Good networking is about participating and contributing. Maybe you show up 90 percent of the time, but what do you contribute?

  • Offer a good idea
  • Help make something work better
  • Contribute to the success of another person or group
  • Put some skin in the game
  • Take a risk where others can see you
  • Consistently be part of a solution

That takes thought, work and time. You can’t just show up at a meeting, pay your dues and expect to be noticed. Good networking is an investment. You must do good work again and again without expecting a return.

Nonetheless, you can still strike up good conversations with people you don’t know — people who will want to talk with you. In my PDF book, How Can I Change Careers?, there’s a section titled “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends.” Here’s an excerpt:

Seek Advice, Not Help:

No one wants the “Can you help me find a job?” monkey on her back because the monkey requires feeding and lots of attention. That’s why most people you ask for help will quickly refer you to the personnel office.

On the other hand, if you approach me for advice rather than help, that’s something I can provide without fear of commitment. [Imagine if you called me and said this:]

“Your friend Sarah works in R&D here at Advanced Systems. We developed the helical zeebie last year. Sarah says you’ve been working on frammitzes over there at Superfluous, and you might be able to give me a little advice. I’m thinking about shifting my career focus to the frammitz side of R&D. I realize there’s probably a lot I need to learn. Can you suggest any good education programs or worthwhile texts?”

See the difference? This works whether you’re changing careers or jobs. There’s nothing wrong with calling someone you don’t know, as long as you were referred. There’s nothing rude about asking for insight and advice about the work you both do. That’s good networking.

But then it takes time to cultivate the new friendship, before you can reasonably expect help. Stay in touch with your new contact. Offer some useful articles, or make a potentially useful introduction. Real help comes with time and shared experiences.

What does good and bad networking mean to you? What healthy networking methods work best in your world?

Question: How do I get past my company’s internal job posting system? I work for a huge company, and I’ve been job-hunting internally. I did everything you suggest and then some, and finally the interview ended nicely and I asked for the job. What do you think was the answer? “We will not know if you are the best fit unless we talk to a lot of other very qualified people! We will let you know our decision through the proper channels!”

I know for a fact that they’re not talking to many candidates, and I was the first they wanted to interview. The manager who uttered those words had obviously not even read my resume before the interview, because he was doing that during the interview! How can I possibly overcome the competition when open jobs attract thousands of candidates each?

Nick Corcodilos: The reaction you got is hard to fight. When the hiring manager acts that way, you know that he or she A., has no real authority, B., is afraid to make a decision, C., doesn’t really know what their needs are, or D., doesn’t really care. My guess is a little of each. The fact that the manager hadn’t even read your resume says a lot. That’s a huge shame, especially when a motivated candidate is standing there waiting to talk about doing the job.

The way you get past the job posting system is to avoid it altogether. Don’t play. Instead, pick a handful of departments and managers you you’d like to work for. Don’t worry whether they have open jobs. Start dropping by their offices.

I discuss this internal job hunting method in a brief article: “JHBWA.” Don’t talk about jobs. Talk about projects they’re doing. Study their products and business and have regular discussions with them. Meet their team members. Let them get to know you.

When jobs open up in their departments, they’ll do the obligatory posting, and they’ll tell you to apply. They will “process” all the other applicants, but now you’re the “inside” candidate. If they make you an offer, it will be based not on your interview, but on what they learned about you during all those times you hung around in their offices talking shop.

That’s how good managers get around the process. It’s kind of like buying a cut-your-own Christmas tree – they tag their candidate in advance. But they still have to go through the job posting motions with everyone else. It’s truly sad. Think about the man-hours wasted with such a flawed system. I wish you the best.

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 for sale on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.”

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