Networking Hesitancy: What’s Behind It?

Boy, there sure have been some great articles published in the Wall Street Journal and other places recently that speak to some very interesting and nuanced aspects of the job hunting process!

One such WSJ article was sent to me a few days ago by a client and made some great points, I thought, about the reluctance many college students seem to have about networking — despite the fact that they’ve been told time and time again that such behavior will play a key role in their ability to land a new job after graduation.  This excellent article was written by Geoff Falen, Director of the Career Center at Colorado College, and you’ll find a copy here that I’d highly encourage you to read through.  And if you happen to have a child in college right now, consider sending it to them!

My take on the article’s message?  This phenomenon, unfortunately, isn’t limited to college students.  Networking anxiety is still an epidemic among adult professionals, as well.  In fact, the timing of this article was interesting, because it arrived on a day when I’d had several frustrating discussions in a row with job hunters about the networking process — and couldn’t quite seem to convince these folks that their best chances of finding a job would come from “getting out and talking with relevant people” instead of sitting at home behind the computer, firing out resumes.  Every time I’d bring up the networking topic, and illustrate how easy it was today to locate relevant individuals to contact, these individuals would glaze over and steer the conversation back to the “safety” of the resume piece.  Alternatively, there was another woman who kept talking about how badly she needed referrals, but then when I mentioned I had a few quality names I could pass along, she didn’t break stride for a moment to ask for their names or take me up on the offer.  A bit of a disconnect, no?

At any rate, while I certainly could cite many great examples of folks who have fully embraced the networking process, and are leveraging their relationships to full effect, I’m in lockstep agreement with Mr. Falen that there are still far too many people (college students and otherwise) who are going to face continued employment challenges if they don’t bear down and start taking the networking process more seriously.  Unless you’re one of the lucky few who happens to have a perfect pedigree, in one of the few professions where the labor demand still outstrips the supply, chances are you’re going to need the “power of people” to help line up your next paycheck.   So given this reality, why does the concept of reaching out and asking for help from other people (aka networking) seem so hard for so many people to get their heads around?  Some potential hypotheses might be:

Ignorance: Despite the massive amount of information that’s been published about the importance of networking to career success today, perhaps there are still some individuals who just haven’t “gotten the memo” and are still clinging to outdated job search methods from days past, when sending out resumes alone was often enough to do the trick.  If you’re reading this blog article, however, you no longer get to claim that you’re out of the loop.  Going forward, if you still refuse to embrace the networking process, you’re might instead be guilty of…

Denial: Alas, there may be folks who have heard about the importance of networking, but still stubbornly cling to the belief that if they just send ENOUGH resumes out into cyberspace, or can cling to their unemployment insurance benefits long enough, their situation will magically resolve itself.  And while I suppose this could happen, once in a blue moon, how much “pain” must the average person endure before they become more willing to reach out and ask people for help?

Fear: Perhaps much of the resistance to networking reflects people who are simply shy, uncomfortable around strangers, or afraid they’ll look silly, stupid, or needy if they approach people for assistance with their career situation.  And while there are no easy fixes to these issues, the good news is that there are numerous new methods (aka e-mail and social networking sites) that more introverted folks can use to effectively cultivate relationships and avoid stressful face-to-face interactions.  At the end of the day, though, if you’re suffering from networking phobia, you’re going to need to find a way to work past this fear — or your ability to successfully market yourself for employment is going to be chronically hampered, going forward.

Pride: Some folks might still feel that having to ask others for help is “beneath them” or patently unfair, given the decades of career success and stability they’ve experienced to date.  In fact, I’ve had many people tell me over the years that they’ve always been the “go-to person” who grants help to others, but that they aren’t comfortable with the role-reversal of having to ask for assistance, themselves.  All I can say is that times have changed — and hopefully, if you’ve done right by many other people over the years, the time has now come when you can withdraw some of that goodwill for your own needs and purposes.  Don’t let your own ego condemn you to the “resume lotto” where you’d need to get extraordinarily lucky!

Confusion: Last but not least, if I had to bet, I’d guess that confusion/uncertainty probably accounts for more of the sub-optimal networking behavior out there than any other factor.  While some of us have been studying the networking process for years, and practice it as a way of life, it’s easy to forget how many other people are still new to the concept and just haven’t had to do a lot of networking, to date.  It’s likely that this camp is still wrestling with the whole idea of how to network, what questions to ask, what etiquette needs to be followed, and the like.  Luckily, training wheels abound.  There are reams of web articles out there on networking, if you search for them, plus plenty of folks like myself eager to teach people more effective methods for relationship-building and management.  You just need to acknowledge that this is a new skill set you need to acquire and commit to start practicing it, one new relationship at a time!

So for what it’s worth, these are the best guesses I can come up with as to why we’re still seeing a perplexing lack of networking effort both from new college graduates, as well as many adults who have found themselves at some type of career crossroads.  If any of these factors seem to ring true for you, personally, than I’d highly encourage you to do some deep thinking about them and see if you can find your way past these self-imposed obstacles.  And if you can think of any other reasons why people might not be getting the hang of the networking process, please post a comment, since I think a deeper discussion around these issues could benefit all concerned.

I’ll leave you, though, with an uplifting note I just received from a client that discusses how the networking process works to a tee — and illustrates what can happen when one “lets go” of their hang-ups and just starts putting the word out there to anybody who will listen!

Matt: I’d been searching for work for 18  months, and getting nowhere, until I had two appointments with my dentist this month.  On my second visit, she asked if I was still looking for work, and I told her yes, and that was I felt that the time had come for something to break loose in this effort.  That was Monday May 3.  The next day, another client in her chair, a CEO at a software company that is growing by leaps and bounds, lamented that he had been searching for an executive assistant for months.  They had used recruiters and placed ads.  They had interviewed people who had done this work in high tech, including Microsoft and the other big name companies.  Their candidates had used the same computer systems, etc., but they just couldn’t find the right person.  At that point, my dentist gave him my number and told him to call me right away.  His VP of Operations called me on Wednesday for a phone interview.  I had a personal interview with her on Thursday and then had a one-on-one with Tony, the CEO, on Friday.  By the end of the interview, he was talking about salary and he showed me the plans for the new offices they are moving to in two weeks.  Obviously this was going very well!  Then on Wednesday of last week I received a formal offer that includes a generous salary, vacation and benefits.  FINALLY!


5 Responses to “Networking Hesitancy: What’s Behind It?”

  1. Great post Matt, and of course, how could I not suggest that the non-believers out there read my, “I’m at a Networking Event–Now What???” book to get some help with the nervousness as well as effectiveness?! It can be found it on Amazon – or in eBook format via the publisher

    It also goes w/o saying that developing your networking no-how not only helps you with your search, it helps you with your career down the road b/c today we all realize that we can never stop networking!

  2. Thanks for another great blog post, Matt. I wonder when the folks running the unemployment insurance system will catch-up and start encouraging networking instead of only giving those between jobs ‘credit’ for sending off at least three job applications a week. Their system only reinforces out-dated ways of job hunting.

  3. Matt. I think that for a lot of people it is also about a lack of know how. I’m not confused, but those handy conversational moments just don’t show up for me. Though there area always sites like this one and books like Fast Track Networking to help us out.

  4. Matt, great summation of the article and networking. You would think that all the attention on making connections on the internet, finding old friends, and the buzz in the media about social networking would help convince job seekers where to put their efforts.

  5. Matt, another great post, ending with a story that is just simply fantastic!

    As far as networking goes – I think the confusion part resonated with me the most. When I was last looking for work, I thought my network was stronger than it was. Lesson learned!

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