Networking Nuances & Feisty Debate

In perusing one of my favorite career blogs the other day, Job Search Jedi, I stumbled across what I thought was a pretty interesting discussion about networking.

A woman named Therese Schwenkler, a career adviser and author of another excellent (albeit irreverent) blog called The Unlost, had submitted an article to the JSJ blog entitled “Why Your Networking Sucks — and the Secret to Doing it Right“.

In this article, she passes along the secret.  “It’s simple, really: I dropped the whole notion of ‘networking’ and did something completely different instead — a little something I like to call ‘non-networking.‘”

She then goes on to break this concept down into two key parts.  First, she recommends that you “develop your own brand of awesomesauce” in terms of creating a unique, authentic, and highly interesting brand image or perception about yourself so that you stand out from the crowd.  Next she suggests you “stop caring about results and start caring about relationships” in the sense that you concentrate primarily on building lasting friendships with people, versus just connecting with them in one-time fashion to get help with various short-term needs you might be facing.

On the surface, it’s hard to argue with this advice.  Many experts, have all, have pointed out that effective networking isn’t just about “using” people to get things, but about building healthy reciprocal relationships for the long haul.  And as for the “awesomesauce” recommendation, I can’t really think of a counterargument there, either.  Without question, people will get better results on the networking circuit if they’re able to associate themselves with a distinct, memorable business concept, idea, or persona that differentiates them from everybody else.

But hold on.  Everything in the article sounds wonderful, and the first dozen or two people who chime in with comments seem to totally agree with the author’s advice.  Then you scroll down a little bit further, where you suddenly stumble across an entry from a mysterious individual named JW who isn’t quite so convinced.  His (or her) response to the article reads as follows:

“The PROBLEM is HOW TO TURN THAT INTO WORK THAT IS PAID.  THAT IS THE REAL QUESTION.  Answer this 1 question that everyone avoids — if you want to be effective.

It is the opposite issue from what career advising people write about.  I form great relationships out of real interest b/c I find people’s work interesting and they usually see I am interesting in my work (international law).  Most people who aren’t total tools do this naturally, good “people people” anyway.  Getting money and work out of it is the point or it is a waste of time after all – I don’t need more friends, people are doing the ‘networking’ for work, and if it doesn’t result in that it is a waste of time.  No one answers how to do that once you have these precious contacts everyone goes on about endlessly, b/c its slightly harder and no one tackles the real issue.”

Wow.  For lack of a more polite way to put it, this JW person just “called BS” on a huge plank of the generally-accepted networking philosophy many experts espouse today.  Is networking really all (and only) about “making more friends” or is about approaching the process from a pragmatic standpoint to gather information, get results, and ultimately land a job?  Assuming we’re talking about networking in a career context, that is, versus other arenas within the business world.

In fairness, the author responds very graciously to JW’s comment (make sure to read her thoughts) and makes some excellent rebuttal points.  But you know, I think I’m on JW’s side here.  At least in part.  I don’t think every networking interaction has to result in a long-term friendship or relationship.  I believe networking can serve us equally well in the great many times when we just need to seek out a certain piece of information, get a certain question answered, or gain some insight on a specific issue that will help us generate a short-term result — like landing a job.  We talk to our friends, we find somebody who likely has the answer in question, and we thank them profusely when they lend us a hand.  But we don’t need to necessarily buy them flowers or follow up with them consistently, from that point forward, to court their acquaintance.

In quite a few networking interactions that don’t involve active relationship-building, I think everybody’s needs still get met to full satisfaction.  You asked the question and got the help you needed.  Somebody else got to enjoy some good karma points, got to feel helpful, and probably also earned a favor in the bank, from a friend, if the networking was conducted via referral.  Who loses in this scenario, provided the person asking for help acted politely, professionally, and shows a willingness to return the favor if ever needed, down the road?

So sure, building relationships is a very important part of networking,when it makes sense to do so.  It’s not the only purpose, however.  In my experience short-term “transactional” networking works equally well, too, and can (as JW said) go a long way toward helping you achieve concrete, immediate goals.

Just thought the discussion had some interesting nuances to it.  Your thoughts?  Therese, if you’re out there, any further perspective you’d like to share on the issue?

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2 Responses to “Networking Nuances & Feisty Debate”

  1. Great topic. It is one thing to say netowrking is important but it seems to mean different things to different people. For me, effective networking is different than making friends and it isn’t just getting to know people who might help you get a job. If either is your goal the results of your efforts will likely be disappointing. Effective networking involves interacting with people in a way that builds your professional brand and hopefully the brand of the person you’re networking with. I have many people in my network who are not “friends” but who’s work or expertise I respect. I have friends I could not honestly recommend for certain types of jobs. The interaction needs to be deep enough to determine how you can help each other build your respective brands.

  2. Richard McLeland-Wieser February 14, 2012 at 9:39 am

    Non-networking would be exhausting. If I built a lasting friendship with every person I networked with I’d spend all my time, attending baby showers, barbecues, cocktail parties, weddings and writing thank you notes.

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