Networking: Like It Or Not, It Makes All The Difference

Rotary TelephoneLast week, I wrote about why job hunting advice doesn’t really work unless you accept the realities of the process. Whether you’re just starting out or have 20 years of work under your belt, the dynamics may not be fair but they’re here, and they’re real, and if you want to find a job you have to deal with them. It’s not easy, but it’s like gravity: When you jump off a cliff, you fall. Blaming the laws of nature on the way down doesn’t help.

One of the things no one likes to hear is that you’re hired based on a lot of things besides your technical skill or your experience. Deciding who to bring on board is a subjective decision, at best an educated guess. At the end of the day the manager has to feel good about how you’ll fit in, deal with management and collaborate with other departments. By the time he’s thinking about who to hire, he knows how well you code. You can be the best coder in the world, but if you’re a creep you’re not going to get the job.

This is why the most important tactic of your job search is networking. Even if you’re responding to a posting somewhere — like, say, Dice — you’ve got a better shot of getting in the door if you know someone at the company. Of course, you may not. But the more people who know you, the more chances are you can find one. It’s important because it begins to build the human dynamic between you and the hiring manager.

A lot of technical people don’t like to network. You’re busy, you say. You work on problems that require exceptional focus to solve. It’s more important to fix those than to go out and meet people.

Too bad. If you’re serious about finding a job, you don’t have a choice.

I’ve written a lot about networking because I’m always flabbergasted by how many people say they can’t or won’t reach out to others. Yes, it’s hard to call up people you don’t know, even when you’ve been referred by a friend of colleague. My way of easing the process is to ask someone out for coffee or breakfast or lunch. That way, I offer them something for their time , and it sets up a more relaxed situation than we’d have sitting in a conference room. If you don’t like that approach, go to professional networking get-togethers or meetups, even if they’re not about jobs. Delving into some tech topic or another gives you the chance to meet people without the pressure of having to talk about yourself.

If, for some reason, you can’t go to these things you still have an option: The telephone. Remember this: People like to talk about themselves. Sure, you’ll call some who’ll be curt or downright rude. Indeed, most of the people you call will say no. But the sixth person, or the 10th, will say yes.

Now you’re thinking, once they pick up the phone what do I say? If you’re calling cold, ask for an informational interview. Tell them you want to learn more about the sector, how their company works, the dynamics of the local job market. If a colleague suggested the call, begin with something like, “Tom thought it would be good for us to know each other,” then ask for the discussion. Even if you can’t get a face-to-face you’ll probably get a phone conversation out of it — and the opening to stay in touch with the occasional e-mail or follow up call.

Just remember: Networking’s not a short-term thing. It’s not going to get you a job directly, and someone you just met is probably not going to introduce you to her friend the hiring manager. That first call you make may not pay off for years. But there’s truth to the old cliché, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

28 Responses to “Networking: Like It Or Not, It Makes All The Difference”

  1. Excellent advice.

    At the end of the day, you are interacting with PEOPLE and not a company. Networking is about people connecting with people.

    And as you said, Networking is long term and NOT just a one shot deal when you are looking for a job. So make time, get out there and have coffee, and go to professional talks/conferences etc. All are great places to meet new people and build your Network.

    This does take time. But I think it is time well worth it for your future.

    As a hint, I keep a log/calendar of folks I network with. I try to contact each person by phone once every 6 months to maintain my Network. I do this to maintain the relationships in my Network and no not because I want something.

    Here’s a secret: people want to do business with other people where they have mutual relationships. I think that is the key to help land that new job or business opportunity.

  2. Again the bottom line is that employers are able to be this picky because of the over saturation of the market due to the H-1b visa.

    Eliminate that and a healthy, vibrant IT market can once again begin to form.

  3. Mark,

    Truer words, “It’s not what you know …” were never spoken. I personally know several folk, not including myself, who landed a job specifically because the position was open and the hiring manager had someone in their network in mind for the position.


    • Great question. Job hunting doesn’t have a single way to help you find a job. Networking’s the most important one, but it’s still just one. Job boards are important because they work for a large number of people but, again, they’re just one of the tactics you can use. In other words, all of the things I outlined in my first post aren’t mutually exclusive.

      • And then, after finding a possible position open through the job board, you realize that one of your former coworkers now works at that company with the open position. So you call that former coworker to find out about the job. If they don’t know about the job, perhaps the hiring manager’s management style and what the department does. And if they don’t know anything about that, the former coworker can tell you what it is like to work there, what the benefits are, what the interviewing process is like, what questions they ask.

        You’d be much better prepared for phone and face to face interviews with that type of information through your network for the job found through the job boards, wouldn’t you?

        Every tool in the tool box. I’ve looked back over my (long) career and realized that every job, save one, was the direct result of learning about the opportunity from my business network.

        And yesterday, I had a coworker tell me he got a phone call out of the blue from someone he worked with two years earlier and they want this person to do some similar work for a new client. Every tool in the tool box counts from networking to your job performance to your interview skills.

  4. I strongly suspect that networking works a lot better for freelancers or small business owners who are looking to obtain work than applicants looking to obtain jobs.

    Think about it. Nobody is going to agree to give a job to someone they just met at a “networking night.” That would be like agreeing to marry someone you just met at a singles bar; what you might do, however, is ask the person you just met out on a date. Likewise, you might agree to set up a meeting with a freelancer or business owner you just met regarding a project you have coming up.

    I don’t have to know or even like my plumber; I just have to know that they’ll perform the work I need done.

    • One of the biggest myths about job hunting is this notion that people are hired because of their skills only. It’s one thing to hire a plumber that way, a completely different thing to hire a full-time employee. It’s true, no one’s going to hire you just because they met you once at a networking night. Networking’s a long-term thing. It pays off over time. It’s more likely the person you met three years ago will help you get your job. And, like it or not, managers much prefer to hire someone who’s recommended by someone they know.

      If you just start to build your network the day you start your job hunt, it’s not going to do anything this time around, but it might next. Truth is, anyone who wants to avoid developing their network is putting themselves at a huge disadvantage.

      • ——One of the biggest myths about job hunting is this notion that people are hired because of their skills only. It’s one thing to hire a plumber that way, a completely different thing to hire a full-time employee.——

        That’s exactly why I said I think networking–at least when it comes to networking with strangers–works better for freelancers or business owners who aren’t looking for jobs, only to sell services.

        Now, when it comes to networking with people you actually know, it’s a different story. However, if everyone you know is either (1) unemployed or (2) self-employed and/or working in an industry far-flung from yours (i.e., you’re an IT professional and your friends are plumbers and petsitters), your network isn’t going to be able to offer you anything beyond emotional support.

        • Well, how do you know people if you don’t meet them? As I’ve said, networking is a long-term thing. If you’re find a particular job you want and only THEN start to look for people who can introduce you to someone inside the company — it’s not going to work. And, when you network for career purposes, talking to plumbers or people outside your profession doesn’t really count. You should be networking among your professional colleagues.

          While it’s true you can’t only network with others looking for work, but don’t forget many of them know people who are working. Just because those people don’t necessarily fit with that unemployed person doesn’t mean that won’t be of use to you.

          The bottom line: It’s easy to throw out objections to networking, but none of them should dissuade you from getting out there and meeting people. The truth remains: It’s perhaps the most effective job-searching tool you’ve got, and you’re hurting yourself if you don’t do it.

  5. I wouldn’t dismiss the idea that if someone is outside your desired field of unemployment ( the example of a plumber being given) that having them in one’s network would be pointless.

    Who can say who the plumber may know.

  6. Mr. Ron

    That was hilarious! How long has Dice been doing satire?

    For the most part, networking is a joke. Employer’s don’t hire a person just because they trust someone that knows this person. If they even bother to interview the person that was recommended, they are only going through the motions so as not to offend the person that recommended the applicant.

    They say it really helps if you can bypass HR and aim for the hiring manager. Well, I’ve been introduced to CEOs, managers and business owners. None of them had a suitable position, but they often referred me to others who pretended they were interested but did absolutely nothing.

    I have a Masters Degree in Information Systems Mangement and a certification in SQL Server, but these don’t count for anything. I have 20 years of experience but unfortunately, most of my experience is with old technology. In the eyes of employers, I may as well be a podiatrist looking for an IT position.

    I’ve gotten much closer to finding employment by simply sending my resume to recruiters and posting my resume on job boards.

    The only thing that really matters is having the *right* experience. Good luck trying to get it, though.

    • Sorry, Ron. You’re off-base on a lot of this. You seem to think that just because you’re getting a recommendation through a contact, you’re supposed to have the job wrapped up. But it’s not that simple. You still have to demonstrate a bunch of other things: skills or enough experience to show you can adapt into the job, good communications, getting along with colleagues. All of those count. The networking gets you in the door, and probably a closer look than you’d get otherwise. It doesn’t guarantee the job.

      Remember, too, that job hunting isn’t all about one tactic. In some cases you can network your way into an interview (they’re still going to want to see your resume first), but many times you can’t. You can have a great resume that gets you the door, but have a lousy interview and be dropped. The main thing is you have to know how to mix together different tactics for each place you approach.

      The fact remains networking is hugely important — and often times is the key factor in people getting a job. Hiring is a human decision, after all. The more things that make the hiring manager feel better about you, the more likely you are to get hired.

      • Mr. Ron

        I wasn’t implying that meeting with these owners and managers should wrap-up the job. I’ve been told that I have good interviewing / communication / people skills, and have a really good background, but I don’t have the several years of experience that are desired.

        My point is that after networking quite a bit, I’ve only seen empty promises. Many people go out of their way to insist that they can help you, but at the end of the day, they do nothing. I would rather have them tell me that they cannot help me. Don’t waste my time and gasoline.

        Networking shouldn’t be ruled-out, but I don’t believe for a minute that that’s where most of the jobs come from.

      • Mr. Joe

        You are dead on, Mr. Ron. I informally network with my colleagues in the office because we all know we have no job security, but no way would I rely on it 100%. As you have found out, a lot of so-called “networking” is a bunch of people lying to each other. I have NEVER heard of a job or got introduced to a potential employer from an individual I didn’t work with. If you’re an extrovert who doesn’t mind bothering strangers, networking MIGHT work. For us introverts, stick with the job boards and your office associates.

      • For those who may not understand networking, last Thursday I was having a group lunch of which the person I was sitting next to was a technical recruiter on the job for one month.

        How did this person get the job? Well, she knew this person who left her company and went to another. That person knew that a recruiting position was open because that person worked with someone in that company. She got the name and phone number of that person to find out about the job, applied and got the interview.

        Then got the job. That’s networking: finding out about positions inside companies and having someone inside the company help explain the position and tell you how the hiring process works.

        You still have to do the work to get the job. Networking gives you information to help you tailor your job skills and business results to the open position at hand.

        Use every tool in the tool box. Every job I’ve gotten outside of my first job out of college has worked that way (including the ones inside the company). To say that networking doesn’t work means you need to work on understanding how networking works.

        • That’s not true, Joe. I’ve got a lot of people in my network who I met through others in my network. These are people who’ve led me to jobs or freelance work. Even though I’d never worked with them, they became familiar with my work as they got to know me.

          People tend to think of networking as a buzzword, which is a shame. It’s really just about meeting people and letting them introduce you to others, and you doing the same for them.

      • I agree with Trothaar. The only people with “networks” are in sales, management or trying to sell personal services. The idea that your neighbor who installs washing machines could give you a job lead is preposterous. FWIW from my observations, my definition of networking (ie with IT work colleagues and recently departed colleagues) is EXACTLY how the Indians do it!

        • It’s just not factual to say the only people with networks are in sales, management or personal services. Nearly every professional I know has developed a group of other professionals they stay in touch with, and which has helped them with everything from solving a business problem to putting them in touch with a manager who might have a job for them, or know of something going on in their company. I think I said in another comment that “networking” isn’t about developing a relationship with your plumber, but other people in your line of work.

          Look, if you don’t think it’s worth your time to network – don’t. But there’s no question you’re giving up on the single most effective way of furthering your job search when you do.

  7. MaryRose Cassell

    Mark, THANK YOU for all your work to keep the comments positive, or at least to give a thoughtful reply to the constant naysayers. I’m a big fan of what you are trying to do. I am finding myself back in the I.T. job market after several years of… let’s just call it a “failed business experiment” with my husband…and I am searching for a position in a new location where I know no one. I really appreciate ALL your advice, and I thank you for every reply of yours after a negative post from someone else. I need to keep it very positive right now cause I have a few obstacles to hurdle.

    • Hi MaryRose –

      Thanks so much for your note. All I can say is we try over here, but it’s nice to know we’re helping some people out. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’ve got any suggestion, or criticisms, for that matter. I appreciate them all.



  8. Lois Garcia

    I haven’t yet found a job through a referral or networking, but maybe someday I will, and I have helped a few others find jobs. Consider networking a way to help yourself AND others, whether you’re working, or looking for a job. You might even do both if the recruiter or employer offers a referral bonus. I used to think the idea of networking was too artificial, or something only sales professionals could do. Now I value it for keeping the human element alive in the midst of work-work-work.