The following is an extract from “The Career Doctor” a book by our Managing Director Eoghan McDermott.
Networking is keeping in contact. Some people are great at it. Those are the ones who seem to effortlessly remember birthdays; take the trouble to go to school reunions; enjoy attending events after work. The same process can be vitally important to a job-hunter because without contacts you will miss out on grapevine information about jobs that are coming on-stream, so you will be unable to use informed opportunism. Not only that, but a scarcity of contacts means that you will not have tip- of- the- tongue reference value. What you need is for a recruiter, gazing into space, suddenly to find your name on the tip of their tongue as a solution to a problem. A name doesn’t find itself on the tip of anybody’s tongue unless you’ve maintained contact with the owner of the tongue.
Good networking is not about meeting tons of people, each of them desperately hunting business. Good networking is creating and using an informal web of people with whom you actually have a relationship. You want people who can vouch for you and give you a hand. Remember that Ireland is a village, the people a community, and people you know are the first place to look when you’re seeking an opportunity.
They love to be asked for advice and help. But the manner of asking is important. When a friend is approached in a panic, with the naked assumption that they might have a job to offer, the friend is likely to feel guilty and evasive because they simply can’t help. When a friend is approached in a coolly professional way with a good CV and asked to keep at the back of their mind the possibility of recommending the CV’s owner, should the opportunity arise, they are empowered to be genuinely helpful.
Like six degrees of separation, it has been suggested that any one of us in Ireland are only three contacts away from anyone we need to reach – if we really think about it. It doesn’t matter whether you want to reach the Taoiseach, the President of the GAA or the editor of the Irish Times: the chances are that, if you work hard enough and intelligently enough, you will establish that you know someone who knows one of the three. It does help, however, if you’ve maintained good relationships with your contacts:
- It means keeping telephone numbers and email addresses up to date.
- It means dropping a note to someone to congratulate them when you see their promotion or wedding in the paper.
- It means making a call to people when they need consolation.
It means having cups of coffee or the occasional lunch or dinner with old friends. Remember school and college friends. Some of today’s graduates will be the leaders of industry – make sure they remember you from now on.
It means finding ways to introduce yourself or be introduced to people you think might be interesting to know – and useful in your later career.
One client of mine – a man in his early sixties who’s been phenomenally successful in different areas since he was in his twenties, adds a variation:
You always need to be building the next network. Most people create a single career-related network. They do it in their late twenties or early thirties. By the time they’re in their mid-forties, that network has lost several key links, but they may not notice. I’ve seen fellows creased, not just by losing their job, but by realising that the network they always assumed they could depend on doesn’t really exist anymore because of moves, deaths and retirements. They didn’t keep building the next network.
If you network properly, it can be of enormous benefit to you in your career development. But networking is not a one way operation. Networking operates on the same principle of all effective relationships – give and take: you must invest your time and concern in other people in order to create a context in which they are likely to invest their time and concern in you.
In some quarters this is known as the favour bank, although I personally don’t like the phrase, carrying, as it does, a harshly mechanical storage system for friendship.
That said, it is simply good human practice, throughout life, to be helpful to other people and to do favours for them without any immediate expectation of a quid pro quo. If you like the favour bank idea, think of it as keeping yourself in cred it ‘in the favour bank. If you don’t like the favour bank idea, don’t let yourself off the hook.
Taking care of others is a great habit but habits are not built up by intellectual acquiescence to the concept. You have to develop some kind of reminder system to trigger you into doing what you know you should do. Regular investment in other people will make you more successful in career terms. Rather more importantly, it might also, by forcing you to think about other people in a systematic and contributory way, make you a better person.
A network is not built up overnight. But once it is built up, it means that just a phone call away are individuals who can:
- Give you information about a particular company or the context in which that company operates
- Give you a heads-up on the people who have to be reached if you’re to get the job you want
- Put in a word for you
- If you don’t succeed, tell you, afterwards, why you didn’t get the job, so that you can do a better job on self-marketing next time round
It’s important, not to take the easy option when you set out to network. The easy option is to network only with pleasant people you like. It’s much more challenging
– and rewarding – to network with people who on first acquaintance don’t strike you as pleasant.
Similarly, you must keep relationships going with people whom, at a particular point, you may want to strangle. Sometimes, this can be very difficult. It is, for example, a challenge to sustain a relationship with the manager who tells you that you’re being let go. The challenge is rooted in resentment (if they’re going to be kept on), frustration (if they clearly knew about it long before you did), and a deep sense of betrayal. You may know that the manager had to keep the redundancies secret, that they are mortified but grateful that their own job is currently secure and that they’ve explained the reason for the redundancies as well and as honestly as they were able. But you are suddenly spun loose and they’re not, so the relationship changes.
It is, however, important not to get pointlessly hostile to the management of the company that’s now letting you go, if only because most senior managers are likely to have contacts with other senior managers. They can do a real kind of outplacement that few actual outplacement companies can do. They can sniff around, ring pals, talk to clients and get you work experience in other companies. They can get on to recruitment companies and indicate that they will be appreciative in the long term. They can ring a company like ours and say, ‘Guys,I have someone here I’d like looked after.’
They will do this only: (a) if they like you; (b) if they feel sufficiently warm towards you to give you an extra leg- up; and (c) if you ask them.
Shouting at them and rejecting their help is not a good idea. Make them part of your next network – and when you have the new job, make sure you give the same kind of help to others.