Out of Left Field: The Usually Forgotten Benefit of Networking


Most job seekers learn, at some point, that relationship building (otherwise known as “networking”) is the way to go. There are so many reasons, the best being that every statistical survey shows that it’s by far the best methodology. Most of the numbers I’ve seen point to a range of around 75-80% market penetration from relationship building, compared to, say, around 5-6% from postings. Those same single digit numbers also apply to using external recruiters (executive search, employment agencies, etc.). Of course, these numbers vary according to whatever metrics and categories the surveys use, but the main point stays fairly consistent.

The best reason for building relationships, aside from the numbers, is that making direct contact with decision makers initially, instead of Human Resources professionals or external recruiters, almost always will have a greater opportunity for success. HR and recruiters are frequently just screens (mostly screen outs). Reaching the decision makers is also usually the benefit of personal contact, rather than ending up as a piece of paper in a huge pile on a desk. A piece of paper can’t talk; you can.

My standard definition of networking is “building relationships, over a period of time, so that when people hear of appropriate opportunities, they will think of you.” This is an indirect approach, as opposed to the idea of asking everyone you meet if they know “anyone” or know of any open jobs. That’s a surefire way of not building a relationship; rather it’s a great method for convincing people to avoid you. (Much more about all of this on my website, ellischase.com, in the blogs and videos sections.)

There is another distinct benefit from relationship building, which is frequently overlooked – getting unexpected information. One technique for getting some unexpected information is to ask how that person got to where they are now in their career. Everyone loves to talk about him or herself, and you never know what you’re going to hear that might be a good new idea.

Or…your contact, if you’re lucky, will have some interesting observations or suggestions. I’m not referring to suggestion #459 about fixing your resume (almost always useless advice) or negative comments, like perhaps you should stay where you are; you just don’t know how lucky you are. (And you decided to do all this networking for fun, right?)

What if a suggestion is made that you hadn’t heard or paid attention to, and is an interesting one that you hadn’t thought of?  

Many years ago, I had a terrific job in technology staffing at a major bank, but it was in a culture where I didn’t fit. I even had an excellent manager. But I was, after five years of giving it a strong try, determined to leave and find a culture where I’d be more comfortable.  

My search took too long. In retrospect, I think it was because I was inflexible about my targets, and wasn’t able to hear some good suggestions about types of organizations other than the ones I was researching. (Active listening is a topic for another blog.) In other words, I hadn’t paid attention to one of those hidden benefits of building relationships on a job search. I was only zeroing in on building the relationship, getting some market information, and expanding my network. Those are good objectives, but I was missing a critical one.  

I met with a woman at one of the large banks, who seemed to listen to my story quite intently. At the end of it, she said, “You seem to be more interested in the career mobility aspects of your job, helping employees move from one area to another, or how they can get promotions, or how they might deal with difficult situations. Am I correct?” I admitted that was my favorite part of the job, but I did like the whole job and was learning a great deal from it. She suggested that I consider working in outplacement consulting.

Since the organization I worked for did their outplacement internally, I had to admit I didn’t know much about the field (like almost nothing). She told me about it, and something just clicked, which ended up turning my career completely around. She was correct in her assessment and recommendation, and my next job was in one of those consulting firms. A perfect cultural fit, and a career direction that would last for the duration of my career. It may have taken too long to figure all this out, but the outcome, due to this one suggestion, resonated in the strongest possible way.  

I’m always sorry that I don’t remember the woman’s name, because I would definitely have dedicated this blog to her.  

Don’t ignore the fact that your relationship building/networking is more than just the mechanics of meeting new people, following up several times, and asking good marketing and business questions. It should be listening for new ideas, as well.  

P.S. Does anyone know what the picture here is? Just curious. Let me know.