Many moons ago I was at a networking function in Washington, DC when a gentleman strolled up to me with the Worst Networking Line Ever™.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a graduate student at….”
Before I could finish the sentence he turned around and walked away. I kid you not. His exceptional deductive reasoning skills led him to believe I would be no help in his quest to take over the world, so he left me high and dry without so much as a, “I’m sorry, my mother is calling” or “I need to rescue a puppy that fell into a well.”
While his deductive reasoning skills may have been above-average, his people skills and long-term thinking abilities were abysmal. After all, today’s graduate student might be tomorrow’s nonprofit manager running an entity dedicated to helping people find jobs in the liberty movement! Ahem.
But wait — it gets better.
This very same gentleman reached out recently asking for help finding a job. You can’t make this stuff up! Needless to say, his networking efforts haven’t done him any favors when it comes to job seeking!
Networking can play a key role in your job search or, if done poorly, it can undermine your chances of getting a job.
With that in mind, here are four ways networking can make — and four ways networking can break — your chances of landing a job.
- MAKE: Asking someone who knows you well to put in a good word for you. A nonprofit executive recently reached out to us to throw his support behind a candidate who had applied for a job through Talent Market. It turns out the competition for the opening was incredibly stiff (50+ candidates, many of whom were very impressive). The executive knew the candidate well enough to speak to her passion and how her strengths would align well with the opening. His feedback was thoughtful and it was clear he believed in the candidate. Guess what? She ended up landing the job!
- BREAK: Calling in favors from someone you just met or haven’t yet met. An associate of mine reached out a few months back and said, “John Doe told me he applied for the X role with Y organization and he asked me to put in a good word for him.” I eagerly awaited the actual “good word” but no such luck. I pressed for more details.
Lo and behold, it turns out my associate wasn’t able to provide any substantive feedback about Mr. Doe because he had never worked with him and only met him once. In fact, my friend admitted he felt awkward even reaching out to me because he just didn’t know Mr. Doe well enough to vouch for him.
While John Doe thought he was improving his chances by asking my associate to put in a good word, Mr. Doe ended up making himself look a bit foolish. Unless you know someone well enough, don’t ask them to vouch for you!
Perhaps even worse is emailing someone you don’t know who works for the organization you applied for after you applied, trying to network at the 11th hour. Networking is like roofing. If you wait until it is raining/until after you have applied for a job, it is too late.
- MAKE: Asking someone who thinks highly of you to serve as a reference.
Nearing the end of a search last year, one of our clients was torn between two candidates. He asked if we would check references for both candidates in an effort to break the tie. The references for the first candidate were solid. This is going to be tough, I thought. But the references for the second candidate were….glowing…like Clark Griswold’s house at Christmas. Every reference talked about how the candidate would exceed expectations and they each provided multiple examples of things the candidate had done to knock their socks off. All of them were effusive and they were very, very sincere. The client hired the Griswold candidate and he was not disappointed.
- BREAK: Including frenemies on your reference list. A few years ago I thought I was about to wrap up a search when the client called to tell me her top contender was out of the running. She explained that one of the candidate’s references (who also happened to be close friends with the client) had given such a tepid review of the candidate that she couldn’t bring herself to make an offer. Turns out the candidate didn’t have an accurate sense of his reputation, at least with the aforementioned reference. If you have any doubts about whether someone will actually cheerlead your candidacy, do NOT ask that person to serve as a reference.
- MAKE: Building a positive reputation by doing great work. If you do great work, you will build a positive reputation with your network and beyond. How? The people in your network will start talking about you and word of your awesomeness will spread organically. Have you ever introduced yourself to someone at an event and they responded, “Oh, I’ve heard good things about you.” That’s your positive reputation in action! This means your future boss might hear good things about you before you’ve even applied for a job there! Your positive reputation is the most powerful tool you’ve got when it comes to job searching.
- BREAK: Taking “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” literally. This saying implies you don’t need to have skills or experience; you just need a thick rolodex. Malarky! Most of the time it’s your skills and experience that will land you a job. Does having connections help? Sure! But the clients we work with care most about the value you will create for their nonprofit. We’ve found that having a connection can open a door for you, but that alone won’t secure the job.
- MAKE: Developing genuine relationships with people in your network. A friend of mine in the liberty space likens networking to a bank account: the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. If you cultivate authentic relationships with people and you take an interest in helping others, you’ll build a great network over time.
- BREAK: Treating people like rungs on a ladder. If you seek to build a network solely to advance your own career, your network will reflect this. Just as it was evident with my aforementioned networking buddy, people will see through you! Just imagine how different things might have been if he would have taken the time to talk to the lowly grad student that evening so long ago. We could have built a great friendship over time. It’s sad for him, but a great lesson for the rest of us!