The 3R’s of How-to-Job-Network: Small Town, Big City

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Research supports that networking is the best way for most (people like you, as Richard Nelson Bolles of What Color is Your Parachute fame and I would suggest) to find your next job.  It’s estimated that 80% of job openings are unlisted, which means that most jobs will be filled through networking, not tossing a resume into a company’s applicant tracking system or even having coffee with your favorite executive recruiter.

Many people will network this upcoming year to find a new job. Most will do it badly. Here’s a framework to do it well.

If you believe the press (take with a large grain of salt), the floodgates are ready to open up in the US job market though by any stretch of the imagination anything approaching “full” job recovery will be a long slog.

Consider the following:

Some people who are thinking of finding a new job will turn on their networking button, and go forth like speed dating and meet people who they think can lead them to a new job. Like speed dating, they’ll perhaps meet a lot of people they’ll likely never remember or see again, and have pretty mixed results. Next time they have a job hunt they’ll repeat the process, and most likely avoid the people they met earlier since they haven’t talked to them since their last job search.

They will have taken what I think of as a “Big City, Big City” approach; lots of people, lots of anonymity, and not much community.

Another way is to think of networking as “Small Town, Big City” – the way I think of my Dolores Park neighborhood in San Francisco. While the City is reasonably big (I know, not London, not LA, not Hong Kong, not Paris, etc.), it’s a city of neighborhoods. And what sets successful living apart in this Dolores Park neighborhood is the same thing that I think makes for good, effective, durable job networking.

The 3R’s of Networking

What makes networking effective and durable is to fully subscribe to three simple “R’s;” respect, reciprocity, and responsibility.

Reciprocity – flavored with a little altruism – means that you’re meeting people with the understanding that while you may have something to gain, you may also have something to offer. While networking typically is an ask (“Can I pick your brain about where you think my background, skills and interests point me in terms of jobs, place, or people?), you should understand that the reciprocity side of the equation means that you should offer without being asked any help you can send the other person’s way. Now or in the future. Networking is process of relationship, not a transaction. (Speed dating on the other hand is a mostly a transaction, not a relationship.)

Respect in networking means that you think that what people have to share is of value, you’ll take it seriously, and you’ll not waste someone’s time. To ask the question “Do you know of any jobs for me?” is in part a lack of respect. The job finding part is your work; the networking contact’s job is to affirm / dispel that you’re headed in the right direction, and to point you to further resources (people and places such as companies) that you might want to investigate. If they know of a possible job with your name on it, great! But that’s not something you should expect or ask for directly.

Responsibility means that you take accountability for your actions and do the obvious stuff; show up and show up on time, follow-up, thank people, keep in touch, be forthright and honest – in short all the stuff that makes being part of a networked community tick by doing the right stuff. Responsibility in part means that you think of your role as a citizen (and do good citizen stuff even when you’re not asked), not a just passing through tourist.

Alright already, but what’s the connection between networking – and what about Dolores Park?

Great networkers keep in touch with people; like the connectors mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell’s work, they are ready, willing and able to initiate connections and do so authentically. Good networking, like keeping in reasonable shape, is work. And like working out, it can be enjoyable if you’re actually interested in the people you’re meeting, what you might learn, and how you might be of help.

My family’s life in the Dolores Park neighborhood has some similarities; we know some of our neighbors, are nodding acquaintances with many others, and any of us would help another at a moment’s notice. The neighborhood merchants (Bi-Rite, Delfina, Tartine, Dolores Park Cafe, et al) know us and we know them. Just as I wouldn’t hesitate to help hold open a door or deter a shoplifter, the people in those stores help me (sometimes before I need it), keep eyes out for our now 8-year old son or give him a SWAG hoodie, as Bi-Rite’s Sam Mogannam generously did for Christmas.

Job and career networking if you do it well is the same; you take genuine care of the people in your network, and they do the same for you. It’s based on reciprocity, respect and responsibility.

So happy networking. If you need more help, hire someone like me to get you or keep you going. And good luck if you’re headed to your new job.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

2 thoughts on “The 3R’s of How-to-Job-Network: Small Town, Big City

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  2. Pingback: What is the best way to approach people in my network (or people I network with) to ask for job openings? - Quora

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