I am an unrepentant believer in networking, so it frustrates me when job seekers — that would be you — get their guard up as soon as I use the word. The problem is in the last few years, networking has become something of a buzzword. There are business networks, social networks, networking books, networking seminars and, worst of all, networking consultants. These have all made the idea of getting away from your desk to talk to someone seem contrived. And yet the fact remains: Over the course of your career, most of the jobs you’re going to get will somehow involve people you know.
One advantage of being the editor here at Dice is I get to write about what I want. When mulling what I wanted to post today, I kept coming back to the idea of networking. Of course, a few hundred other people have had the same bright idea, and post regularly about networking on their own blogs, in magazines, or in books. So, what’s going to make me different? Simple. I believe the solution to networking problems lies in food. Specifically, lunch.
My First Confession
I have to start by telling you one really important thing about myself: I’m afraid of people.
That’s pretty funny when you think about it. First of all, I’m a journalist, which means I’m supposed to call up folks I don’t know and ask them about things they may or may not want to talk about. I hate that.
Second, for the ten years before I joined Dice, I ran my own company. I employed people who did a lot of the work while I went out and got new clients. Anyone who’s been self-employed, whether they’re a sole contractor or the owner of a good-sized VAR, knows they have to spend a lot of their time selling. Whenever I made a sales call, I ended up stuttering and saying something like, “You wouldn’t happen to need our services, would you?” That’s not the kind of attitude that instills confidence in prospective customers. So I hated that, too.
Truth is, I’m content editing, researching, or managing my project checklists. Though I’m happy chatting with folks in the office, formally or otherwise, I’ll procrastinate over nothing as much as calling someone I don’t know very well to ask for something.
It’s Just Lunch
This is where food comes in.
If you’re looking for someone to have lunch with, I’m your guy. Or coffee. Or breakfast. Or a drink after work. Because along the way I discovered meeting for food is a pretty low-stress way to get to know you.
See, when you ask someone out to lunch, you rarely have to provide them with much of a reason beyond “exchanging ideas” or “learning more about your company.” Those are pretty low-pressure statements. You’re really not asking for much except their time. And, of course, you’re buying. It may only be coffee or a sandwich, but the gesture shows you understand their time is valuable.
Networking is a long-term proposition. So is food. No one’s going to offer you a job that first time you take them to lunch — and probably not the 17th time, either (though by then you’ll probably switch off on who picks up the tab). But one day, and you probably won’t see it coming, they’re going to muse about a colleague who has a problem you’re the perfect person to address. Or how their mentor, now at Groupon, is looking for someone with your skills. Or, how they went to school with the CIO at the company you just applied to.
If you eat whatever you want, whenever you want, you’re probably overweight and not very healthy. If you only spend time meeting people when you think they can get you a job, or send resumes blind to a hundred companies at a time, your search probably isn’t going very well. You’ve got to be smart in your approach to people, leverage those you know to meet new people, and always be ready to do favors.
Of course, no one post is going to cover every detail there is about networking — or food, for that matter. But getting out of your cube to stay in touch with old colleagues and meet new people is one of the most important things you can do to find a job. If you hate the notion, look for low-stress ways to do it. Even if you’re not a foodie, you’ve gotta eat.
Networking in the real world is about reaching out to someone you barely know, but would like to know more. I’d love to hear about your adventures out there — send me an e-mail (mfeffer at dice.com) to tell me what’s worked for you, or what hasn’t. Maybe we can talk about it over lunch.
First published Oct. 19, 2009