Eating Lunch Has WHAT to do with Job Hunting?

HamburgerI 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

Comments

  1. BY Katherine says:

    Nice article. When I was working, it was very easy to stay in for lunch and never talk to friends or colleagues. There was no common eating area in my building so the cube was the lunch venue.
    Currently unemployed, I have been spending whole afternoons at Panera Bread and have made a quite few contacts. Gotta watch that caffeine though!!

  2. BY Mark Feffer says:

    @Katherine: And, Panera has the advantage of free wireless!

  3. BY Matt says:

    I think your post is great. I love the thought of just eating lunch. the pressure is off as long as you don’t spill food. Which I do regularly.I have my own blog and it is called Matt’s food for thought. I look forward to reading more.

  4. BY Mark Feffer says:

    @Shane Schulte: I’d love to get together next time I’m in Des Moines, which will probably be in early December. (I’m based in New York.) If you e-mail me your contact information, I’ll get in touch. Thanks.

    Mark

  5. BY Mark Lambier says:

    Great idea. My networking lead to one job interview within a week. Unfortunately didn’t get that one. Been doing the lunch, coffee and phone calls. Positive attitude helps too..

  6. BY Shane Schulte says:

    Got time for lunch? I’d love to learn more about Dice and could use some professional insight. I’m in West Des Moines.

  7. BY Juli says:

    Excellent advice! And, I too cannot think of anything more intimidating than meeting people. But, on a first time visit to a friend of a friend’s house, I made a contact and have an interview scheduled.
    PS. I just did the “send resumes blind to a hundred companies at a time” and received zero responses.

  8. BY Kathryn Prager says:

    This is a great way to keep in touch with my friends and former collegues, although these days it tends more towards decaf in the evenings (lunch quickly gets too expensive when people are unemployed). That reminds me, I’ve got a few friends I haven’t seen for a while…

  9. BY Dave Wills says:

    Mark,
    It seems amazing to me that so many people I read and talk with have or had the same apprehension in going out and making friends. I am one of those. Your words are encouraging and your reminding us that, whether served with or without food, keeping the meeting low-key/low-stress is important. Thx! Dave

  10. BY JACK H GILBERT says:

    Great comments. I have been sitting here for 11 months sending out resumes. I have had 4 interviews, mostly internal candidates get the job,(whatch out for Cal Berkeley), they love to interview, panel type format, and then, tada, WE hired an internal candidate.

    Lunch, drinks, where are the best places to hang out, with out spending a fortune-to meet people who can help me find a job?? In the east bay from Emeryville to Richmond to San Rafeal.

    Thanks,

    Jack G

  11. BY Victoria Bazhanov says:

    I have been unemployed for over a year now, and doing exactly what you wrote “send resumes blind” every week.My problem is that I don’t really have any friends and so at the moment at least networking for me is almost totally out of the question.

  12. BY Jamie says:

    Thanks for the reminder. So true. Your advice along with some from the Middle Tennessee Career Center in Nashville when I lived there back in 2002 after the dreaded tech bubble burst: fewer than 2% of all jobs are filled through ads, whereas, most positions are filled from within the company and/or through people known to the hiring manager or that are brought to the attention of the hiring manager through colleagues…aka, from within the company. I thought long and hard about that and realized that the majority of the significant jobs I had held in my life had been through personal recommendations and/or networking. She was right as far as I was concerned. I have sent very few resumes since. I try, instead, to connect with folks that I know for sources of jobs and in some cases, people I did not know but by the end of the conversation find we’re talking about a job. I don’t have a problem meeting people or striking up a conversation. I find folks absolutely fascinating and more often than not, find some common thread between us. In fact, that is one of the things that always amazes me, that complete strangers can often have more in common than friends that have known one another for quite a while, funny how that works. I guess it is the newness of it or we are seeing so very little of one another and found those few topics in common and since it is all we know of one another, it seems, and is for now our whole picture of each other. Hopefully, it is just the beginning of a long and mutually prosperous friendship…with lunches now included.

  13. BY Jeani DeSisto says:

    Great article Mark. Wonderful news for the painfully shy that there is hope in compensitory behavior – and it’s as easy as lunch!!!

  14. BY Mphillips says:

    You don’t need money or friends to network, just the initiative to get started. There are many free networking events available. Check out your local library, local newspaper, Chamber of Commerce, Unemployment Career Link office, and Google ‘local professional network groups’. Since the economy tanked there have been many of these type of groups formed. I also found the online site Linkedin is invaluable as a networking tool! Good Luck!

  15. BY Betty Murphy says:

    I would love to have lunch and discuss employment in Configuration Management or Quality Assurance. I have vast experience in CM and I looking forward to use my talent in CM or QA.

    Thank you,

    Betty Murphy

  16. BY lowell martin says:

    yes netting is a problem for most people getting out is hard in hard times,but it pays off, I go out and talk to people all the time. most of it is simple social,but if you don’t keep your motor running noone will do it for you. You would be suprised at the jobs and information that you can collect.

  17. BY Peter M says:

    It may work in getting an interview possibly. Things are different only if you have worked with someone who can put your resume in front of someone thus bypassing all others. Things get worse when you have a lot of experience and education as it becomes more difficult to find a job.

  18. Pingback: Remember This When You Network - Dice News

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