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Networking: Whom, When, How?

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What happened to making acquaintances? It seems like this sour economy has employment on everyone’s mind, and it seems to be impeding the formation of true peer relationships. I’ve caught myself in this regard. Here’s an example:


Last week, I was at my parents’ house. I was introduced by my dad to a guy that was rather eager to talk to me. He had heard from my dad that I’m doing software now. “Oh, great”, I thought. This guy is looking for a job.

I talked to him for a while, and it turns out that he’s fairly successful where he’s at. He runs a fast-growing business for Lucent/Alcatel. We spent some time discussing technology. The conversation broke up when I was called away by one of my kids.

I ate lunch in my parent’s sun room. I sat next to another guy and we started talking about his job. Turns out he does embedded software. “Great,” I thought, “I have something in common with him.” I asked him what he develops on. He said Vx Works. I said (in the spirit of conversation), “They were just bought by Intel, right.” He said no. I sat there puzzled trying to figure out who was bought by Intel. [Turns out it was Wind River.] He got up pretty soon and left.

My impression was that guy #1 wasn’t concerned about finding a job nor that I might solicit a job from him. My impression (albeit just a shot in the dark) is that guy #2 was concerned that I’d be searching for a job—although I’ll never know; there could be a million reasons why he got up and left. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that he thought I was job-searching.

The lesson I learned is that it doesn’t pay to be picky about whom you talk to. My mistake was in presuming that just because my present job is right for me, everyone is going to want it. Even in this job market, that isn’t true. I got my comeuppance when someone else decided I’m after a job and walked away.

The whole situation reminded me of a Manager Tools podcast discussing how to handle a merger/acquisition. The advice was to tell people what you know. Don’t form a hierarchy of who should and shouldn’t know things. If you selectively inform people according to hierarchy, they’ll selectively inform you according to hierarchy. Information doesn’t flow hierarchically. You’d be surprised what people know. Another Manager Tools podcast put it more clearly: “Network with everyone.”

More importantly, if you want to be successful, it’s silly to treat people according to some station in life. Everyone counts. Even (or maybe especially) people who aren’t presently useful to you.


Similarly, I’ve seen people who were looking for a job a year ago decline discussions with prospective employees. I’m no expert at career advancement, but you should always talk to prospective employers. I can cite several reasons:

  1. People tend to trust you more when you’re not expecting something. You can build more trust when you’re in a secure position. That trust is priceless.
  2. It’s hard to be yourself when you’re wondering what kind of impression you’re making. It’s much easier to make a good impression when you’re relaxed.
  3. You get a better view of their position (and vice versa) when there isn’t a deadline or financial incentive.

A professional network is something you create ahead of time. It can’t be created on demand, when you need one.

How | Being genuine

To be clear, I don’t “network” for the sake of finding a job. In fact, I don’t network at all: I genuinely like talking to people—especially when they have a common interest or goal. I’ve found that by talking to people, I’ve picked up things that I can apply to my present job, or that are just useful to know. Many of the ideas I post on this blog come out of discussions with those people. To put things in perspective, having someone to call when things go wrong (I get laid off) is a very small part of the benefit of maintaining relationships.

Written by PoojanWagh

June 15th, 2009 at 7:30 am

Posted in Career/Work-Life

Tagged with ,

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