I think we have all seen the statistics that say when we are out looking for a new position that it will be the people you know that are going to be the most valuable resources when in comes to identifying and landing that new role. For those of you who may not have seen the statistics, they show that between seventy and eighty percent of all new positions are found via networking. With estimates of up to seventy percent of all positions no longer being advertized, whether you are currently in a role and looking to move, or are already between positions and are looking for your next assignment, it is going to be your business associates, friends and acquaintances that will probably be responsible for your next role. I think that this sort of information clearly demonstrates that while what you may know is important, it will be who you know that will help you identify your next position.
Most of us have a tendency to think about our networks only when it comes time for us to start looking for a new assignment. While this might be the necessary time to exercise a network, is it the optimum time to be exercising the network?
I personally have been through multiple business changes. My son thinks my biggest change probably occurred when the Chicxulub meteor struck and wiped out my first cretaceous network. That fact did not however dissuade him from asking for help with his physics home work last night.
Meteors notwithstanding, I have found that for me the best time to network is not when I am in a search mode but rather when other people are in a search mode. When others are in a search mode they are already reaching out. In any network there will be those that respond and those that for whatever reason (to busy, not interested, etc.) that will not. I have made it a policy to always respond. I have found that it not only puts me in touch with my own network, it puts me in touch with the networks of others.
Networking is about creating links with others that may be two or three times (or more) removed from our own spheres of relationships. We already know who we know. It is by helping them that we get connected to the people that they know. By helping someone you not only confirm an existing relationship directly with that person, you establish a relationship with all the other people that person knows.
My dad, who I seem to give an increasing amount of attributions to, used to tell me:
“Never miss an opportunity to put the universe in your debt.”
I think this is his spin on the older version of:
“What goes around comes around.”
The latter phrase has a decidedly negative connotation associated with revenge or retribution for a previous bad behavior done against someone, whereas the former phrase is more associated with doing the first good deed for someone in the expectation that future good deeds will be done for you. In other words the best networking can be done in a “pay it forward” sort of mode.
Such is the essence of networking. Doing the first good deed is an excellent way to get and keep your network engaged. It gets to the point where the consideration of future good deeds coming back your way becomes secondary. I personally am not the best at asking for help, but I try to be pretty good at offering it. If you only network when you need something from your network, then that is the type of behavior that will quickly become associated with you.
The value of a network comes from being able to access it. The best way to access it is to be bringing something to it. Passing along position leads to others, or potential candidates for positions to recruiters, or just responding to general questions and requests for information rapidly generates a good receptivity when it is “your turn” to ask for help. Not everyone will reciprocate. That is human nature. But there will be many who feel and operate the way you do who will respond.
I have read several articles where successful business leaders have looked at themselves as the stewards of their business. Not surprisingly many of the leaders that I have had the opportunity to network with have looked at their networks the same way. They focus on the value that they bring to the system by enabling others to connect.
I guess it is appropriate to note that the network does not owe you a new position. You have to earn that. That is where the “what you know” part of the adage comes into play. You should not impose on your network to provide you with a new position, but rather look at it as connecting you with the opportunity to compete for a new position, as there will undoubtedly be others who are also in the market for something new.
Jerry Goldstein, the former CEO at Scott’s Liquid Gold is attributed as the author of the quote:
“Good fortune is when preparation meets opportunity.”
An active network, or better, a network that you are active in is one of the best ways to get connected to or “meet” an opportunity. It is obviously up to us to be prepared for such an event.