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Networking is Dead. Long Live Networking!

People on phones

Those of us embroiled in the ‘war for talent’ often fail to appreciate that this ‘talent’ is made up of individuals fighting their own war for the job they want, or even just a foot in the door.

This is the unique ugliness of our modern day labour market, in which we are plagued by both talent shortages as well as un- and under-employment. And those on the front line feel it. Recent grads beg to be given a chance to gain the experience required to get the ‘entry-level’ job that requires experience. Those seeking to join a desirable company find that personal branding and networking is a full-time, 40 hour per week job in and of itself, with limited returns. The ‘hidden job market’ taunts all. It is an arms race out there, where any little edge can make the difference.

Which is why we shouldn’t be surprised to see the latest effort to exploit that desperation, a service calling itself ‘Good Golem’. Good Golem (Toronto based – don’t we have so much to proud of lately…sigh) bills itself as “your portal to the hidden job market” and it is a very different kind of job board. It provides the platform for an employee leaving a job to post details about the role (industry, pay, duties) and to name their price to assist a prospective employee to take their place – that assistance can consist of anything from putting in a good word to the boss, to acting as a formal reference and coaching someone for the interview. Payment is made only if the job seeker is successful at securing the job.

Before those of us involved in hiring get hysterical about the potential for this type of scheme to exploit our reliance on employee referrals, let’s pause to consider the likelihood of that actually happening. That is, how much weight is a hiring manager likely to place on a departing employee’s referral? I suspect in many cases the answer to that is ‘not very much’. And to presume that the departing employee has the insight to appropriately coach an applicant on resume and interview approach in a way that would allow an unsuitable candidate to be hired is also questionable. All to say, I don’t see Good Golem as a game changer by any stretch of the imagination.

Rather, to me Good Golem seems to herald an inevitable but depressing conclusion to the ongoing ‘deification’ of networking – the anti-network.

The modern age of job search might best be summed up with the adage “You’ve got to to know someone”. The way around impenetrable online application portals and faceless careers sites is to have a connection that can recommend you to someone ‘on the inside’. Thus, the obsession with networking as a means to advance one’s career and professional life has intensified significantly over the last decade. At the same time technology and social media have exploded, and the pace of life has sped up. For many “networking” has become an increasingly depersonalized and automated undertaking, shifting its meaning and eroding its value and purpose. Like me, you probably receive numerous LinkedIn requests from people you’ve never met, without any sense of why they might want to connect (but never interact) with you, and what purpose they assume this will serve. Social media and gamification seem to have trained us to focus on the quantity of our connections, rather than their quality.

Recent grads, emerging professionals, and the freshly unemployed at all stages of their careers are indoctrinated with the notion that networking is the golden path to career success, but are often not given a sense of how a real network should be built and what its true value and purpose is. Job search forums, articles and experts all espouse networking as the key to job search success, urging job seekers to hone their ‘elevator pitch’ and prep their business cards. So many people simply hand out those cards to strangers at events, and send out LinkedIn requests to people they think they should ‘connect’ with, all while they grow increasingly frustrated that these efforts do not summon a job offer.

Of course, many of the people who continue to advise them that ‘networking’ will help them find a job may neglect to understand or explain that building a true network is an ongoing, life-long process, and that you can’t build a network expecting to get something specific out of it, especially not right away. You have to build a network because you want to be part of a community and contribute to it. And if you contribute to that network, and give without expectation, over time it will give back to you in ways that are unexpected and wonderful. Of course all of this takes time, energy, and sustained attention even during those times when one is comfortably employed – a true network is not a quick-fix job search tool.

Which is why it seems unsurprising that services like Good Golem would arise, where in place of investing the time to cultivate a relationship with someone, you can just pay them to act as though you’ve done that. It’s like hiring a great looking escort to accompany you to your high-school reunion. Why spend the time to meet, date, and love a wonderful person you are proud to be with, when you can just rent one on the day you think it matters?

And so, the day has come when we ‘network’ on our walk to work, heads bowed over our smart phones, dodging other people on their smartphones, sending each other LinkedIn requests, perhaps even as we wander past one another on a crowded sidewalk. Networking is dead, long live networking.

Photo credit : Just Ard via Flickr Creative Commons:

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. There was a time that I too despised the whole idea of networking. Networking was something one did out of desperation or because you’re an extrovert who would happily attend event after event for the sheer fun of it (not me). Over the last couple of years I’ve learned differently. The reason I hated networking was because I completely misunderstood its purpose and potential. I was “going to get” – and I was doomed from the start. The change I made was I began to “go to give” and within a year I was asked to lead the board and within another year I was invited to help lead a much larger effort spanning many organizations.

    Even if you’re not senior in your career, even if you’re brand new and have little experience, you probably do have energy and motivation, and many organizations thrive and welcome new members who can bring new ideas and fresh perspective. As the President of one such organization my favorite thing to hear from new people is “how can I help?” I, and the rest of our board, will do all we can to help these folks connect with others who can in turn help them.

    If you’re new to networking I encourage you to go on many networking “dates” to find the professional organizations that best fit your needs and gifts. Find one or a few that you really resonate with and be skeptical of any person or group promising a quick win. Your goal is to walk away feeling like you’ve made a positive difference in the life of someone else, not to collect or distribute business cards. If people see that you’re interested in helping them, they really won’t care about how slick your elevator pitch is. If they don’t see your interest, they aren’t listening anyway.

    Also keep in that mind that while the large national and international groups are great for your development and learning about your industry, don’t forget the smaller niche groups that can help you forge enduring bonds based on shared interest and sustained connection. I am regularly humbled by the accomplishments of our members and almost all of them are happy to help a sincere, helpful person on their journey. Go to Give and networking becomes an act of generosity instead of an act of desperation.

    July 28, 2014

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