Networking Gone Awry

Yesterday I was talking to a young job seeker who was seeking advice about job opportunities. First, let me tell you that I was working like crazy to shift the focus from his pursuit of jobs to the benefit of gathering information and talking to people about what’s out there. From our conversation, I could tell he’d done very little research about the area he’s interested in. I was a little frustrated. He wanted a job and I wanted to tell him that he needed to do his homework so that people like me don’t have to work so hard to figure out how to help him. I’m a typical connector/networker – I want to help people, but I can’t always figure out what they need. You’ve gotta make it easy for me!

After 20 minutes of working hard and trying to help him figure out what his real career goals were, I shared with him a job opportunity I was aware of. It was in his general field of career interest, but not in the specific area. He knew very little about the job, and even less about the department/area. What a great opportunity to make a valuable connection and do some networking, right? Wrong.

By luck, I was able to introduce him to the hiring manager. The hiring manager asked “Are you interested in the position?” and the job seeker eagerly answered “Yes!” I cringed. In that split second, the dynamic shifted and he turned a low stakes/high reward situation into a high stakes/low reward one.

I can’t get his enthusiastic “yes” out of my mind. What can I share about that moment that will help you, dear reader, be more effective at networking? Here’s what I think it is…

The job seeker wasn’t really honest with the hiring manager. You see, the job seeker really didn’t know whether or not he was interested in the job. When he claimed “yes!” it automatically turned the conversation from one of mutual exploration – “Are- you-interested-in-me-and-am-I-interested-in-this-opportunity” scenario to a one-sided “I-want-this-job-and- you’re-now-interviewing-me” scenario. I can’t stop thinking about what a wasted opportunity this was for the job seeker to really establish a meaningful networking contact that might have been able to connect him to other, better suited, job opportunities. He could have enlisted this new contact — a professional in his aspirant field — to help guide his career journey with advice, suggestions, and support.

If you understand this nuance, you’re going to be successful. People will help connect you. Your contacts will go out of their way to introduce you to others. If you don’t get it, you’re going to ruin it for all the other job seekers behind you who do get, because by the time they come around, another generation of workers is going to be soured to the word “networking”. Networking is great. It’s the natural and organic way that this crazy world of work works!

Oh, and as it turns out, after talking to the hiring manager, the job seeker determined he wasn’t interested in the position after all.