The forgotten benefits of networking
By Ellis Chase, Advisor for Alumni and Executive MBA Career Development
My standard definition of networking is building relationships over a period of time so that when people hear of appropriate opportunities, they will think of you. This is an indirect approach, as opposed to the idea of asking everyone you meet if they know anyone or know of any open jobs. That’s a surefire way of not building a relationship; rather it’s a great method for convincing people to avoid you.
Here are some of the often overlooked (or forgotten) benefits of networking:
Data shows it’s by far the best methodology
Most of the numbers I’ve seen point to a range of around 75-80% market penetration from relationship building, compared to around 5-6% from job postings. Those same single digit numbers also apply to using external recruiters (executive search, employment agencies, etc.). Of course, these numbers vary according to whatever metrics and categories the surveys use, but the main point stays fairly consistent.
Direct contact with decision makers
The best reason for building relationships is that making direct contact with decision makers, instead of Human Resources professionals or external recruiters, almost always has a greater opportunity for success. HR and recruiters are frequently just screens. Reaching the decision makers has the benefit of personal contact, rather than ending up as a piece of paper in a pile on a desk. A piece of paper can’t talk; you can.
Getting unexpected information
I’m not referring to suggestion #459 about fixing your resume (almost always useless advice) or negative comments, I’m talking about real information that could benefit you and your career. Everyone loves to talk about him or herself, and you never know what you’re going to hear that might be a good new idea. Ask how that person got to where they are now in their career, you might be surprised by the information they give you. What if a suggestion is made that you hadn’t heard or paid attention to, and is an interesting one that you hadn’t thought of?
Many years ago, I had a terrific job in technology staffing at a major bank, but it was in a culture where I didn’t fit. I even had an excellent manager. But I was, after five years of giving it a strong try, determined to leave and find a culture where I’d be more comfortable.
I met with a woman at one of the large banks, who seemed to listen to my story quite intently. At the end of it, she said, “You seem to be more interested in the career mobility aspects of your job, helping employees move from one area to another, or how they can get promotions, or how they might deal with difficult situations. Am I correct?” She was correct in her assessment, and something just clicked, which ended up turning my career completely around.Her recommendation, and my next job, was in one of those consulting firms—a perfect cultural fit—and a direction that would last for the duration of my career.
In short, don’t overlook the fact that networking is more than just the mechanics of meeting new people, following up several times, and asking good marketing and business questions. It is discovering new information and listening for new ideas as well. Lastly, don’t forget about the boundless opportunities that lay within the Johnson alumni network. This is one of the greatest benefits of having a Cornell MBA.