Continuing the conversation I began in Part 1 & Part 2, today I want to ruminate some more on networking. I've had a good discussions about networking since I wrote the first two parts, with a focus on the value of networking. Quite a few people had stories about finding a job because of someone they knew or previously worked with or for. Good to know it works sometimes! It definitely seems like for most people networking equals "find the next job", even if they don't plan to look any time soon.
I don't disagree with that, I think it's just a definition that is too short and...un-ambitious? Shouldn't we get more value than that?
Before I continue, one thing I want to add is that it rarely makes sense to look for a job just by calling or email friends and checking the online ads. In most cases you need a professional networker on your side - commonly known as recruiters or staffing agents. It's their job to maintain a network of employers and employees, and because their salary depends on it, they actively work to maintain those relationships. I'm not saying recruiters are perfect, just that they immediately expand the network that can hear about your availability on the market. Many people get by quite well by just using a couple recruiters and putting in almost no networking time of their own (not the recommended approach).
So, back to networking. One of the things you have to figure out is the variety and degrees of networking. How well do you need to know someone before they are part of your network? To let them know that you're looking for work? To introduce them to someone in your network upon request? Do you have to be friends? Have met them in person? Even know who they are? The challenge is that it's often all of those and none of those. If you define your network too tightly it will be small and perhaps ineffective, but is it possible to have too large a network?
Think on that for a minute...
Do we need to quantify the size of our network? It's nice to have a metric to measure progress, but how do you factor in the quality aspect, or do you need to? LinkedIn is a great example of trying to quantify a network (among other goals). Where LinkedIn struggles is helping you with the quality decision. What do you do when someone you don't know well asks to join your network. Do you say no? Ignore them? Or reduce the quality of your network? Originally my thought was to focus on quality, but given my current job and other interests, I think that actually works against me. There are a lot of people that read my blog and/or articles, or see me do a presentation at a SQL event. Isn't it to my advantage to try to maintain that connection?
The quandary then is what do I do when someone I know lightly (or may not even remember) wants to go beyond passive networking and meet someone in my network - do I introduce them? I find that this doesn't happen often, and usually it's a simple yes or no depending on what they want and who they want to talk to. Still, you worry about maintaining the value of the network. Suppose you know that I know...say Steve Jones, editor of SQLServerCentral.com, and want to be introduced to talk to him about starting a community site around airline travel. I consider and decide (for whatever reason!) that I don't know you well enough and say no - can I expect you to help me look for a job later this year if needed?
This networking stuff is hard even when you've gotten past the point of meeting someone!
Do you measure the size of your network? Have a pattern for touching/refreshing that network? Would you accept people you barely know in your network? Comments are appreciated, and more to come soon!
Also, if you want to try Linked In and can live with the premise that I might not introduce you to someone, join my network at http://www.linkedin.com/in/itdepends. It will give us both a chance to experiment:-)