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SQLAndy

I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.

Networking - Part 3

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:-)

Comments

Posted by Steve Jones on 21 January 2009

I think I'm hoping to avoid air travel for awhile.

Interesting that you mentioned the size of a network. I wasn't sure about LinkedIn, so I checked. I have a little over 100 people, as opposed to the SQLServerCentral group that has 1500+.

I know I touch people here in the community regularly, but outside that I don't touch a lot of people regularly. Surprisingly, without LinkedIn, Facebook, etc., I have had 3-4 people I've worked with years ago contact me after a few years to see if I could help them find a job or recommend them.

Posted by Jack Corbett on 21 January 2009

I would say that, in today's world, you do not need to have met someone in person in order to consider them part of your network.  In my case many of the people I now consider part of my "SQL" network are people I have never met, but have interacted with regularly on SSC.  Does meeting them help? Yes, but I don't think it is required.

When it comes assisting someone you don't know well, I think that it is a 2-way street.  The person asking should understand the newness of the relationship and give you an out by asking something like, "Would you consider introducing me to Steve Jones?  I know we don't know each other well, so if you are uncomfortable feel free to decline."

Posted by David Benoit on 21 January 2009

Interesting thoughts. I typically allow for anyone in my network with LinkedIn but was pretty limiting with my facebook connections (which I recently dropped). The one thing that I believe would be greatly beneficial would be to have the ability to somehow qualify the type of connection that they are, maybe a grading that would not be seen by them but would be adjustable by you. That would allow you to "categorize" those contacts and still provide you with the ability to maintain the larger list.

Just a thought.... Maybe I'll recommend that to LinkedIn (unless they have it already and I have missed it).

Posted by Andy Warren on 21 January 2009

Jack, I agree, but remember you always have a few that aren't as aware!

David, I do like the idea of categorizing, I just don't know if I'd do it. Seems like "ideal" would be if the system knew when you had contact (email, im, etc) and scored it that way.

Posted by Roy Ernest on 21 January 2009

I am pretty bad at using the people I know. I prefer not to ask anyone any favor because I dont know if that will put them in a spot. Why make my freind uncomfortable? Just imagine how I will be with people that I do not have much contact with.

Even in the case of LinkedIn, I have just 8 people in my contact list. I am bad.. very bad at networking.

Posted by Andy Warren on 21 January 2009

Roy, I totally understand that view. Two things I can think of on that - one is what do you think of the comment from Jack above about the right way to ask. The other point, that I think you'll like better...is..would you be willing to help someone on your network? If you define your goal to be selfless, building your network opens the door to potentially helping more people.

Posted by Jack Corbett on 21 January 2009

Roy,

I am pretty bad at building and using my network.  I too, have few links in LinkedIn, but I am building it slowly.

Andy mentions that if you build your network with the idea of being selfless or a helper that makes it easier to network because it's no longer about what I can get.  

We also need to understand that most people are want to help others out if they can, so be willing to ask.

Posted by nwlibrarian on 23 January 2009

It's my belief that relationships, whether they are on-line or face-to-face, are cultivated over time. At some point in our careers we've all been the new person on the job. Co-workers feel you out slowly to assess your capabilities. In the beginning you’re entrusted, perhaps, with smaller jobs no matter how simple before you move on. My joke has always been, “no one starts knowing the combination to the safe.” The same is true with networking. Perhaps I’m just overly cautious, but there are a lot of con-artists out there, particularly the cyber-con-artists. It’s why I prefer the personal face-to-face networking relationships; then using on-line vehicles such as E-mail or blogging to maintain them. It’s probably not ideal but I leave recommendations to my close circle that know the body of my work (which goes for co-workers and/or those I’ve worked on pass projects with). Those that know me know where to find me for advice or a vodka tea (and sometimes both)! I figure if you only know me when you need help or to pitch an idea, and I’m not good enough to watch the hockey game, Super Bowl, or hit a golf ball with, I’m guessing I’m simply a vehicle for you and not a networking partner. Networking partners, as friendships, go both ways.

Posted by Dan Guzman on 17 February 2009

It's seems that these networking sites could easily rank contacts or 'friends' by how frequently you contact them via the network.  People you contact with the most have the highest rank.  If you have a network so large that you can't keep track of everyone all the time, ranking would make it simple to look at the tightness of your circle

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