The Haverford Center for Careers and Professional Advancement asked me to write a post about the importance of using LinkedIn for college students to connect with alumni. Here’s what I said…
I used to think “networking” was a pejorative term, one that described the unsavory, backroom schmoozing that gave the unqualified-but-well-connected an express lane to the corner office. The scene I imagined was set at a country club, where the children of senators and industrialists would advance their careers at a white collar version of the NFL combine, putting on display critical life skills such as being able to have a functional conversation after three scotches and handling the embarrassment of your short game with grace.
The path to employment, at least in the meritocracy I wanted to believe in, was by doing well in school, writing a great cover letter describing your talents and passions, and applying to jobs through a company’s careers website. The universe, in its relentlessly rational way, would ensure that the most qualified applicants were whisked to the roles to maximize their marginal product of labor; think Milton Friedman wearing Hogwarts’ sorting hat. “Networking” was akin to cheating, giving a leg up to applicants with a coincidental personal connection to a hiring manager.
Nine years, four jobs, and an MBA later I’ve developed a more nuanced view of networking. I’d like to share with you some thoughts on the topic that I wish had been shared with me back when I was looking for my first job.
I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that networking is every bit as necessary as it’s made out to be, and might even be undersold. Personally, I’d be very hesitant to hire someone without having had someone I trust vouch for them; interviews and resumes are poor substitutes for a personal recommendation. For personality fit, only the most socially inept are unable to pull themselves together to seem employable during an hour-long interview. And for subject matter expertise, interview questions tend to be very predictable. Forward me any job description and I’ll give you ten questions you’re likely to be asked. As Sun Tzu said, “Know your resume, know the position, and you will get 100 jobs.” Or something like that.
Your resume isn’t helping you stand out either. For me the resume occupies a place right next to the fax machine in the category of business practices that need to die. No useful information other than proper nouns are ever conveyed, and they’re famously filled with exaggerations at best, and outright lies at worst. Plus, let’s be honest, when you’re 22 all your resumes pretty much look the same. Nota bene: you unfortunately still need to have a resume and make it conform to certain guidelines your career counsellor can help you with. But I’m hoping future generations will be as familiar with resumes as they will be with phones that require chargers or cars that require drivers.
A much better medium for networking purposes is your LinkedIn Profile. I’ll admit that I have a particular affinity for social networking given my company, Simply Measured, provides social media analytics for marketers. But I’ve long maintained that LinkedIn is a much better way for you to display your passions, your creativity, and your personality than a resume ever will be. It’s a place to have a multimedia expression of your career ambitions; talk about what you’re most proud of, what you’d like to accomplish, link to your work around the web (tip: start a blog, if you don’t already have one.)
And now the good news: networking is not nearly as reprehensible as you think. In fact, it can be enlightening and even fulfilling. But you need to change your approach 180 degrees from where it likely is. Don’t think of networking as a means-to-an-end, where the “end” is about calling in enough favors for you to land a job. Think of it as an opportunity to learn from people about their jobs (what do you do?), their passions (why do you do this?), and their backstory (how did you get here?). If you’re anything like me, you’ll be amazed by the diverse ways people can make a living in this world; I continue to be. Another pitch for LinkedIn: you’re just a few clicks away from finding alums who are happy to share their experience and perspective with you.
But as great as the accumulation of knowledge is, there’s yet another reason why you should embrace networking: it’s an opportunity for you to help someone else. Yes, you.
If I could send one book back in time to my 22-year-old self, it would be Adam Grant’s Give and Take. I want you to read it, because I think it’ll change your outlook on networking as it did mine. In short, when you think of networking you need to harness your inner JFK: ask not what your network can do for you, ask what you can do for your network. Networking isn’t about asking for favors, and it’s not even about tit-for-tat; it’s about creating more value for others than you appropriate for yourself. And there are some ways to get started, like the 5-minute favor, for example:
- “Use a product and offer concise, vivid and helpful feedback.
- Introduce two people with a well-written email, citing a mutual interest.
- Read a summary and offer crisp and concrete feedback.
- Serve as a relevant reference for a person, product, or service.
- Share, comment or retweet something on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google+ or other social places.
- Write a short, specific and laudatory note to recognize or recommend someone on LinkedIn, Yelp, or other social place.”
So get out there. Make your LinkedIn profile a place for ambition and expression, and use the service to find people you can learn from and add value to. Need more specific suggestions? Well, you know where to find me: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jonathanaisenberg