Sep 3 2015
I picked up the phone, surprised by the caller ID; it was someone from a former social circle with whom I hadn’t talked to in years. There was little in common for us and, quite frankly, nearly every time I came into contact with her, she wanted to sell me something. But, after a lapse in communication of three years, I was intrigued to see her number pop up on my phone.
Was she getting married? Maybe she was moving to my neighborhood? Did she have a new job? Perhaps she was changing churches and wanted to visit mine? Curiosity got the best of me and I answered the call.
“Hi. I’m surprised to see your number. What’s new with you?” I said.
“Oh hi. I just learned from one of our mutual acquaintances that you were thinking of selling your home. I wanted to ask if you would consider me for that job.”
With nary an ounce of feigned interest in what was going on in my life, she plunged right in. She heard of a potential opportunity that might benefit her without following some of the basic tenets of networking such as developing rapport, establishing trust, or building mutual benefits. Nope, it was all about her.
I politely told her that she was a few years too late and I thanked her for calling. She then hastily invited me to a party she was hosting the next night (a holiday), which is slightly akin to inviting wealthy relatives to your wedding across the country next weekend; you really don’t want the person there but you want what that person represents: a gift, a check, a job or something else.
We’ve probably had this happen to each of us. Sadly, some of us have been that person—the opportunist who tries to cash in on a piece of information or delicate situation that might benefit them in some way professionally, financially, or societally. To ensure the person you’re targeting will take your call rather than avoid it, don’t do these things in your networking efforts:
Don’t be weird.
I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in several hundred interviews for positions ranging from financial analysts, to sales reps, to senior vice presidents, and C-level executives. Sitting on the other side of the interview table has made me a target for those wanting to get ahead by gaining career counseling. I absolutely support this type of initiative (and listed “Being Intentional” as one of my networking “Do’s” in a previous column), so I agreed to meet with a man not in my department who contacted me for professional advice. One of my colleagues had also been contacted by him, so we naturally compared notes after our individual meetings with him. She and I were both struck how he prefaced practically every sentence with, “You are so successful!” and that he gave us both wrapped gifts at the conclusion of our time together.
Now, there is nothing wrong with genuine compliments, nor gift giving. But, they both must be appropriate. The gift he gave me was a religious book and my colleague’s was a heart shaped box of chocolates. Weird? Yes, plus pretentious and immature. Don’t do this.
Don’t be disingenuous.
While researching different organizations for my book, SAFETY NETwork: A Tale of Ten Truths of Executive Networking, I interviewed 110+ executives, including a former SVP of HR who had been involved in literally thousands of recruitments throughout his career. When asked about his most memorable experiences with networking—whether he was the networker or the networkee—he recalled a young woman he met who joined the hiking club to which he belonged. The gal struck up a conversation with him during the hike and broached the subject of an open position at his company. When he told her the position was already filled by an internal applicant, she walked off the trail and he never saw her again.
You see, he had been tagged in an online photo of his hiking club and the young woman was clearly interested in the job—but not the hiking club. She used phenomenal sleuthing skills to find a way to get to know the hiring manager but lacked judgment in the art of being earnest and may have even bordered on stalking. Bottom line, when you are trying to get in touch with someone to meet with you, forcing a face to face meeting under false pretenses doesn’t get you farther—only farther away from your original goals. Think through your actions before you undertake them.
Don’t put yourself up for every opportunity – be somewhat selective.
In almost every organization, and certainly within those I’ve worked at, there is at least one employee who applies for every job opening that becomes available. In one example, when a candidate was asked why he was applying for the position, the candidate said, “I am very interested in this aspect of the business.” Yet, some of the postings to which he had applied over the course of three months were for positions that had requirements of diametrically opposing skill sets compared with not only those of the candidate but also within the organization. Think sales juxtaposed against data entry; finance with operations; or even quality with human resources.
With the tactic of “let’s throw it at the wall and see if it sticks,” the candidate soon became a joke within the company. Hiring managers were hesitant to give the candidate a chance—no matter how well he might have actually fit one of the jobs. The problem? He was putting himself up for a job—any job—for the only thing he was sincerely interested in was getting out of his current one. A tip? Be selective and have some modicum of self-respect and strategy before you start contacting anyone and everyone. People like to think they are exclusive so treat them (and the jobs they represent) that way.
Don’t forget your manners.
I recount a true story that I’ve seen played out in more than a few executive online forums. Here’s one that happened just a few months ago in an executive group in Philadelphia. A new member wrote an introduction of himself to the group at large, “Dear all: Several years ago, I was downsized and came to you for help in finding me a new job and you didn’t disappoint. I left the group shortly after I started my new job but I’m back! I was let go last week from that position and ask each of you for your support of my current job search efforts.”
A few weeks later, the member wrote again. “Dear all: I was expecting to receive some leads but haven’t heard anything so perhaps my first email didn’t go through. Thus, I am sending it again.” Turns out, the dude didn’t receive the warm, welcome reception he was expecting given his fantastic experience the first time around because 1) he dropped out of the group as soon as he got a job and 2) never said thank you to the dozens of people who provided him valuable job leads. A simple “Thank You” would have gone far for future requests for networking. As your mom may have told you, “Gimme, gimme never gets. Don’t you know your manners yet?”
With that, I say, “Thank You” to those who are not only reading this column but also to those earnestly doing the right things by networking their ways to a brighter and more prosperous future. Continue to build trust, find common ground, and develop mutually beneficial goals and you can’t go wrong.
The Ultimate Executive Career Guide: In-Person and Social Media Networking
As a senior-level executive, you can use this guide to: