desperation

Speed Networking Can Kill

One of my favorite John Wooden quotes: Be Quick But Don’t Hurry.

When you rush you make mistakes. Speed kills. I should know I have been a speed demon most of my life. I do believe that if you want to succeed you need to move and move quickly. Yeah the slow and steady tortoise can win the race but to qualify and compete in the race of life, you need to move. However, moving too fast, especially without thinking can hurt you. I have had many hard lessons, especially when I was younger, where I accelerated and ran right over my allies and opportunities.  Speed kills

We are all so busy that we rarely distinguish the tasks on our plate. Everything can be treated with the same value and care or lack thereof. That can be disastrous.

Emails, text messages, and communications fly in at you at hyperspace speed. You delete, forward, and reply with the best of them. But we have to know when something requires a different pace and attention. Something personal, sensitive and even emotional requires super slo mo. Otherwise you can come off too transactional and cold. Haste truly makes landfills!

My first marketing manager had a love hate relationship with my proliferation of ideas. He loved the diversity and the ability to  alter the reality we faced. He hated my ideation and the versioning I might come up with. He stopped me one day and said, “Speed, price or quality—pick two.” You may have heard this, but at that time it was a wonderful chilling moment as a young twenty-something manager. He was saying you can’t have it all and speed comes with a cost.

We all learn, or suffer the consequences, to adapt to the situations we encounter in the speed of life.

Last week, I encountered several speedsters, all of them under 30, who made big blunders in trying to react to me too quickly.

  1. Cold e-mail intro leads nowhere--I contacted a young woman that I had met several times to see if she knew someone at a particular company. I was trying to make a connection for another acquaintance. I was researching who I knew who had the “warmest”/closest connection. When I inquired through social media, she said she did know someone (turns out not very well) and immediately made an e-mail intro. The abbreviated uninformative intro never worked and I never heard from that person. It was clear that my contact was trying to be helpful but in her speed she may actually have unwittingly done more harm than good. I later found a warmer connection to that same person and this acquaintance of mine handled it the correct way. They talked to me, they talked to my referee, and then they talked to the company contact. A real connection was made.
  2. High speed brand mis-management—I was introduced to an intern at a company I was visiting. It ended up we were waiting together in the conference room and I asked him, “Where were you before this?” I assumed that he would reveal the university he graduated from. He blurted out, “I got a useless masters degree to bridge me to this internship and then later I will get my MBA. I always wanted an MBA.” Huh? A million questions jumped into my head, but the inflection, body language, and overall demeanor of this young man screamed lack of confidence and even embarrassment. Did he know how much this hurt his brand? No pride in his accomplishment nor affinity with this masters program. I never learned the identity of this “useless” program. He seemed bright but his articulated storyline to a stranger was poorly delivered and thought through. His brand crashed and burned right in front of us.
  3. Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail (another Wooden quote)—Had an informational interview and quasi-mentoring session with a young man who wanted career advice. The focus of his inquiry was for-profit vs non-profit sectors. However, this 27 year old gentleman had not done any homework, no research, no introspection, no prep for our session. It was a frustrating time for both of us. He wanted me to tell him what to do and I wanted to know what he wanted. Seemed like he was so busy he neglected to remember how busy I am. So I asked many questions and he had no answers. Mentoring done well, is about the bigger questions of purpose and goals, not serving as a human Google search for careers.

Yes, in all three cases I gave these people feedback on what they said and did......

The point here is to make the time for the relationships that matter. To stop and listen. They are not ALL another to-do item on your list. Get milk, balance check book, make dental appt and get mentored. Get your story together. Think about to whom you are speaking—a person who might be able to help you--even strangers. What is your first impression? Take time to make the actual connections--life is not a video game. 

Let’s be quicker but less hurried. Less transactional, more personal. Make the effort to connect with the person in front of you. If you don’t, the victim could be you.

Thanks for slowing down and reading. John


Repairing and avoiding burned bridges

What goes around comes around and sometimes it is a quick trip. 

That's what I was told by a wiser person early in my career. In other words, you meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way down. Burning bridges is plain stupid. The world is a small place and your reputation and network are precious. There is this fallacy that you can just plow ahead and push forward because you never go back that way again. And it doesn't matter because the people you've encountered in these developmental, experimental, or early stages of life will not be relevant to your world later. Kinda like your 2nd grade teacher, right?------wrong again. Burning bridges

There's just a very simple practical matter when you burn a bridge you don't have a reference, you have destroyed part of your history, and you have lost a part of your life.

Of course if you are in a toxic environment, work for a felonious employer or witness crimes against humanity, then you leave and you are not sensitive to the state and well-being of the relationship. You may leave in a manner that was not of your choosing or certainly in a way that does not reflect your best side. You have a solid rationale, righteousness, and an explainable reason for your unceremonious and possibly uncivil departure. Some bridges have to be burned.

Most burnt bridges don't involve dramatic fires and lawyers. Usually bridges get burned very slowly--slow enough to see and smell. Embers that smolder and eventually flame up and destroy whatever positive structures were there.

But when you have decided to leave of your own volition, get a better job, or just want out, you have to be professional. Some people don't get this. They think if they give their 2 weeks notice, never consult with their employer, and go on their merry way that the world remains intact and bridges are preserved. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bridges are not edifices on a one-way street that you take for granted and see in your rear view mirror. Bridges are often returned to for references and referrals. They are places and people that you visit to remind you of your progress and solidify your past. They are parts of the mosaic of your reputation and experience.

I was asked recently what you do when you have burned a bridge. The only thing you can do is to repair it, to go back to the scene of the fire and confront the same issues you faced originally.  Its best to repair the potholes in your road before they cause accidents. But what do you do? What can you do? You have to make the call. You have to make the connection you have to go face to face, listen and learn. You have to eat a big hunk of humble pie and apologize for the way YOU handled it. Hopefully there will be some reciprocity here if it is warranted. But if you can repair the burnt bridge so that it is at least neutral, then you have taken the higher road and restored a part of your history, part of you.BridgeConstruction

I have learned that professionalism and dignity are always the right choices. Not well known that I have been hired and fired. I have been laid off and paid off.  In every case it was evident that things were not working. I had a couple of choices. Get ahead of it or wait for the inevitable. I have found that anticipation is more virtuous than being right. Unless you are the boss/owner, then your perspective is secondary by definition. A lack of anticipation, attention and common sense can fossilize a bad relationship/job. Why not get off the burning bridge first. I once told my employer that I thought the relationship was not working and that we should plan my exit. He was stunned and grateful for the honesty. We made amicable plans and he is still a great reference for me! (Even tried to hire me back!)

I mentored this woman who works for a friend of mine. I generously gave her candid advice over years to focus her pursuit of higher responsibility and confidence. She ended up getting her Masters degree paid for by my friend's company. She progressed and she advanced and I took a tiny bit of pride in her growth. I never expected gratitude or anything. When she quit her job and did not give sufficient notice or even talk to my friend or me before she resigned, I was disappointed. I told her she burnt a bridge. She was shocked and also incredibly defensive. She said she had every right to move on and to advance her career. That was not the point. This was not about blind loyalty, this is about the process of engaging your supporters in your advancement. Your supporters are like micro investors who expect you to move up and out, but like to be informed. They don't want to be surprised. My friend was not only surprised but hurt. That bridge is a pile of ashes now. She still thinks its there, but later she may discover its gone when she needs it.

Bottom-line is if you have burnt bridges and regretted relationships you should reach out and fix them. They will never fade away and in fact they can haunt you. They hurt your brand. They might sabotage your future, but most important they diminish you. They reduce your sense of who you are.

The road you have travelled is a reflection of you and your relationships. Bridges and roads need to be maintained and repaired to remain strong and viable. It is never too late to go back to repair, but it it is simpler to avoid damaging any part of your path because you may tread there again.

Thanks for reading. John


Lessons and reminders from reality

Congresswoman Judy Chu's office called me and asked me to offer my workshop to her Job Hunter's Job Boot Camp last week. I commend Judy and her team for their leadership in helping people get their careers and lives on track.

I got there early, as I always do presentations to get the lay of the land. I attended a "Hot Jobs" workshop that was sparsely attended. There were three panelists who gave a wide range of advice on jobs from IT to construction. One thing that struck me is that there ARE jobs. Unfilled positions with futures. They all require more certification and training just to apply and get to the entry level. I am talking about answering the phone and laying cement certifications! But between the three presenters they had hundreds of openings. Looking around the room there was limited interest in these new fields. You can see the questions in people's faces---Should I re-tool for a new career? Shall I invest in a change at this stage of my life? Only a few seemed encouraged.Unemployment  

Even though the focus of this session was entry level, the lessons and advice apply to all. Just a few of the words of wisdom I heard:

  • "No longer are we "break and fix" guys. Help desk staff have to have deeper knowledge, be great communicators, and work collaboratively."
  • "Don't burn any bridges so you have good references--we check them all."
  • "If you are not arriving to work early, then you are late. If you arrive at work one minute late, we send you home. It shows you are not serious."
  • "We fire people who say "that's not in my job classification!"

My session was filled with a very diverse array of human beings from 20 to 60 years old. I introduced some fundamental career change and networking essentials. I pushed them through a few exercises to get them to understand. It was one of the most energized groups I have encountered in years. One thought seemed to perplex  people the most. The contradictory notion of openness to opportunity and the specificity of a job search.

I always introduce the seemingly conflicting concepts of defining your goals with specificity and being open to discovery and serendipity. I make fun of people who are open to anything to not eliminate any possibilities They usually have such general job/career goals that no one can help them. What I call the Rose Parade Theme goal. Here are few of my favorites from the last week: "I want to work with people." "I can't be stuck behind a desk." "I want to do something I believe in."  Huh?

Here's the rub. What you want has to be honed down to reflect your personal needs and interests. If you can't articulate what you want no one can help you find it. Networking is impossible and mentoring is frustrating. When you say you can do anything, most people hear nothing and they do the same.

Once you focus on what you want and say things people can understand, they can provide assistance and support. And, here's the kicker when you get focused and are pursuing and doing what you want--it shows in your energy, effort and passion. This is when others offer you new opportunities. People see you in another sector or field. People see your talent transferring into something else.

New offers and opportunities don't arise when the people around you have no idea what you want.

So specificity breeds success and success enables new opportunity. Get it?

I am constantly inspired by the people that are trying to make changes to get a job and find a new career to be fulfilled. My goal is to just try and give people a little different perspective to get them to accelerate the changes they know they have to make. In the end I get re-charged by their desire to advance their lives.

Every encounter and experience provides lessons, so......

Be specific. Get to work early. Adapt faster. See your job as bigger than the job description. And don't burn your bridges. Some real lessons from real people looking for and offering work.

Thanks for reading. John


Networking is an Existing Contact Sport and not a Game

While this title may lead some to think otherwise, networking is NOT a game. It is not a technique that should be revved up out of sheer need and change. It is a lifestyle of connecting, helping others, and yourself that never ends. As defined in this blog, networking is a process of building trusting relationships that are mutually beneficial. It is a intentional system that fosters a sense of community and sharing between and amongst colleagues, family members, neighbors and friends. Therefore, by definition, it can not be done alone. Networks are composed of people you know and care about. And focuses on your existing network--the amazing people you know but really don't know. While being in charge of your career and life can be a lonely job, your network should be your source of support, guidance, inspiration, and connections that help you advance your life and career. It is not about just meeting new people and adding names to your FB friend list. Networking is about relationships that help one another and should start with giving without an expectation.Contact sports

---I am reiterating this definition because I realized some of my newer readers have not heard me speak or read my earlier posts.---

People confess that the hardest part of networking is the meeting people part. However, what I am emphasizing here is for people to reach out to people they know, to reconnect with people that may not currently be part their active network. This is so much easier than approaching strangers at a cocktail party and frankly less risky. But why should I reconnect with people I know? What value does that have for me? I need new people and energy.

By reconnecting with people you like and trust, you start from a common basis for sharing and caring. You will be able to talk about things that matter in frank terms and consider ways of helping one another faster. I guarantee you that these people have influence and connections you never considered or under-estimated. And by the way they have networks!

We all know, worked with, went to school with: people who we have not been able to keep in touch with. These are great people we liked and even admired, but the busyness of life have pulled you apart. You may even have a twinge of guilt about not staying connected with them. :) These include relatives!

In addition, there are people you know now and like, who you have not made time for. You'd love to know them and their families better. You say to yourself, "I wish I could spend more time with this person/people."

Again, questions emerge in your brain. But why John will these connections help me with my immediate goal/challenge/need? I don't have time to reconnect or connect with these people I know. (Are you listening to yourself?) The greatest regret, bar none, is the regret that comes from these lost moments of connection and relationships abandoned.

Here's an excerpt from a young man who heard me speak a few weeks ago:

".... you talked about not underestimating our peers in terms of networking and building relationships. Ironically, the previous week I ran into an old acquaintance I had not seen since 2006. We caught each others eye at the elevators and instead of passing him by, like I normally would have, we stopped to chat. It's not that I don't enjoy being social, but I have 3 part-time jobs, and am generally too exhausted to hang around any longer than necessary. But I stopped this time. We chatted and set up a lunch date for the day that you came to speak. I was planning on canceling the lunch. Why did I need to talk to him anyway? He's just an old friend who isn't in my field. It's not like he's going to give me a job. Well, needless to say, your message hit me hard and I had lunch with him after all. We had a great time and reconnecting with him will be socially and professionally beneficial to both of us, even if the dividends don't pay off immediately. Thanks for urging me to follow through with that." At the elevator

Go back to the first paragraph and remember,

" Networks are composed of people you know and care about. And focuses on your exisiting network--the amazing people you know but don't know. While being in charge of your career and life can be a lonely job, your network should be your source of support, guidance, inspiration, and connections that help you advance your life and career."

The only way your network grows and evolves is by reconnecting and connecting. Yes, it is possible that you magically sit next to someone, or meet someone randomly, who possesses the answers to your dreams and prayers. Why couldn't that special person be someone you know but don't know? YOUR network only gets stronger through your investments in it. And the strength of your existing network reveals itself in surprising ways. And winning a lottery ticket is still a possibility :)

Think about it, when you reconnect with someone you care about, you lessen guilt, you reduce regret and most important, you make the world a bit smaller and more hospitable. Never underestimate the people to whom people you are connected. I am surprised everyday, by re-connections I make that add unintended and substantial dimensions to my life.

Said another way, meeting people to just meet people for their influence and connections is a superficial game. It is the classic, disposable, me-oriented process that has given networking a bad and nausea producing name .

The point here is there are few quick fixes in life. Miracle 6 week exercise programs or diets don't generate lasting results or increase your health metrics. When we desire fast results for little effort, we know that our gullible persona has take over the steering wheel. Networking takes persistent time and effort and the benefits will be returned to you manifold.

Of course, what you say or do when you make these connections is crucial and the subject of many posts here. But I wanted to reiterate that networking is a lifestyle that is a very accessible process. So much easier than people think, because it all starts by contacting people you already know!

What are you waiting for?

Thanks for reading. John


What triggers change?--My week long journey to the center of meaning

Last Sunday, I got the chance to catch up with Glenn, my best friend from high school. We met out in Palm Springs to golf and to, as they say in Hawaii, talk story. Our friendship has spanned 45 years and endured many challenges and been punctuated by many adventures. Anyway, as we age, Glenn I end up talking about serious things. The meaning of our lives. Our kids futures. The future of the world. As we looked out onto the Palm Desert landscape, Glenn asserted that the "next generation is not as motivated" to put in the effort and sweat equity to obtain the lifestyles and more important the type of country we all want. This is partly the classic and inevitable discussion of all older generations complaining about the next generations. But it was also a conversation about what will it take for young people and all of us to return to the basics, set aside our cushy expectations and entitlements, and actually invest time and energy in work. Glenn and I believe that you learn about yourself, you establish values, you appreciate what you have, by working and literally and figuratively making a living. I can hear the, Typical Boomers! chant. It is true, we are creatures of our upbringing and OUR parents lives.

We came to many conclusions on how the world could be a better place--of course if Glenn and I ran it! :) However, one of them was really disturbing to me. Only hardship, tragedy, and the threat of either will get people to change. Change, meaning people engaging in the fundamental process of taking responsibility for their own destinies. For people to work at their lives instead of hoping something good will happen. For people to commit to new goals, values, habits, new skills, strengthen relationships and to become who they were meant to be. To take responsibility for their own lives and fully understand that they can drive their own destines.Carrot

So the stick is more powerful than the carrot?!! Really. We can not be motivated to take action with inspiration alone? It takes an "enemy" and fear for us to change? It is well known that money will never sustain our motivation or ever truly inspire us. The research on that is conclusive. Daniel Pink's new book Drive reviews 5 decades of research on this subject if you have doubts. But I was unsettled by the fact that I could not refute this conclusion: That fear may be the greatest and most effective motivator.

"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."  Samuel Johnson

Losing our job, getting cancer, death of a loved one, and bankruptcy force us to take inventory of our lives and potentially change. Learning about somebody else's misfortune is not the same. It gives us pause, but we always think WE are different. So we only redefine our lives when tragedy befalls us?

I attended a community meeting where the subject was the future of at risk youth. It was a robust and emotional discussion of the causes and consequences of "the system" vs the individuals. One mother asserted that her kids had no chance with the "institutional discrimination" and "economic racism" that is embedded in our society. A man stood up and said, "My track coach taught me to focus on the finish line. And if there are hurdles in the way, just get over them. The more we feel like victims, the higher the hurdles will appear." We know there is truth in both perspectives. The challenges for the poor and vulnerable are daunting. And without a mindset of self determination and self-reliance no one can succeed. The finish line can provide focus, but the hurdles can add motivation or they can deter.Hurdles  

On Wednesday I led a workshop in Plano Texas for a group of FritoLay managers and leaders who were tracked for accelerated paths. My job was to help them think about their opportunities and what they wanted. I used the carrot of the chance their employer was providing them. We discussed career and life strategies. We reflected on where they were going and why. One of the participants came up to me after our 4 hours together and said, "How will I know who I am? And what I want? I want to change, but there are so many expectations of me." I marveled at his candor and his moment of wonder about himself. I simply said, "Keep listening to yourself. Keep listening to your heart."

My week ended up at a celebration of the life of a dear friend who is dying. While we all are dying, few of us really live. A group of us did not want to wait until her memorial to express our gratitude and appreciation. For me, it is too late. I hate learning things about people at their funerals. We spent a wonderful afternoon learning and celebrating her diverse life. It was inspirational. It was uplifting. It gave all 120 of us a view of what is possible if we live to our fullest. It reminded us of how precious life is and how brief our time together can be. So were people inspired to change their lives by a great role model or by the fear of their own deaths?

I know it is both. And it really does not matter. Whatever helps us re-define our lives to push us to improve is great. We need examples of what life can be and we need the whack in the head from fear. We need to let people hit some hurdles so they can get back up and re-focus on the finish line. I am so optimistic about the future and the next generation. However we must guide, not coddle, our young people to let them find themselves so their dynamic DNA can flourish. We need to actively seek ways we can motivate ourselves and each other through the amazing blend of fear and inspiration that life gives us everyday.

Thanks for reading. John


Networking with the Headhunters

Love the term "headhunters" because it sounds so ghoulish, mercenary, and a bit scary. Of course, we politely call them executive recruiters and talent recruitment. Back in the day, these firms were considered pretty elite and mysterious. Don't call us we'll call you! Hired by larger institutions and corporations who paid at least 30% of first year comp--so very expensive. The key advantage is the good firms have robust databases and can call currently employed people and get them to consider career moves. And at the very least, they network with these people to get referrals. Like great sales people, recruiters network like no others, because searches cross sectors and industries, so meeting great candidates can always be useful for a future search. But the economy has hit these firms too. Searches are down and the pool of highly qualified candidates are way up. While the advent of the web and career search sites has reduced the influence of headhunters, they are still important--especially as you climb the career ladder. Puppet-heads-l

Not talking about the firms which try to place temps or fill vacant entry level positions for a fee. Although some of my advice applies to them.

My best opportunities have come from headhunters. I have been placed by some of the largest firms in the business. Korn Ferry, AT Kearney, Heidrick and Struggles, Spencer Stuart, but there are zillions of small specialty boutique local firms as well. And the giant companies like Google have their own internal search "firms". I probably have a conversation or e-mail from a head hunter every week. So I have cultivated relationships with many firms over my career and many view me as a hub for contacts. This has served my network well. Like all firms, the quality of the firm is measured by the quality of the rep and there is a range of talent in the best and small firms.

In general, head hunters are akin to commission salespeople. They need to produce and they need to think about the next gig. So if they are any good, they will be a bit pushy and want to know if you need their services, that's their job. Passive recruiters will be looking for new work. You accept that as part of the conversation.

I was given advice early in my career to treat inquiries from headhunters as special calls. Like warm network calls, make time for them. Why? Simply put, brand management and development. Your reputation and thereby your potential is sculpted by others, by the marketplace, by the 360 degrees of your sphere of influence. And headhunters can play a role in the shaping of your brand. What if every headhunter had you on their list? Remember the general rule of networking that I preach here ad nauseum:The more people who know you, your skills, your helpfulness, your career trajectory, and your smiling face--the better! 

But is your head worth hunting?...........Let's assume it is :)

By the way, headhunters call about specific searches and call people they are recruiting who also know candidates. They don't call the unemployed very often. So thinking, you will talk to them when you need them is the dumbest thought. Breaks the cardinal rule of networking: Give first, then receive. And besides you know that desperation networking or emergency job networking are the most dangerous varieties.

I was talking to a close friend who has an amazing background and career. Her reputation and brand are spectacular, better than she thinks. She is very successful, but has a disdain for headhunters. She is a linear career planner. She does not look at new opportunities to remain focused on her current role. Therefore headhunters are distracting. She does not interview or talk to recruiters, until she needs to. This approach has worked for her, but as you might suspect, I disagree adamantly with this mindset. Despite her personal view, I have pushed her recruiters and opportunities on a regular basis. I see her potential as much bigger than she does. Finally got her to pursue a few leads. I got her to consider these in the context of brand management for the FUTURE. I am trying to help her see beyond her current horizon, because the future is not predictable. And luck and certainly the past are not guarantees of what could happen tomorrow.

Here are my quick tips on head hunters:

  1. Do some research on headhunters: Find out who and what firms are considered the best in your field and which ones are not so well thought of. What firms would you hire if you ever needed one?
  2. When they call or e-mail, respond--Be a resource. Don't just reject this as a nuisance because you are not interested. Find out about the opportunity, get the job spec, give them advice and then try and refer them candidates. I usually give my network contacts a head's up and send them the spec vs just giving the recruiter a name.
  3. Refer great candidates to headhunters unsolicited. Not desperate unemployed friends. But terrific people you meet and know that are gainfully employed and should be on the talent radar screens. Encourage them to meet and try to make that connection. Not all firms will do this, but again based on your relationship with a specific recruiter, it can work.
  4. Meet with a recruiter face to face--After you get to know the recruiter or you sense some chemistry, meet with them to better understand their business and for them to get to know you. You know that every informational interview IS an interview, so be prepared.
  5. Invite recruiters to events to meet your circle of people. This can be a win win.
  6. When do I call the recruiter for myself? Almost never. I call them to get advice on career moves, on their take on certain employers and to get insider info on that sector/company/industry. You don't call them to announce your general availability. No No.

Building your brand is a full time job. Part of that process is engaging headhunters proactively to help them. Instead of viewing them as annoying salespeople, see them as part of a larger network that can assist you and your network. Like all great networking that is driven by helping, the benefits can be career changing.

Thanks for reading. John


Desperate times do not call for desperate networking

I get lots of funny and helpful feedback from my loyal readers. I know my job as a blogger is very easy, because everyone tells me how to do it! :) My future blog topic list has grown over the last few months and I would love your help in deciding what I discuss next. So cast your vote on my poll over to the right. Thanks for your help! 

Don't network desperately
Unemployment rate now tops 7% nationally and in the golden state will top 9% when the latest figures come out. Some metropolitan areas have hit 25% unemployment. Job losses are now the highest since WWII. No wonder fear and desperation are increasingly evident in the working and networking world. When people get scared several things happen.They can get really focused on on what is truly important to them, or often they just start flailing about with little direction and thought. Employing a quantity theory to their actions--more is better. Throw as much as you can against the wall and something might stick. The consequences can be wasteful and reputationally damaging. See my post on speed networking

While these are desperate times, calling for desperate measures, we should not appear to be desperate or stupid. Often, we mirror our circumstances. When things are good we reflect that in our mood, our tone and even in our body language. When things aren't so good we do the opposite. And maybe even lead our conversations with how bad things are etc etc. Michale Losier says, "You attract to your life what you give time, attention and focus --positive or negative." Clearly this goes for networking too. Being calm in a storm takes energy and concentration. Panicking and over reacting is instinctual, but toxic. Treating your network like an ATM, where you input your transactional impersonal messages and expect value to just pour out is nonsensical. So desperate times require more strategy, more thought, and more thoughtfulness. Old American Indian proverb: "When you are lost in the forest, STAND STILL."

Here is an example of the "dumbest" networking request for assistance or advice I now get on a daily basis. 

"John, can you help my brother? I have attached his resume. He either wants to work in CA or NY. He is interested in for-profit or non-profit. Please let him know if you hear of anything. Thanks for your help." 
ANALYSISThis e-mail was exasperating on many levels. It violates the basic principles of networking at every turn. Ironically, the sender thinks he is doing a good deed, when in fact the damage to the network can be serious serious. 1. A generic networking request for jobs is worst than no request at all, because you can lose that networking contact and opportunity. 2. An unfocused networking request, says to me you don't know what you want, where you want to live--any job will do. -the greatest fallacy is they think they are being open to possibilities in different sectors or geography.The reality is this "openness" creates a black hole that sucks all of the networking potential out of the connection. And this is a deadly combo. The only thing that would have made this worse is If the brother cold contacted me directly. If I do not know this person well, I delete the message. If I know them, meaning they are in my network, I explain the disservice they are doing to, in this case, his brother.(FYI, I have finally connected with the brother and we are getting things focused)

So what would be acceptable alternatives: E-mail or voice-mail (a call doesn't hurt from time to time, if it is important or you have not connected in awhile)
  1. GOOD- "John, you have not met my brother, but he is thinking about locating to LA. His resume is attached. Can you carve out a few minutes to give him some advice?"
  2. BETTER-"John, my brother is trying to locate to LA from NY and wants to get a handle on the non-profit landscape. He is thinking about working in education. Can you talk to him and share your thoughts?"
  3. BEST-"John, my brother has an extraordinary background in for-profit and non-profit work. Check out his resume. He is very interested in working in charter schools in LA. Can you talk to him and give him your thoughts?" 
If his brother knew the exact employer or had his sights set on a specific opportunity, then the full power of the network can be engaged. Do you know a specific person or employer? is the basis for the most effective networking. Otherwise we are conducting informational interviews and helping each other. That's perfectly fine, just call it that. The key to this example is the way was paved by my friend's referral of his brother. See my post on opportunistic networking
 
Consider for a brief moment that the competition for any attention has been increased to a crazy level. Quality of the candidates, for vendors, for any business has reached a fevered pitch. Plus the readers of such e-mail or letters have less time and patience for poorly thought out appeals of any sort. What do you think the number one concern, besides quality and price, of the employer hiring or the organization engaging new suppliers/partners?  Trust. Confidence that they are making the right decision. What makes the difference in a crowded and chaotic marketplace?--recommendations from trusted sources. You want to get the time and attention of the decision maker:
  • Personalize the approach
  • Be referred by a close colleague/friend of the decision maker    
  • Demonstrate your qualifications 
It is a buyer's market! If you do not have the goods, the skills, the track record, then focus on how you can compete. But if you have the resume that matches the opening or the products/services that meet the need, then you have to be ushered in by a warm connection that lowers the anxiety and increases the comfort of the targeted decision maker. Comprende? BTW, this is always the case, but in times like this it is a absolute must. 

Thanks for reading.  John