Being in sales, I was an early adopter of networking as a way to build a client base. This goes back to when a network was established by dropping off as many business cards in as many locations as you could think of – pretty ham-handed stuff, but it worked. After all, a network back then was strictly a numbers game. Smile and shake a lot of hands and hope for the best. More was better.
Then there was the inevitable job search. The plain version was contacting all your friends and family members to shake the bushes and see what might emerge. At the executive level this included my peers at other companies and tapping into the “grapevine.” Gradually, the idea of quality over quantity triumphed over sheer numbers. People with real academic credibility were taking this networking thing seriously and analyzing it.
What did they find? Well, networks come in different types and are useful for different things. They work as a tool, certainly, but much more as well.
Becoming A Node
One of the first people I ran across who understood social as well as business networking was an elderly gentleman named Gene who didn’t seem to do much at all. He always had time to talk and was always interested in what was going on in my life. Gene was just one of those people who knew how to listen and engage authentically. He ran a private investigations company out of a small storefront. He would take calls from out of state PI’s and handle tasks for them locally. But he didn’t do any footwork, he just used his phone. Any actual gumshoe stuff got referred out.
This was all I knew until one day I mentioned that I was thinking of buying a car. Gene found out what brand and model I was interested in and said he could connect me with a guy who dealt in bulk discount purchases. A week later, I had a new Toyota delivered to my parking spot at work – everything handled with no fuss and at a great price. Gene knew people.
Gene was a node. He’d picked up licenses galore (real estate, general building contractor, notary – the list was endless) and the PI stuff was a hobby for him. His real joy was connecting person A to person B, and he did it effortlessly and with grace.
Gene taught me that to be a node, all you had to do was think of others before yourself. He built up favors like Gandhi piled up Karma. Everyone, including me, was keyed up to repay some good deed Gene had done for us. Not because I was keeping score, but because I honestly wanted to return just a bit of all he’d done for me. I was happy to feed into his node; more than happy – honored. When he passed away, the funeral was held at an old Catholic church, one of those grand cathedral-like structures. It was too small to hold everyone who showed up.
Advanced Social Networking
The human element makes us a different animal than the strict mathematical models (although nodes and degrees of separation still apply). For instance, humans do two things a computer network avoids. With people, links slowly decay over time, but they don’t die out. I’ve hooked up with old friends (acquaintances really, all the way back to high school) and revitalized a relationship with just a, “How are you doing?” e-mail.
A second thing that human networks do is grow on their own. One person suggests someone else who mentions a third person – the whole “six degrees of separation” bit. There’s an organic, living quality. Traditional social networks show these characteristics and are fine when all you want to do is share your opinions. Where the rubber meets the road is when you attach real world events to the virtual connections. Favors are the currency of advanced social networks.
If I need a good lawyer, or a tile guy, or the services of a CPA – I ask. And when I find one, I reinforce the link by telling everyone involved who did what and how it played out. Even better though, is when I can connect someone to someone else – when I get to play matchmaker. No compensation, no reward; just the joy of helping someone out and the chance to strengthen a relationship.
I’m not strictly a believer in a higher power directing my affairs, but after awhile, it seems like it. Very unusual connections form on their own. Say I’m flying to Chicago next month. Instead of paying for a hotel room, I can talk to a few people I know in the area, get recommendations and even invitations for meals or lodging. Why spend my money on a sterile hotel room when I can spend half as much and buy something really nice for an acquaintance and stay at their condo? Just put it out there and let the network do what a network does.
I honestly like people and, thankfully, they seem to like me too. I’m never going to be a Gene, but I do feel some of the joy he felt. More often than not, I am just a link in a chain and gain nothing other than the satisfaction of helping. Other times, the magic kicks in and some minor thing stretches out into a solid friendship that’s priceless.
It takes a little effort, but the payoff is enormous. The magic is real. The best thing from my perspective is that my life is bigger now – broader, in a good way. It’s like having an extended family of people you actually enjoy, or like a community. We all pull together.
Brendan Cruickshank (Vice President of Client Services) – Brendan is a veteran of the online job search and recruiting industry, having spent the past 8 years in senior client services roles with major sites like Juju.com and JobsInTheMoney.com. He is quoted regularly as an expert in employment and jobs trends in major media outlets like the Washington Post, US News & World Report, and Forbes and has spoken at recruiting industry events such as Onrec and Kennedy Information’s Corporate Recruiting Conference.
Photo by Patrick Hoesly