Networking Basics – Some Q&A With An Old Friend

A long time ago…in a galaxy far, far away…I lived in a little tiny town in a little tiny state (seriously, I think the entire state still only has one area code) in New England.  It is, without a doubt, the most old-guard, stodgy, conservative, uptight, whiter than Barry Manilow eating a spoonful of mayonnaise place that I’ve ever lived in my life.  I am still, to this day, amazed that I made it out without killing anyone.

But that doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten those that are still there.  I still keep in touch with some friends that I reconnected with at my 10 year reunion ([sigh]…also a long time ago…).  After finally getting them to realize that I’m not still the same chaotic whirlwind of insanity that I was back then (it got weird, and there are stories, let’s just leave it at that), some of them have even graciously agreed to stay in touch with me as well.  It’s kind of nice having them around.

Well, one of them has asked for some help on networking basics, and they’re really good questions that a lot of people have asked as well.  So rather than burying them in a comments section somewhere, I decided to answer them here.

So Joel, this one’s for you…

These questions appeared in a comment on Don’t Be That Guy – Mister Magoo just to give you the context of the opening.

“I’m sensing a back story to this that would make for a good “over a beer” story…”

There usually is with every Don’t Be That Guy…

“On a serious note: I have questions and to be honest I feel kind of stupid asking them. I’ve usually lucked myself into jobs and/or Primitive “pre-internet” friends steered me towards a job.”

Well, two things here:

1.  There are no stupid ques…ha ha, you’re in IT along with me, so you already know that yes, there are stupid questions.  However, in this case, they’re actually not.

2.  Well, you’ve already been networking whether you realize it or not.  Successfully, if they’ve gotten you to where you wanted to be at the time.

“You talk about the importance of “networking” And I kind of get it.. (Again I feel silly asking these questions.) But…Oh Where to start:


1) Who should I network with? and conversely who should I not network with? I get linkedin requests all the time and at times I wonder? Should I link with my sister who has nothing to do with IT? Should I link with that friend of a friend that I met a handful of times at a friend’s basement pub?”

You make connections with those you know and trust…or at least that you think you know and think you can trust.  One of the most important points from LinkedIn Is Not A Video Game is what LinkedIn itself says every time you go to add a connection: “Important: Only invite people you know well and who know you.

Why is that important?  Because the entire concept of LinkedIn has always been about professional connections and expanding one’s network based on the networks of your trusted connections.  Someone random trying to connect with me typically gets a link to that article.  However, if Bob comes along and introduces me to that very same person, odds are good I will trust them more and be more likely to accept.

My network, while predominantly made up of people here in the metro Detroit Information Technology industry, also includes such apparently random people as a journalist in France with political aspirations (who I know from my Star Wars website days and spent an awesome weekend at my house way back when), an accountant (my brother in law, who owns his own pretty successful firm), a musician in England (more Star Wars, same crazy, fun weekend), and, well, you – some guy out in New England, among others.  All of those though are people that I know and trust, and so they’re in my network.

So…your sister.  The only real question is do you trust her?  (You don’t have to answer that publicly) As long as she’s someone that you know and trust…why wouldn’t you?  You never know when she’s going to run into someone looking for an IT person…or when you might run into someone that needs her particular set of skills…and an introduction can be made.  The friend of a friend from the basement pub?  Good guy?  Someone you think it makes sense to reach out to?  Then yep, absolutely.

But…is he a dirtbag that basically does nothing more than sponge beer out of your buddy’s basement and has little to offer except as a cautionary tale to others?  I’d pass.

“2) Linked-in, Facebook, Myspace? How much weight do they really carry?”

Each serves their own realm of need…however, some basics of information security still apply, too.

For job purposes, LinkedIn obviously carries the most weight.  It is your virtual professional self, and so it has the most bearing when it comes to professional networking.  Your profile should always be up to date and accurate, and should be the most “clean” of any of your profiles.  Your profile photo on LinkedIn should not be a random photo from an attempt to prove that you were doing that same stupid stunt long before anyone from MTV tried it.  Your LinkedIn status updates shouldn’t be a stream of updates from the conversation in your buddy’s basement bar.

Facebook is an odd bird.  Personally, I don’t think recruiters or HR have any business looking at my Facebook page unless we happen to be friends in real life and I know they won’t care…but this is where “information security basics” apply.  You should have all of your photos locked down to “friends only”, including any that someone else has tagged you in.  You should have your status updates locked down to “friends only” or maybe even “friends of friends” if you’re feeling more open and sharing.  But nothing should be set to “everyone”.  I’ve always viewed LinkedIn like my office, and Facebook like my living room.  You wouldn’t want random people, mobsters, and criminals showing up in your living room and poking around, right?  Right.  So you don’t want that happening on Facebook either.

I’ve got hundreds of connections on LinkedIn and thousands on Facebook…but you know how many crossover and exist in both worlds?  Maybe 10.  Maybe.  And that’s probably high.

…MySpace?  What are you, a 13 year old girl following a band?  Stop it.

“You hear stories about the guy looking for a job and suddenly he does not get the cool job because HR looked him up and found a picture of him drinking a beer with his middle finger up at the guy taking his picture. Does this happen more than we know? Should I even attempt to polish my internet presence because as they say Once it’s out there it’s out there?”

Yep, it happens.  I know someone that it’s happened to.  And he’s an idiot on a few different levels.  When applying for a job with an ultra-conservative firm, one should probably make sure that the drunken binge photos are hidden.  Also, when one likes to go on drunken binges and have photos taken and post them, one should probably not be applying for jobs with ultra-conservative firms that frown on such behavior in the first place.  It’s like me with as a whole – it’s all over my LinkedIn and Facebook profiles.  If there’s something about that keeps you from wanting to hire me, then odds are pretty good that you’re not someone I’m going to enjoy working for anyway.

Facebook is your personal, private life…which is why I don’t understand why people are so completely clueless and overly sharing.  It’s like I discussed in Bad Resume Guy – when it comes to the professional world, you leave your personal life and interests to the bare minimum.  Is being heavily involved in a Christian organization important enough to you that you’re willing to have your resume thrown in a trashcan by an admin in HR who happens to have a grudge against the Christian faith?  Why would you let HR find out the answers to all of the questions they’re not allowed to ask during interviews – gay or straight? married or single? kids or no kids? – by letting them have free and open access to your Facebook profile?

Can you “polish” your presence?  To a large degree, yes.  You can certainly control it moving forward at a minimum.  Take the steps necessary to lock things down, and keep it that way.  Google yourself and see what others can find.  Use the “view my profile with these settings” in Facebook and see what non-friends can dig up.

“3) What’s a good, and maybe the better question: How do I find a good headhunter? and what’s the etiquette? I mean I’ll be honest I put my resume out on all the sites: Career builder, Dice, Monster, and even a NH based one. I have been contacted by 4 headhunters. Should I be checking in with them weekly? by voice or e-mail? How do you know you have a good one? Can you check on their placement success or lack there of? Should I be adding them to my Linked-in accounts?”

Finding a good recruiter or headhunter to work with is almost as tricky as finding a good friend.  You’re essentially putting your career in someone else’s hands, and so you’d better make damned sure you trust them.  I would recommend reading The Recruiter Strikes Back, The Recruiter Strikes Back 2, and The Recruiter Strikes Back 3.  There’s a wealth of information there from a recruiter’s point of view about how you should plan on dealing with them, what you should expect from them, and what they expect from you.

When you say you’ve been contacted by four…what does that mean?  Have you met with them face to face?  Have you had an in-depth conversation with them about what you want and what their clients are looking for currently?  Do they even play in the right playground to be able to help you?  There are quite literally hundreds of recruiters that have attended various events.  There are, at most, four or five who I would call if I needed a job.  They’re the ones that I’ve had the most conversations with, got the best vibe off of, and in whom I have the most confidence.  Again, it’s all about trust.  I trust them to help me with my career if and when I need them to do so, and (I hope) they trust that I won’t make them look bad to their clients.  So if you haven’t met them yet, you should…or you should be asking “why not?”.  If you haven’t had an in-depth conversation about your career goals and where you want to be…and if that even fits in with the types of gigs they’re recruiting for…again, you have to ask “why not?”

You can add them as connections on LinkedIn if they seem solid, and you can always use LinkedIn to see if they have any recommendations, to check their connections, see their job history and if they’ve been bouncing around a lot (you know, the same things they’ll be doing to you as well) to get a feel for them.  And I’m probably going to catch hell from a few recruiters out there…but remember that you’re their client just as much as their hiring customers are.  Without you, they don’t get paid.  Without you, they have an angry client with a backlogged workload.

Don’t be a primadonna, but don’t be a pushover either.

It’s no different than dealing with a real estate agent – you trust them to sell your house or to help you find a house to buy.  If they’re not doing what you want them to do, or if they’re not getting things done in a timely manner, or if they’re not following up with you, etc., …get rid of them and find a new one.

“Yeah OK they are questions within questions. But you keep spouting about the importance of a network. And I’m trying to listen to this however at times I feel like an idiot because I’m not sure how strong my network is and or if it really even is a good one and for that matter, how to make it better.”

How do you judge how close your friends are?  Look at your friends…are there those you could call if you needed to get bailed out of jail?  That you immediately think of when something fun is coming up and you want them there?  Then you have good friends.

Look at your network.  Do you have people in it that you can call when you’re completely brain fried and need to ask a critical, time sensitive question?  Are there people there that you could ask in confidence about finding a new job?  Are there those that would absolutely be an asset to you in your job search and would say the same of you?  Then you have a good network.

How do you make it better?  You work on it.  Trust me, there are days when the absolute last thing I want to be doing is hitting a networking event or chatting with folks…but then I remember all of the advice I keep giving other people and so I go.  I meet.  I chat.  You never know when you’re going to meet someone worthwhile.  I pay attention to those I work with day to day, and I make it a point to connect with those that seem to be a value-add to me either now or down the road.  I watch my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn feeds to see if someone seems to be worth connecting to.  Not to sound too much like Social Networking Class Guy, but, honestly, you should always be networking.  You should always have your eyes and ears open to opportunity and connections.

“It is because of how much you preach about how important it is that it is hence, that I feel kind of stupid even asking these questions. Then again I feel maybe there are others who are even more embarrassed to ask than I..Oh preach and teach us oh guru of infinite wisdom.”

Well, like I said earlier…not only are these not stupid questions, but you’re also not the only one asking them.  That’s one of the reasons why I keep bringing it up.

Hope this helps answer the questions that you had…and, as you noted, that others have as well.

Until next time…