“I’m making some changes to the department. I’m eliminating your position”
Those were the words that came out of my boss’s mouth after she sat down in my office on the afternoon of October 9th, 2012. I was a VP of Human Resources at a multi-family real estate company in Denver, CO.
I had started at the company 9 years earlier and had worked my way up from an independent contract position in operations to one step below the Head of Human Resources.
During those years, I focused on my work and moving up. I had explored other job offers during that time when recruiters had called me, but I never thought about what I would do if I suddenly lost my job.
Just like that, I needed to find a new job. I had was a resume. That was it.
I had no leads and no network.
Before I go any further, I want to shift the metaphor.
We talk about networks in terms of things we build, comparing them to computer networks with nodes and connections.
I prefer to think of my network like a garden.
Each conversation I have with someone is a seed. If I build a relationship with that person, I am taking care of the seed, and over time, it grows.
When I plant the seed, I am not sure whether it will bear fruit or not, but I know that if I don’t care for it, it definitely will not.
That’s ok. It simply reinforces a fact about growing a network: You need to plant a lot of seeds.
When I started my job search in 2012, I thought I didn’t have any seeds to put in the ground.
I had a few friends at other companies. I knew some recruiters. I did what everyone else who is looking for a job does: I looked online for open positions.
I don’t think online job ads are a complete waste of time, but I think that the reason most people look online for jobs is a waste of time.
As someone who has been in HR for over a decade, I can tell you that applying for a job online is the least likely way to get hired.
My networking garden started with people I knew. These were people I had worked with before. They were friends of mine from my old company.
As I talked to them and they asked me who I had gotten in touch with, I quickly realized there was a source of networking seeds that I hadn’t really thought of: company alumni.
This seems obvious, but what surprised me when I wrote down a list of names of all of the people I had worked with over the past 9 years was how long the list had become.
I used LinkedIn and looked for people who had my old company’s name in the profile and the list got longer. I had not remembered some people, but when I saw the LI search results, I said, “Oh yeah! I remember him/her.”
I am an introvert.
The thought of cold-calling someone and asking them for help is counter to my nature. It’s why I refuse to go to networking events and usually spend most of the day at conferences standing in the corner trying to think of a way to strike up a conversation.
But when I thought of the people I had worked with before, it wasn’t scary to think about sending them a simple email saying, “How have you been? I wanted to let you know I moved on from, and that I would love to talk to you about what you are doing now.”
This was the first step to cultivating my networking garden. Some of these emails and LinkedIn messages were never answered. These seeds never sprouted, but many of them did, and I started to grow relationships with people with whom I had lost contact.
As I started connecting with these people, I was wrapping up my job at my old company. Part of the transition process was letting some of my vendor partners know who their contact would be in my place.
As I was letting these vendors know I would no longer be at Aimco any more, many of them asked what they could do to help. That was when I realized another untapped source of networking seeds: vendors.
I found vendors were very knowledgeable about which companies had openings or were thinking about expanding their teams. They also had some knowledge about organizations and what the people were like inside those organizations.
As I contacted vendors with the intent to inquire about who I should meet, I tried to keep one thing in mind: If a vendor partner of mine introduces me to an organization where I land, I should reciprocate by considering their services in the future. With that thought in my brain, I made sure the vendors I was reaching to were ones I would want to partner with in the future.
My job search continued and as I met more people, I planted more networking seeds.
In a few short months, several of those seeds grew into plants and started to bear fruit.
One day in January, a former colleague of mine sent me an email that said, “Hey, have you seen this job? It sounds like it might be right for you.” He knew that I was looking for a job because we had gotten together and had lunch.
We had lunch because I had sent him an email asking to go to lunch. No secret networking technique here. Just a simple email to someone I knew. It was one of many that I sent. One of the many seeds I had been planting.
I applied to the job online. This is where a lot of people stop. Then, they never hear from anyone.
When you are applying for a job, you have to mobilize every tool in the arsenal. In my case, the company I applied to was a healthcare company. I thought of all the people in my networking garden that I knew in healthcare, even ones who didn’t live in my city, and asked them if they knew anyone at this company.
One guy, a family acquaintance, knew the Chief Medical Officer. I wasn’t applying for a medical related position (I’m an HR guy), but I figured anyone with a Chief in their title was a good person to know.
My friend sent an email telling the CMO I had applied and asked who I should get in touch with and included my resume. Within a couple of days, I was contacted by a recruiter for an interview. The CMO had simply passed my resume to the HR team.
Again, as someone who has been in HR for over 10 years, when someone with a Chief in their title sends your resume to recruiting, they call you for an interview. It is a professional courtesy. It’s your ticket in the door; however, once you get in the door, it’s up to you to dance.
Because they are not specific to networking, I’ll leave out all the other parts about the interviewing process, except one.
During my interviews, my future boss asked which vendors I had worked with at my other jobs. I gave her the names and the interview ended. I went home and immediately received an email from one of these vendors saying the company I was interviewing with had called him asking about me. We had a good relationship and he knew I was interviewing so he was happy to give me a good recommendation.
I got the job.
My friend who sent me the job posting. My friend who passed my resume along to the CMO. My vendor friend who gave me a good recommendation. All of these happened because I had planted networking seeds along the way.
As I started my new job, I realized how valuable my networking garden had become. Unlike my previous position where I let my garden lie fallow, I promised myself I would keep cultivating my network.
Over the next three years, I continued to network. I would send a few emails a week to former colleagues and people I knew. I would look for people who were in the same circles in terms of industry and job title and reach out to them. I looked for ways I could connect other people.
The more I did this, the more I learned about opportunities that no one else knew about. I learned about people who were doing interesting things. People approached me asking for help and I was able to assist them.
One of the biggest challenges I had during my networking was keeping track of all of my contacts. I didn’t need a fancy system to catalog and track everyone. I just needed a place to keep people’s names, contact info, and the last time I talked to them. I managed it through a system of emails and EverNote, but am always on the lookout for a better way to keep track of everyone.
It’s easy to go to work and simply do your job.
It’s easy to focus on whatever projects you are working on and forget about your networking garden.
That’s what most people do.
At the same time, you never know when your boss is going to walk into your office and tell you the department is changing and you have been eliminated. Maybe the company is merging and the headquarters is moving to another state. Maybe the company isn’t doing well and there will be layoffs.
When these things happen to you, putting the networking seeds in the ground means it will take some time for them to grow.
Why not get ahead and start putting them in the ground now?
Ryze | The Personal Relationship Manager is a tool for the man or woman who values the power of relationships. Stay on top of those relationships that matter to you!