Build Your Network Before You Need Them

Several of my former colleagues, friends, or family are on the job prowl. I’m always happy to help others, as many have helped me. A few however, want to join the conversation, they immediately started blogs, twitter, and the like as they’ve heard of the tremendous buzz and reach these tools can provide with persistence.

Unfortunately, networking doesn’t work this way, relationships take time, getting to know folks requires patience, and people are generally cautious –if not fearful– of Johnny come lately that is asking, rather than giving. Some people change their status message on their linkedin profile, saying they are now looking for jobs, and I question if it’s too late.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned, and hope you intake, invest, and pass on:

1) You’re always looking for the next opportunity, simply shutting down what else is in the market is fool hearted. It doesn’t mean you need to jump ship before 1 month, or 1 year, but it means you should be talking to recruiters, companies, and hiring managers to see what next skills are needed now, and in the future. This will actually help your current employer, as you continue to skill up, take on new projects, as they invest in you. Remember, even if you work for someone else, you are a company of one.

2) Those who ignore the party/conversation/network when they are content and decide to drop in when they need the network may not succeed. It’s pretty easy to spot those that are just joining the network purely to take –not to give. Therefore, be part of the party/conversation/network before you need anything from anyone. Start now, and continue to build relationships by giving now: share knowledge, help others, and become a trusted node and connector, not just an outlying ‘dot’ of a comet that swings in every 4 years or so.

So there you go friends, two nuggets, add your suggestions below, good luck!

63 Replies to “Build Your Network Before You Need Them”

  1. Jeremiah – this is very true, a related point is never to burn your bridges when you move, you never know when someone in your ‘new’ network knows someone in your ‘old’ network and will ask for an opinion / reference.

    I also think this corresponds to how people approach “Web 2.0” in general. Many people and companies focus so much on promoting their content / blog / community site they neglect to contribute and get invovled in other, related communities. To be successful you need to be involved consistently and genuinely, not just drop in when it suits you (as per your comet comment!)

  2. I totally agree. Building a network takes a lot of time. Best thing you can do if you waited too late is invest some of your newly found free-time in helping others. It won’t get you a job this time but the relationships could be quite helpful next time (average person stays at company five years or less now – sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not). And don’t ignore the traditional job search methods – they are all you have this time around.

  3. Great points Jeremiah, I couldn’t agree more!

    Ironically, this is what stresses people out about classic “networking” – the feeling like they have to give a sales pitch to everyone they meet. If they were to network (online and off) well before needing anything, it would feel organic and natural.

    In my experience, the best way to get help when you need it is to give help abundantly. It feels better for everyone involved.

    All the best,


  4. Excellent article Jeremiah,

    I can’t help but think an even more practical reason to ‘get in early’ is to build your expertise and make your mistakes (as everyone dose) when it doesn’t really matter.

    Finding you niche and voice in a blog or determining how twitter can work for you takes time. Do these things when you are comfortable so that when the pressure to find an alternate source of income is on you are a social networking expert!

  5. Ego tweaking though it may be, it’s good to ask yourself — why should I consider myself any more memorable to other people than most of them are to me? Regular, positive interaction with folks builds up “memorability” as well as relationships.

    Re. the second point, to quote a wise woman: “You never know what someone else can bring to the party if you don’t invite them”. You never know when you’ll be able to help someone else, or could have been helped if you’d taken the time.

  6. that’s great advice Jeremiah.

    One tip would be that if you join an organization, service or professional, make sure you volunteer with the organization. While what you do might not be related to the type of work that you do. If you do well in what ever task you do for the organization people will trust and respect you. When it comes time to recommend you or think of you for business, people will remember the work you did as a volunteer, and associate that work with everything else you do.

    I remember when I lived in Seattle Washington, there was a local car windshield repair man, who took the job as camera man for every Kent Chamber of Commerce event. Not only did he do a great job, but he also associated his day job with the volunteer task.

    Whether we work for a large company or small I think we can all learn something from his example.

  7. Great points Jeremiah! I really like #1.

    I’d like to ask for your opinion on something: I’m working for ReadWriteWeb and Guidewire Group and I’ve established a host of great connections. However, I’m not sure I know how to turn those connections into potential job offers in the future. How would I go about doing this in addition to what you’ve just mentioned in this post?

  8. Networking has a bad name because so many people are bad networkers. It makes sense, as the few people are paid to network, hence they do their jobs, get siloed, and then get blindsided.

    Your advice is a regular staple on the recruiting blogs, but it’s also regularly ignored. It takes time and effort to network properly, and it requires that you actually put time and money (opportunity cost, gas, good) into those efforts.

    Starting when you need a job is not only going to be difficult, but it’s like trying to run a marathon when you haven’t gotten off the couch in 10 years. It’s not that it can’t be done, but most people can’t do it.

    Fitness is actually a very good analogy. You have to build your networking muscles, and the only way to do so is to discipline yourself and take the time to exercise.

    The benefit of networking when you do need a job is you’re a better employee when you are hired, as you’ve just spent a lot of time relearning your industry.

  9. I was almost in the same situation when I signed up to twitter and joined different forums to promote my new product. It didn’t work out as well. So I decided to experiment with blogging three months ago to build a network not to promote my product but to connect with other people.

    Thanks a lot for sharing this information. I will use this as a guide to create a buzz for my projects.

  10. J

    Great advice. But not the whole story.

    There is plenty of evidence hailing back from Mark Granovetter’s work on the ‘Power of Weak Ties’ that suggests that you probably already know the majority of opportunities available through the strong ties in your current network. It is the weak ties in the other networks of your own network where the best opportunities may lie.

    So if you find yourselves out of work, or looking for a new business partner, or just looking for a great idea, it is often more effective to get well-connected individuals in your network to act as broker and introduce you to other (small) network worlds out there.

    Obviously, it doesn’t work without a network of your own to start with.

    Thanks for keeping us thinking.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  11. I love the point: “be part of the party/conversation/network before you need anything from anyone”

    Both points are excellent, but i think life is all about giving. when we give it always comes back around – that just a truth of life.

  12. Jeremiah,

    This is a great post and really on target. Desperation is a huge turnoff to others, which happens when we network to get rather than to give. In my mind successful networking comes down to several things:

    * Your attitude is more important than your technique. Give first and from a place of abundance.

    * Be curious and genuine.

    * Integrate networking into your everyday life–there are plenty of opportunities to help others, if you look for them.

    My definition of networking: Identifying and nurturing relationships that have the potential to be mutually beneficial, without expectations of when either side will benefit, by how much, or in what way.

    Successful networking is a process of deepening relationships, initiated through curiosity, unattached to outcome, guided by energy, and driven by the possibility of what can be created with another human being. It unfolds over time, sometimes years, and rewards us with clients, collaborators, partnerships, and better lives. Mixed in there is your ideal job!

    For more on networking from this perspective, see this post from my newest venture on creating a bigger voice in the world, written by one of my collaborators (who came to me through networking):

  13. I have been a small ad agency/production company owner for 19 years, so I’m hoping my network feeds me new talent when I need it, not help me find a job (although I do have teenage sons, so maybe I’ll be hoping to “get” in terms of their careers). I try to respond to all the job hunters who reach out to me but it’s the rare person who ever gets back in touch when I say “Feel free to check back in”. It’s probably 1 in 20 people who do so. I’m thinking they might hire my firm in 10 years, I might hire them in two years when someone leaves, who knows? Social networking via LinkedIn or the like is a great way to beef up a set of contacts and stay in touch. And if you’re about to have an interview, you should be looking up info on that person–do they tweet, blog…as long as you’re not too stalkerish, knowing all about the company is the oldest interview advice in the book, finding out about the interviewer or their boss is just a smart extension.

  14. I was almost in the same situation when I signed up to twitter and joined different forums to promote my new product. It didn't work out as well. So I decided to experiment with blogging three months ago to build a network not to promote my product but to connect with other people.

    Thanks a lot for sharing this information. I will use this as a guide to create a buzz for my projects.

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