Saturday, September 17, 2005

Networking Part Deux - a conversation about LinkedIn

For this piece, I have taken a conversation that actually took place and modified it slighty. I have removed the real names (to protect the guilty) because of those changes. However, the changes were mostly cosmetic with some embellishment of the thoughts to aid those not as familiar with LinkedIn as the participant. Please let me know if you need more clarification in the comments and I will gladly provide it.

Fred: One thing I have noticed is that LinkedIn as a service tends to fall down a bit when you are outside of the normal job market or the VC model for doing deals.

People have multiple dimensions to their lives. LinkedIn does not facilitate the discovery of the broader spectrum of interests IMHO. This was the most true back before the extra fields for groups, interests and education were added. I was an early beta tester for LinkedIn and what I am calling a limitation seemed to be by design. I raised the issue way back when and the response was something close to 'that is not what we are about' or 'there are other services that do that.' My memory on the prior conversations is not perfect so I am focusing more on my perception of intent based on how LinkedIn is used. A related point is LinkedIn is transactional by nature and not really a way for people to develop relationships. Use email or something else is the recommendation. LinkedIn is about specific referrals and not a way to develop a network for future use.

For the most part I have found that using other networking solutions allows one to develop connections to people who have interests that could be labeled 'topics for a Special Interest Group (SIG)' if I can use a term I know from the computer sector. Things that are not on a resume but might be a strong interest for certain individuals.

Barney: This is what LinkedIn representatives continue to say. LinkedIn's value is not in 'networking' in the sense of broadening your network, it is for leveraging the network you already have. Deepening relationships and using those relationships for referals to do business (whatever business you are in). SIGs and Forums are for getting to know people.

Fred: I have seen a marked increase in the value of LinkedIn to me now that we have groups. I do want to note that I laugh each time I consider the fact that LinkedIn's groups are largely operating outside the LinkedIn service (groups being a Yahoo thing with LinkedIn having no effective integration other than a little icon when you are a member of a specific group [that has become an approved LinkedIn Group and the member has joined it there also]). Granted you can run a search specific to members of a particular group that you are a member of.

Barney: Yes, the addition of groups did add another value point, the ability to 'network' within your group without direct connection or using referrals. This is especially useful when you don't know the person or his work but only share the common group connection. This way you can 'network' with the individual, and contact them without introduction but you will not be put 'on the spot' for an introduction to them.

Fred: With the external groups and forums, you really can get to know someone pretty well and never have any direct communication with them. After developing an understanding of a person and what they bring to the conversation you can contact them directly without any use of InMail, without any approval of other people in a chain, etc. If you enjoy the direct communication you can then go back to LinkedIn and let LinkedIn act as a way to flag that you have had contact. LinkedIn becomes a housekeeping tool.

Barney: BINGO! Once you have forged a relationship, it is time to move it to LinkedIn to nurture and leverage!

Fred: Where LinkedIn is more unique is you can search through someone's network and gain an introduction. The more people are in groups the more you can just join a group and developer a relationship with any person you might be interested in rather than seek an introduction. Granted it takes time to do so. Hence joining a group to reach someone is not that effective if you need to reach a person right now.

Barney: BINGO again! Leveraging your network to do business! {:^D With LinkedIn, while other people are going through the front door and encountering all the roadblocks, filters and gatekeepers, you get to go through the side door as 'a friend of a friend' and might get a chance to present your value proposition, regardless of whether you would have gotten past the blocks.

Let's put this into the perspective of the job seeker (but you can substitute any business dealing)... If you send your resume to HR, you could easily get blocked because you are either missing a key buzzword (or have spelled it out rather than used the acronym) but, going through the side door, you reach the hiring manager directly as a'a friend of a friend' and 'get an interview out of courtesy'. Thus you get the chance to overcome the gatekeepers percieved shortcoming.

Friday, September 09, 2005

What is Networking?

Have you been hearing a lot about something called “networking” and wondering just what the heck it is exactly?

If you’ve asked around, you probably get the sense that nobody really knows what it is because if you ask 10 people, you get 11 different answers. That may be because “networking” will be different for everyone, at least in the details of how, where, when, and why you network. In addition, many people have an incomplete idea of what we call “networking”.

In your handout, there are 3 definitions from 3 different people, an Author of a networking book and 2 company presidents. All 3 are correct, but incomplete – which is why they appear different. If you drew a Zen Diagram of these 3 definitions, there would be more overlap than difference. Here is why I say that:

First, every person on the planet that has interactions with others forms relationships. This is a natural occurrence and is a product of that interaction. Most people will attempt to assist anyone they know (whether asked or not) with advice, guidance, referrals, and endorsements (presuming they feel good about the aspect of the person they are endorsing).

The most successful sales people are very adept at forming relationships – but they are equally good at something else… nurturing those relationships. They sometimes form something that has been attributed to more discriminating groups… “The Olde Boys Network” (sometimes I think they are referring to their maturity but I digress..). “The Olde Boys Network” – many of them in fact – are usually centered around men who have graduated from the same university or are current or former members of some group.

“The Olde Boys Network” really does “network”, especially in terms of job search and hiring but some have questioned if this was done while disregarding qualifications and suitability to the task and with an elitist selectivity of who they allow in their network and casting shadow over the process.

So… What is “Networking”?

True “networking” is the natural act of forming and nurturing relationships, making introductions, referring people to others, and endorsing some; then using that network of who you know, and who they know, to help others. The extent you are successful at networking (over the long haul anyway) depends on your ability to practice those skills. Therefore, we need to hone our natural skills to improve our outcomes.

Networking is a communications based tool and a process that has no beginning and has no end. It is not a goal nor does the act of networking have a goal itself. We all learn to walk but not with the goal of walking – we learn to walk to transport our bodies from one place to another. Walking is the process or tool we use to move our body from the chair to the car where we use another tool to transport ourselves longer distances.

So, what’s the difference between the natural form of networking that we all perform daily and the practice of networking? Deliberate nurturing of relationships. Nurturing of relationships involves deepening our knowledge of others and consciously trying to help them achieve their goals through referrals, advice, and endorsements.

Networking without “trusted relationships”, providing endorsements, and referrals is nothing more than “collecting business cards” and may be enough for some activities but does not stand the test of time and the outcome is often no better than a ‘cold call’.

True networking is an unselfish, lifelong activity, a practice, a tool, a process. The concept of “Giver’s Gain Philosophy" is an unselfish attitude that is contagious and promotes creditable, profitable, and lasting business relationships. The group functions as a sales team for each other by serving as each other's eyes and ears.1

So, how does that all relate to a job search?

OK, well… you know who you know but do they [know who you know]? Not likely and, in the past, everyone had to ask everyone they knew if they knew someone who… until they found someone who did. (Fell like you’re in Whosville?) Now, as with so many things computers and the Internet have given us, we have tools to help with that.

You never know who will know, or meet your next hiring manager. You need to let others know what you do, how well you do it (quantified and objective if possible), and that you are looking for another position. However, you need to try and help others achieve their goals in the process.

Why? How do you feel when someone helps you? Most people feel indebted (to some extent). If you help others, what do you think will happen? Suddenly, it’s not you searching for your next job by yourself, you have an army of people helping you in an attempt to repay you!

One reason you must make networking a lifelong part of who you are is that you build that army of people who want to help you and who “can’t say enough” (hopefully good) about you long before you need them. Those people best at this are never unemployed.

1 "Giver's Gain Philosophy" as defined by BNI (Business Networking International