Is networking overrated?

What not to do when networking

Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

I am starting to get more than a few complete strangers asking me to be a connection on LinkedIn. Because I have a blog and am always interested in connecting with current and aspiring HR professionals, I seldom refuse a connection — even with someone I’ve never met.

Most of those people simply want to connect, which is fine. I’m also quite happy to provide advice when I can. But several people have now started messaging me pretty much immediately after I accept their requests and either try to sell me something or apply for a job (invariably, a vacancy I wasn’t even aware existed or something in another department).

Generally, the people trying to sell me something are recruiters, software vendors or consultants of some sort. They either mistakenly believe I work in the HR department at Thomson Reuters or can put them in touch with someone who does.

Often the types of services they’re trying to sell are purchased at the enterprise level, and I don’t even have a clue who the appropriate contact within the organization would actually be. After all, we’re a global company with about 60,000 employees.

The jobseekers aren’t much different. I suspect they see the words “human resources” in my LinkedIn profile and automatically assume I do recruitment.

While I do occasionally recruit for vacancies in my own team, I haven’t worked as a recruiter for more than10 years. I also think it’s pretty obvious from my profile that, in spite of the fact I’m an HR professional, I don’t actually work in our corporate HR department and have no input in staffing decisions beyond my immediate area.

I admire these folks’ ingenuity, but there are at least a couple of problems with their approach. First of all, people need to stop assuming every HR professional does recruitment.

Secondly, such an approach really isn’t very effective as a networking strategy. Reaching out to someone you’ve just “met” online isn’t going to establish much of a rapport or result in that person advocating for you to a hiring manager.

The limits of networking as a job search tool

Is networking (social or otherwise) an overrated job search tool? I sometimes question the prevailing wisdom that says networking is a vastly more effective way to land a job than other channels such as simply applying online or establishing yourself as a thought leader in your field.

I’ve never been that great at networking — especially when it comes to pursuing job opportunities (for some reason, I seem to be much better at networking for business development purposes or when the tables are turned and I’m the one searching for talent). It seems like just about every time I tried to use networking as a job search tool (both meeting new people and leveraging my existing network) I made others feel uncomfortable and it kind of backfired on me.

While some people just seem to have the type of personality that is conducive to networking, I believe the problem with networking among HR practitioners is we tend to think of people who do so as trying to circumvent established recruitment processes. We don’t like it when career counsellors recommend jobseekers go directly to the hiring manager and bypass HR, so we’re uncomfortable when someone tries to secure what we see as an unfair advantage by leveraging their network.

Becoming a better networker

I’ve been to several networking events, and the people who are the worst networkers are the ones who are blatantly obvious about it. They tend to work the room with a stack of resumés and introduce themselves by saying something like, “Hi, I’m Brian. I am looking for a job.” Even worse are people who do the same at tradeshows and similar events.

In spite of my discomfort with networking, a few pieces of advice I’ve heard have been helpful over the years:

• Networking should always be a two-way street; rather than just trying to secure an advantage for yourself, you should also be willing to help others.

• Make networking more of a social activity and enjoy yourself; don’t use it as an opportunity to give people the hard sell.

• When networking, it is better to ask for advice than to directly ask for a job.

• Use networking as a way to learn from others through active listening; remember, people generally love to talk about themselves.

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