Keeping Your Network Real
Back in the day in Brooklyn, no one talked about having a network. We referred to “having connections” or “I know a guy.” When you needed fireworks, hubcaps, or to find out whose parents were on vacation for a week-long house party, it was helpful to reach out to your connections so they could put you in touch with the right people.
Burning Bridges Burns Your Network, Too.
Having connections also helped me get a job at 22 with a local start-up. I’d done some office work for the boss of a relative, and a new tenant in one of his commercial buildings was looking for some help. Once I was in the door, I classically overachieved and kept the job on my own merits and even became the connection to getting one of my best friends a job there, too.
In fact, I was such a star performer that it wasn’t long before I earned a substantial pay increase, which was like hitting the jackpot for someone my age who lived at home with few expenses.
So it was a big surprise when later that afternoon, as I drove the president of the company to a neighborhood printer to pick up some marketing materials, he nervously informed me that the company wasn’t doing so well, and they’d have to let my friend and me go.
I was dumbfounded; particularly after getting a raise in my paycheck that very morning.
Unfortunately, my reaction wasn’t very professional, and my vocal cords seemed directly tied to my foot on the accelerator. The car barreled through narrow Brooklyn streets as I strongly expressed my disbelief while he clutched the dashboard and urged me to slow down. I like to think of it as my own version of The Cyclone at Coney Island with maybe some crying involved – his, not mine.
I later learned my raise was a charitable act. He wanted me to have a pay stub indicating a higher salary and therefore qualifying me for maximum unemployment benefits.
Needless to say, my “exit interview” burned some bridges, not just for me but for the network that referred me. True, I was a good hire and a diligent worker, but that last bout of craziness left a bad impression, and those connections weren’t likely to recommend me again.
It’s a big responsibility to have a network; you have to represent those people well. And you, in turn, have to know your connections and trust them to represent you in the best possible way. It’s too easy to rack up links, names and one-dimensional, virtual representations of human beings, but are you comfortable recommending them to others?
You are often judged by the company you keep so here are some tips to ensure you stay aware that those in your network have been on their best behavior:
- Focus on people, not profiles.
Someone may look great on screen or paper, but there is a real life person there you should get to know before you introduce them to anyone else. An online profile will showcase success, credentials and achievements but won’t broadcast, “I’m a jerk, too.”
- Vet before you regret.
An old acquaintance asks for a recommendation or introduction to someone, but you haven’t spoken for 10 years. Catch up with a quick phone call and find out what’s occurred in the last decade, or give him a Google. No need to conduct a background check; just know how this person has evolved since you’ve last spoken.
- Stay in touch!
Presumably, you’re emailing, calling or staying apprised of your connections’ activities through social networks. After all, networking is an activity, not an inert collection of names. Pay attention to where people are, what they’re doing, and their successes, and acknowledge them once in a while. You’ll accomplish three major goals at once: you’ll make someone else feel good; stay informed of their activities and behavior; and you’ll be top-of-mind when they are looking for someone to recommend or refer.
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About This Author:
Robyn Greenspan is the editor-in-chief at ExecuNet, the private membership that helps executives shift their careers and daily business lives forward. Robyn also brings daily insight to ExecuNet’s public blog, Executive Insider, which enables senior-level professionals to make better career, business and leadership decisions. Catch Robyn's contributions on the HuffingtonPost. And follow @ExecuNet on Twitter for information on executive market and hiring trends and follow @RobynGreenspan on Twitter.