Reverse Networking . . . “Whatever happened to . . .?”

Posted: March 19, 2012 in Uncategorized
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A cartoon I have in my files shows two forlorn individuals dressed in tattered business suits walking down the street. One turns to the other and opines, “I think it IS who you know . . . and I know YOU!”

Although networking is always a key topic in job search and career development, precious few of us really enjoy the process very much. We do, however, grudgingly admit that it must be done if we want to get anywhere in our work and life.

I have discussed at some length WHY networking is important and even provided some guidance on WHAT to do with that precious contact when you land it. Seeking information, advice and referral is the key to developing longer-term, mutually productive relationships that create “win-win” relationships rather than bold-faced influencing peddling.

ImageNow it’s time to discuss HOW to make this magic happen. And, at the same time, to suggest a counter-intuitive technique to increase your opportunities, something I like to call “Reverse Networking.” What is this, you may ask? Before I answer that question, let’s talk a bit more about the WHY behind such a back-to-front technique.

Some time ago I read an extraordinary book, Working Identity by Dr. Herminia Ibarra. She cited a somewhat obscure reference to a 1973 research project by a then sociology graduate student, Mark Granovetter, who discovered that most of the jobs discovered by networkers (people seeking contact), came from individuals with whom they had very infrequent contact. Granovetter called this “the strength of weak ties.” The numbers are staggering: of people finding work through personal contact, 17% found jobs through people they knew well (strong ties), 55% found their new positions through individuals they did not know as well (weak ties) and 28% were successful through contacts that they barely knew or had not had any recent contact with (weakest ties). This means that over 8 of 10 opportunities came from people that they would not typically consider! Granovetter also found that these people often found better positions for more money. The application for career and personal development is obvious!

Ibarra’s chapter titled “Shifting Connections” talks about this phenomenon as being critical in career change, although I would argue that it is equally useful in employment search and career development. If we continue to connect only with people who know us well, we get caught up in “blinds” and “binds,” keeping us away from new experiences and opportunities.  If you continually run in the same circles, you will keep running into the same folks, the same ideas, with little opportunity for Serendipity, the surprising and exciting opportunities that seem to come out of seemingly inconsequential events. This is what Dr. Richard Wiseman, author of The Luck Factor, talks about when he says that “lucky” people not only maximize chance opportunities, they create them!

How does this relate to networking in general, and “Reverse Networking” specifically? We typically think of networking from the center out, starting with people we know well, are comfortable with, know of us and about us and network out in concentric circles to the outer fringes of our contacts. There’s nothing wrong with doing this, by the way. However, I suggest adding Reverse Networking to your repertoire as well. The “reverse” theme implies just what it says – let’s start from the outside and work our way in!

Sounds good, eh? There is a potential glitch in the plan, however: To quote one my clients when faced with this concept, “If all of the good leads are in these ‘weak ties,’ how do you find these people?”

A great question! Well, I think I may have found them for you! Who has not seen you in a long time? Or, who have you lost touch with from your deep, dark past? Your list could include: old neighbors, former coworkers, high school and college teachers, college roommates, distant relatives, former bosses, acquaintances from service groups, associations, or places of worship, etc. If you have not spoken to someone in some time and that person is likely to remember who you are, there’s where you can start. The use of social networking applications like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. can be particularly helpful in finding out “whatever happened to…?”.

One more word of warning, however. If you aren’t well versed in the science of networking (that is, seeking information-advice-referral, not working them for your personal advantage alone), DON’T CALL ANYONE! Be sure you know how to connect with people positively and effectively, establishing solid, active contacts for collaboration and insight. Otherwise, you will soon find your email in spam, you will be “unfriended” and your calls blocked (and rightfully so!).

Please allow me to add one more insight:  Remember that your “weaker ties” have “weaker ties” of their own!

Dizzying, isn’t it?

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