February 7, 2013, 8:03 PM
The New and Improved 10 Commandments of Networking
Originally posted 2011-12-01 13:43:43.
As with everything that we do, this has evolved over the years.
Because we don’t believe in revisionist history, you can always still find the original version over at http://www.detroitnet.org/index.php/68/the-ten-commandments-of-networking/ if you’re so inclined…but this version’s been updated.
Why? Because it needed to be. It’s been two and a half years since that first version was written, and things have changed since then. We’ve also been doing some speaking engagements using this as the foundation of our presentation and discussion flow, and we’ve gotten some great feedback from people. And…well, we also noticed that we might’ve been a little snarky about some personal things going on at the time the original was published, and so we decided it was time for an update to the version here on the site as well…
[editorial note: if you want to hit the presentation itself as a starting point, we've got a handy-dandy PDF version over here at http://www.detroitnet.org/wp-content/uploads/Detroitnetorg_10Commandments.pdf]
As I sit here watching History of the World, Part 1 for, oh, it must be the 8,173rd time…it dawned on me.
If Mel Brooks can use the Ten Commandments to completely crack me up every time I watch his film, then surely I can use them to help those asking “What’s networking?”
(it’s when a bunch of people get together with a common purpose…and, I know…don’t call you “Shirley”)
Yeah, sorry. I watched Airplane!, too.
So as we get ready to close out 2011 and start preparations for our 2012 events (and, yes, watching old comedies that I’ve seen a bajillion times), I thought I would take the time to put my thoughts towards another blog entry…because as Mel would surely agree…we’ve all met That Guy that breaks them. And so I give unto you these fifteen…[shatter]…oops…ten. Yes, TEN Commandments…for all to obey.
(and if you don’t catch that reference, do yourself…and me…a favor. Go rent History of the World, Part 1. Immediately)
COMMANDMENT I – Thou Shall Understand The Importance Of Networking
This one blows up in people’s faces. A lot. We all know “That Guy”. The person that you’ve tried to get out to a networking event (ours or another) so that they can meet people. Or maybe you just wanted to get them out for drinks with a few people from work. Or maybe there’s a recruiter that you invited them to come along for lunch and meet.
But they always have a reason not to go.
They’re too busy. There’s too much work. There’s something else that needs to be done. They don’t want to. Whatever the reason…they never seem to make it.
And then…and this happens so many times…suddenly they need to network. They get fired. They get laid off. The company closed. Whatever the reason…now they’re the ones ringing your phone off the hook and filling up your inbox asking when the next event is, or can they have the name of that recruiter again? The one that always comes to mind for me is a guy that I tried to talk into coming to an event for seven months, and he always had a reason that he couldn’t make it. And then he got fired. At the end of the day on the very day that his wife went into labor. Guess who called me from the parking lot of the hospital the next morning as he drank a coffee after watching his son come into the world to make sure that our event was still taking place the next night? Bingo.
COMMANDMENT II – Beware of False Prophets
There are many kinds of networking events out there. Some are designed to help you find jobs. Some are designed to convince you to cash out your savings to start selling some freaky new juice to your friends and co-workers. Some are designed to be a support group to let you talk with other unemployed folks to compare notes. Some are introductory events for multi-level marketing “systems”. Don’t get us wrong – if those events are what you’re looking for, then we hope they work out for the best for you. Just make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into beforehand. Just because they call themselves a “networking event”, or “Job Fair” or even a “Pink Slip Party” doesn’t mean that they’re what you’re looking for. We’ve all made the mistake of not asking enough questions before attending an event…and it usually doesn’t turn out well. Remember – if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is, and don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to in order to feel comfortable before showing up. Especially when you’re in an immediate need, there’s nothing worse than having your time wasted.
And for the love of all that’s good in the world people…use some common sense. Some of the events out there are just flat-out money grabs. If you’re paying $10 to $20 to go to an event because they’re offering a “complimentary bar” or “complimentary drinks” for the first hour…wise up. There’s nothing “complimentary” going on there. Those drinks aren’t free. You’re paying for them in advance, and they’re betting that you’ll run late, or won’t drink much, or won’t be able to get anywhere near the overly-crowded bar to get a drink in the first place…and they can pocket your cash with zero payout. Why does an event need color coded nametags? Because there are too many people there that have precisely nothing to offer you beyond a stupid sales pitch to buy insurance or move your 401k. Or worse.
COMMANDMENT III – Thou Shall Be Prepared
Head on over to VistaPrint or OverNight Prints or your local Kinkos and get yourself some business cards made up for yourself. Nothing fancy or extravagant necessary – your name, a phone number, an email address, and a one-liner title for yourself. Even something as simple as “Oracle DBA” or “Network Engineer” will help in the long run…in fact, the simpler it is, the better. You want the person that you hand a card to one night to be able to quickly and easily remember you when the next morning rolls around and they’re in the office shuffling through the deck of cards they picked up. Do you want them to have to try and remember you randomly out of the 50 or more conversations that they had last night, or do you want them to have something that says “Oh yeah – here’s that Oracle DBA that I talked with about that job with that new client who has an immediate need…I’d better call and get them in here today if I can for an interview”?
Dress appropriately. We always tell people that the best way to get you in the right mindset is this: Think of being at a bar (because, well, our events take place in bars…), and imagine that at the table next to you, you hear someone talking about needing to hire someone for what is basically your dream job.
Don’t wear anything that would keep you from approaching that person and starting a conversation.
COMMANDMENT IV – Thou Shall Not Have Anxiety
Let me let you in on a little (not so well kept) secret – it’s not easy for anyone. We all have social anxiety. We all, even the most outgoing salesperson in the bunch, get nervous when we’re out of our element. Meeting new people can be hard, especially when you’ve got a laser-like focus of trying to find a new job now Now NOW.
It’s okay. Breathe.
If you’ve followed the first three commandments, you’re already in a better spot than most people. You’re starting ahead of time. You’re in a group that has merit, value, and meaning to you on a personal and/or professional level. You’ve done your homework and you’re prepared. Even if you haven’t, the situation can still be salvaged…assuming you at least followed Commandment II.
So relax. This is a piece of cake. It doesn’t matter if there are 20 people or 200 people in the room you’re about to dive into…relax. Don’t get overwhelmed. You don’t sit down on a barstool and try to down a shot of each liquor behind the bar within the first 15 minutes of showing up (note: if you do, you need to read this, and then you need an intervention), you also don’t need to meet everyone in the room as soon as you arrive, either. If you have the chance, always bring a friend with you. This not only ensures that you’ll have at least one person that will help you relax by your side…but as Bob and I have found out first hand, it can also lead to some stories for later on if it goes wrong.
If nothing else, your fallback should always be the meeting organizer – the person or people actually putting together and throwing the event that you’re attending. Whether they like it or not, their job that night is to make sure that you get whatever you need out of the event. It’s on them to get you started. So the pressure’s not even on you…it’s on someone else.
Feeling better yet?
…and here’s a tip – if the organizer fails this simple, basic test…leave. Just turn around and walk out the door. If they can’t engage you in a conversation…if they can’t help you identify at least a couple of people in the room that you should be engaging with…leave.
COMMANDMENT V – Thou Shall Not Be “That Guy”
We’ve taken the time to tell you about over sixty different kinds of That Guy.
They are real, they exist, and every single one of them stems from a personal interaction and chain of events that forced us to write another entry to keep the story from screaming in our heads until it’s out there.
All of them real. All of them annoying as all hell.
All of them…each and every one…a cautionary tale.
All of them…someone that you do not want to be.
COMMANDMENT VI – Thou Shall Not Have An Elevator Pitch
Look, we get it. There are tons of idiots out there telling you that you need to have an elevator pitch – some 30 second shpiel about who you are, what you do, and blah de blah blah that wasn’t even thirty seconds of typing and I just tuned myself out.
And we’re not just saying that because we want to. Much like Bad Resume Guy, this advice stems from a bunch of personal interaction, feedback, and conversations throughout the industry.
Nobody wants to get “sold” or “pitched to”. (please reference: “why this group exists“)
Nobody wants to deal with a BS artist.
The general rule of thumb that we give people is that if you can’t introduce yourself to someone in ten seconds and have the relevant details included, you need to go back to the drawing board.
“Hi. My name is [x]. I’m a [y] who is [z]. And you?”
“Hi. My name is Bob. I work for HP, doing network stuff. And you?”
“Hi. My name is Jim. I’m an Oracle DBA looking for a job. And you?”
“Hi. My name is Cam. I’m a recruiter looking to hire .Net people. And you?”
Not that hard, is it? Of course not.
Besides…if you try and sell someone something too early, well, we call that “premature solicitation” around these parts…and nobody wants that rep, do they?
COMMANDMENT VII – Thou Shall Not Lie
Sounds really simple, but you’d be amazed (at least we are) how hard it can be for some people sometimes to just simply be honest. Whether it’s being unable to tell a recruiter that you’re a square instead of a triangle, or someone that deliberately misleads others about the scope, purpose, or intent of their events…when we either witness these things first-hand or have stories relayed to us, well, it just makes us shake our heads and saddens us.
Partly because it casts a shadow over what we try and do with our events, but mostly because it’s inevitably wasted someone else’s time, or, even worse, turned them off to the concept of networking completely. For instance, we’ve had people ask us – “Were there really that many people at your Pink Slip Party?”, and we can honestly say “Yes, there were. Here are the videos from ABC, NBC and FOX that will show you how packed the place was.”
Or they’ll ask “Did people really get hired from your event?”, and we can honestly say “Yes, people really do find jobs at Detroitnet.org events. There are notes from them on our site, we’ve met them in person, and, well, if you don’t want to take our word for it, feel free to show up at our next event and we’ll let you ask the recruiters that hired people themselves…or, heck, if they’re there again, you can talk with the people that found jobs themselves, too. Or if you don’t want to show up, drop me an email and I’m more than happy to put you in touch with those recruiters.”
Really, we are who we say we are…complete with being absolutely surprised by the results ourselves sometimes, too. [shrug] You should just be who you are, too. If you’re just getting into the IT field, great, there are people who want to hire you. If you’re dealing with placing someone at a crazy client with low bill rates, fine, be open about it.
Just be honest. You’ll have less random things to remember…and, really, couldn’t that space in your brain be better used for things like movie quotes?
COMMANDMENT VIII – Thou Shall Understand Quality vs Quantity
Before we even get started here…have you read LinkedIn Is Not A Video Game yet?
No? Go do it. We’ll wait. It’s important.
Back and ready to go?
Because this is a core truth about networking that many people miss – there are no points for the most business cards gathered at a networking event.
Having more LinkedIn connections than someone doesn’t mean you’re a better person than they are. In fact, it might just mean you’re an idiot if you’re not careful.
You have to tier your network and handle it appropriately. By “tier”, we mean that you have to recognize that your network will have a hierarchy, in much the same way that your network of friends does. You have acquaintances – casual friends that you see at the bar every now and then. That’s your bottom tier. Next up from that, you have your friends. The ones you see and talk with on a fairly normal basis and with whom have a regular relationship. Then you’ve got people you’d invite to your wedding. Probably not all of your friends, certainly not all of your acquaintances, but a certain subset makes the cut.
Now how about your bachelor/bachelorette party? Now you’re getting down to the core of your network. We’re getting closer to the top tier.
For the top tier…who would you call if you got arrested? Probably a pretty select few of the group that started out, huh?
Same thing with your professional network. Your connections should be tiered, but none should be random.
COMMANDMENT IX – Thou Shall Understand (the basics of) Social Media
But we’re also not idiots.
We’ve made it a point to familiarize ourselves with the basics. We’ve gone out and screwed up horrifically a few times…which, well, taught us not to do those things again. We know enough to be dangerous…and so should you be.
Every social media site out there has a scope and purpose. The trick is understanding what they are. At a high level, we always tell people:
- Twitter is like an email address. If you’ve done enough homework to find my twitter handle and are interested in what I have to say…sure, follow me on Twitter, just like sure, drop me an email if you think we should touch base. The worst thing that happens in either case is that I ignore you.
- LinkedIn is my office. If it wouldn’t be weird for you to stop by my office, then sure, we should connect on LinkedIn.
- Facebook though…Facebook is my living room. If it wouldn’t be weird (read: “if *I* wouldn’t think it’s weird, not if *YOU* would think it’s weird”) for you to show up and be in my living room, then sure, we should be friends on Facebook.
- Social Check In apps like Foursquare…well, hopefully we’re already at the “Facebook friends” stage before you start trying to stalk me and figure out where I am at the moment.
Here’s the reality though – you also have to be smart. Remember that whatever you put out there lasts forever, and so you have to be willing to stand behind that tweeted photo of your little topless escapade at $1 margarita night…when your boss is one of your “followers”. You have to be willing and ready to explain to a recruiter why your anti-government rants on Facebook shouldn’t disqualify you from consideration for a SysAdmin job for a person who works for the party you were bashing.
Keep your personal and professional worlds separate. Lock down your personal Facebook profile to be restrictive (there are plenty of tutorials out there…we’re not repeating a “how to” here…) enough that it won’t cause you embarrassment. Make use of the “groups” feature on Facebook and “circles” feature on Google+ to keep things shared in the appropriate context. Don’t think it’s cool to link your Twitter feed to your LinkedIn profile status updates and then start letting your professional network catch those late-night booty call tweets or rants about friends.
COMMANDMENT X – Thou Shall Follow Up
“Hey…do you remember…there was a recruiter there…with a blue shirt…or maybe a red one…with a logo on it…and they were looking to hire people. Can you send me their contact information?”
Really? You might as well call and ask me if I remember that movie…with that guy…and the car…and that girl that was in it…and…
Seriously folks, these events are only as good as what you make them out to be. You have to own it. You have to own building your own network, and you have to take responsibility for growing it and nurturing it yourself.
Part of that means that you have to follow up.
Even if it’s an email the next day that says “Hey, great talking with you last night at the event. Look forward to hearing more about what you’ve got going on, and so I was wondering if we could meet for coffee sometime this week to chat a little bit more about what you need?”
Send off a LinkedIn request if it seems like it’s a good idea based on our earlier commandments and your own common sense. Or, of course, if they asked you to do so.
Realize that you will gain far, far more benefit from networking if you spend your time asking how you can help someone else, or how you can solve a problem they have, than you ever will trying to get someone to listen to you complain. You don’t want the recruiter to hire you, you want to solve the problem their client has that a solid .NET developer like yourself knows the answers to and can solve. You don’t want me to buy your start-up company’s IT services, you want to solve the headaches that I have managing a multi-site network.
Most importantly…karma is real, people. It is. Don’t believe us? Read this entry over here at http://www.detroitnet.org/index.php/2520/my-name-is-earl/ and tell me karma doesn’t exist. If you give, the universe will give back to you. If you offer, your offer will come. If you help, help will come to you when you need it. It might not be how you expect it to happen, but nobody said that karma was there to be what you want it to be…but it is what you need it to be.
…and that, dear reader…is networking. You should be networking because you want to, in order to help you out when you’re in need.