Your observations and translations are pearls of wisdom.
Like most people, I neglected networking until I needed a network. I had a perfectly good job with a terrific network built over 20 years of successful business in San Diego, including a number of teaching positions and Board memberships that really connected me with my industry. We raised our family there, so add all the friends and social networking that only kids can provide. I routinely turned down headhunter's requests until my son graduated from high school and I met some goals at work. Fast forward to 2007, when a head hunter convinced me to move to LA County in 2007 for a lucrative (but risky) job. As per my usual, I dove in with feet, completely submersing myself in my job but this time not building my network. So in 2010 when I woke up, realizing I was on the wrong path, I resigned. I had enough. I had been a successful entrepreneur years before (Internet consulting in 94-95 - before Netscape and Internet Explorer and millions found the web) but had also had a great employee experience. My past successes had given me confidence in my ability to find a "perfect job" despite an ominous economy.
My first attempts at networking were with industry contacts and my old network in San Diego. The trail had gone remarkably cold in less than three years. Despite a very warm reception from old friends and industry contacts, there was little help of substance in the offing. First of all, the poor economy had driven a number of former executives into lower paying jobs and the consulting space. My salary expectations were slapped in the face. Secondly, my industry (along with everyone else) was in a tailspin - those who had jobs were hanging on to them like eye teeth, suffering ever worsening conditions on the job - including manpower shortages and reductions in both salary and benefits.
The term "in transition" was strange to me. I figured I was just looking for a job. I can do that, right? I joined Execunet, The Ladders, and LinkedIn. Here is my assessment of each:
1. Execunet was pricey at $39/month, but was well worth it. I got early help on my resume and access to some really good job listings, along with connections with a number of recruiters. The "speed dating" meetings they offer helped me realize there are MANY, MANY good people out there looking for a job. This group became the core of my new network and in truth, my new group of friends in Los Angeles.
2. The Ladders was a bust for me. I never saw the value. I would pass on this one.
3. LinkedIn was a godsend. One early networking contact challenged me to get 100 connections within 45 days. I had that in 5. Most importantly, I reached out to my old network for recommendations and got the validation I needed. These served me in good times and bad - in addition to being great on-line endorsements, I could read them in tough times and take heart.
Some other resources that were very helpful were Monster.com and Indeed.com for job listings and McDermott &Bull. M&B does a great job hosting no-cost get-togethers similar to Execunet. Really good people, but mostly stuck in the same situation as myself, with the same hopes and fears. I took some much needed time off in the summer in the form of some mini-vacations in the mountains - recharging my batteries after several years of long days and weekends with few breaks.
The problem with most of my networking at this point was it was centered on my peer group rather than focused on CEOs and other decision makers. I realized networking is a lot like fishing: a few people were making all the connections. I may not have known much about networking, but I know about fishing. A couple of observations:
1. 10% of the people catch 90% of the fish
a. Translation: Try to learn from good salesmen and good networkers. Listen and learn from the best you can find.
2. Those who do catch a lot of fish don't talk about it much. They keep their lines down when they've hooked up so they are not crowded by others wanting all of their secrets.
a. Translation: Seek out successful people. Ask questions.
3. Knowing where to fish and when to fish is important: fish tend to congregate in certain areas that offer them the best conditions in which to thrive. Fish feed more at some times than others.
a. Translation: Focus your efforts. Identify your targets and hunt them down. Don't ignore "slack water" but move through it quickly and concentrate on target rich environments.
4. Fish are selective. Even a hungry fish has a method and can be easily spooked. To get their attention the presentation and the offer must be just right.
a. Translation: learn as much as you can about your target before approaching them. Be prepared, and be confident.
5. You never catch anything if you don't wet a line.
a. Translation: Be persistent - it takes a lot of work but the rewards are out there.
6. You never know what you might catch.
a. Translation: Be open to the possibilities. Be opportunistic. That's why they call it fishing and not catching.
Things started to get better for me. I was introduced and came close to landing a big fish, but in this case there was something fishy about the offer and I watched it swim off with mixed feelings. I found several people who were good "connectors" - those who would connect me with from five to twenty five or more, many of whom were working for themselves or others. I joined a Board of a non-profit industry group and became active in their programs. I kept writing and got several speaking engagements. I became a connector myself; paying forward with introductions and sometimes even proactively putting together people whom I thought could help one another.
Then, after eight months, it dawned on me that in fact I really was "in transition" - I was changing. The perfect job didn't sound perfect any more. After all, most "C" level jobs turn over every two years. Is that what I was looking for? I realized if I wanted the perfect job I needed to make it myself. For me, the perfect job is helping others improve their organizations. If I was going to develop a strong network, I can leverage it for myself rather than abandon it once again upon my employment. I developed a business plan and published a supporting website. Though I kept looking for a job, I found the idea of developing my own business to be more and more exciting. Once committed, much of my networking adapted to prospecting for consulting assignments. I am pleased to say I now have enough work to pull in my job hunting efforts altogether and invest 100% in myself. As the saying goes, "Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime." I've learned to fish, just a little bit better.
Learn more about the author, Paul Yandell.