05/23/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ten Things That Are Not Networking

I watched the movie The Hangover with my oldest kids. It's one of those male-oriented raucous comedies in the same vein as Pineapple Express and The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, but I still laughed my ass off all the way through. In one scene, the befuddled post-hangover guys go to the hospital when they see a hospital wrist band on one of their party's wrist and they realize they'd been to the ER the night before. (They couldn't recall anything from the previous night; that's the central theme of the movie). They ask the doc if he knows where a certain business is located, and he says "It's at the corner of Get a Map and F-- Off. I'm a doctor, not a tour guide."

So what does this have to do with networking? Here's what. About once a week I get a call from someone who wants to know why networking doesn't work, in a job search. They say "I meet a person who has a friend who works at some company -- Acme Dynamite, let's say -- and I call the guy up and tell him I know his friend, and I ask him what jobs are open in the company. He says he doesn't know and he tells me to check out the company's careers page."

When I get these calls, I'm always grateful that the poor person at Acme Dynamite didn't say "How do I know what jobs are open? I'm a Project Manager, not a bleepin' career counselor." This kind of barehanded get-me-a-job-in-your-company outreach is not networking. It's almost the opposite of networking. It's more like really bad, ill-fated Sales prospecting. And it's never going to work any better than it's been working so far, which is to say, not at all.

It is easy to tell networking from non-networking. When we're networking, we don't call strangers out of the blue and ask them to help us. We wouldn't call a friend of a slight acquaintance and say "Hey, you and I are both friends of Tom. Can you lend me a hundred bucks?"

When we call someone up at work and ask them to recommend us for a job, we're asking for way more than a hundred bucks. What is our credibility at work worth? It's worth a lot. We're not going to blow it because some guy calls us up and says "I met your friend Carla, so wanna refer me for a job in your company?"

Here are nine more things that are not networking -- not even close:

  • Meeting someone for the first time at a networking event and asking them on the spot to introduce us to the purchasing manager at their job or the HR manager or some hiring manager -- that's not networking.
  • Going to a networking event with a stack of paper resumes (unless the event is organized around that activity) and handing them to people and asking them to send the resumes around to people they know -- that's not networking.
  • Writing to someone we haven't met whose email address we found online, and asking them for job-search leads... not networking.
  • Finding an old colleague on LinkedIn and sending them a connection invitation that also says "I'm job-hunting, so let's reconnect and you can let me know about job leads" is not networking.
  • Meeting people at networking events or other gatherings, and then adding them to your email newsletter distribution list without permission, is not networking.
  • Spamming people on LinkedIn is not networking.
  • Calling or emailing people you don't know and inviting them to lunch or coffee to help you with your job search...that's not networking.
  • Writing to strangers to ask for their advice on your resume (and attaching your resume to the message to save time) is not networking.
  • Expecting people who don't know you to drop what they're doing in order to help not networking.

Networking is focused on the other person, not on our needs. It is slow. That can be frustrating, if we're looking for our networking efforts to yield results right away. Networking is powerful, but only if we view it as a way to build relationships over time.

Every year, a guy in a truck drops a book on my front porch -- the White Pages. I don't pick up the book and start calling people who are listed in the phone book, because that would be rude and bizarre. Networking works the same way. Just because we find someone on LinkedIn and because that person works for our dream employer doesn't mean it's okay to contact the person and ask for his help.

"Them-focused" networking is not a transaction. One of its benefits is that it reminds us how much we have to offer to other people, whether we're job-hunting or not.