Career Path

Networking: It’s a Connection, Not an Ambush

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison shares the difficulties of networking, and how to overcome them.

3 min read

Knowing how to network effectively is a big mystery to most people. They feel awkward asking for help, and the idea of reaching out to someone has all the appeal of cold-calling to sell those handy slice-and-dice-it knives you see on late-night infomercials. 

This is not networking; it’s stalking with a resume—and it has happened to most of us in some peculiar circumstances. Consider what happened to me one Saturday morning. 

I went to the dry cleaners to pick up my shirts and drop off another batch to be laundered. I was in my typical Saturday attire: jeans and a T-shirt. Nothing about me or my demeanor indicated I was anything but a typical dad doing some errands on the weekend. I greeted “Mrs. Smith,” the owner of the business, as I dropped off my clothes and picked up my clean shirts.

"Networking has to be done in a way that’s adapted to the time-pressed, tech-savvy world we live in."

When I hung up the clean shirts later that day, I made a startling discovery. In between two of my shirts was a resume for “John Smith,” a recent college grad and, apparently, Mrs. Smith’s son. Mrs. Smith and I never had a conversation about her son or that he was even in college. She didn’t ask if I would take a few minutes to give her son career advice, and I don’t know how she figured out I was with Korn Ferry. Perhaps she Googled me after noticing my dress shirts. (I did speak with the young man. He’s a good kid, with a bright future.)

But placing a resume in my shirts was nothing short of bizarre. It shows just how difficult networking (or attempts at what passes for networking) is for many people

Some people think it’s as easy as working a room and chatting up everyone they see. They dive into a networking event like a hungry shark. Or they approach it like a 1950s door-to-door salesman trying to sell vacuum cleaners. Ambush attempts at networking are a real turnoff. 

You can’t go to the other extreme either and avoid networking. Networking has to be done right, and in a way that’s adapted to the time-pressed, tech-savvy world we live in. This involves far more than just thinking about asking everyone you know if they’ve heard about any job openings. 

Networking is about building relationships—and relationships aren’t one-way streets. That’s why the golden rule about networking is, “It’s not about you!” Ideally, networking is grounded in what you can do for others. You can’t call from out of nowhere and ask for help from someone you haven’t spoken to in five years. It happens all too often, and it’s a blatant misuse of your network. You can’t take out what you haven’t put in. 

Make a list of the possible things you can do for people in your network. Even small things, if done sincerely and is genuinely meaningful to the other person, can jump-start your networking. 

You’re building goodwill with others for the day when you need help. This is real networking—and it’s all about what you can give to others. 

Adapted from Gary Burnison’s book, Lose the Resume, Land the Job.

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