Life at Work
Job Connections Start as Social Connections
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Back in November, Mike Campbell did what so many people do these days: He went on a date with someone he met through Match.com.
What came out of it wasn't a romantic relationship. Instead, he found a job.
Campbell met his date at a sports bar, as per Campbell's suggestion. Unfortunately, his date wasn't so crazy about sports. "There wasn't much chemistry between us," he said.
But during the conversation (the parts in which they actually had something to say to each other), Campbell's date, the chief executive of a nonprofit group, mentioned that his organization was trying to hire a director of communications. Lo and behold, Campbell's background was in communications. And he was on a freelance assignment that was about to end.
Campbell later told a friend about the date, mentioning that this guy sounded like he had a perfect job opening. His friend told him to send a résumé. "What do I put in the cover letter?" Campbell asked with a laugh.
But he built up his courage and sent a cover letter and résumé through the regular channels, and then Campbell picked up the phone and called his ex-date. He left a message saying he had sent a résumé in and that, though it might seem strange, he felt he was a good fit for the job.
Almost a month later, the CEO's assistant called Campbell to schedule an interview. When Campbell showed up, the honcho whispered, "I told them we met at a party," then sat down with a few other managers and interviewed Campbell, later offering him the job.
Campbell didn't realize it at the time, but in following up after the lame date, he was networking.
Despite our crazy, technological world with so many job Web sites and easy ways to post our résumés online, the personal network still is the No. 1 way to get a new job, promotion or partner.
Yet most of us shudder at the sound of the word "networking." Even nice people, even extroverted people, even people-people cringe when they hear it. It seems so forced. So suck-uppy. So fake.
But that's not always the case. Networking is about socializing. The people you meet at the grocery store, in line at a concert, while stuffing envelopes at a volunteer event may be the people who move you along your career path.
"If you treat it like you're just meeting a friend, it's more social than having all the anxiety of the business slant to it," said Melissa S. Fireman, founder of Washington Career Services, a career consulting firm. "We do it all the time."