The Networking Game
The networking process in the business world goes a little like this. You find the company you’re interested in working for on LinkedIn. You look at all the employees who work there. If there’s someone with whom you share a primary or secondary connection, you reach out to them first; it will be easier to connect with them on mutual ground this way. If you have no connections there you instead aim to connect with lower-level employees. Since you likely don’t have LinkedIn Premium, you first request to connect with people before sending them messages, asking questions and requesting phone calls. Or you might go another route: finding the company’s email template with browser plugins and contacting people using that model.
Then you wait. You wait and wait until somebody responds. And then you pounce. You request a phone call to “ask them questions about their day-to-day,” or to “better understand the workings of their industry.” But you both know that you have ulterior motives. These phone calls are really informative for the first few and you genuinely are interested. But after speaking with your 50th employee with the same role, almost nothing they say will surprise you. The same way you have your questions down to a script, they have their answers memorized too. It’s a cat and mouse game of formalities, questions, answers and feigning interest until finally one of you cracks. You both know what this call has been about: the reference. The holy grail of networking calls. The one-way ticket to a chance at the interview.
You say something along the lines of “By the way, I’ve recently applied to a position at your company,” or “Do you have any recommendations for who else I can speak to at your company” and wait to see how they respond. You hope they mention their superiors so you can move up the networking pyramid. Or, better yet, they bring it up. That’s the sweetest: the blatant acknowledgment of what this call has always been about. They’ll wind down the call with something like “I’ll see what I can do about your application” and you laud subtle praises and thanks as you celebrate internally, like this isn’t what you wanted all along. You sign off, send a thank you email and move on with your day.
And that’s it. You’ve successfully completed the initial round of networking. But there’s more to follow. There are the follow-ups with the person you spoke to. The LinkedIn connections with their higher-ups. The cold calls, cold emails, and cold drinks you’ll need after the cold calls and cold emails. It’s an arduous, endless process and it’s a skill to be sharpened and utilized for the rest of your life.
So why do we play the game? Why do we torture ourselves incessantly over fake questions and fake connections? The simple answer is that, for the highly motivated, this is a more guaranteed method to landing a job interview. Online job applications are a roll of unfairly weighted dice; the more surefire process is to go through the employee reference application portal.
But the more truthful and complex answer is that everything I’ve just elaborated on is a gross misrepresentation of the job search. In fact, it’s a fairly cynical one. The truth is, the networking process can be really valuable in its own right. You learn how to cold call, cold email and connect with someone new. You learn how to present yourself, construct your thoughts clearly and ask for what you want. These are skills that extend far beyond the confines of LinkedIn.
Occasionally, you may really hit it off with someone who’s connected with you. You may bond over something entirely unrelated to the job they’re in, or maybe really appreciate the way they answered your questions. You may find a new mentor, advisor or even a future colleague just by reaching out with a short note on an online platform. Sometimes, ironically, you might get clarity on the job itself and reevaluate your interest in that field altogether.
Yes, the networking process is a game. It’s a test of who’s willing to put in the LinkedIn hours, establish a connection and get that coveted application reference. But the game has been established and there isn’t a good avoidance technique. If the game must be played, why not gain something valuable out of it? Ask the questions you genuinely want answers to. Pick apart every aspect of their job so you really do better understand it. If you’re speaking to the 100th person in that company, try to find new questions you haven’t asked before and understandings of the job you’re still not clear about. Make it enjoyable. The networking process is a game of ulterior motives, but if done properly, you can gain so much more than what you initially set out to do.
Photo Caption: LinkedIn’s headquarters in Mountain View, California
Photo Credit: Greg Bulla/Unsplash