Why Networking in HR Doesn’t Work Anymore (And What You Should Do Instead)…

By Alan Collins

Let me make a confession.

Networking is a pain.

And if you’re like me, you’re probably horrible at it.

So, I don’t do it anymore.

But that doesn’t stop me from reaching out to meet new people who can help me advance my career and interests in HR.

Hey, wait a second, you might say….isn’t that networking?

Not at all, and I’ll explain why in a moment. But first, a little story.

Dinner and networking

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a former colleague, Ken (not his real name), who was frustrated about his career in HR.

He’s currently a senior director in Organization Development at a well-known national car rental company.  He’s in the #2 role and reports to a vice-president who heads up the department.

After five frustrating years, he’s ready to move into a #1 role.  And he’s prepared to jump ship to do it.   He’s also thought about hanging his shingle out as an independent OD consultant.  Confused over his options, he asked to meet me over dinner to talk things over.

Personally, I absolutely love having these kinds of conversations. I can brainstorm for days and love exploring career alternatives with HR folks and seeing if I can help them out.

The fact that he picked one of the best restaurants in town and covered the tab for the steaks and wine, didn’t hurt either.

Anyway…Ken’s current position is not in jeopardy, fortunately.  He doesn’t need to find a new job tomorrow. He’s doing well. He’s cool with his pay package. And his clients love his work.

But deep down, he’s pissed because he was passed over yet again for a VP-level promotion that was filled by someone less-qualified (his words, not mine).

One suggestion I offered was, if you’re hellbent on leaving the company, start getting yourself out there.

Get out of the trenches.
Start meeting people.
Get involved in your local HR association.
Reach out to your existing contacts.
Set up coffees.

And…

Before I could go on, Ken interrupted by blurting out: “I’ve tried all that crap.”

He went on to say: “It doesn’t work. In fact, I’ve been networking like crazy for the last three months.

I meet people.
I give them my card.
We hook up on LinkedIn.
And I even follow up reminding them to contact me if they hear about any jobs.

Most people are nice and cordial, but they’re busy as hell. I get a few thank you emails and texts back.  But none of this has produced any new opportunities for me.”

“Wait a minute,” I said, raising my hand like a traffic cop and bringing him to a halt.

“Ken, let me get this straight. Networking to you means meeting people, giving them your card, telling them that you’re in the job market, connecting with them on LinkedIn and then following up.”

“Sure, that’s it in a nutshell. And none of that has been effective,” he said sadly.

“Well, Ken,” I said, “Lots of people do that.  I used to do that a lot too. That is, until I discovered…

…The HUGE problem with networking.”

“The problem is people do it incorrectly and they come across as selfish jerks.

“That is, I meet someone new…
I give them my card…
I connect with them on LinkedIn…
I follow up with them to remind them that if they know of any opportunities, they can contact ME.

“There’s only one issue with all that…

There’s a lot of “I” and “ME” in those statements.

“What’s the benefit for the other person?

Unless they have an immediate need for what you can offer – which is a long shot — there’s little they gain by connecting with you.  And you’ve just become just another one of the hundreds of boring people they’ve met simply looking to get ahead.”

“To be blunt, you can’t approach networking with the kind of mindset.  It just screams: ‘I gotta go meet some people who can give me some job leads or who can introduce me to some hiring managers.’ ”

“That mindset is all wrong, arrogant and self-centered.”

“Ken, that’s why your networking attempts have failed.”

I went on to offer some suggestions on a different approach. And, over the next hour, we had a great discussion. It was a learning experience for both of us.  Here are the highlights of our talk.

1.  Stop networking and start…helping!

Stop thinking of what you’re doing as “networking” and start thinking of them as opportunities to help people.

Be a giver, not a taker.

Change your mindset from a selfish one to an unselfish one.

Think about this way: If you can provide a benefit or helping hand to someone, they’re a lot more likely to remember YOU down the road when they actually need your services or can make a referral.

For example, who do you think will remember Ken first?

Person A, who got Ken’s card and listened to him go on and on about all the terrific OD skills and experience he has.

Or

Person B, who Ken asked about their business.  Who then told him about their difficulty in finding the right consultant to help with their employee engagement survey process.  And in return, from Ken got a helpful article a few days later on tips for selecting the right survey consultants…along with an offer to introduce them to some of his contacts who do that kind of work for Fortune 500 companies?

My money’s is on Person B.

People will send job leads to contacts that they know who’ve helped them out in the past.  They don’t provide them to the guy who wants to meet for coffee, then gives them an uninterrupted 15-minute-long sales pitch. (Ever happened to you?).

So stop aiming to get job leads.

Just aim to understand and help people.

2.  Put this new mindset in practice.

Based on our discussion, Ken decided to swap out his OLD way of thinking for a NEW way.

Gone is his OLD mindset and approach that went something along the lines of…

His NEW mindset and approach will be more like this…

Ken will then repeat this last step periodically, but importantly, he has ZERO expectations from her in return. 

Here’s the bottom line…

Meet people and look for ways you can help them.

Understand their business, their pain points and their challenges — keep them in mind.

Then, when you come across a helpful article, ebook, contact, resume, referral or so forth, send it to them.

Don’t expect anything back in return.  Be genuine.

Let the principle of reciprocity that underlies this approach act as a powerful catalyst for you.

This principle says that anytime someone gives you something you weren’t expecting, it naturally inspires them to look to return the favor in some way…and support you because somehow they feel indebted and obligated to even the score.   Putting this compelling principle to work for you as you meet people can be very effective.

But again, it’s critical that you expect nothing in return.

Most people won’t spring forward to reciprocate immediately, if at all.

However, the “good karma” you’ve generated will cause this favor to be returned to you down the road – maybe not from this person – but from places you might not expect.   At least, that’s been my personal experience.

That’s the biggest reason why I don’t “Network” anymore.

Yes, I’ll screw up and use that “N” word occasionally (old habits die hard).

But today, mostly I simply try to meet and help people.

And for those thousands of people I’ll never meet, that’s why I set up this blog and write articles like this one.

If you genuinely do the same thing, opportunities will follow.

Count on it.

Onward!

Comments, thoughts and push-backs?  Share them by adding them in the comments below by clicking HERE.

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Want more strategies that work in helping you move your HR career forward?  Then check out:  

HR RESUME SECRETS:  How to Create An Irresistible Human Resources Resume That Will Open Doors, Wow Hiring Managers & Get You Interviews!  For more details go HERE.

And

HR INTERVIEW SECRETS: How to Ace Your Next Human Resources Interview, Dazzle Your Interviewers & LAND THE JOB YOU WANT!  For more details go HERE.

About the Author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling HR books including:  HR RESUME SECRETS and  HR INTERVIEW SECRETS.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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43 Responses to “Why Networking in HR Doesn’t Work Anymore (And What You Should Do Instead)…”

  1. Pamela Says:

    This is an outstanding article! I’m not interested in leaving my current position, but will pass this to others currently “networking”.

    Looking forward to your next article!

  2. Trish Says:

    I facilitate workshops for professional level job seekers and in our networking workshop we stress that to offer something to the person you’re speaking with will take you further than the old-school mentality of networking. Thanks for the article.

  3. Glen Says:

    I absolutely agree, I have recently started mentoring several young professionals who seem to have the desire to ask my opinion on how they might be more effective in issue resolution with co-workers or more specifically how they might be more influential in getting their ideas adopted by peers and superiors. This has been a real joy knowing that I am able to assist in their success in achieving business solutions.

  4. J.O. Dravis Says:

    If you go to a networking event with the mindset of “I’m going to find 2 to 3 people that I can be a resource for, that I can help in some way”, you will find “networking” will be not only more effective, but a lot more fun!

  5. Colleen Says:

    This article is on point. I’m not sure if I missed another successful way to network which is to focus on people in other functional business areas such as operations, financials, sales, etc. This often demonstrates how HR supports cost containment and I have found I can always learn more, no matter how fluent I feel about these areas. It also explores between HR and the other party where HR can support ROI. Using business language further supports credibility. This makes a strong impression particularly when HR follows up with information related to their industry and/or function.

  6. Jerome Laday, SPHR Says:

    This has been my approach to Networking for years. It has always been about the other person: who they are, what they do, what are their issues, what is their role, & what is the culture of their company. And then seeing where or how I can help. But the time to do this is before you start looking for a job. My mantra is “Networking is NOT just for NOT Working.”

  7. Marla Harrington Says:

    I tell colleagues in a similar position as ‘Ken’ to think ‘relationship building’ as opposed to networking. Relationship building requires the reciprocity needed in successful business partnerships.

  8. Forsianne Joseph Says:

    This is an interesting article…an eye opener for some. Great advice and this approach works. Thank you.

  9. Lami Says:

    thank you Alan, you know what I have always wondered why I don’t get desired result with all the efforts I put in at meeting people and networking. simply going about it the wrong way, it has always been about me. this article is an aha moment for me!
    thank you

  10. Brian Kreissl Says:

    Very good post! I completely agree that traditional networking generally isn’t all that helpful.

    In one of my previous blogs I asked whether networking is overrated. You may be interested in reading it:

    http://www.hrreporter.com/blog/hr-policies-practices/archive/2015/06/16/is-networking-overrated

  11. Yvette Leonard Says:

    Thank you for this timely article. I recently relocated and am in the job market. I had planned to kick my networking into high gear but the points raised in your article have given me a different take on how to approach it. Just in time!

  12. Wilbroad Says:

    i am in the exact situation as that of of Ken and i have been using the ” orthodox” way of networking. thanks Alan for the change of mind set, i shall explore it!!

    Thanks

  13. Barbara Lovejoy Says:

    This is a great article! I have never found networking to be exceptionally beneficial and now I know why! I’ll be sure to share this more effective approach.

  14. Vu Nguyen Says:

    Outstanding article. I have also been thinking about the difficulty in networking as well. Your topic really comes in the perfect timing. Thank you Alan.

  15. Shannon M. Scott Says:

    Totally floored by your article

  16. Sossi Says:

    Excellent reminder. Nurture the relationship for maximum impact.

  17. Linda S. Smith Says:

    Excellent article. I’ve never been particularly good at networking and it always makes me feel desperate while I am doing it. This will make me feel helpful instead of needy. Thank you. I will definitely put this to use and pass it on.

  18. Dwayne Says:

    I agree and add, I have networking for over seven years and if I had a dollar for the “unfulfilled” promises of help, I would be rich!
    No one, but no one wants to help someone over Sixty. We are not all rich and have many years of wealth of information within the HR Industry and life left!!

  19. Javier Sanchez Says:

    I like it Allan! I think this is the right way to do it,
    Thanks for the advice

    Javier sanchez

  20. Sheila Sawyer Says:

    I agree with your advice Alan. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Areej Says:

    Lovely article..I totally agree..that’s what they call happiness..to give to help, then for sure you’ll be remembered.

  22. Adrienne Says:

    Such an excellent article! I will pass this information along to others.

  23. Vinu Says:

    Very interesting piece of information. Networking is all about building connects and helping each other grow, I agree on the’karma ‘ part when you dont have a selfish motive, the association indeed turns out to be genuine!

  24. Anita Al-Zamily Says:

    Fabulous article and funnily enough I read this article following an excellent breakfast meet I attended this morning with Sterling Integrity/Sterling Networks. This organisation has a very similar ethos and it works!!
    http://sterlingintegrity.co.uk/network-groups.php
    Happy people engaging everyone!
    Anita Al-Zamily-SGS College Bristol

  25. Arlene Says:

    Allen, an excellent article! Thank you for helping the many people out there.

  26. Rasagna Says:

    I totally agree with the article. Great advice.

  27. LT Says:

    Great article, but a bit of push-back here:

    I have been extremely helpful to folks, as suggested, for a year now. And, although people have been most grateful, I am not receiving suggestions from others.

    At some point, you *do* need to relate networking to the job search– what then? How do I make the transition from giving others support to getting some myself?

  28. Alan Says:

    You don’t. When you start infusing “me” and “getting some myself” into your efforts, it’s transparent as hell and people can sniff that out a mile away and it feels manipulative. That said, I’d suggest that for the people you’ve truly helped, that you ask if they can help you by providing you with a CONTACT or two that can offer you some career advice…that’s easy for people to give and they’ll be delighted to provide this if you’ve truly “helped” them. Don’t ask for jobs, or job leads or if they know of any openings..that’s a total turn off and most people can’t help in this way. Instead, ask for CONTACTS (people they know) who can give you good career advice. Then connect with these contacts — and figure out ways you can “help” them. Keep repeating this process. Because it’s through genuinely connecting with contacts and helping them that will ultimately turn into jobs…though not necessarily on the timetable you expect. Be well. -Alan

  29. Girum Gebremichael Says:

    I really used to exercise such kind of networking naturally with out thinking the consequence few years back (especially the help), but eventually lost it for the reason I do not know. It had me to identify my carrier path. It is interesting you made me realize, that I eventually got trapped in to Ken’s situation.

    Thank you for reminding me. Your blog keeps reviving the good old spirit I used to have to hold HR as my carrier path. Thank you again really from my the bottom of my heart.

    You wake me up!!!

  30. Sam Says:

    Thanks for the good article. Still, I wonder at times and question how I personally suffer such injustice for no reason and take it personally when I have always taken steps to keep in touch with sharing links to certain people like former bosses or other colleagues from past workplaces I have gotten along well with and some of them have responded back to me after we both left, but at worst encountering after some time not hearing back with worse passively unfriended on FB for no reason when I have done nothing???????? How come such has to come as bad unjustly to me after my doing good? I always expect that with the basic commonsense of karma, decency and adulthood in the professional world none shall happen.

    Also, it sure has instilled hurtful false hope and relationship building/maintenance in form of networking after offering to help as a hoax after hurtful rejections for no reason and noticing these very people responding back to others still and not me. Also, what gets to the heart is having sincerely and passionately volunteered at an agency for a year, yet not landing a job from it nor getting leads as I thought after my sincere volunteering and attempted relationship building after people always heard saying how volunteering gets people hired faster or will pay off.

    I hope the law of karma is immediate for anybody from such senior level managers on downwards who passively and unprofessionally stop responding back with lack of courtesy unlike before and unfriend on FB for no reason.

    Surely these people wouldn’t want to be treated as such and wonder how dare they act like such themselves?

    Thanks!

  31. Sam Says:

    The worst part of networking as I see is not meeting people and getting to know, but at worst is when going somewhere just to meet and get to know with adding value, and yet hurtfully not hearing back from the person you responded to after the event with sincere help from the heart. That feeling of not being fairly acknowledged after your time invested sincerely after always preached of good to follow hurts.

  32. Alan Says:

    Sam, I like what Julia Roberts’ says about this, which is:

    “When people walk away from you, let them go. Your destiny is never tied to anyone who leaves you, and it doesn’t mean they are bad people. IT MEANS THAT THEIR PART IN YOUR STORY IS OVER.”

    This is sage advice for your relationships with FORMER WORK COLLEAGUES who have chosen to not to return phone calls, emails or stay in touch with you…no matter what you’ve done.

    Her advice: Get over it! Move on. Keep building relationships.

    I agree.

    Best,
    Alan

  33. Javier Sanchez Says:

    I like too very much this comment: “When people walk away from you, let them go. Your destiny is never tied to anyone who leave you, and it doesn’t mean they are bad people. IT MEANS THAT THEIR PART IN YOUR STORY IS OVER.”

    The angels that help you in your way change their faces through your life…

  34. Alan Says:

    Javier, thanks! I like your “angel” comment even more…well said! If it’s ok with you, I think I’ll use it, with attribution to you, of course.

    Be well.

    Alan

  35. Sam Misra Says:

    Thanks Alan and Javier, thought it still a hurtful, intricate and unfair dilemma.

    It is personally taken when seeing for example one person we’ve usually got along well with and always did our best, but at worst it seen how he/she seen on FB in touch with others except for ourselves?

    In articles, we are always preached to do good and treat others the most decent way we’d want to be treated too. Wonder how we can hold others accountable too as fair?

    In the example I gave, would you all say certain people that passively and immaturely act out with stop responding or illogically for no clear reason that unfriend are burning bridges themselves?

    The fact is that it is a small world and we all seem interconnected and wonder where the karma comes in going back to the people that stop responding as lack of courtesy as surely they’d not like being ignored or not followed up with?

    How to face “Get over it! Move on. Keep building relationships.” when such unfair, hurtful dilemmas have happened after you doing your part and how to not encounter it again as enough is enough?

    Thanks while I am trying to be upbeat and keep going.

  36. Sam Misra Says:

    The angels that help you in your way change their faces through your life…

    Nice quote above and would love to learn the interpretation further. Thanks!

  37. L.T. Myers Excel HR, LLC Says:

    This is solid advice. Building relationships through helping is a great way to becone sought after.

  38. Nagaraja Says:

    Hi Alan
    Many thanks.
    Again a great piece of advise. You have excellently redifined the word networking.
    I am changing my style of networking from now.

  39. Nagaraja Says:

    Hi Alan
    Many thanks.
    Again a great piece of advise. You have excellently redifined the word networking.
    I am changing my style of networking from now.

  40. Lili Goncalves Says:

    Alan, I have been following your articles and advise for quite a few years. What an inspiration you are. I recently made a career change from HR to RE, however your insight applies to all fields. Continue blogging. Regards.

  41. Dr Aulakh Says:

    Dear Alan
    What touched me as a person was what you wrote about what Julia Roberts said.

    Usually we as humans get stuck in this and keep wondering WHY ME etc and so on.

    Thank you

    Best regards
    Aulakh

  42. Alan Says:

    Lili, thank you so much for your comment and support all these years. You are quite kind. Thrilled that you find the articles useful.

  43. Alan Says:

    Fantastic, Nagaraja!

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