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

  1. Faith Akintunde Says:

    Wow! Alan you always hit the nail on the head. Thanks for writing this!

    I believe strongly in this principle of always looking out to help other people either on the job, at the workplace or anywhere else. And truly so, I get helped in unexpected ways.

    Giving and giving back in surely one of the pathways to greatness and or establishing our journeys to great destinations especially in our work.

  2. Alan Says:

    Faith, appreciate your comments. You’re absolutely on target – this works on the job, the workplace and everywhere. It’s just a great principle to approach your entire life with. Be well.

  3. Michael Ozehor Says:

    It is okay to network. The mindset or reason for networking would most likely make it worthwhile or not. How many people would benefit from this networking engagement that is coming up. Will this engagement bring the best out of those in attendance. Positioning oneself to assist in every networking engagement/ opportunity should be a top priority; networking is not totally out of place. It still works fine with the right attitude.

  4. Alan Says:

    Michael, thanks for your comment and insights. I believe your last sentence is the KEY to networking successfully, long-term. Be well.

  5. Cathy McCafferty- Smith Says:

    Alan
    It is me again!
    You are singing the song in my heart (Net-giving)

    I also believe in Net-Giving(all about what I can do to assist someone) versus Net-Working which is often I/ me focused.

    Why? …I have had 8 jobs created for me in 5 different industries all from “Net Giving” on my part (or someone’s else…who observed me in a paid or volunteer task /role

    … which led to them asking me if I wanted to come work with them. This was while doing board work, sitting on committees/councils, volunteer service/ training for the unemployed… etc

    Two resources to help your followers with understanding the value of “Net- Giving”-helping others succeed- i.e. without a self serving objective (I also believe a little divine providence was at work in my case as well)

    1. “It’s Not Just Who You Know” by Tommy Spaulding

    (Net-Giving is Tommy’s word- with how to build penthouse level(deep)relationships which almost always leads incidentally to more connections/ opportunities through Net-Giving.

    2.”Go Giver” by Bob Burg which is framed in a “story/ fable format” of a gentleman learning about the value of Net-Giving and why it is effective

    Thank you Alan – We are very like minded !

    p.s. if curious – those 8 created jobs
    Banking, Higher Education, Public Educational Consulting, 2 different HR/OD leadership and talent development roles, Government, Healthcare, Consulting

    ….and now as am independent consultant in banking, manufacturing, and healthcare focused on leadership succession / talent acquisition and employee engagement /talent development focuses.

    Keep these great people building focused articles coming.

    Cathy McaCafferty-Smith

  6. Alan Says:

    Cathy, thanks for such awesome insights. Your term “Net-giving” is another way of putting language to this that I really like. Congrats on being an independent consultant…you’ll have lots of opportunity to put “net-giving” into action. Be well.

  7. Pravin Says:

    This was a fresh outlook towards networking ! We can call this heartful networking ! It even helps us feel good about doing it. As Rightly said, you dont know from which corner the Karma would come back !!! Would know move inputs on how to know more ways of helping HR folks rather than simply asking them their business issues…

  8. Alan Says:

    Pravin, I like your term “heartful networking.” Well said.

  9. Phil Johnson Says:

    Thanks for the great reminder Alan. It is so easy to forget how important it is to put back more than you take out…

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