Bill Wilson spent over 20 years in legal departments at corporations large and small, from high tech to brick and mortar, and is writing about various topics while trying to find that next great career opportunity.

The absolute best, nothing-else-comes-close, most likely-to-succeed way to get a job is through networking.  Now that I have said what thousands of others have (which by the way I DO agree with 100 percent as it has worked for me on several occasions, and for countless others that I know), is what I really think networking should be about.

Over the years (though more recently on the increase it seems to me), I have observed people at various gatherings, furiously flitting like a hummingbird from group to group, never meeting your eyes because they’re scanning for the really important people they think might be there, always devoting 5 percent of their brain to what you’re saying and the other 95 to their strategy for “working the room.”  I have visions of a special floor in Dante’s Inferno for such folks where they have to read other people’s business cards 24 hours a day for eternity.  Allow me to submit to you that these people are doing something, but it’s only a perversion of “networking.”  When I see LION next to someone’s name on LinkedIn, I cringe involuntarily.

You can tell I’m not great at “networking” as many people define it.  I’m outgoing – to a point, personable, able to converse intelligently on a wide range of subjects, with a decent sense of humor, but I have near zero tolerance for artifice and glad-handing.  And you have to find what works for you and who you are.

I think your true network should be all about people you have taken time to get to know, or who have worked with you or share another connection such as an alumni group.  You share a fairly good idea of each other’s personality, strengths, weaknesses, talents, contacts, and interests.  You’ve seen each other in action and like what you see.  You know some faults, and while you take them into account, on balance you’re willing to overlook them.  You probably know at least something about their family.  You’ve known them a while, in some cases years.  Some of them are also “friends” in that you’ve met and know their spouses/significant others, and sometimes their kids, been to each other’s homes, and interacted socially.

This group is the result of considerable time spent on development, though you didn’t think of it that way when you did it: you just liked them.

There’s a second group: People who regularly turn up at those professional or alumni meetings, who you know almost on sight, and with whom you have had more than one conversation.  You either have formed, or are beginning to form the impression that they might be someone you’d like to know better.  They’re interesting both as a person and, in part, because of who they are, what or who they know, or because of what they do.  They remember you and will take your call, or take the time to return it.  Both are part of your network.

But the former group is the most critical to your job search.  These are the folks who are going to call that prospective employer and talk with the hiring partner they went to law school with, adding that they think you might be an asset to the firm.  They are going to say nice things about your capabilities when used as a reference.  They have trust and credibility with you and with the other people they might call on your behalf or introduce you to.

The latter group might open some doors, or pass along a hot tip about the hidden market, which is terrific, but value and nurture that first group all the time.  You can’t start when you’re laid off.


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