How to use networking to get your next job

By Ray Bentley
Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Wayne Baker, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan documented how some people have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. In his book, Achieving Success through Social Capital (Jossey-Bass, 2000), he goes on to describe how this kind of luck is not accidental, it is developed. In other words, it is not “luck”, but is the result of concentrated effort. A very successful buddy of mine once confided how someone told him that he was extremely lucky. He responded, “ The harder I work the luckier I get”. I posit that what many people attribute to luck is in fact the effective use of social capital by mining relationships through their formal and informal social networks, thus accessing bits and pieces of intelligence that can result in quantum leaps in achievement.

Social capital is the productive use of networks and relationships with people. In order to qualify as social “capital”, it must be productive. In other words, we need to have a plan for its use, and we need to use it effectively to produce results. This means spending time documenting and analyzing your personal and business networks. For instance, why shouldn’t you contact your insurance salesman or someone else you have done business with for a long time to find out how they can help you identify job leads? Why should any relationship be off the table when it comes to helping you to address one of the most important aspects of your life?

In order to apply this concept, however, we need to debunk another social value which carries just as much weight - the myth of individualism. According to Baker, it has been endorsed as one of America’s most revered beliefs, through teachings and celebrations. He cites James Coleman, another influential social scientist, as calling individualism a “broadly perpetuated fiction in modern society”, that runs counter to how the world actually works. We need to understand relationships and tap into them, even if it means unlearning ideas and behaviors which may doom us to poor results.

As far as examples go, I have two recent ones that have helped me to understand how powerful this concept really is. In both cases, individuals I did not know well (one I didn’t know at all) asked me about employment opportunities. In both cases, through no major effort of my own, I connected them with employer contacts that I thought aligned with their objectives. Before I knew it, they were offered employment, with one now on the job for two months and the other slated to start in January 2014. I couldn’t believe it myself. It was like magic. But if you stay mired in thinking that you are by yourself, then you will be “by yourself”. The moral of this story? Practice connecting with people, ones you know and the new ones you meet. I’ll continue to explore this ideas and others in future blogs. Until then, keep on moving forward!

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