Find Your Dream Job, Episode 180:
Why You Need to Network When You Don’t Need Help, with Karen Wickre
Airdate: February 27, 2019
Hi! Mac from Mac’s List here.
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This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps professionals find fulfilling careers.
I believe that lifelong learning is the key to a successful career. And to get a better job, you need to learn the job hunting skills that will help you find the role of your dreams.
That’s why we’re here today. Every week on Find Your Dream Job, I interview a different career expert. We discuss the tools and tactics you need to find the work you want.
This week, I’m talking to Karen Wickre about why you need to network when you don’t need help.
Karen Wickre is an expert in networking. The former editorial director at Twitter, Karen has been called the “most connected woman in Silicon Valley.”
She says it’s more important than ever to connect with others. We change jobs quicker. We switch cities more often. And we stay in our careers longer.
The most successful connectors, says Karen, nurture networks when they don’t need help.
They default to yes when others ask for something.
And they pay attention to so-called weak ties that can lead to unexpected introductions and new ideas.
Want to learn more? Listen in now at the Mac’s List studio as I interview Karen Wickre about why you need to network when you don’t need help.
A long-time communicator and connector, Karen Wickre has spent more than 30 years in Silicon Valley as an editor and collaborator.
Her new book, “Taking the Work Out of Networking: An Introverts Guide to Connections That Count”, reflects her lifelong interest in making meaningful connections.
An avid media consumer, Karen also serves on the boards of several organizations supporting journalism and news literacy.
She joins us today from San Francisco, in California.
Karen, thanks for being on the show.
Hey, Mac. It’s so nice to be here. Thanks for having me.
Well, it’s nice to have you and this is one of my favorite job search and career topics: networking. Of course, we’re talking today about why you need to network when you don’t need help.
Often, Karen, when people start a new job, they stop networking. Why is that a mistake?
Yeah, you’re quite right; people do, because they think, “Well, I’m good now. I have the job I wanted to have and so I’m digging into where I’m working.” That’s fine in the moment but we all know, I think, that jobs don’t tend to last forever. People don’t work for one employer for their career lifetime. Those days are long gone and you know, change comes to all of us and sometimes we want to make change.
The idea that you would continue to have informal contact, what I sometimes call keeping loose touch with people, for all kinds of related interests to your job and your career is more important than ever because we all experience change and job fluidity throughout our lifetime. And by the way, networking isn’t just about jobs. It’s also for other kinds of resources and leads and introductions you might want for all kinds of things, whether it’s for conferences or traveling abroad or moving to another city.
Many things require the help of people you might not currently know in order to have better, smarter information for yourself. That’s really what good networking is all about.
Let’s talk about your definition of networking because many of our listeners would, I think, when they think about networking, they think about some social mixer where somebody’s going around the room collecting cards, and that’s about as far as it goes.
How do you define networking, Karen?
Well, really, it is the subtitle of my book, is how I’d like to define it which is, “making connections that count.” Maybe another way to think about networking is, don’t think of it as a verb, think of it as network is the noun. You have a network but I think what you just described with the room and the business cards is exactly what people dislike about it because it seems forced, it seems inauthentic, you might be in a panic because you have to find a job, for whatever reason, quickly, and so you’re kind of under the gun there and talking to strangers who may or may not be useful to you. Whereas if you kind of build the muscle of connecting with people who you genuinely like and have some rapport with, they become part of your brain trust and that is the way I’d prefer to think about networking.
Who can I tap into my brain trust to help me with this particular question?
What does that look like in practical terms? Because if you’re not going to that function room at the airport hotel, what are you doing on a regular basis, Karen?
Well, a couple of things. I’m a big fan of one to one coffee dates or breakfasts or an afternoon coffee or something like that where you can actually genuinely meet someone. Even for thirty or forty-five minutes and have a bit of a conversation. Or if that can go on longer, if it’s good, you’re doing that with some context and some basis. If it’s someone you don’t know, you’ve been introduced or you’ve reached out and they’ve agreed to meet with you. There’s some reason you’re meeting; it’s not just general networking. It’s because they have the kind of job you want or they work at the company you’re interested in or vice versa.
There’s context for that sort of one to one meeting that can be very valuable. Even, by the way, to learn that maybe you wouldn’t want to work at that company or you’re not so interested in that role that you thought you were.
Online, in addition, I talk a lot about this in the book, it’s never been easier to connect with people online and then also keep in touch with people online so that you do feel connected and in some cases, you may never have met in person. It’s great when you can but there are times that you can’t. Geography interferes and so to be in touch online requires a little bit of a regular habit of sending out a note, sending out a message, saying, “Thinking of you. What’s going on? Let’s catch up.”
Sometimes that becomes a virtual coffee date and sometimes it’s an email exchange. It’s a mix of those things. In person, online, where you’re one to one with somebody about specific things you’re looking for or questions you have and then they’re doing the same with you.
How do you make these choices, Karen? Because you only have so many hours in the day and you’ve got a job, family, interests outside of work, and if you’re going to be doing these meetings or making these connections online how do you choose who you do this with?
That’s a great question and I would say the first thing is, you’re not networking with everybody all the time. You’re not making connections with everybody for all reasons, all the time. There is probably something that’s driving a particular need and if we just keep it to jobs or career advice, that’s going to be a relatively small number of people that either you may know or you’d like to know based on what you see on their profile or someone that you share in common.
It’s a handful of people, maybe, that you’re interested in and they’re in the same industry or would like to be, where you’re just reaching out intermittently and not every day. I’m not for filling your schedule with coffee dates. These things are at your convenience. If there is a deadline about a particular thing, that should be established between the two people so that you can make time, but hopefully, if you’re doing this consistently, there are not that many urgent deadlines that come up. It’s more about having the conversation, getting the lead, having someone say, “I’m not the right person but let me introduce you to so and so.” And then a follow-up.
It’s basically an ongoing, rolling process. It should not be full-time. It is not all day every day, and you’re really pursuing one or two interests or questions or problems that you need at a time.
Well, that’s what you ask people for help with, Karen, when you’re reaching out to your network. It’s not all about taking though, is it? Good networkers also give, don’t they?
Absolutely, that’s part of the point of this rolling process that I was mentioning, is that we all have needs or questions or would like an introduction sometime or other, but you know, sometimes we don’t want to just be takers. We also, in sort of an ecosystem of people connecting, sometimes you’re the one asked for your help, your advice, the lead you have to somebody or other and so generally, I would encourage people to default to yes on agreeing to meet or help or talk to someone who’s looking for information. Again, it doesn’t require you to fill all your time. People are generally pretty efficient with, “Here’s the connection I need.”
A small example, if I may. Just yesterday I got an email from a friend of mine in Australia. She wrote and said, “Do you know anyone who’s a social media consulting business? A small firm for doing some contract work for my friend at a company.” I said, “Yes, I do. Here’s the information on that person. Do you want to meet them or do you want me to meet your friend? How do you want to do it?” She writes back, since it’s Australian time, a little off of my clock, today and says, “Here’s the introduction.”
Meanwhile, I’ve written to my friend a quick email to say, “You might hear from somebody in this company. I don’t know but here’s what they’re looking for.” She writes back and says, “Great.” Then I get the email saying, “Let me introduce you two.”
I quickly write my email to my friend and hand her off, and say, “Here are the two of you who need to be talking. Enjoy.”
All told, that probably took ten minutes of my time over 36 hours and that connection was made, that person who had the question now has someone to talk to about an answer. I don’t know if that’s the right solution but then I know my friend will refer her on if it’s not.
That’s kind of the way, ideally, you see it as information intake and outflow, going.
Well, that’s how it works. I know you’re a big fan of nurturing networks and I want to talk more too, Karen, about the benefits of doing what you just described.
We’re going to take a quick break, and when we come back, Karen Wickre will share more advice about why you need to network when you don’t need help.
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We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Karen Wickre. She’s an expert in networking.
Karen is also the author of the new book, “Taking the Work Out of Networking: An Introverts Guide to Connections That Count.” She joins us today from San Francisco in California.
Karen, before the break, you told a great story about how you connected two people and it took you about ten minutes to do that. One person was in the United States, the other in Australia.
What do you think will happen, then, what are the kinds of benefits that result from making those kinds of connections? Not only to the two parties you introduced, but to someone like yourself who makes that introduction, how can that help in a career?
For the two people, first, that was a specific question for hired help and so my friend is help for hire. I hope that’s a direct connection that leads to a joint project for the two of them. Even if it didn’t, it could be that because they are now connected, there could be future work. It might be that something different comes out of it that’s not immediate, but nonetheless, they now have that connection to pursue.
For me, frankly, I love people not going away empty handed. I love to be able to say, “I don’t know the answer to this but here’s someone who might.” Or, “Here’s an article I just read about this that might…” That’s a personal satisfaction for me and I think that it’s just something that I have the impulse to do but I do think that, as I say, the default to yes for being able to help people in the moment, however briefly, is beneficial in this sort of greater sense of giving and getting and maybe a little bit paying it forward, is one way of thinking about it, too, if you like. Where we’re all here to help each other along and I also believe that there’s no one person typically who has the answer for you to your specific question.
It’s more like you’re putting together a jigsaw puzzle or something like that where it’s like you’re piecing together the information that you need that is going to suit you, and so when you have these sort of touch points of these brief conversations and exchanges, they help you along your way. That’s something that I think people working inside companies need to cultivate themselves for their own internal network. I think it’s something that just helps us all in a sense of, we’re here to enrich and enlarge each other, if we have useful information. That’s my viewpoint. I don’t think I’m alone in that. I hope I’m not.
I don’t think you are. I agree with your advice. Certainly not only in my own career but among my peers and the people I know in my field, the folks who do what you just described enjoy a lot of success. That’s not why they do it because many of them, like you, love to be of help to others but those who do provide that kind of service, I’ve found, also enjoy professional success along the way, too.
Yeah, I think that’s right, and I also think that, in relation to the nature of work today, as I said before, nobody has a job for life anymore, very few people, so the idea that we’re all competitive in our own silos and we can’t talk to anybody else because that somehow affects the competition, that’s just, I think, an old idea.
I think now people want to be helpful where they can. Even among competitors, and this is something that I learned in my years in Silicon Valley. There’s a great spirit here of helping one another on a personal level even as you are keeping trade secrets and not sharing competitive information but saying, “I can help you with this. I can’t help you with that but here’s someone who can.”
To me, it’s an absolute benefit to one’s professional life and standing today. Where perhaps it didn’t have as much emphasis in the past, now I think it’s vital to have.
I’m curious, Karen, what have you seen in your career with people who don’t practice these habits? What kind of success do they enjoy? People who aren’t interested in networking.
This isn’t scientific but just in my own observation, they live in a smaller universe and they’re not as well-informed about what’s going on in the world if they’re extremely competitive and secretive about their work and their organization and their information. It’s a world where information flows and people learn from each other and take ideas from each other, even to some degree, that when you don’t have that, I just see a smaller and more limited world that is not beneficial to that person.
Especially, frankly, if they’re a leader.
What would you say to people who are listening and think, “Well, that sounds good, but I don’t have a lot to offer.” Or, “I don’t have a network”?
Well, I had this question recently. I was talking to a group of graduate students here in the Journalism program and one young woman said to me, she said, “Well, I don’t have anything to give. If I’m asking someone for the favor of their time, I don’t have anything to give. I’m young and inexperienced.” And I said, “You bring your questions. That’s actually your gift, that you’re the one that is curious and wanting to learn and that’s helpful to the other person to see you perspective. So, you do have something. You may have ideas for that person.”
I would say, there’s always some exchange. Even if it’s personal, even if you both find out your rooting for the same sports team. There’s something in the personal exchange that is of value. You should never decide, “I don’t have enough to bring to the party.”
In addition, I would say that for anyone who is saying, “I don’t have a network.” You actually do know more people than you think you know and that’s because you do work with people now. You’ve worked with people in the past, you have maybe classmates, you have former clients if you were in that kind of business, former vendors or contractors or consultants you worked with.
There’s a broader category of people who could be in your network. It’s not the same as friends and family; it’s a broader group that includes people you might call your weak ties, and these are sometimes the very people who can, when you do connect with them and you do talk to them, they say, “Well, why didn’t you say so? I know someone who does that. I’m happy to introduce you.”
But you won’t know that until you’ve had that conversation so thinking about a broader meaning for networking perhaps is a good way to start and maybe even listing, here are people I know that I’m comfortable reaching out to.
Tell us more about weak ties. What are weak ties, Karen, and why are they so important in both professional and personal networks?
The phrase “weak ties” came a number of years ago, about 40 years ago from a sociologist who was doing a study, specifically, about people looking for jobs. What he found is that people’s weak ties, similar to the ones that I’ve just described, people you aren’t in touch with, don’t feel as directly connected to, maybe haven’t seen in even years, are sometimes the ones who are the most helpful at helping you find your next position. He did a controlled study with people in relationships to this end for a now very well-cited paper about weak ties.
I think the principle still holds and I think it’s, again, broader than just for jobs. For example, it may be that when you say, “You know what? I’d like to learn more about being on a board. I’d like to be on a nonprofit board. Or even a for profit board.” Well, it could be that you might not know in your immediate circle someone who knows, but if you put that out there and you have in your conversations or on your LinkedIn summary, “I’m interested in this.” When you mention it to people, someone may say, “You know what, my brother-in-law is on a board.” Or “He’s a nonprofit board consultant who specializes in this.” Or, “I know someone who just got onto a board and so that’s who you should talk to.”
It’s not something that you were having a conversation with a friend about. It’s something that came up because you put the stated need out there or someone saw that and said, “Oh, I’d like to help with that.”
I want to close by asking, what are the daily networking habits that you recommend people follow?
I may be a little anomalous in this.
You did write a book about it.
I’m online a lot and I read a lot and I like passing things on a lot. I like sharing information a lot.
I would say, just as a general habit, when I, for example, warm up in the morning, let’s say I’m facing the screen and the inbox, as I’m reading through newsletters or the morning’s news, which I often will scan Twitter for, for example, I will see something or other that makes me think of someone first and foremost and I’ll immediately send that off to someone. Maybe email, maybe Facebook messenger, maybe Twitter direct message, or if a LinkedIn message…whatever’s the channel of choice that I know with that person. Just to say, “Dying to know what you think of this story.” Or, “What did you make of today’s news? Let’s catch up soon.” That does not require an answer. I might get one, nice, but it’s a way that I just might do that kind of thing to maybe eight or ten people just off the top of my head.
More specifically, if I have interest I keep a running list of, who do I either need to make an introduction for or ask a specific question to? Let me fire off those notes right away so that they’re off of my desk, so to speak, onto someone else’s to answer when it’s convenient. That’s just part of my morning to-dos, I think.
They don’t have to be morning. They can be end of day or something else but it’s just people are on my mind, questions are on my mind, tasks are on my mind, so I just send them out there for eventual response.
That’s my routine.
Well, that’s terrific. I actually follow a similar routine and I don’t reach as many people as you but I certainly have found that just connecting with people on a regular basis pays all kinds of dividends. Not only for an individual in their career but just for the community as a whole. It makes the places where we live and work both better and stronger.
We see eye to eye on this, Mac.
I think we do.
Well, Karen, tell our listeners, what’s next for you?
I’m continuing to talk about my book and it’s interesting, in talking to companies about it, they sometimes are inviting me in to meet with teams and talk with them. I’ve gotten very interested in how employees within companies also do their networking because it’s equally valuable for them too.
Anyway, I’m focusing more on that. I may do some extra writing about that in addition to continuing to talk about the book and making connections that count.
We may have to bring you back if that leads to another book to have you talk about that topic, too. Because that’s fascinating.
Karen, I know people can learn more about your book by visiting your website, karenwickre.com.
Karen, thanks for being on the show today.
Thank you so much, Mac. I really enjoyed it.
It was a pleasure. Take care.
As I mentioned at the start of the interview, networking is one of my favorite topics, so it was a lot of fun for me to talk to Karen about that. And I hope it was useful for you as well.
I especially liked her suggestion about daily networking habits. Because, when you think about networking in the abstract, it can be overwhelming and she laid out a reasonable approach that could take five, ten, twenty minutes, depending on your schedule. You can expand it or shrink it.
I like her idea of connecting with a certain number of people every day.
If you’re going to do that, you will see dividends down the line. Just as you do when you invest in a daily practice of exercise or healthy eating.
Before you make that kind of investment in online networking, however, make sure your online house is in order.
We’ve got a course that can help.
It’s called How to Wow and Woo Employers Online.
It’s three short video lessons and it will help you put your best foot forward online.
You can get your copy today. Go to macslist.org/wow.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Find Your Dream Job.
Join us next Wednesday. Our guest expert will be Dalan Vanterpool. He’ll explain how to choose the right career for you.
Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.