On the importance of networks

Most jobs are found via networks.

DH found his new job via networks.  At the time he accepted, another member of his network was urging him to come out for an interview so they could give him a counter-offer.  People who know DH academically know he does good work and is responsible and amazing.  They’re willing to go to bat for him with bosses or to hire him directly as a telecommuter.

Scaring up new, local, networks had been much more difficult for DH.  He met people at happy hours and networking events.  He tapped linked in and asked former colleagues to introduce him to people.  But it didn’t get very far.  Maybe that’s because the job market here is different, or maybe it’s because the new people DH has met have no real reason to trust he’s high quality enough to go to bat for him.

But why do our older networks have these opportunities?  DH and I both went to elite graduate schools.  We also went to an elite high school.  (Our colleges were elite too but for some reason we’re not as networked there, not sure why not.  I bet my college roommate could get me a job if I needed one… but she also went to my grad school.)  Our friends have done really amazing and lucrative things with their lives.

The advantages from our high school, in particular, weren’t as obvious when we were younger.  But now many of our friends are millionaires and entrepreneurs (also professors and doctors).  They help each other out.  Heck, one guy buys up companies so he can hire his friends to work at them.

It makes me wonder about my kids… I have no desire for them to leave home for high school, but perhaps a gifted and talented high school experience will serve them well in their later years.  Well, that and DH’s family has a long history of marrying their high school sweethearts.  Maybe we should send our kids away to an academically talented boarding school for high school so that their later life will be more connected.

Have you ever tapped a network for job opportunities?  Where did you meet those people?  How did it work out?


29 Responses to “On the importance of networks”

  1. Sara G (@sargoshoe) Says:

    We just went through a similar situation — my husband left his academic post (though only a postdoc) for a startup that fizzled after 4 months, then he tapped his network for a contract job (for 3 months) and is now accepting an offer for a really awesome job (another, more secure, startup).

    His network is mainly comprised of people he worked with as a postdoc (in the past 3 years since we moved here) but also we have a very active parent community at our public school – particularly a group of dads that get together for beers once a month. Members of both networks passed around his resume, while members of his dad network helped him negotiate salary and provide moral support when he was first laid off.

    I think as far as kids go, my elite college/grad school experience hasn’t helped me much (yet? we’re all still juniorish) but what DID help was a mother who taught me how to network, so I could do it wherever I ended up. It helps that I like my job a lot, and like my mom I’m eager to meet new people (well, on some days), especially if they share similar career interests. Teach a man to fish!

  2. Liz Says:

    I’m 25, and absolutely stink at “keeping up.” How do you stay in touch with people to maintain a network without sounding insincere, needy, or overly personal?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Well, DH just emailed people about his job situation, generally asking for help (in terms of advice, contacts to other people, etc.). Since he always does amazing work, people remember him fondly.

      One really important thing is to make sure that every communication you send is something that you wouldn’t mind being forwarded to anybody. Make it easy for your contacts to get your information out there.

      In terms of when you’re not looking, generally these are the kind of folks DH would meet for a meal or a drink when he just happened to be in the same town for another reason.

    • Flavia Says:

      When I was in my twenties, I felt I knew no one and had no connections — and networking seemed icky and fake. Now I know tons of amazing people (many of them the same people I knew then), and because I’ve done more with my life, it feels easy to call people up or drop them an email; it feels less like begging and more like something mutually-beneficial.

      So, I think it gets easier as one goes along and one’s network expands and more of one’s friends have switched jobs or progressed in their careers.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        This is a really valuable perspective. In my mid-30s, I’m just now feeling comfortable dropping a random email to “network” people. And yeah, I have known some of them for many years but just never considered asking them for help. But it’s not so bad!

      • OMDG Says:

        What Flavia said.

    • hush Says:

      Holiday cards are a great way to keep in touch with far flung friends. Tis the season.

  3. OMDG Says:

    Interesting observation. I also went to an “elite” boarding school, and have similarly found that they’ve been a better resource to me from a connections standpoint than college was. A lot of my classmates started off as rich, with connections of their own, which probably helped them become successful themselves. Unfortunately, it costs close to 50K per year now, so… we’ll see if this is something we can afford once the kiddo gets to be around that age.

    • OMDG Says:

      I will also say that a non-significant proportion of these hs classmates haven’t done that much with themselves also, so it does make me wonder how much of a difference it made.

    • hush Says:

      Yes, I so totally hear you. “Maybe we should send our kids away to an academically talented boarding school for high school so that their later life will be more connected.” Amen! We live in a rural place with crappy schools and are really considering this option for our kids. It helps that my father went to boarding school in the 1960s, and although he certainly never became rich or super influential, he had an overall positive experience and is still in touch with several of his school friends.

  4. plantingourpennies Says:

    I’ve had one job and a few other offers, including a couple of consulting gigs come mostly unsolicited through my professional networks.
    School networks have been more useful in meeting people on adjacent career tracks in similar locations – more for having social peers than professional ones. I went to an elite public high school, and an ivy for grad school but I don’t believe either network has been useful for jobs.

  5. Flavia Says:

    I haven’t “tapped a network” for a job opportunity, since my discipline doesn’t work that way (any longer!), though I’m sure I’ve benefited from where I went to school, who my advisor was, etc. But I’ve definitely benefited in other ways from my network, and rarely from explicitly seeking things out: people ask me to be on panels or to contribute articles, and that sort of thing. As you’re suggesting, it’s partly about doing good work, but it’s also about being visible and knowing people who are sufficiently connected.

    I’ve recently been given an unusual opportunity that came through my larger, extended network — but that, if it pans out, would also reshape and expand my network, allowing me to tap into opportunities that I’ve always known were there but that have felt closed to me. It’s interesting how easy it is to make some connections and to tap into some networks, and how impossible others feel to access.

  6. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    I haven’t really had much in the way of connections from high school. I think if I still lived in Indiana, or the Midwest generally, they would be more useful. People in Chicago or Indianapolis make better use of those networks. College has been much more about that for me, but that’s one of the things it sells itself for!

  7. Leah Says:

    I was going to comment that I don’t really network, but then I realized that is so not true. It’s just that my networking for my current job was my husband and friends I’ve made through his work. We now work at the same boarding school.

    Prior, I got my first job ever through my brother, and my dad sometimes got me odd job possibilities. I really wish I had networked better during college, because I could have done more in the line of what I studied. Still, I’m teaching what I study, and I love teaching, so it worked out okay even if my path isn’t the one I intended. Maybe someday I’ll end up working in museum stuff or public education or research again.

  8. Revanche Says:

    My current job I have from doing a great job at my last one, but otherwise, I’ve never been efficient / effective about getting a new job through connections. It’s not to say that I haven’t had people willing to help, there were a few who helped me find interview opportunities earlier, but they didn’t pan out. I suspect that part of that is because my work experience was so limited to one area in my mid-20s and I wasn’t quite mature enough to parlay that into a leap into the unknown. As stressful as it was, my last job probably stretched me the most professionally and exposed me to more people who are good to know.

  9. Cloud Says:

    I have gotten every job I’ve ever had via networking. However, in my case, it has largely been my network of past colleagues that have helped me out, except in two cases where activities undertaken via my local AWIS chapter resulted in the connection that eventually led to a job.

  10. J Liedl Says:

    I was ABD when I got a phone call one evening from our program’s grad coordinator. A former student of his had phoned him, asking if he knew anyone who would be suitable for the recently revised job they were seeking to fill (formerly ancient/medieval history, it was now medieval/early modern). The networking helped to get me the job as it was a very short deadline with the revision and I’d seen only the original job listing.

    This is also why I remind students to keep former professors and other interested academics updated on what you’re doing and what you’re looking to do. Sometimes they can hear about your perfect job match!

  11. Debbie M Says:

    Except for my first job (working for my dad) and my last few joblets (consulting for former co-workers), I have gotten zero jobs through networks.

    I actually went to a good high school–it was a public school but full of NASA kids. The smart people, rich people, and the popular people were all in the same clique–I was not in that group. I lived in the wrong neighborhood and by the end, only my friend in my same neighborhood was still my friend. She stayed in town and worked on an accounting degree.

    I went to an elite college, but all my friends there became doctors and lawyers and they all stayed on the east coast. I’ve now lost touch with all of them, though there were a couple of hangers-on for a decade or so.

    I went to a decent grad school and didn’t move away afterwards; that’s basically where all my current friends came from. Yeah friends!! However virtually all of them are engineers and computer scientists.

    I had always wanted to be a teacher, ever since I started school. However, I never looked like a good disciplinarian. Until recently, I haven’t wanted to get another job in the same field I was in (I already had a job in that field and it was just a back-up job until I could find a good one).

    And I will agree that networks are important. Sadly the people I’m attracted to socially do not have jobs I would like. And when I have had education-related jobs (except being a summer camp counselor), I haven’t liked my co-workers. So I’ve found mediocre jobs in other ways. Oh well, I’m done with all that now, thank goodness.

  12. Leigh Says:

    So many people suggest that you should go to a community college for a couple years and then go to a regular university, but you lose out on so many valuable networking opportunities that way. I don’t necessarily believe that say Harvard is worth the cost, but many undergrad institutions have great networks. Mine certainly did. They say what you did in college doesn’t matter, but four years out from undergrad, the school I went to still gets noticed. My GPA doesn’t really, but the school I went to definitely helps, especially to get into the white boys’ club… Internships are also really great for networking, especially multiple and at big companies.

    I found my current job through my network and same with my leads and actual job for my next one. It sure makes it easier to find a job! I’m also really looking forward to working with people who I worked with previously.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Great points. Actually, elite schools don’t help kids who are already networked through their families, but the do help lower SES kids and minorities. And Harvard is free to lower SES kids.

      • Leigh Says:

        That’s a good point. Neither of my parents went to college and are in completely different/blue-collar (well my dad – mom stayed at home) fields, so I had to do my own networking. Thankfully one of my aunts/uncles was helpful in the college application and decision process since they had gone to college, as had their kids who are older than me. My parents had no idea what to do!

        Two more days of work before two weeks off for the holidays / before starting the new job! (I’m counting Friday as a no work day :P)

  13. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Oddly, two companies that DH (professionally) knows early founders at were mentioned on NPR this morning. I feel all elite by proxy.

    • Leigh Says:

      Ooooh that’s pretty cool! It’s kind of fun watching friends from college start companies. That’s totally not my thing, but it’s fun to hear their stories!

  14. First Gen American Says:

    I did a networking post and am a total believer now.

    I think one of the things about not seeming needy or cheesy (I felt this way too btw), is a)having some self confidence and b) not calling someone only when you want something. I go to lunch randomly with people in my network..just to hang out with no agenda except to learn about what’s going on in their life. With most people, it’s not often..maybe once a year, but it’s not the frequency that counts (and too frequent can also be problematic). I also try to help others in need whenever possible because you never know when you’re the one who will need help. Even if your introductions/help doesn’t lead to a job, it’s remembered. I had a guy the other day email me totally randomly to say hi because he was meeting with one of my counterparts. He actually send me an email during their meeting. He’s a Vice President now. I met him 1 time. ONCE, like 5 years ago. He was like the boss’s boss of someone I worked a lot with who thought highly of him. He got let go from the company I was calling on at that time due to new people at the top and bringing in their own guys. Anyway, this guy sent an email blast to his network that he was looking for a job, which included me. I got him a phone interview with a high up at my company. Now when he meets with people from my company, he thinks of me. The best way to have a network is make an effort yourself when someone else needs help.

    You pose an interesting question about networks coming from earlier in life. I think part of it may be that in high school and college, most people aren’t married yet. I think it’s easier to form deeper bonds with people before you’re hitched as most people tend to do things “as a couple” once they are married and the relationships with new people aren’t as intimate.

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