Don't Be a Job Stalker

Make sure your version of networking goes well beyond just handing your résumé to someone, says CEO Gary Burnison.

Gary Burnison is the CEO of Korn Ferry and author of the upcoming book, "Lose the Resume, Land the Job."

Most people think networking is all about finding out where the jobs are. Wrong! While that may be a byproduct of effective networking, the real reason you need to network is so you can be validated by another person—someone who can “vouch” for you within his/her network.

But first you need to forge relationships and build rapport, which means networking is really all about the other person.  Networking isn’t transactional, and getting a job isn’t as easy or as instantaneous as asking someone to get you tickets to a Major League Baseball game or the next Taylor Swift concert. Networking to get your next job is the long game, and reciprocity is the name of that game.

Too often what passes for networking, though, is really “stalking” with a resume. Consider what happened to me one Saturday morning on a trip to the dry cleaners. I greeted “Mrs. Jones,” the owner of the dry-cleaning store, picked up my shirts, dropped off the soiled bundle, and went on my way. But later that day, as I hung up the clean shirts in my closet, I made a startling discovery. Slipped between two of my shirts was a resume for “John Jones,” a recent college graduate and, it appeared, Mrs. Jones’s son. Mrs. Jones and I never had a conversation. She never told me she had a son or that he was in college. Maybe she had wondered why I wore so many dress shirts and googled my name. But honestly, surreptitiously placing a resume in my shirts was nothing short of bizarre. It was not networking—it felt like “job stalking.”

Networking is far more than slipping a resume in front of someone’s nose (by hook or by crook). It is about building and nurturing relationships with people who can attest to your skills, your accomplishments, and your contribution as a team member or team leader. Their words carry weight.

Networking is a big mystery to most people which is why many dread it so much. They feel awkward asking for help, and the idea of reaching out to someone has all the appeal of cold-calling to sell those handy slice-and-dice-it knives you see on late-night infomercials. This raises an even bigger point: Networking poorly is worse than not networking at all.

Networking foibles show just how bad many people are at this. Consider the experience of one of our recruiters who, while at the gym, was suddenly greeted in the sauna by someone he didn’t know. “I hear you’re a recruiter,” said the man, an IT professional who had been out of work for eight months. “I’d like to tell you more about myself.”

“Do you see any place I might be carrying a pen?” the recruiter asked. The man took the hint and left with his steam-wilted resume.

Ambush attempts are a turnoff. If you really want to meet someone—whether a recruiter, a hiring manager, or an industry contact who can give you the inside scoop—then find someone in your network who can facilitate a warm introduction.

If you haven’t thought about the care and nurturing of your network until now, you’re behind the curve. Connecting with people for the sole purpose of asking their help will put off many of them—especially if they don’t know you well.

Countless times I have been taken aback by people who appear out of nowhere—and sometimes after more than a decade since our last contact—requesting help to get a job. Even more irksome is when I hardly knew the person to begin with. You may think I’m being harsh, but this is the reaction you’re going to get from other people if you approach them “out of the blue.”

You can’t take out of your network what you haven’t put in. It’s all about reciprocity, which means you must build your network with meaningful connections long before you ever need to tap that network. Something as simple as congratulating someone on a work anniversary or commenting on a blog post will help keep your network fresh and engaged.

The way people network has not changed, but technology has made it easier for people to network poorly—blasting out “please connect with me” invitations to people they don’t know. No one wants to be stalked, in person or online.

The golden rule of networking is to make it about the other person as much as possible: connecting with people about their interests, commenting on their blog posts, and sending articles they might find interesting. Helping others to connect with people in your network is solid gold—a good deed that won’t be forgotten.

Networks are valuable connections and should be treated as such. If you always start with what you can do for others, they will be more than happy to do for you.