The Networking Tool that Beats Facebook Hands Down

I met Jim Hardeman when I was interviewing people who love their work for my latest book, Money With Meaning: 42 Practical Ways to Discover Your Calling and Land Your Dream Job Now.  He was the head of a corporate program that helped employees suffering from domestic violence.  This is something he knew a lot about. His dad brought violence into the family in the most gruesome of ways.  And helping other people save themselves and their families became his calling.

I’m bringing him up here because his story is not so much a story of surviving a brutal start in life. It’s about the help of people all along the way who noticed him, saw his potential and gave him that little bit of extra help that changed his life at each turning point.  From the teacher who was the only one to see the smarts glimmering in the eyes of the emotionally overwhelmed little boy, to the academic secretary to promised to make sure his grant application would be on the top of the stack, he got what he needed.  From people who noticed.  And then helped. As a result, he carried within him into adulthood a strength that would help generations of other families dealing with the same challenges his family had to survive.

And then there was the Washington, DC, lobbyist for The Humane Society of The United States, where we both worked in the early 1980s. She gave me what I think is the most valuable piece of advice around building relationships.  (And if anyone knows how to build relationships, let me tell you, it’s the Washington, DC, lobbyists.)  She said this to me:  “The best way to make friends is not to offer them help.  It’s to ask them for help.”

What a revelation that was! In a culture where “that’s okay, I got it,” is the common response to anyone who wants to reach out and lend a hand,  that completely turned my thinking upside down.  Actually receiving help when by all rights we should be taking care of ourselves?  Well, maybe taking care of ourselves involves asking for help every now and then, sometimes from even complete strangers.

Being needful, especially around job hunting (especially if you’ve been laid off), feels humiliating, doesn’t it?  Even if being between jobs is not their fault, it makes a lot of people feel small and powerless – and maybe ashamed of their frustration and anger. And if they open their mouths to ask for help, the sound that might come out could either by the high squeak of air out of a constricted throat. Or a bellow that would blow people away like that farmhouse in the old atomic testing films from the 40s.

That’s a very isolating way to be.  Just when you need to be connected more than ever.

So what’s the networking tool that beats Facebook hands down?

Answer: Reaching out for – and accepting – help from friends and even strangers.  (You can even do that through Facebook!)

Who are the people who might be surprising sources of help?  Here are just a few people off the top of my head:

Teachers.  Sign up for continuing education courses taught by teachers who have full-time jobs in your field.  These people have networks and contacts that are current and broad.  Just be careful that the courses that you pick are related to your career and the knowledge you will need to prepare for your next job.

Your former boss.  Or your boss’s boss.  If you’ve been laid off, these people feel really bad about what happened to you.  And assuming they’re basically decent people, helping you land on your feet will make them feel better.  Do them a favor, give them the chance to help you out.  Do it gracefully and kindly. And they might even realize that there’s a job in your former company that you’d be perfect for.  I personally know that to have happened.

Your vendors/suppliers/consultants. A friend of mine was so successful in his job that his company laid him off.  (His core responsibility was fulfilled, they didn’t need him anymore.)  He’s the kind of guy who makes friends with his consultants (I was one of them).  And so we were among the first people he told.   Fast forward about two months, and he agreed to become the western region vice president for one of the consulting firms that helped him achieve that success.

Your clients.   That same client?  He is one of my favorite networking sources for  the Bay Area.  As much as he reached out to me for help, I reach out to him for help.  We see each other as friends. And we want each other’s success.  Another client of mine is helping me develop a new team-building workshop. He’s my ideal client and his professional circles are made up of guys just like him.  Once the workshop is ready to share with others, he’s going to help me spread the word.  Why? Because we care about each other. Just feels good.

Your neighbors. There’s no shame in being in financial or career trouble anymore.  Your neighbors want to help however they can – even it’s only for selfish reasons. They want to keep the neighborhood intact.  Don’t burden them with your anxieties – you don’t want to be the person that causes people to cross the street when they spot you coming towards them.  Just let them know you could use some networking help. Be specific about what kinds of introductions you’re looking for.  Be specific about the kinds of people who need the kinds of help you can provide.  That way it’s about the value you can bring, rather than just your need.

Your mom’s church friends. Don’t laugh.  I know of one guy who kept dismissing his mother’s suggestion that he call her church friend.  Over the weeks she kept saying, “Why don’t you call Annie? She’s got this daughter….” he kept saying “I will later, Mom.”  And continued banging his head against the wall in his job search frustration.  Finally he called Annie.  Turns out Annie’s daughter had just started a lavishly funded IT company and she needed a guy with skills just like his.  A couple of weeks later, he’s sitting at his new desk doing the work he loves.

The friends you meet on Facebook.  One of my dearest friends is someone I met on Facebook.  We met each other very much the same way people have met and made friends throughout the centuries.  We noticed each other.  We saw a set of shared values, similar ambitions, similar sense of humor and life stories that we could identify with.  And soon we came to want to help each other. We share business leads with each other all the time now. We’re no longer Facebook friends. We’re friends.  And as such, we want to help.

So what is the networking tool that beats Facebook hands down?  It’s a two-parter: The ability to ask for help and the knowledge that you’re surrounded by people would be absolutely delighted to help you grow into the future that you have already earned in so many ways.

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