Home > Career Development, Job Search > “Reverse Networking” – Is it REALLY Who You Know?

“Reverse Networking” – Is it REALLY Who You Know?

A cartoon I have in my files shows two forlorn individuals dressed in tattered business suits walking down the street. One turns to the other and opines, “I think it IS who you know . . . and I know YOU!”

Although networking is always a key topic in unearthing the “hidden job market,” precious few of us really enjoy the process very much. We do, however, grudgingly admit that it must be done if we want to avoid too much time working our “to-do” lists or watching daytime television and reenter the world of work.

I have discussed at some length WHY networking is important and even provided some guidance on WHAT to do with that precious contact when you land it. Seeking information, advice and referral is the key to developing longer-term, mutually productive relationships that are likely to provide you with opportunities.

Now it’s time to discuss HOW to make this magic happen. And, at the same time, to suggest a counter-intuitive technique to increase your opportunities, something I like to call “Reverse Networking.” What is this, you may ask? Before I answer that question, let’s talk a bit more about the WHY behind such a back-to-front technique.

Some time ago I read an extraordinary book, Working Identity by Dr. Herminia Ibarra. She cited a somewhat obscure reference to a 1973 research project by a sociology graduate student, Mark Granovetter, who discovered that most of the jobs discovered by networkers (people seeking contact), came from individuals with whom they had very infrequent contact. Granovetter called this “the strength of weak ties.” The numbers are staggering: of people finding work through personal contact, 17% found jobs through people they knew well (strong ties), 55% found their new positions through individuals they did not know as well (weak ties) and 28% were successful through contacts that they barely knew or had contact with (weakest ties). This means that over 8 of 10 opportunities came from people that they would not typically consider! Granovetter also found that these people often found better positions for more money.

Ibarra’s chapter titled “Shifting Connections” talks about this phenomenon as being critical in career change. If we continue to connect with people who know us well, we get caught up in “blinds” and “binds,” keeping us away from new experiences and opportunities. I have found that this is also true in the employment search process in general. If you continually run in the same circles, you will keep running into the same folks, the same ideas, with little opportunity for Serendipity, surprising and exciting opportunities that seem to come out of seemingly inconsequential events. This is what Dr. Richard Wiseman, author of The Luck Factor, talks about when he says that “lucky” people not only maximize chance opportunities, they create them!

How does this relate to networking in general, and “Reverse Networking” specifically? We typically think of networking from the center out, starting with people we know well, are comfortable with, know of us and about us and network out in concentric circles to the outer fringes of our contacts. There’s nothing wrong with doing this, by the way. However, I suggest adding Reverse Networking to your repertoire as well. The “reverse” theme implies just what it says – let’s start from the outside and work our way in to the middle!

Sounds good, eh? There is a potential glitch in the plan, however: To quote one my clients when faced with this concept, “If all of the good leads are in these ‘weak ties,’ how do you find these people?”

A great question! Well, I think I may have found them for you! Who has not seen you in a long time? Your list could include: old neighbors, former coworkers, high school and college teachers, college roommates, distant relatives, former bosses, acquaintances from service groups, associations, or places of worship, etc. If you have not spoken to someone in some time and that person is likely to remember who you are, there’s where you can start.

One more word of warning, however. If you aren’t well versed in the science of networking (that is, seeking information-advice-referral, not job leads), DON’T CALL ANYONE! Be sure you know how to connect with people positively and effectively, establishing solid, active contacts for collaboration and insight. Otherwise, you will soon find your email in spam and your calls blocked (and rightfully so!).

Please allow me to add one more insight:  Remember that your “weaker ties” have “weaker ties” of their own!

Dizzying, isn’t it?

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