The cost of lousy networking
By Evert Akkerman
While everyone seems overwhelmed by the deluge of bad news that was 2020, it may be more important than ever to focus on the constants in our lives and stabilize our networks.
Keeping in touch with people, even when you don’t need them — especially when you don’t need them — signals that you value the relationship above all, and this may sustain you.
As everyone else jumps around, responds to random stimuli and clings to a semblance of happiness on social media, you can stand out by building a reputation for predictability and reliability.
As we look for employment and self-employment opportunities and establish connections, it is wise to tread carefully. Various sectors, industries and networks are small enough that many of the key players know each other, and job applicants and independent contractors need to keep this in mind.
Do not burn bridges
The moment the other party rejects you as a candidate or contractor is a great opportunity to make a last impression. As one of my clients said, “Heavy-handed is great until I hit ‘send.’”
Examples of “how not to” are legion in recruitment.
One of my clients had to choose between two candidates who seemed strong, especially in building relationships. I checked references for both, and during one of these checks a weakness came up that prompted further probing. The candidate balked and wrote the following in an email: “I wish you good luck in your search for the perfect candidate,” making the decision a lot easier for my client.
And then there are candidates who accept an offer of employment and decide to renege on the deal.
To justify bailing on obligations codified in a legal document, they claim that “personal circumstances” prevent them from making the move, which makes the employer apprehensive about probing — as it’s personal, right?
Typically, the jilted employer hears through the grapevine that the ex-hire was offered more money by their current employer and yielded to temptation.
Whenever this happens, I wonder: suppose this person is married, promised ever-lasting love and perhaps even signed a prenuptial agreement, what is their spouse thinking about the value of their signature right now?
In the realm of independent contracting, similar advice applies.
I used to be part of an informal network that would meet for coffee once a month. While it wasn’t a bonanza of business leads, it was always enjoyable. At some point, one of the participants, a business valuator, skipped three meetings in a row. The organizer asked via email whether everything was well and whether she’d be attending the next meeting.
The business valuator hit “reply all” and composed a message with a “get off my case” and “don’t you people understand I’m busy” tone, adding that she was “completely overwhelmed” and had “literally not a minute to spare” and wouldn’t be back.
Later that same day, one of my clients mentioned his desire to sell his business and retire. Part of this process would be a business valuation, and he asked whether I knew people who could do that. I knew two and suggested one.
The next day, I replied to my coffee contact (just to her, not “reply all”) saying that I regretted her departure from the group. I also mentioned that I had received a request from a client for a business valuation the day before and had given that lead to someone else. Since it had taken my client many years to build his company, I wanted to be sure that a valuator would give both client and process proper attention.
Her instant response: “No, wait, I can do it — I have a personal assistant and I can give your client all the time they need.”
From a contractor’s perspective, the same thing goes for employers and clients: be true to your word and don’t cut corners.
Getting it right
There are examples of people who do get it, of course.
My Dad used to import sand from Germany to Holland, and for years tried to get an account with a construction company he had done business with before. My Dad knew that his prices were lower than what that company was paying, but for some reason he couldn’t get his foot in the door.
One morning, my Dad had a cake delivered to the company with a note that simply read: “Congratulations!” Of course, his contact called to find out why congratulations were in order.
My Dad’s reply: “Today marks the third anniversary of my first attempt to get your business.” He delivered his first shipment two weeks later.
As everything is in flux, it may be more important than ever to build stable, deep and lasting relationships. With so many people on layoff, forced to change jobs or rebuild their practice, you never know when paths cross again and how this can lead — or could have led — to new opportunities.
With our economy transitioning to remote work arrangements, projects and gigs, having a network of quality contacts can be reassuring — for both you and them.
People appreciate knowing there is substance below the surface and that you will stay the course, like a battleship in any kind of weather.
Evert Akkerman is an HR professional based out of Newmarket, Ont., and founder of XNL HR. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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