Who you know and broken dreams

Who you know and broken dreams

The theme this week at Engineer Blogs has been networking and if you haven’t had a bunch of engineers give you advice on communication and socializing than you just haven’t lived. I thought I’d chime in with my own, as usual cynical opinion.

My first job (beyond paper delivery) was a part time position while I was a full time student. I was looking for a nice easy office job and hoping to avoid having to go into retail or the fast food industry. My sister had worked a data entry position several years before and she offered to email her old boss (who had liked her very much) and see if she was looking for anyone. Turns out she wasn’t, but she knew someone in another department who was. And so became my first job. Every time they hired someone there they asked us if we knew anyone first and those people had a shot at a job. In fact we didn’t know enough people and had to hire strangers the old fashioned way in that time.

After that I really felt like I wanted to get my next job “on my own merits”. Of course it hadn’t occurred to me that very rarely does anyone get a job purely on their own merits. In fact it was how well I hit it off with the HR rep that probably contributed to my getting chosen for the job in the end. But I got two interviews out of that job search, both applied for jobs directly on job boards. These were nothing high level and it’s possible the high turnover rate of those kinds of jobs was what allowed this to be the case.

In my current position the only networking I’ve done has been internal which is very important. I’ve seen time and again here a friend of somebody or a family member get hired over an outside qualified candidate. But that isn’t the be all and end all, which is where I have to bring in my warning.

I know a ton of people at my company. Due to a few department restructures that were outside of my control I know and am known by every manager in my department, most directors outside my department, and as far up as the 2nd in command at the company. None of this has directly aided me. In fact, knowing high level people I believe hurt me in a few instances. Where another manager wanted to hire me on in their department, a high level turned him down. If he didn’t know me at all he probably would’ve taken the manager’s word for it that I was right for this role but because he know me I suppose he could interfere on the basis that he didn’t think it was best for my career or perhaps didn’t think I was qualified (I’ll never know the real reason).

So it’s not always about who you know. The more you know high level people in your organization, the more they might expect of you. They might have expectations for you beyond what a similarly educated and experienced person would be expected to do. And because they don’t get involved in the nitty gritty don’t expect that attention to show up in your review or your paycheck. In fact your boss might resent the fact that you are known above his level, or even if he does not resent it will probably not factor it in unless you are a favorite.

Chris Gammell talked yesterday about how important it is to help others in your network. I can’t agree with that more. And yet that’s another angle that can be frustrating. I’ve tried multiple times to get qualified classmates and family into the company just for consideration or just for an interview and gotten nowhere. In the only instance where it made a difference I’m certain it was that person’s qualifications that got them that far and in the end it wasn’t enough in this terrible economy where employers are so cautious to hire. I also agree that networking events can be pretty useless as I talked about a technical networking event I attended a few weeks ago. Most of the attendees were without jobs or not in a position to get jobs for other people and those that were job hunting were visibly awkward and quiet.

That’s not to say networking is pointless. The manager at work who wanted to hire me put in a good word with the head of my department which eventually led to a more interesting job (though no improvement in pay or anything). But as the rain cloud in the room I want to recommend caution for anyone getting their hopes up. I’ve hated telling friends that I don’t know if the hiring manager looked at their resume yet and I don’t know if he’s even interviewing and can’t figure out why it’s taking so long. It’s hard to watch that when nepotism and favoritism runs rampant right alongside but even a connected member of your network might not have any means of actually accomplishing anything on your behalf.

If I had to give any advice for networking I’d say to network because you want to get to know people. Network for the benefit that is knowing other engineers in your field and in other fields, expanding your knowledge base, and having a more diverse set of acquaintances. Networking purely for a job is like choosing a career only for the money, you probably won’t get exactly what you ask for. But if you spread your wings and go to events even when you’re happily employed I think it will enrich your life and that’s something that will make you grow as a person which is better than just a job.