While I’ve been waiting for a “unified theme” to emerge that would allow me to elegantly tie a bunch of my random observations together related to networking , I’m afraid one has eluded me for weeks.  So the heck with it.  Let me just dump a collection of observations on the table for consideration…

•  People are too busy for coffee.  Okay, that’s not quite true.  I exaggerated slightly to get your attention and there are still plenty of people willing to meet up for a double mocha on occasion.  But I’m definitely seeing some drift away from the “everybody always has time for coffee” mantra that dominated the networking scene not all that terribly long ago.  Many folks I know are reporting less success with the traditional coffee outing request and are instead being asked to provide more clarity, up front, about what they want or are hoping to get out of a potential networking meeting.  The takeaway, if you’re in transition?  Anticipate this potential response when reaching out to people and don’t automatically ask people for a face-to-face rendezvous.  You might get farther by simply asking whether the other person has a few minutes to spare via phone or e-mail to help you with some “quick questions” you’re working on — and when they say yes, be ultra-prepared with a clear agenda that will take full advantage of the opportunity.

•  Referrals are still priceless, but misunderstood.  All things considered, I believe the primary goal of job search networking continues to be to generate trusted referrals to folks who might know about a suitable unpublished need or opportunity.  And yet, far too many job hunters fail to recognize, receive, or act on referrals effectively.  For example, I’ve seen far too many of these conversations taking place:

Job Hunter: “I’d love to work for Expedia.”
Networking Contact: “Cool, I know some people over at Expedia who might be able to help.
Job Hunter: “Plus, my dog has rickets, my resume needs work, and I also had this interview the other day that didn’t go so well.  Let me tell you about it…”

Alternatively, there continue to be a disturbing number of people who DO take advantage of introductions, but DON’T do a great job of following up with the initial referring party to close the loop.  I had an exasperated executive the other day share with me that he’s made five very significant introductions for job hunters in recent weeks, but is batting only one for five in terms of hearing back whether or not they led anywhere.  Make sure you don’t fall into this trap, yourself, or you’ll demoralize some of your top allies!

•  LinkedIn “updates” can pay dividends.  For those folks out there who are in transition and searching for work, with no confidentiality issues, give some thought to whether you’re using the “share an update” feature on the LinkedIn Home page of the site actively enough.  This feature allows you to send out ongoing messages to your connections on the site, keeping them apprised of your progress and letting them know where you need help.  It helps you combat the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon that derails many a networking campaign.  In fact, I just had a client report, very excitedly, that a hiring manager she’d interviewed with in years past noticed some of the recent updates she’d been posting on LinkedIn — which led to resumed discussions and an outstanding new job offer materializing, just yesterday!

•  Help your network by being “findable” on LinkedIn.  Even though social scientists tell us the average person can only maintain about 150 quality relationships (Dunbar’s Number) I think many folks today, including myself, aspire to do a little bit better than that.  And yet, we often need our memory jogged, and I believe many of us turn to LinkedIn as our auxiliary memory bank.  For example, recently I had somebody approach me asking if I could refer along any financial executives with background in the medical device industry.  While I was confident I’d met at least a dozen such people over the years, when I logged into LinkedIn and ran a search for anybody with financial background that had “medical device” listed anywhere on their profile, only four people turned up.  So I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: make sure your LinkedIn profile is packed with ANY and ALL terms (especially industry keywords) that might help a well-intentioned contact of yours recall your background and make a useful intro on your behalf.

•  Relationship-driven leads trump robot-driven ones.  Last but least, in case we needed yet another reason to focus on building quality relationships, it’s become readily apparent that getting hired “through the front door” at organizations has become an increasingly automated, impersonal, and sketchy proposition.  Case in point: I recently had a client report that after four rounds of interviews with Boeing, he asked the hiring manager what the next steps would be.  The individual in question allegedly responded by saying they’d have a decision made within the week.  “So I’ll be hearing from you?” asked the candidate?  “No,” said the interviewer, “just check the status code on your web application page and you’ll know whether or not we selected you.”  Wow.  How’s that for the personalized touch?  So instead of relying entirely on the traditional job application process, which has become painfully dehumanized, I think smart professionals concentrate much of their time on finding “pending” or “unpublished” leads through networking where they’re much more likely to be treated with dignity.

As promised, those are some recent trends and observations I’ve been keeping my eyes on, networking-wise.  Any other changes to the landscape you’re seeing out there?