OK, so those of you who have been paying attention to this space over time no doubt know, I've been in a LONG job search … an insanely long job search ... that just passed its sixth year mark in May. Needless to say, there's a level of desperation building, that wasn't necessarily there back when I was reviewing a lot of job-search books when penning The Job Stalker blog on the Tribune's ChicagoNow site a few years back (when I stopped writing that, I stopped requesting job-search books from the publishers, which is why you've not seen many reviews in that genre of late). I have recently thrown myself on the tender mercies of a local Vocational Services organization, which paired me up with one of their “executive coaches” (yes, I used to be an “executive” … almost hard to remember those days), with the hope of trying some new things to get me back into the world of positive cashflow. One of the first things the lady said was “read this book” … as it is the template that they use for helping people like me get hooked up with jobs.
So, two handy facts about this before we get going … I would very likely never have picked up this book without it being “assigned” to me … and I have certain significant “issues” with the job search paradigm being presented here (in a somewhat-non-PC phrase I use: “asking me to do THAT is about a useful as yelling at a quadriplegic to take the stairs” … but it's smack dab in the middle of the “Brendan is not like the other kids” category), making me be a bit “reactive” when hitting those parts.
However, given those particular land mines, Orville Pierson's Highly Effective Networking: Meet the Right People and Get a Great Job is a very informative, structured, and even easy-to-read book. The author uses a technique that I typically find irritating – the “real world story” – to good effect here, and, frankly, those parts of the book make it almost a fun read … “humanizing” the instructions presented chapter-to-chapter (at the end of each there is a developing story about a friend of the author who comes to him for coaching in a new job search, which progresses as the various stages of the author's job-search model are discussed).
Now, obviously, it's hard to make a single book on the job-search be a “one size fits all” instruction manual, but Pierson at least makes a stab at it, with on-going asides to new college grads and other first-timers in the work world on one side and to CEO, etc., folks on the other. The main thrust of the book, however, is in the middle of that … salaried employees looking either to change jobs or get jobs after having been downsized (the central character of the unfolding illustrative story is an engineering manager, for example).
The book has a somewhat odd structure … while its over-all arc is reasonably direct through the author's system, individual chapters are presented as being in one (or two) of four “steps”, which are part of a table of info that precedes each (which feel like they originated in another format – perhaps a PowerPoint that he uses to train people in his methodology?). These are defined in the second chapter as:
Decide to network effectively.
Prepare for job hunting.
Talk to personal and professional contacts.
Land a new job.
One of the things I found most commendable here is Pierson's realistic view on how hard the kind of networking he recommends can be … and he sets a goal to make the process as comfortable as possible for all involved (he points out that the person being networked with in any given situation might be very uncomfortable with the discussion – expecting that he/she is being asked to provide something, such as a concrete job lead, that they are not capable of producing). The other thing that is fairly notable here is his insistence on (and instructions for) utilizing one's “non-professional” (or not in one's target field) friends & family connections, as they frequently know somebody who knows somebody who can put you in touch with a key connection.
Back to the “structure” issue … I really wish he'd make one big chart with all the elements in it … he seems to go from structural level to structural level with not the most linear flow … for instance, in the chapter which includes the four “steps” noted above, he also has “The Four Goals of Networking”:
1. Get the word out.
2. Gather information.
3. Meet insiders at targeted organizations.
4. Get in touch with Decision Makers.
These precede his definitions of the steps, and the steps are initially presented in another chart with various sub-steps detailed, before getting into the specifics for each. This level of complexity makes it hard to regurgitate this in a summary form here … it reads through fairly logically, but is hard to condense. Before launching into the main part of the book, Pierson has a chapter on “networking myths”, which tackles seven of the most common ones he's encountered. The specifics here are well presented, with his description of the “myth” and information that counters each. He also notes that there's a LOT of confusion about networking out there because so many books that have been written on the subject are for salesmen and not job seekers … and he notes that MLM has further blurred the lines, as a lot of “network marketers” are trained to sell to any live body that gets within 3 feet of them, which means that a lot of one's contacts are wary about any approach that is goal-centered.
In the “Prepare” section the author defines “Real Networking”, which consists of “An Authentic Conversation” (No gimmicks. Be Yourself.), “Common Interest”, and “Information Exchange”. Now, here's one of my “reactive” points … I have never gotten anywhere in my life “being myself” … the minute I start acting “authentically”, everybody starts looking at me like I have three heads … so seeing this here makes me very nervous. As a result, this is one of those places where I've mentally inserted a footnote “for Normals”, and have to figure out how much “acting normal” is OK before it becomes a “gimmick”.
He gets into charting networks at this point, which, again, seem to be something more naturally from a PowerPoint, but show how quickly connections can grow. He references the “six degrees” material, and notes “job hunters usually succeed at the second and third degree of separation”, i.e., it's not who you know, but who they know, and who those other people know. If your “network” is as small as 10 people (and most have several hundred - “Your total network is everyone who will accept a phone call from you”), that's 1,000 people on the third level. He further divides warm from cold contacts, and close (in terms of connection – former school mates, other members of organizations/churches, etc.) contacts in three categories:
Active – contacts you talk to regularly.
Dormant – contacts you used to talk to regularly.
Passive – network connections that have not been activated.
In a part on “mapping your networks” he offers a list of a half a dozen categories of networks, and several dozen specific potential contacts. He then breaks these out one-by-one with discussion on how to approach them, etc. (in fact, in several places he even offers up sample “scripts” to use with the various types of contacts).
The place he loses me is in the “Project Plan” … and, again, this is ME – with my particular psychological issues, I suppose … but the first two of the three points of “an effective project plan” are right up there with the quadriplegic (or classic-era Dalek) taking the stairs:
Professional Objective - What kind of work you want to do.
Target Market – Where you want to work.
Core Message – What you want to say about yourself.
In my career, I've been a bit of a MarCom “generalist”, competent/plausible in 10-15 different job categories … and I've always preferred situations where I was “wearing a lot of hats” rather than being faced with a “time to make the doughnuts” kind of grind (no matter how interesting the doughnuts in question might have been) … so coming up with ONE thing to focus on is, cognitively, almost impossible (and I've typically been the guy who "picks the slowest line", so “pick one” is rarely a good strategy for this). And, in terms of WHERE, I have no clue … and don't even have a good idea (even after reading this and other books insisting on this element) of how to GET a clue.
He goes on to define and expand on these, even at one point (as a section heading) noting: your target list is just as important as your resume … which has me hitting a brick wall, as I've never been able to come up with one any more focused than “gee, I guess X company would be a cool place to work”. Again, as far as my job search was concerned … the wheels fell off the cart at this point, so much of the rest of the book was “looking at the stairs”, and not being able to make any progress at integrating the materials. Pierson suggests numerous networking strategies to “get your message out”, “gather information”, “meet insiders”, and “get in touch with decision makers” … but always in the context of “Target Organizations”. So, if YOU have a clear “professional objective”, and a clear “target list”, this will no doubt make a great deal of sense and be useful … to me, they're like saying “use the third arm coming out of your back”.
The next sections are about dealing with one's personal networks … approaching “warm”, “cool”, and “cold” contacts on “inner”, “middle”, and “outer” circles, with sample scripts for ways to make useful connections with these various categories. One thing he notes is to NOT provide your resume before meeting with somebody, or while talking with them … send it along later. This makes the discussion more about you and your search (and what sort of free-association info might come up in that talk), and not about the particulars on that piece of paper. Another interesting suggestion is to “map the networks” of decision-makers who might be in a position to influence your hiring. I found it odd, especially in this context, that the author doesn't much focus on LinkedIn (as this would almost be an ideal tool for this), but most of this is not more technologically advanced than making phone calls or meeting for coffee.
I suspect that for MOST people, Highly Effective Networking would be a very useful book, as I'm guessing that the vast majority of people don't have the “blocks” I have for key elements of this, and would have no problem defining “what they want to do” and companies where they want to do it. For a book in this niche it is quite readable and even enjoyable. It appears to still be in print, and the on-line big boys have it for a bit off the cover price, while copies are available via the new/used channel for as little as a penny plus shipping. Again, if you're not me, this is likely a must-have for the job search.