What the Girl Scouts can teach us about networking

Years ago when I was in the Girl Scouts, we had a campfire song about relationships:

Make good friends and keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.

We didn’t have Internet-based relationships back then, but these words apply as much to contemporary networking as they did to traditional friendships back then.

To put it simply, all networking relationships are not created equal. Established, long-term relationships are much more effective than shallow, one-time interactions.

I subscribe to various e-lists, including some oriented towards networking to get hired. Today I received a group email from someone asking the group for networking leads at a specific company in a specific role.

You may think that I jumped into action by thinking of someone I know at the company and forwarding the information.

Sorry, not so.

First, I didn’t know anyone at the company. But frankly, even if I did, why would I put my relationship on the line to assist someone that I don’t know at all and have never met in person?

Truthfully, I thought, “Gee, there must be an opening in that function in that company. Who do I know who is looking for that kind of job now?”

That’s because in real life there is a hierarchy of networkers.

At the top of the hierarchy are past coworkers. No one knows their work as well as past colleagues do. When you recommend them—especially for a position where they would have to work with you every day—it strongly attests to their superior qualifications for the job in question.

Next in value are long-time personal acquaintances and people known through professional, though not on-the-job, relationships. We don’t quite know how they behave on the job everyday, but we do know enough about them to serve as credible references.

At the bottom are tenuous relationships such as much of what we see in online social networking. Sure, sometimes people meet online and communicate with each other sufficiently to evaluate each other. However, many of us have connections that are meaningless. I, for instance, have been asked to connect with people where our only tie is mutual membership in a LinkedIn group.

My feelings about LinkedIn connections have flip-flopped a few times during the year or two I have been involved with LI. At first I was impressed by people who had 500-plus connections although (or because) I myself had very few. Then I relaxed my criteria in the desire to build a mutual network before I myself acutely needed it.

Then when I was ready to start contacting second- and third-level relationships through my first-level connections, I recognized that I don’t know some of my connections well at all.

Do I want to reach out to others through these connections? Can I trust that others will follow through on promoting a relationship I desire when they don’t know me well at all?

Over time I find myself becoming more selective. If I were using LinkedIn to find a full-time job, I’d be especially discerning about the people I entrust to give my resume to a hiring manager.

Even more important, I would want to talk to my connections at length and coach them to communicate my value persuasively, even if that meant limiting myself to the alternative: formal application channels (or tracking down and phoning the hiring manager on my own).

It’s vital to evaluate connections objectively before calling on them for help. You can’t transform silver into gold merely by wishing it so.

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3 responses to “What the Girl Scouts can teach us about networking

  1. Great post. It is great that you related the Girls Scouts with networking. It is true that you have to be selective in who you choose as part of your network.

  2. I found a way to compromise on the issue of linking to people I don’t really know: I make sure I DO know them, at least a little.

    So in response to a connection request from a near or total stranger, I often ask to set up a phone call so we can talk for half an hour or so. It’s fun and interesting and it grows my network with (admittedly weaker) contacts… but the weakness is okay. Not everyone gets to be Gold all the time.

    Right now I have 163 LinkedIn connections, and all but about a dozen are people I actually know quite well. And even among those dozen, I can call any one of them on the phone, with some familiarity, and have a reasonable connection. That’s kind of cool.

  3. Mark, great idea! That’s the first time I’ve ever heard it!

    It’s a wonderful way to see who wants to connect with people in an authentic way. I’d guess the power networkers are too busy–and to quantity oriented–to “waste” 1/2 hour on a single connection.

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