Networking - Never More Critical, More Difficult, or More Easy. How to Stand Out from the Other 500+ Contacts!

You have the ability to significantly differentiate yourself from the herd by more thoroughly considering your actions and investing more time in nurturing your network.

By now, New Year’s resolutions have often fallen by the wayside. That goal of working out three times per week is a distant memory. Perhaps your Peloton has become a clothes rack. May I suggest that you adopt a new resolution in its place and take the opportunity to reprioritize your time to focus on something that will improve your career and outlook on life—nurturing your network.


People are naturally herd animals. We need to be connected to others. COVID, which has made such connections more difficult, has certainly presented mental health challenges, impacting us all in different ways. While most do not miss the daily commute, many miss the day-to-day routine of an office environment. Others miss the travel, domestic or international, that was part of their past.


Networking can help to fill a void that COVID created, all while setting you up for future success. Connections are most useful when they are mutually beneficial and regularly nurtured. There are few activities that can be more beneficial and rewarding than engaging with high-caliber, helpful, and caring people. Helping others succeed is often more rewarding than receiving help.

By now, New Year’s resolutions have often fallen by the wayside. That goal of working out three times per week is a distant memory. Perhaps your Peloton has become a clothes rack. May I suggest that you adopt a new resolution in its place and take the opportunity to nurture your network.


In nearly forty years of working in the industrial chemical business, I have never been without a job for longer than three months and have never received a job by working with a recruiter. While recruiters can be valuable assets, they will never care more about your career success than you do. Additionally, it is a recruiter’s job to fill vacancies with the best candidates who are ultimately selected by the hiring company. Recruiters can say no, but cannot say yes! In negotiation training these people are termed blockers. As part of the sales training I provided to sales managers and salespeople around the world, I stressed the importance of  minimizing contact with blockers. Of course, leveraged correctly, recruiters can be a good source of opportunities, but the advancement of online recruiting is challenging this paradigm.


While I have certainly been fortunate, I believe my ability to develop and maintain relationships has served me well. At one point in my career, after eighteen years in an operating division, my job was eliminated as a cost savings exercise. Relationships I had developed within the company, but outside my business unit, resulted in the Vice President from another division extending me an offer. Every interaction you have with others either improves how you are viewed or reduces your attractiveness. You are never viewed the same.

While recruiters can be valuable assets, they will never care more about your career success than you do. Additionally, it is a recruiter’s job to fill vacancies with the best candidates who are ultimately selected by the hiring company. Recruiters can say no, but cannot say yes!


Another chapter in my career was the result of a relationship I had made twenty-five years prior, during graduate school. I was pursuing an MBA in International Business and I met and befriended someone in an adjacent industry. We took all of our courses lockstep and became good friends. Ultimately, at the same time I was looking for a position, he had a personnel need. The job came about because I maintained contact with him throughout that twenty-five-year period. Not every quarter or every year, but I made sure to reach out and connect when it made sense. Not because I felt he could benefit me later in life, but because I genuinely enjoyed staying in contact with him. Had I not done this, I doubt the opportunity would have presented itself.


The advent of social media has made remaining in contact easier than ever. Think LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter... On all of these social media platforms you have a significant contact list. The problem is, so does everyone else. A LinkedIn connection is not necessarily a networking connection. You must do more.  In spite of this complexity, I’d like to suggest that the opportunity to differentiate yourself from all the others can be relatively easy. This is because few people invest any real time in nurturing their contacts. Think about those contacts you only hear from when they feel you may be able to help them. Oftentimes these may be the same people who won’t return an email when you have attempted to leverage their network in the past. 


Recently I discussed this dilemma with a CEO of a start-up who I had worked with earlier in my career. He explained he had been reaching out to a prior colleague of his in order to get their perspective on something in which they were an expert. That individual wouldn’t return his phone call. While he was extremely surprised by the lack of response, what surprised him even more was two months later the same person asked permission to list him as a reference. If it weren’t true, this would be comical. If contacted, how do you suppose the reference would answer a question on the ability of the candidate to follow up? “Not at all” comes to mind. Networking is a two way street and is often most rewarding and successful when you approach it as an opportunity to give, rather than to take. People quickly notice this and the people that can help you the most often will reward your investment of giving. 


The advent of social media has made remaining in contact easier than ever. Think LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter... On all of these social media platforms you have a significant contact list. The problem is, so does everyone else. A LinkedIn connection is not necessarily a networking connection. You must do more.

Another opportunity to differentiate yourself is to go beyond clicking on the pre-populated responses to event reminders. How many times have you received the obligatory congratulations on your work anniversary from multiple people? I guess that is better than those contacts who provided no response at all. Take a few seconds to add a personal message or question to your friend. Trust me, they will respond favorably. We have all heard the phrase “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This is especially true when communicating over e-mail. The 7-38-55 rule states that only 7% of communication is the result of the spoken word, while 38% is through tone and 55% is through body language. This means only 7% of total communication is received via email. Therefore, it is extremely important to ensure style, politeness, and etiquette at the forefront of early networking engagements.


Leveraging your network to help others can be an extremely beneficial way to differentiate yourself. In my career I have been fortunate enough to have held two expat assignments, one in Europe and the other in Asia. Additionally, I have lived in multiple states in the US. In all of these moves, my family and I have gained a great deal. My kids both attended college outside the state where they grew up. Both are working in a location other than where they grew up or attended college. I attribute their geographic flexibility to the experiences they had early in their lives living abroad. I also marvel at the geographic scope and connectedness of their network. They did not lose friends by moving away; rather, they gained friends by relocating. Technology has allowed them to remain in contact with everyone.  Ultimately, they have been able to make well informed decisions regarding where they want to live based on actual experiences rather than not relocating based on fear of the unknown.

Recently I discussed this dilemma with a CEO of a start-up who had been reaching out to a prior colleague of his in order to get their perspective on something in which they were an expert. That individual wouldn’t return his phone call. While he was extremely surprised by the lack of response, what surprised him even more was two months later the same person asked permission to list him as a reference. If it weren’t true, this would be comical. If contacted, how do you suppose the reference would answer a question on the ability of the candidate to follow up? “Not at all” comes to mind.


These learnings convinced me to make it a point to seek out opportunities to mentor others in career development and encourage them to be willing to cast a wide geographic net. This is especially true for young adults early in their career. As I told my kids early on, without experiences, it is hard to justify opinions. Over the recent Christmas holiday a friend of my son, who graduated from college last spring, was over at our house for a COVID bonfire. We were discussing how his career plans had been impacted as a result of COVID. He is fluent in Spanish and had prior internships in Latin America.  He has an extremely strong desire to return to work there, but COVID has certainly reduced the opportunities currently available. Utilizing my network, I have been putting him in contact with people that have had experiences in South America and could potentially help him. I have been amazed at how willing people are to help one another, especially when commonality of purpose is reached. Personally, I remember the people that helped me early in my career and have always felt an obligation to pass it forward. Adults that graduated during COVID deserve our help.


Go beyond e-mail. In this age of emails, texts, and social media there is still room for a phone call. Rather than directly replying to the LinkedIn notification, pick up your cell and call your contact (your friend). If you don’t have their cell number, use the platform to ask for it, and then call them. You have no idea what may result from that interaction. These may seem like simple suggestions (they are), but you will be differentiated by your actions. This is never more true than in our current WFH environment. 

The 7-38-55 rule states that only 7% of communication is the result of the spoken word, while 38% is through tone and 55% is through body language. This means only 7% of total communication is received via email. Go beyond e-mail. Pick up your cell and call your contact (your friend).


I recently joined a network unlike any other I had ever experienced. A friend of mine, who is a global commercial pilot for a major airline and a successful investor, decided he wanted to share his success and excitement with others. Unlike a lot of people who do not discuss financial portfolio performance, he is extremely transparent about his successes and failures in investing. He created an investment group three months ago, originally via a text link with six friends, who in turn have added an additional ten friends. The idea was to exchange stock tips across the group for the mutual success of all involved. Identical to the work environment, the group is made up of many disparate people with vastly different experiences. Some have been investing for a long time, others are just starting. Tolerances for risk are extremely different. Being a pilot, his base of friends is scattered all over the US. I have only met him, not the other 14 people. However on a typical day, I receive twenty text messages discussing various stock ideas, along with questions on investing. This group will undoubtedly meet in some form post COVID, as we are suddenly helping each other be successful. 


Whether you’re a millennial early in your career search, an experienced baby boomer, or somewhere in between, networking is crucial to your success. You don’t want your resume lost in the shuffle of thousands of others in the HR stack. My daughter is a young attorney who once said to me, “I can’t believe I got an interview with literally 10,000 resumes sitting on the conference room table.” (She learned of the vast number of resumes as she was part of the interview process the following year.) Many of the resumes were from graduates who attended Ivy Leagues, which she did not. Her network contacts allowed her the chance to interview, sell her skills, and ultimately earn an employment offer. Networking will allow you to utilize your personal contacts to find your way to the job you desire. 


Networking can take all forms and directions—from helping you find your dream job, to helping others find theirs. No matter the outcome, remaining in contact with old friends and gaining new ones will help your peace of mind. You have the ability to significantly differentiate yourself from the herd by more thoroughly considering your actions and investing a little more time.  

Whether you’re a millennial early in your career search, an experienced baby boomer, or somewhere in between, networking is crucial to your success. You don’t want your resume lost in the shuffle of thousands of others in the HR stack.


As in all things in life, do it well and you will be rewarded!

About the author: Jeff Wroblewski is the Senior VP of Value Chain at Kronos Worldwide, a chemicals industry leader in the production of whitening agents. Previously Jeff spent 32 years working in various management and executive roles at HB Fuller (a global adhesives manufacturer). His career has spanned three continents. He currently resides in Wisconsin with his wife. Read more from Jeff here.

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March 2, 2021

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