The Young and The Feckless: Nothin' but Net(working)
It should come as no surprise to anyone who's been on the job search in the last two or three years that networking is now being held up as the be all and end all of job hunting strategies. Normally, I simply skim this ubiquitous and rather facile advice (it's on par with Cosmo beauty tips when it comes to regurgitating the same ol' same ol'), but this piece from the Wall Street Journal was effectively the straw that broke the camel's back. I think it was the use of voila. It's a recession, lady. There ain't a whole lotta voila-ing going on, ya dig?
What I want to know and what is never addressed by those who champion the power of leveraging your connections for employment aid is what about young people without networks? What are they supposed to do? Are they just SOL?
There are certain assumptions (both explicit and implicit) behind the network your way to a job mantra. The most obvious one being that you went to college. And not only did you go to college, you went to one with a strong alumni community and while you were there, you built connections and immersed yourself in campus life (joined clubs, volunteered, maybe did student government, built relationships within your program or dept.) and then maintained these connections after graduation. But what if you didn’t go to college? Or you took distance classes? Or went part-time at night because of family responsibilities? And what if your school doesn’t have a thriving alumni culture? Or what if you were too busy working three jobs to pay your tuition and rent to join societies and clubs? Or you have social anxiety that makes interpersonal contact with strangers feel akin to crossing the Grand Canyon on a tightrope made of dental floss? Or what if you do have a network, but they're concentrated on the other side of the country or in a field you'd like to get out of? Well, sucks to be you, say the job-hunting gurus.
The fact of the matter is that not everyone has a ready-made network that they can leverage to bolster their job-hunting efforts. Not everyone has the resources or the know-how at their disposal to build or tap into one. While the whole It’s not what you know, it’s who you know/who knows you trope has been around since we were living in caves and hiring our next-cave neighbor’s nephew to built an extension on the back, the idea of the professional network as THE job-finding tool has only taken off in the last few years (growing in tandem with social media, I’d argue). Hiring practices were far from perfectly meritocratic before then, but people weren't casting networking as the holy grail of the job hunt. It could help of course, but you could still get in the door with a solid resume. Heck, every job I've ever gotten (save for the first after school one when a friend-of-a-family-friend needed an assistant to merchandise for a local dairy) has come from applying to public job postings. Credit dumb luck, strong experience or divine intervention, but the inside track was not at play. And I'm not exactly long in the tooth.
But the world has changed, you say. The economy crashed and social media soared. Fair enough. But I say that those who are doling out the job search advice need a wake-up call of their own. They need to understand that not everyone can check out their "college’s or graduate program’s database of alumni. Search for alumni employed by the firms you wish to join, and request an informational meeting." as the WSJ recommends. The people who have the resources to network? I guaran-damn-tee you that they're already out there networking. They don't need your tips or your bullet lists. These sisters and brothers are doing it for themselves (whether it actually lands them positions is another question entirely). The people who need advice on networking are those without networks, who don't have databases of alumni to scroll through or mentors in Corporate America or connections they've made through internships or via Twitter stalking. They're possibly starting from square one and they deserve to be enfranchised by and inducted into the magical reality of the familiarity-based hiring culture just like those whose mental rolodexes are overflowing with names and numbers of "internal allies and champions." Start talking to these people and discovering their varied job search needs. And start aiming your well-meaning articles, posts and Good Morning, America soundbytes at them. Or better yet, figure out the communication channels the unnetworked are using and meet them on their own turf.
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