The Reluctant Networker Lands a Plum Job

The last time I had seen Brian he was approaching the date of his redundancy from the bank at which he had worked for the last twenty years. The chance to apply for redundancy had come up and the time was right for Brian to start a new chapter. The future may have been uncertain but it was also exciting. After two decades in the same institution, Brian was looking forward to new challenges and maybe even the prospect of working in a new field.

But what new field? The question was concerning Brian. He had worked in banking his entire career and that was what he knew. Redundancy presented an opportunity for change but he didn’t know quite how to identify the right approach to create that change.

With all of this in mind Brian attended a conference that he regularly attended as part of his role. One of the speakers, a director of a globally renowned pharmaceutical company, really resonated with Brian. Brian was used to being on the stage at such events, rather than in the audience and was not used to engaging in such events from a personal career perspective rather than simply attending in his role at the bank.

Brian realised that now was a time when he needed to be more proactive for his own future and take steps that were not natural to him. So he positioned himself at the front of the queue to approach the speaker at the next break.

“I told him that I was looking for my next opportunity and asked whether I could contact him after the event to arrange a conversation”, Brian explained. “I knew that there was a queue of people behind me and that I needed to make this moment count, I think that helped me be so direct.”

Brian met with the speaker a few days later. He approached the meeting without a direct agenda. He wasn’t looking for a job with the pharmaceutical company, nor for introductions, he just felt that this was someone he wanted to know better and learn from.

Following a thought-provoking and insightful conversation, his new contact told Brian that he wanted to introduce him to senior leaders in some of the biggest consultancies in the industry, many of who had been working with his team. He followed up by writing to each of the leaders with a personal note about Brian’s qualities and explaining why they should connect with him.

“I think I really benefited from not pursuing an agenda in that meeting”, Brian told me. It lead to a more natural and relaxed flow of conversation and the introductions came organically from that. If I had been more transactional I’m not sure that the meeting would have been as valuable.”

One particular meeting as a result of those referrals took a while to secure and, despite the nature of the introduction, Brian still had to be persistent. But when they finally met, the introduction paid tremendous dividends. Brian and the consultant got on well and a few weeks later it led to a further introduction to one of the consultant’s other clients, another global pharmaceutical giant, who were looking to fill a senior role. Brian was the perfect fit.

When I saw Brian recently he was two months into his new role, leading a global team as a result of the referral from the consultant. He is enjoying the challenge presented by his new job; settling into a different working environment well away from the high skyline of London’s Canary Wharf.

Brian uncovered a completely new opportunity by letting networks work their magic. For me there are three key things that he did that led to the new job.

1. Please excuse the cliché but he stepped out of his comfort zone. It would have been so easy for Brian to stay back in the audience at the conference, focused on his current role, but by shifting his mindset to his personal development and approaching the speaker with a clear ask he secured the meeting that opened up a new world.

2. He diversified his network. In 1973 the research of American sociologist Mark Granovetter, best known as Granovetter’s Theory of Weak Ties, was published. In the research Granovetter contended that many jobs are accessed through ‘weak ties’, people you don’t know that well, rather than established connections or ‘strong ties’.

Granovetter argued that people lying deep within your existing network know similar people to you, thereby restricting access to key connections and knowledge in outlying networks. When looking for work, that restricts your ability to access roles lying outside your immediate connections’ reach.

Weak ties provide that access. In Brian’s case, approaching a leader in the pharmaceutical world led to an introduction to a consultant whose work focused on the healthcare industry. That connection, in turn, led to a role in a brand new sector. It is very unlikely that Brian’s banking network would have opened the same doors.

3. He went into his meetings with the conference speaker and consultant with an open mind. He was clear with his ultimate objective – he was looking for a new job – but that wasn’t the agenda. The agenda was to listen, learn and build relationships. The reward came naturally from that mindset.

I think it was important that Brian had an ultimate objective – without that the meetings probably wouldn’t have happened – but by putting that to one side and focusing on the other person, Brian made it easier for the others to help him.

Brian told me, “It’s about being curious and learning from others, with no direct agenda. When you do that you show up properly, open and bring and receive value. By creating trust and relationships you then enable possibilities. It just so happens that one of those possibilities may end up being personally beneficial from a career perspective.

“The open connections create the funnel for multiple possibilities.”