Everything you thought you knew about networking is probably wrong

‘Friend of a Friend’ author David Burkus says second-degree connections, rather than your primary contacts, can help you find a job.

Everything you thought you knew about networking is probably wrong

Get better at networking by utilizing your secondary connections.

What if we told you that you never had to go to another dreadful networking event again?

No, seriously.

Has your career ever really benefited from shaking hands at a networking event or asking your friends and family if they know anyone hiring?

Sure, you hear success stories all the time of that guy who met this girl at some place, and badda-bing, badda-boom, everyone is a gainfully employed and living happily ever after.

Just one problem, according to author David Burkus: Most of the available advice about networking probably won’t do you much good. That’s because it’s anecdotal, based on someone’s experience but not necessarily useful for everyone else, including you.

So, for his new book, Friend of a Friend: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career, Burkus decided to take a more scientific approach, combing through dozens of detailed networking studies by sociologists and other scientists over the past couple of decades. His conclusion: It’s not about who you know; it’s about who the people you know, know.

Monster recently spoke with Burkus, who teaches leadership and innovation at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, about how to make networking work for you. 

Q. Your book is full of surprises. For instance, what’s wrong with networking events?

A. Nothing, per se, but if your goal is to meet new people, this kind of event isn’t the best way to get there. There are well over 100 research studies showing that, for example, schmoozing at a cocktail party or a luncheon is far less likely to lead to strong professional ties than sharing an activity—jumping into projects and teams, even games or classes, that bring together a diverse group of people with a shared purpose.

Luckily, there are lots of ways to do this, like getting involved with community service, sports activities like a golf tournament or a bowling league, or a faith-based organization like a church or mosque. Another way is by volunteering for special-projects teams at work. All of these have been proven to build strong bonds between people that can be really helpful in your career.

Q. Quite a bit of research suggests it’s a mistake to rely on close friends and contacts in a job hunt. Why?

A. It’s tempting, of course, because these are the people who are the most motivated to help since they care about us; and we’re the most comfortable with them, too. The trouble is, the people you know the best also tend to be a lot like you. They know the same people, read the same things, think more or less the way you do, and so on. They know mostly the same stuff you know.

A much better way to go is what several studies call “weak” or “dormant” connections, meaning people you know but who aren’t close to you—former colleagues from an old job, for example, or people you went to school with but whom you haven’t seen in a while. They have different networks from yours, so they hear about different opportunities. The research on this shows that reaching out to your “dormant” connections can make your job hunt much quicker—the difference between months, in some cases, and just weeks.

Q. How does that fit into an online job hunt?

A. Even with great online tools like Monster, you should apply online for the job you want and also, at the same time, ask around and look on social media to find a “dormant” or “weak” contact—the friend of a friend, for example—who already works at that company and can put in a good word for you. That two-part approach can vastly increase your odds of getting hired.

Q. One secret of building a strong network is introducing people to each other, yet most of us don’t do it enough. Could you explain?

A. There’s plenty of evidence that being generous about sharing your contacts with other people usually makes them more willing to share theirs with you. So get in the habit of thinking, whenever you’re in a conversation with someone, who else you know who could be helpful to that person, and then connect them to each other. Email is a good way to do it. It’s best if you can make introductions part of your regular routine, aiming at the goal of one or more introductions every week.

That sounds time-consuming, but the research reveals a surprising thing. Connections get easier to make over time. That is, the more connections you have, the more likely you are to make new ones without trying very hard, or at all.  So building a valuable network might seem like a lot of work now, but eventually it becomes effortless.

Add Monster to your network

Building up your professional network is a key step in the job search process—and we just so happen to have a huge network of companies hiring now. Want us to make an introduction for you? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can get job alerts emailed right to your inbox, which cuts down on the amount of time you'd spend combing through ads. Additionally, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to different types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. And that’s just the beginning. There's so much more we can do to help you get a great new job.


Anne Fisher has been writing about career and workplace trends and topics since 1996. She is the author of If My Career’s on the fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?