A degree of separation is the measure of social distance between people. You are one degree away from everyone you know, two degrees away from everyone they know, and so on. The concept was popularized by John Guare’s 1990 play, Six Degrees of Separation, which was turned into a film starring Will Smith, Stockard Channing, Donald Sutherland and Ian McKellen.
After checking 30 billion electronic messages, Microsoft has proven that the theory stands up. Since there is a planetary scale social network available, it is important in a person’s career to take advantage of “networking” both through electronic means, telephone, and face to face. On Twitter and LinkedIn, 5 or fewer steps may separate you from a very important introduction.
Being proactive in both your job search and while you are employed is the most productive way to understand the job market. Most of the people that I have provided career coaching or executive leadership coaching do not bother to take advantage of gaining insight into the market through networking. In fact, they don’t understand what it really is or how it works. Many feel like they are employed, so why bother?
When you accept a position, most of us intend to stay and grow and contribute without another thought about the way the market has changed. It is unusual in today’s world for anyone to keep a job for a lifetime as many of the previous generations did. Therefore, you cannot “marry” your job. You must always “flirt” with the market; understand what is going on outside your company both in the industry you are working in, but also within other industries where your skills may transfer.
You should build a contact network that is meaningful and attend to it. Not only are opportunities uncovered that would never be “posted”, but you can enhance your credibility, gain input and insight into your current resume, gain greater exposure to people who might hire you in the future, and put you in less competitive circumstances.
Jobs are created in many ways:
To begin to build your significant network, it requires more than just accepting invitations from people you may not even know on LinkedIn.
Begin with your “A” contacts:
Develop your “B” contacts: this is the 2nd degree – bridge people
Develop a “C” contact list: This is the 3rd degree of separation…and so on.
You want your contact list to introduce you to leaders in your field, suggest companies to target, recommend successful recruiters, let you know about specific job openings, and continue to act as an additional set of eyes and ears.
You are NOT asking people for a job when you network. You are asking for insight, input, and expanding your circle of influence.
When you begin to reach out and get involved in your network, it is critically important that you understand your value. What is it that you bring to the market, to an employer, and what quantifiable evidence do you have to support the skills you claim to have? Most people, even though you may know each other for a while, have no real clue what you do and what contributions you have made in your company. You must provide short, clearly stated descriptions for your network. You could also share your resume and ask: “What do you gain from this?” “Are my accomplishments clear to you?”
“A” contacts can be the most unlikely people, many would not consider. Such as:
Former employers, past associates, professional associations, friends, relative, neighbors, business owners, consultants, bankers, lawyers, accountants, college alumni, doctors, dentists, insurance agent, clergy, club members, people you met while traveling.
One quick story: When the telecom corridor was downsizing in Dallas several years ago, I worked with an executive engineer that took networking very seriously. Let’s call him Tom. He would get up every day and put on his suit and plan informal meetings with a contact just to learn and to share. One day before leaving home, Tom took the garbage out into the alley all dressed up. The man picking up the garbage asked why he was doing this in a suit in the middle of the day. They then shared stories. Turns out the man on the garbage truck had also been laid off and he was trying to pay the bills. He too was an engineer. After hearing Tom’s story, he knew someone that Tom should talk to. He followed through, and within 2 weeks Tom had a great new opportunity.
Six degrees of separation …IT WORKS!
Nancy Swain is a member of the JohnGSelf + Partners transition coaching team, leading the Transition/Outplacement practice and advising clients on candidate profiles. She is also President of Strategic Intelligence in Dallas. You can reach Nancy at Nancy@johngself.com.
© 2017 John Gregory Self