Career advice and job hunting has changed since my first job at 16, when I walked into my local McDonalds. With no previous experience and desperate to earn some extra money, I was flipping burgers and cleaning toilet floors days after I filled in the (paper) application form.
I moved on to working days at a wedding dress shop and nights as a waitress in my local Italian restaurant, getting a gig at the first Virgin Megastore in Paris, and doing a handful of summer internships at financial institutions (all oddly now owned by Merrill Lynch) during university. By 21, I had studied in the United Kingdom, France, and Spain, and by 25, I had worked in Greece, Denmark, and the United States.
Having lived and worked in many major cities around the world, I often get asked how to move companies, how to find opportunities overseas, and how recruitment varies by jurisdiction. Tips for moving from the West Coast to the East Coast; how Londoners do things differently. Did I prefer working in New York to LA? Should I have a “get” (an ask) every time I meet someone?
While it’s always important to have local insight and focus where focus is due, my advice is as true for the 16-year-old American student as it is for an accomplished 50-year-old in Europe:
It’s All About Connections
If I think back to all of those past jobs and how I secured them, they mostly came from connections. I had to have skills, of course, but hearing about the openings always came via the grapevine. At the time, emails and websites were practically unheard of, and sites like The Muse simply didn’t exist.
I’ve worked on both sides of the Atlantic, and there is truth in us being two countries divided by one language. But while the reserve of the Brits or the bravado of the New Yorker is relevant, knowing the Brit or being able to reach that New Yorker is much more important.
Networking is often cited as the number one unwritten rule of success in business—as Porter Gale says, your network is your net worth. But here’s something that’s interesting: That network should consist of people both in and outside of your company or community. In fact, your inner circle is no more valuable than the looser ties or second-degree connections.
Strength in Weak Ties: Step Outside Your Circle
Mark Granovetter’s article on the strength of weak ties remains one of the most cited studies on job seeking and networking, despite being written pre-Facebook and LinkedIn in 1973. Granovetter asked people who had found a job through contacts how often they saw the person who had helped them with their job. 56% saw their contacts only occasionally, and 28% saw them rarely. In other words, your close friends will likely tie you back to jobs and job leads that you may have already heard about, whereas weak ties can connect you to jobs you haven’t.
For example, I met one of my first investors when a stockbroker I know mentioned his client was looking for young businesses to back. We got on like a house on fire, and that “loose tie” (although his ties are always perfectly tied, lest he read this and balk!) has now backed me twice. A second degree connection making a first degree difference to my professional life.
Of course, most of us need help finding those loose connections. Sometimes we seek comfort in safe circles we know: alumni networks, old school friends, people from the town or city we grew up in or the professional sector we operate in. Though rooms of new people can pay tremendous professional (and personal) dividends, they can also be very daunting.
Then Along Came Technology
The good news is, more and more platforms are being created to make the process easier. Sites like LinkedIn, BranchOut and Viadeo distill information accrued from multiple sources and suggest more connections. The power of big data, predictive anaylstics, and computational linguistics provide an edge I could never have dreamed of when I went for that job at 16. We are no longer constrained—by anything.
But tech is a tool, not a product. Instead of using a rock to hammer a nail, technology gives you a hammer: A better tool to get the results you want, quicker (as opposed to a solution). In other words, the new wave of networking tools has gone back to basics. Clever technology, intelligent connections, and a smoother path to a physical interaction. Networking that doesn’t try to replace old fashioned conversation—but that better facilitates it. Because ultimately, that is how the best business is done.
That’s why I am so excited to be part of EnterpriseJungle, which was established to introduce you to people you should already know, but don’t. Intuitively and proactively connecting people whose current projects, industries, location, influence, and aspirations align, it helps build effective and meaningful relationships between like-minded people.
Technology like this provides information and access to people who can add value to your existing ecosytem, help with professional growth, and, importantly, enhance life’s rich tapestry. It can identify and increase the odds of a meeting with someone new being a success. Technology at its best is helping—but not replacing—the people it serves. Bolstering every professional connection you make and informing you further about those weak ties, wherever it is you first met and connected.
Some of my former McDonalds and bar colleagues are in jobs as far ranging as head of midcap research at UBS to one of the world’s foremost experts and curators of medieval arms and armor to the managing director of a television and film company. Those connections represent a breadth of sectors and seniority, which means advice and loose connections to people I might very well want to meet one day.
Thankfully, I have the tools to connect with them. After all, a handshake can, these days, be done on Skype, too.