The conversation on networking is skewed. It’s really all about the context of the hand-off.

No one would argue, I’d guess, that the idea of networking is the No. 1 job search strategy out there. The amount of people who get jobs off randomly applying to posts online is fairly low — you can make an argument that when a company posts a job online, they already know the internal candidate they want and are designing said posting for him/her. So if you’re conducting an external job search (welcome to the hell of my current life), it truly is about who you know. That’s networking, in essence.

There’s one thing I’ve been noticing of late, and it’s not a very scientific observation by any means, but bear with me. If you Google “keys to networking” (one iteration of the potential Google topics), there are 26.5 million results; clearly this is something people are thinking about and writing about. Here’s a top hit: most of it is about being prepared, being professional, being targeted, and being patient. A lot of people tell you to use LinkedIn. These are all very common themes, and all very correct themes. There’s one thing I’ve seen that’s almost never mentioned, though, that I think needs to be.

The hand-off.

Here’s the idea with the hand-off: when you go through a job search or even a generic networking process, an early inclination is to find your closest people (friends, professionals, co-workers, etc.) and basically outline your situation and say something along the lines of “If you see something…” or “If you hear of something…” Do a little thought exercise right now. Unless you’re a recruiter or a direct hiring manager (which you could be), how many active open jobs do you really know of? At most, it’s 3-5, and those 3-5 might not benefit the seeker. So when you talk about the idea of networking, you’re really talking about literally building a network of connected pipes — from person you know to person you kind of know to person you don’t know at all but have about 30 seconds to explain your story to.

As you go along the networking pipeline and move from those you’ve worked with / are friends + family with to those you know less well, eventually there needs to be a hand-off, and this is really one of the most key elements. The person you know has to tell the person you don’t know a very brief, very direct summation of your deal. It has to be brief because no one in a business sense can pay attention to anything and it has to be direct for essentially the same reason. If this hand-off is fumbled — if they define you incorrectly, or mention skills you don’t really have, or say you’re flexible to move when you’re not — then the forthcoming conversation between you and the person you don’t know as well automatically starts off poorly. And since the window to captivate someone/something in this context is about 30 seconds, you’re already behind the eight-ball.

This has happened to me about 104 times in the past six months. My background’s a little bit more confusing because I have two career paths/streams I could take, and that’s the primary reason it happens to me, but I guess what I’d suggest for anyone stumbling across this article is this: create a three-sentence summary of yourself (your field, your interests, your next goal, and maybe your flexibility) and cut and paste that to anyone you’re trying to network with. They need to understand how to directly do that hand-off to the next person — who may not know you from a hole in (redacted). Stuff happens in narrow time windows and no one really pays attention to new information all that well, so the essential part of networking isn’t really having a crisp resume and a smart jacket (those are majorly important), but rather the context you give your connections for them to hand you off to others who may be hiring.

Just my two cents. May be stupid or inaccurate, but ’tis something I’ve observed many a time.

Ted Bauer