How to Use Your Network to Find Work
by Wim Dodson
A friend recently asked me if I knew of any bookkeepers who could help him manage his small businesses. He had not been successful with the previous couple he had contracted to help him out. Born and raised in Southern California, he is a transplant to the Seattle area
I am also a transplant to the area. One of the things I’ve learned the couple years I’ve been in the region is it’s more a “who you know” kind of place than a “what you know” area. Of course, that can also be said of most locations in the world. We are not just social animals, but tribal: religious, cultural, ethnicity, linguistic, political, industry.
Which brings me to the fine art of networking. Since Silicon Valley marketeers have hijacked “social” networking, we’ll just use the word “networking” to mean someone we contact with whom we’ve have some shared interest. Usually, we limit our networks to those within narrowly defined parameters of who we know directly.
However, network theory has it that there are three kinds of interpersonal ties: strong, weak and absent. Strong ties involve those of friends, family and even of colleagues, in some instances. These are people with whom we feel an affinity and with whom we want to exchange meaningful (to us, anyway) information.
Members of minority groups in the United States and other countries tend to form strong ties. They band together as does any group feeling underrepresented or under seige. They exchange shared experiences, information they may deem important to their individual and group survival and the advancement of their interests.
Absent ties are passing acquaintances with whom we have little in common. We don’t know much about them and they don’t know much about us, and we both probably like it that way.
Weak ties, you might guess, are next to useless when it comes to getting what we want or need. You would be wrong.
As far back as 1957, though, social scientists determined that strong ties are actually an inhibitor to gaining new insights and information. Nowadays on social media platforms like Facebook we talk about “echo chambers”. Echo chambers are groups in which we hear our own thoughts and feelings and values reflected back to us.
Strong ties provide reassuring contexts in which to operate, to be sure. However, echo chambers are not very useful when we need to seek out new experiences, new opportunities and new channels of expression.
Weak ties, on the other hand, do provide exits out of our personal rooms of mirrors. It’s the people our friends and family and school mates and coworkers know who are most likely to help us find opportunities outside the narrow confines of our groupthink.
In the instance of my California friend, he had asked me if I know of any bookkeepers. I said I did not. However, I reflected, a close friend of mine, born and raised in the area, may. Which, it turned out, she did.
Though the bookkeeper that supported the small business for which she worked was busy, the bookkeeper knew of someone with bookkeeping experience who was branching out on her own and seeking out new clients.
A match made in heaven.
To date, my California friend has been satisfied with the new bookkeeper’s competence and gumption.
So the next time you want to tap into your network, ask, “Do you have any contacts who know XXXX who you can put me in touch with?” instead of: “Do you know anything about XXXX?’
By leaving behind the safe confines of our own sense of identity, we are often able to discover new opportunities for work, play, relationship and even self-knowledge.