Networking the New Old Fashioned Way

This might be as obvious as “buy low, sell high” or “always pack a jacket” or “don’t date anyone crazier than yourself” but a lot of job hunting, including the quest for investment banking jobs, boils down to “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and “being in the right place at the right time”.

The problem is, according to author Gordon S. Curtis, due to today’s diffuse social media, “the art of building authentic, mutually beneficial relationships is dwindling.” His book, Well Connected: An Unconventional Approach to Building Genuine, Effective Business Relationships is designed to help you recover these skills. Taking a case study approach, Curtis introduces an approach called “Right Person-Right Approach,” which he sees as an antidote for the attitude, cited in the book trailer: “Whoever dies with the most social network connections wins”. “Most people waste energy increasing the number of their LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter connections,” Curtis says. “Such undirected expansion does not produce measurable results. Instead, find the one person who can enable you to achieve a specific objective.”

That doesn’t mean the path to this one person, your “critical enabler” in Curtis’s parlance, is a straight one. He describes it as “circuitous, yet focused.” You need “trusted advisers” to point you toward your critical enabler, people who can help you formulate your “macro objective” comprised of at least five “micro objectives”.

Once you get past the buzzword bingo, Curtis’s method is counter-intuitive but all the more sensible for being so. Go through the process, he advises, and don’t try to rush straight to the decision maker who is going to hand you the keys to the executive washroom. Wait until you’ve done all your research and laid all your groundwork. Understand the difference between the referral and a reference and don’t rely on anyone but yourself to reach out to your second-level contacts.

With specific reference to Wall Street jobs, Curtis and co-author Greg Lewis offer this case:

“Tony wanted to join a hedge fund after earning his master’s degree in finance. His professor, a perfect critical enabler, had a reputation for being reluctant to give students entree to his business contacts. Tony asked his adviser if he could use her name in an email asking the professor for a meeting. At that meeting, Tony described a spreadsheet he developed to help hedge funds conduct quantitative analysis. This impressed the professor, who offered to introduce Tony to his hedge fund contacts. Tony asked if he could use the professor’s name in a letter instead, retaining control of whom to approach and when to approach them.”

At first glance, it looks like maybe Tony took some points off the board, but think about it. Which is better for the interviewee: the professor calling the hedge fund manager, or the hedge fund manager calling the professor?

Take a step back and look at how you have traditionally networked – and consider making some changes to incorporate these methods. It could mean the difference between being just another resume passing through the hiring manager’s office or making contact with that critical enabler who can open the door for you.

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