It has been my experience that in terms of professional life, networking is everything. I don’t necessarily mean networking like aggressively slipping a business card into the hands of everyone you meet everywhere you go, although I’m sure that helps too. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is a little too simple to be true — you’re not going to get a job you’re not qualified for just because you know someone — but if someone is trying to choose between hiring a qualified friend (or acquaintance, or friend of a friend) and a qualified stranger, the stranger is going to lose every time.
I have been almost continuously employed since I was 13, and of the (as best as I can remember) 20 gigs I’ve held in that time, I never had a single job, ever, that I didn’t get at least in part because I knew someone who put a word in or came through with a bribe or had incriminating photos of the right person.
By contrast, when I have looked for jobs through non-nepotistic channels like classified ads, craigslist, Monster.com, things like that, I have sent out countless resumes to countless companies and never, not even once, zero out of a million times have I ever gotten so much as an acknowledgement that they received my query, much less an interview or a job.
This could be because my resume is unimpressive and I have very little to offer — believe me, I don’t discount the possibility — but I am able to sleep at night and stay out of the medicine chest by telling myself that all these faceless hiring managers are just hiring people they know, or who someone who was referred by someone who already works there, the same as I got every job I’ve ever gotten. (It begs the question why does anyone post job listings at all if they’re only going to interview people that never see that posting in the first place, but I digress.)
So it seemed to be a godsend for job seekers when LinkedIn came along. As I’m sure no one reading this needs to be told, LinkedIn is an online social network, not unlike Friendster, except it’s for professionals to keep tabs on everyone they’ve worked with in the past so, hopefully, they can hit them up for a job when their life, their savings, and their future inevitably crumbles in their hand like a month-old brownie. Does it sound like I’m nervous?
I have a full-time day job that seems relatively somewhat stable for the moment (and a part-time night job that has robbed me of my hearing, empathy, and capacity for surprise), but this being corporate 21st century America, one can never be too careful. So a few weeks ago I finally started a LinkedIn account and all the people who had invited me to join their LinkedIn networks over the last few years — invitations I’d ignored because I just wasn’t using LinkedIn yet — spooled out before me in a long list. I confirmed them all, probably 20 or 30, and thought well, it’s not much of a network, but it’s a start.
Then LinkedIn started showing me the names of people I had worked with in the past but who had not contacted me. Would I like to connect to those people? Sure I would! So I clicked the little blue ‘Connect’ button beside all those names and thought, well, it’s still not much, but we’re getting somewhere. Sometime soon, I thought, when I’m not sitting at my cubicle in the center of the office at my current job, I’ll really put some time into this and make this website work for me.
Not long after that, I started getting the emails. Such-and-so has accepted your invitation! Great! Learn about Whats-his-name, your new connection! Not right now, but okay. These emails started coming fast and furious, like ten a day, and I couldn’t help noticing how many of the people accepting my invitations were people I’ve never seen, met, worked with, heard of, or invited to join my LinkedIn network.
But that’s okay, I thought — the whole point of this thing is to make connections, right? More connections means more potential contacts come job-hunting time!
A few weeks went by, and before long the strangers in my network were by far outnumbering the distant acquaintances, while the people I actually know were huddled in a dark corner. Who are all these people? Who invited them to my network?
It seems — and I don’t know if this is accurate or not — that LinkedIn has been rifling through my gmail account and inviting everyone I’ve ever emailed, or has ever emailed me, to join my network, without asking me. LinkedIn is acting on its own. It’s gone rogue!
This includes the other people who happened to be included on mass mailings that I was on but who I don’t necessarily know — big email threads to 150 wedding guests, “dear everyone I know I changed my email please update your records” emails, the people who signed the email list for my band, etcetera etcetera.
I got so many emails from LinkedIn that after a couple days I made a filter in my gmail account to put them all into their own folder so I could deal with them all at some later date, and for a couple of weeks I forgot about it. Then, I peeked into that gmail folder and saw hundreds of emails with the same subject line: Learn about Such-And-So, your new connection! I only recognized about one out of ten names.
I assume that LinkedIn is doing this to everyone, and that everyone on it, like me, has a database made up of between 50 and 200 actual business contacts that they would actually call in the course of a job search, and 5,000 total strangers.
So, if LinkedIn is trying to connect everyone to everyone else — and the evidence suggests that it is — eventually everyone on LinkedIn is a contact, and thus, no one is a contact. Right? Is contacting a total stranger just because they’re in my LinkedIn network any likelier to get me hired than replying to a craigslist posting?
Thanks, LinkedIn. I never thought anything could make me grateful that I’ve been keeping my bartending skills sharp all these years.