Networking != Paying For Job Leads

The fantastic Ask A Manager blog posted a question from a reader this morning about whether networking “really works.”

We began posting a reply in the comments then realized it was long enough to warrant a blog post.

Here’s the gist of the original letter from the reader:

I’m curious about how successful other people have been using their network to find jobs. I ask because it has never, ever worked for me. A few years ago, I even had a well-read blog with a large national audience that liked me, based on their level of engagement with what I wrote. When I was ready to switch jobs, I put out a call on my blog for leads and even offered to pay for them. None came. When I was ready to move on from my last position, I put out a call to my (fairly large) LinkedIn network and reached out to past colleagues for help, with specific information on my strengths and skills as well as what types of positions I’m looking for…..Why does the oft-touted “network” thing not seem to work…for me, at least? I just wonder if others have far more success with it and that’s why it continues to be touted as a great way to find a new job.

This honestly made my skin crawl just a little. Paying for job leads from blog readers? Not the same as networking.

For one thing, it just comes across as a form of bribery.

For another, there have been a number of studies done showing that people are more willing to help a friend out when they perceive it as actually helping, rather than gaining some small financial advantage.

This is pretty intuitive for many people once you “get” it, but sometimes it takes a second to put the pieces into place, so we’ll quote from behavioral economist Dan Ariely’s “Predictably Irrational“:

If I asked you to help change my tire, you’d probably think to yourself, “Okay, Dan’s a nice enough guy most of the time, so I will be happy to help him out.” But if I asked you: “Would you help me change the tire of my car—how about [checking my wallet] $3 for your help?” Now you’ll think, “Man, no way, what a jerk! Does he really think my time is worth that little?” What this means is when I ask you for a favor and add $3 to the mix, you don’t think to yourself, “How wonderful. I get to help Dan and I get to earn $3.” [source]

Ariely later cites peer-reviewed studies that back up this anecdote. In other words, once you introduce money into the equation, you’re no longer networking—sharing information and support among equals. Suddenly you’re in a business transaction, and we suspect that’s why this approach didn’t work for the questioner.

Now, offer a big enough financial incentive and you change the equation….