The Power of a Loose Connection

If you read this blog or my Manage Your Job Search book, you know I'm a big fan of networking with loose connections. Those referrals are more likely to land you a job or help you find a candidate than asking the same people you already know. That's why recruiters are so successful. They keep expanding their networks, one loose connection at a time.

Here's the story of how I landed my longest-lived internal job. I was working as a software developer. The company was a startup and was losing money. I knew I needed to find another job. I wanted to work at Symbolics, a local Boston company. I thought I would be developing artificial intelligence “stuff.” I knew it was a cool place to work.

So I asked a friend, David, to ask his friend, Michael, to help me get in the door. David was also a developer. But Michael was a sales guy. I didn't know Michael and he didn't know me. But David could vouch for me—and he did.

Symbolics wasn't hiring too many people at the time. They weren't using recruiters. And, because I didn't know LISP, I couldn't get a job as a developer. But they were hiring testers. So I got a job as a tester.

It was great because I fit the culture. They taught me LISP. Oh sure, my first few test programs looked like either assembly language or Fortran translated to LISP, because that's how I thought. I got over it. I asked for feedback and received it. I didn't write enough code to become a master LISP developer, but I could certainly read it (even now) and follow the code.

Symbolics took a chance on me because of the power of a loose connection. I was qualified to do the job. More than that, I fit the culture. That cultural fit is what sold my boss on me.

I stayed there for five years, eventually managing projects, programs, and the testers and second line support. I was a successful hire. All because of a loose connection and a referral.

If you are hiring, stop with the laundry list and over-constrained job descriptions. Cultural fit is what is key. You can train people in specific tools. (Yes, I'm working on a new version of the hiring book and I say even more there.)

If you are looking for a job, you'll have to get the interview to convince hiring managers that you can do the job. But first, you need the referral, and that's where your loose connection comes in. Those loose connections are key.

4 Replies to “The Power of a Loose Connection”

  1. This is spot on, and very timely with my own experience.

    When asked recently what we look for in our group when hiring developers, my mind went through the obvious things, “intelligent, problem solver, quick study, open-minded”, but what I said was “a good fit, culturally”. What really matters to me/us is the shared system of values that consciously (and sub-consciously) manifest, and how we _show up_ as a team.

    Something that’s alive for me now is how explicit to make these values…there’s a shared understanding of what they are in the way we work. Is writing them down and putting them on a wall going to have value, or would it dilute them?

    Somewhat off-topic, but I credit Behind Closed Doors with helping me pivot my career from developer to manager about 6 years ago. Thank you!

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