Three years ago, Jan Fawcett (a fictitious name) graduated from college and started out as a marketing analyst at a major consumer products company. A year into her job she began to feel cornered. Her boss paid little attention to the less-experienced employees and spent most of his time with his cronies in other groups. Frustrated by the lack of feedback, Jan’s career looked like a dead-end.
None of her current friends or acquaintances within the organization was able to give her much in the way of constructive help. But six months earlier she had met a quality control manager, Josie Stafford, at an organizational party. They had really hit it off. Both were avid outdoors people, loved the theater and liked Japanese food. “Funny how we connected,” Jan thought to herself.
Even though she didn’t know Josie very well, she finally screwed up her courage and decided to talk with Josie about her boss and her career frustrations. Josie was familiar with her boss and his reputation, and told her in no uncertain terms that he was an asshole who wouldn’t take care of his people, much less help them in her career. Jan had several conversations with Josie about how to work with a really difficult person, how to take care of herself, and how to build a useful network within the organization.
Well into her second year on the job, Jan located two other groups where she decided there might be career opportunities for her in the future. She knew her boss would be no help whatsover. Deciding to trust Josie with her problem, she set up another lunch date. Josie was receptive to her request for help. Over several conversations, Jan talked about differing career opportunities and especially about her interest in those two marketing groups. Josie set up lunch with members from both groups, coached her on the conversation, warned her not to be negative about her current boss or job and helped her develop questions for interviewing and set up conferences with managers from both groups.
Initially, neither group was looking for an anlyst with her background, but within six months a couple slots came open. Josie spent time with Jan on her resume, provided insights on the managers and how they worked. Although Jan was eventually interviewed for both positions, the first opportunity went to another person within the firm. But to her delight, she did well on the second interview and got the position. It proved to be a fine job and put her career back on track.
Networking with friends and acquaintances can save time and even increase gains when we’re working on joint projects. But researchers have found that people are far more likely to reap real gains with “outside” networks than with networks made up largely of friends and acquaintances.