As this is my first post of 2012, it seems appropriate to talk about connecting with others. This could apply not only to strengthening our career management and job search activities but also to helping others, whether or not they can turn around and give help back to us. However, this is, after all, a careers-related blog, so I’m not going to go into details about the other kinds of helping we might do. That’s up to each individual, anyway.
I hadn’t realized there actually was a difference between those two concepts until I came across an article by Alina Tugend called “Are You a Connector?” According to her, connectors are people who are always willing to help and will go the extra mile to find someone who can if it’s not within their power to help directly. Apparently, the concept came originally from Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (mentioned by Maryam Banikarim, a senior VP at Gannett). In any case, the idea is that these individuals have “energy, insatiable curiosity and a willingness to take chances” plus “a genuine love of meeting people and making friends,” and they go beyond what is generally thought of as networking. They definitely exhibit a willingness to help even when they don’t see the probability of short-term payback.
Considering this description, I realized that I haven’t known many people who would be described as connectors, but there have been at least a few. Since they are apparently a rare breed, I’m probably fortunate to have known any!
If you don’t have the real zest for interacting with people that was described above, you might think you can’t reach connector status. However, I don’t think that’s the final word on the subject. Some skills can definitely be learned, and I believe connecting is one of them. It’s just very important to have a strong desire to do more than you’re already doing along those lines–a desire that will motivate you to take action (desire alone won’t get you there). As Banikarim notes, one way is to avoid gravitating toward friends at meetings and for meals, choosing instead to sit and converse with people you don’t already know.
You probably already know that the economy and the job market pose multiple daunting challenges today, a situation that’s likely to continue for quite some time. That’s a good reason to understand that you can help yourself while helping others. As Tugend’s article states: “The willingness to reach out to someone you don’t know is crucial to the art of connecting, and especially important in uncertain economic times. Those who are in mid-career and may have worked for one company for years should learn connecting skills before they need them.” These words of advice could well apply to all of us, not just those in mid-career!