With the economy in the tank, one can never have too many friends.
So a few weeks ago, Katherine Wu, an executive at NBC Universal, packed an overnight bag with her yoga mat and drove 128km to Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York, to a retreat organized by 85 Broads, a women’s networking group. In between spa treatments and sun salutations, she and 17 fellow executives discussed career prospects in an unsettled economy.
It was not her first time at such an event. Wu, 30, found the job she has now through 85 Broads. A self-described “networking evangelist,” her profile is posted on LinkedIn and she gets five to seven calls a month from people looking for jobs. She answers every one. It makes good sense, she explained. Someday it could be her placing the call.
“I equate this to dating,” Wu said. “Networking is a basic numbers game. If you don’t get out, you won’t meet as many people.”
With companies firing workers in droves and those with jobs worried that they could be next, this year is shaping up to be a golden era of networking. Universities have shifted alumni outreach efforts to focus on career counseling and networking instruction, rather than social gatherings.
The Center for Networking Excellence in New York, which advises companies, says requests for corporate seminars have increased 50 percent in the last year. Informal groups are popping up everywhere, inspired by people’s hopes that any connection might lead to the next job.
Although networking has traditionally been the urgent preoccupation of the unemployed, these days many are subscribing to the axiom that it is easier to find a job if you already have one. Networking before the pink slip arrives is a measure of the anxiety seeping into nearly every corner of the work world, during a recession that has already claimed 1.5 million white-collar jobs.
“People are worried about where the next job will come from even before they lose their old one,” said Janet Hanson, a former Goldman Sachs executive who was a founder of 85 Broads in 1997. “They know that three months from now, they could be gone, too. What we are seeing and what we expect to happen even more is that people are going to become chronic networkers.”
If anyone appreciates this, it is Vincent Lauria, the 29-year-old organizer of the Silicon Valley NewTech Meetup Group, whose membership has swelled 75 percent since last fall, to 3,500. Since December, attendance at a monthly gathering that Lauria organizes at a Palo Alto, California, law firm has tripled. He cuts off the guest list at a generous 200 and is still forced to turn people away.
“I don’t want it to turn into a convention,” he said.
But clearly he is filling a need. Conversations among guests, Lauria said, tend to focus on two things: How long will the recession last, and whom can they meet who will help them if they are laid off.
Lauria said there is an increasing wariness in Silicon Valley among engineers and developers who are concerned about their own job security and, at the same time, are being hounded by peers desperate to connect. Two weeks ago, he had lunch with a friend who asked him for a contact at Twitter.
“I e-mailed two people who are connected to people there, but they both said ‘no’ because they have been asked to make too many referrals,” Lauria said. “They didn’t want to waste the political capital on someone they didn’t think would get a job.”