A “Perfect” Stranger

A “Perfect” Stranger

A “Perfect” Stranger

Think about it this way. A person you’ve never met-a connection through a friend of a follower-emails you out of the blue to request that you send a copy of their resume to your HR Department. They explain that they are applying for a job with your employer and would like some help. It’s a simple request, so would you do it?

What this person is asking makes a lot of sense, especially in these days and times. They want to stand out from the crowd. There’s just one problem-they don’t stand out in your mind. You have no idea who they are. So, their request isn’t as simple as it first appears to be. They want you to take the time and assume the risk of passing along the resume of a “perfect” stranger.

Now granted, your time investment may, at least at first blush, be trivial. All you have to do is forward their message (and attached resume) on to someone in HR. But still, they’ve interrupted your train of thought, and that act has a cost that is greater than you may realize. Research now shows that it typically takes a person about 25 minutes to get back on track when they are interrupted by an outside communication. As overloaded as most of us are these days, even that modest a break in your rhythm can really set you back.

Remember What Your Mother Taught You

The greater threat, however, is the risk you assume by implicitly endorsing the person you send on to the HR Department. Even if you add a caveat in your message indicating that you don’t know this person from Adam or Eve, you have gone to the trouble of passing them along, and that effort is a real, if subtle, form of recommendation.

Of course, the devil-may-care among us will shrug and say so what. The more careful in the crowd, however, will worry about what this “perfect” stranger (implicitly) says about you. After all, the caliber of both their qualifications and the character they display are a reflection on the friends, connections and followers you keep-even if you are separated by two or even three degrees. Sure, it would be nice to help this person out. But, in today’s tenuous employment climate, anything that might detract from your perceived stature in the organization is dangerous.

Basically, you are being asked to lend your hard-earned standing in the organization to someone you don’t even know. So, think back to what your mother taught you. What was her first and most important rule? That’s right. Don’t speak to strangers. There was no caveat about it being O.K. to speak to strangers on the Web. Her rule was uncompromising and absolute. It is inappropriate if not downright risky to speak with (or on behalf of) someone you don’t know. And, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter don’t diminish the relevance of that dictum.

The Other Side of the Table

Now, put yourself on the other side of the table. If you’re in transition and sitting at your laptop all day friending up a storm, building up connections like crazy and following like a maniac, are you doing yourself any good? It’s true that you will meet lots of strangers that way, but will you interact with anyone who really cares about you? Or be willing to help you out in today’s “nobody seems safe” workplace?

You see, there’s a difference between superficial networking-making contact with others-and true networking-investing the time and effort to get to know them. If you would like someone to be helpful to you, you have to first commit yourself to building familiarity and trust with them. That doesn’t mean tweeting about the kind of pizza you had yesterday; it means creating and then sustaining a professional relationship with them through online and, if possible, off-line interactions.

Now, if you’ve ever been in a relationship before, you’ve acquired two insights about them. First, they take serious work to develop. And second, that work takes time. What does that mean for someone in transition? Here are the hard truths about networking during a job search in today’s unsettled economic environment:

  • Truth #1: Many of those you reach out to and ask to help you, won’t. They aren’t being mean-spirited, but are instead, simply being careful. If you’ve never met and gotten to know them, you’re a stranger and thus represent a risk many will feel they cannot take.
  • Truth #2: Since it takes time to build up a relationship through networking, the time to begin is before you’re in transition. Make it a priority each and every day to transform yourself from being a stranger in your field to being someone a lot of people know and respect. That’s the best form of employment security you’ll ever have.
  • Truth #3: If you haven’t done much if any networking in advance and find yourself in transition, look for ways to look like less of a stranger. Don’t connect with any and everyone, but concentrate instead on those with whom you share an alma mater, membership in a professional association or even a non-work affiliation (e.g., participation in a veterans group or local environmental action committee).
  • Collectively, these truths confirm that what you learned as a child is still relevant and helpful now that you’re an adult: the only “perfect” stranger is someone who isn’t a stranger at all.

    Thanks for reading,


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