A Broken Melon, and the Lessons of Good Networking

At first, I thought someone had dropped a melon, but then I heard the gasps. An older woman had fainted. She lay motionless, and blood began to drip from her head wound to the dull, gray concrete floor below.

melonShe was soon roused back to consciousness, and walked out to another room. The blood was quickly wiped from the floor and the speaker continued. I was happy that it seemed the woman was going to be OK, and I was happy that the speaker continued. I looked at the spot where the woman had fallen, and I realized that I really should act now. Who knows when it might be my melon?

It was late fall 2002 when the melon hit the floor. I had been out of work for about 10 months after having been laid off during the post 9/11 recession. I had experience in publishing, technology and Jewish communal work, and was doing concurrent job searches in all three areas.

For several years, I had been a part-time temple youth group advisor, and I was attending a regional event helping to provide programming and care for teenagers from throughout the area. The speaker was talking about important issues that affected our community. He was bright, enthusiastic, charismatic and based on the people he was talking about during his speech, very well connected. I realized that this is someone I should meet, and this is someone who may be able to help in my job search.

During my 10 months out of work, I had (much to my surprise) learned how to be an effective networker. I was pretty good at it! I learned that applying for a job where I had no personal contacts rarely produced any meaningful results. I learned that people like to talk about themselves and the work they do. I learned that “please meet with me because I am looking for a job” rarely, if ever, produced meaningful results.

But, I also learned that people like to share. They like to be asked about their work and their journey. They like to help, if they are given a good reason to do so. A couple of days after the event, I gave the speaker a call at his office and left him a voice mail. Much to my surprise, he called me back right away.

“We did not have a chance to meet personally” I told him, “but I really enjoyed your talk at the event the other day. If you have some time, I was hoping I could take you out for a cup of coffee. I am exploring career opportunities in the Jewish community. While I understand you probably don’t have any available positions at your organization, I would like to learn more about your work, share a little about what I have done in my career and see if any ideas come to mind for you about other people I might be able to contact.”

He, like many other  generous people I reached out to during my job search, was very happy to meet.We met as planned. He held an executive position for a major Chicago based Jewish non-profit organization, and as I guessed, he did not have anything that would be a match for my skills. But, the more we talked, the more he realized I might make a good temple executive director. He encouraged me to reach out to a friend of his. That friend was aware of an opening at a small congregation, and I was encouraged to reach out to the rabbi of that congregation to pursue the opportunity further.

Might the rabbi have returned my call if he did not know me at all? Perhaps, but the fact that a trusted friend and colleague of his recommended that I call, he talked to me right away, and I eventually got that job which began my professional Jewish community career.

Networking was an uncomfortable proposition for me, until I realized that networking, at its very core, is simply getting to know someone over a cup of coffee. We tell our stories and realize where our paths may have crossed over the years. We discover that we know the same people. We realize differences, commonalities, and the fact that there is always an opportunity to help. Even beyond getting a new job, or expanding your sales, this is about a better and more enriching life.

Don’t let a broken melon ruin your day. There is a lot of good work to be done, a lot of meaningful connections to be made.

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