The Power of People

While we often speak about the importance of networking in a job search, take a few moments to consider these three stories…

In the 1930s, my Uncle managed the Kent Coffee Shop in the western Kansas town of Ellis. During that time, he got know one of his vendors, a man who sold coffee and coffee filters.  A few years later, as the Great Depression continued, the man, looking to catch up to an old acquaintance, randomly found my Uncle’s name in the Wichita phone book, where both were then living.  Acting on a whim, the man called my Uncle and, as they caught up, mentioned that he needed a job.  My Uncle, then working in the Cessna plant, invited the man down the next day to go to work for him.  Both men wound up retiring from Cessna, but I first heard this story in 2006, when the man’s daughter came to my Uncle’s wake service to pay her respects to the man her father had told them about their whole lives, the man who gave him the job that became a lifetime career, my Uncle, Penny Windholz.

In 1970, a young Navy lieutenant and a distinguished, older gentleman met in a Washington, D.C. waiting room.  Comparing their meeting to passengers on a plane, the inquisitive Navy officer, who was nearing the end of his service and worried about what he’d do with the rest of his life, began peppering the quiet and reserved older man with questions.  Discovering some shared experiences, the younger man asked the older man for his phone number and, over the next few years, called him frequently.  When the younger man emerged from the Navy, the older man became a source of advice, direction, and even a career coach. Their relationship would become life-changing when the younger man, Bob Woodward, by then a reporter for the Washington Post, became known the world over for helping to expose the Watergate conspiracy, which led to numerous criminal investigations, convictions, and ultimately, the resignation of President Richard Nixon.  The older man also became known to world, as Deep Throat, the deep background source that helped guide Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they unraveled the maze of Watergate.  Though Woodward swore that he would never reveal his friend’s identity while he was still alive, Mark Felt, the number two man in the FBI during the Nixon presidency, revealed himself as Deep Throat in 2005.

In the mid-1980s, Oklahoma was still recovering the bust in the oil industry.  This hit home for me as my father, who was the truck sales manager at a Ford dealership in Oklahoma City, followed record sales years during the waning years of the boom in the early 80’s with record numbers of repossessions, as struggling oil companies had to hand back the trucks they’d purchased during the good times.  Another casualty of the bust was Sooner Ford, one of my father’s primary truck sales competitors.  Within days of Sooner’s closing, one of their salesmen, who had been acquainted with my father over the years, appeared in his office seeking a job.  The man returned several times over the next few weeks to check in with my Dad, and to use the office as a base to freelance a few truck deals with some of his customers.  Apparently, his persistence paid off, as my Dad ultimately hired him and he’s still selling trucks for the same dealership to this day.

So, what do all these stories have in common?  People.

In the cyber age, we’d call what occurred in each of the stories leveraging your network.  However, in the days before the Internet, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and email, it was called cultivating your relationships.  And the important thing to take from all this is, ultimately, regardless of how big your network is, it won’t do you much good unless you take the time to cultivate relationships with the people behind the contact name.  Though there’s still room for hundreds or even thousands of contacts in your job search network, remember that the most important part of any job or job search is, first and foremost, people and the relationship you have with them!  And whether those people are current or former co-workers, competitors, associates, vendors, or just friends you make along the way, the relationships you grow today can blossom into a new job tomorrow!

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