Saturday, August 25, 2012

"Networking" Cannot Replace Skills

The day will come historians and archeologists will do their research and discover "LinkedIn."  They will point to it and say,

"There, THERE!  Look there!  We have found why the US collapsed."

So allow me to explain "networking" and why I and any intellectually honest person loathes it.

"Networking" is not a skill or a trade.  It doesn't produce anything of value and ultimately, it is destructive.  It is, however, the perfect "skill" for a population too lazy to learn real skills but still wants to make it look like they're working.  I'll even admit right now, people with good "networking skills" and the most "LinkedIn" connections do command higher salaries, but it is a temporary phenomenon.  A "linkedIn" bubble if you will, because in the end networking is nothing more than kissing ass instead of kicking ass.  Talking, instead of producing.  Planning, but never executing. 

Because of this networking has no real economic value.  All the time people spend going to "after-work socials," "conventions," and "happy hours" to hobnob, establish contacts and "network" produces nothing.  The salaries, wages, not to mention money spent on booze and food are all sunk costs, with no return.  If anything, networking is nothing more than an excuse to spend the company's money on booze, food, travel and other personal expenditures with the secret understanding that it's "for business" *wink wink*.  But it's precisely because that's what networking is, that makes it so palatable to its participants and lodges it securely in America's business culture.

While it is at minimum unproductive or has zero economic value, I will take it a step further and contend it's actually destructive.  The reason why is that is it nulls the efficiency of the labor market.  Not just in terms of employing people, but what people you do business with, who you promote, who gets contracts, etc. etc.  These spoils of business do not go to the best or most qualified candidate, it goes to the best networker - i.e.- the best charlatan - who is usually not only not capable as others, but is usually dishonest.  Allow me to provide you an example.

I went to a wedding this summer.  The guy getting married was in sales.  All of his co-workers were tall, good looking younger men (23-28).  All of them drove BMW's, Mercedes, and had tall drop dead gorgeous girlfriends.  I overheard that the groom would not hang out with people unless they made at least $70,000 per year.

It comes time for the best man to give a speech.  He gets up, and this moron is wearing sunglasses indoors.  He then proceeds to deliver the typical, DB, fratboy speech that had nothing intelligent, nothing clever and nothing witty in it.  Just blathering on about the good ole times and drinking and lame attempt at humor (which I'll leave out to prevent from ID'ing this guy). 

He was the type of guy Stewie from Family Guy would "just have to kill."  You had a natural urge to beat the crap out of him.

But this guy could outsell me in a nano-second.  This guy could network beyond my wildest dreams.  This guy had the Beamer and the tall girlfriend.

This guy had no problem lying his ass off.

I can't prove it, but I KNEW he was fake.  I knew all those Beamers were financed to the hilt.  I KNEW none of these guys owned their own home or had a positive networth (in part because I knew this was the case with the groom).  But just like their girlfriends, they didn't know the difference between debt or equity spending, they just had a Beamer, went to fancy clubs, so they were "rich."

But let me ask you a question - who is more likely to be promoted to CEO in today's corporate America?

The smooth talking DB who wears sunglasses in doors and is fun?

Or is anal retentive, boring economist counterpart that insists on looking at the figures?

And now you see why networking is destructive.

Putting such an emphasis on "people skills" and "networking" only takes the focus off of what really matters, the numbers and profits.  Hiring "nice" and "charming" people merely masks and hides the cold, blunt truth of the company's finances and future.  Everybody likes the "fun guy," nobody likes the "party pooper."  And as long as the boat isn't being rocked, everybody is happy right up until the nano-second the Titanic sinks because nobody bothered to look below decks.

Of course, not all companies are infected with this disease.  There are companies that do focus on profits, want to maximize them, and increase shareholder value.  But none come to mind right now.  However, a limitless number of companies I know are infected with this disease.  Heck, entire industries.  And they account for the vast majority of companies in the US.

Again, rip apart the public sector all you want.  The private sector is just as hopelessly corrupt and impaired.  Thankfully, just like a person on welfare or a trophy wife spending more money than he husband makes, when the Chinese stop loaning us money, those all-star "networkers" will go the way of the dinosaur. 

43 comments:

John Hay said...

so true man. we have too many frivolous jobs due to the boom in credit. We no longer care about the quality but only the cost. Hiring that teen and training to be a mechanic might be more costly, but he will be better than any guy coming out of a profit based trade college. Even buying quality cars is getting hard now.

Anonymous said...

hahaha,

awesome article....

I work with a guy who makes 6 figures and is always broke. We all suspect it is strip club addiction-he's just promoting the transfer of wealth from men to women. I make far less, live in a tiny apartment. My vehicle is paid for. My entertainment is music, the beach and an occasional stake and beer. He always complains about his 500 credit score. Mine is far higher cause I have no debt and (against your advice) a small 401k.

I've always thought Beemer was like the code for "willing to pay for sex." That's why "chicks dig cars."

Anonymous said...

Neither competence nor networking is sufficient for success. Either one without the other fails. Every job I've ever gotten (including offers that I did not accept) were the result of knowing someone on the inside - i.e., from networking.

Amateur Strategist said...

Yes! Yes! A thousand times Yes!

I HATE networking and yet it is pretty much 90% of what they tell you to do right out of college. Schmooze up with people you don't know in ways you don't feel comfortable so you can... do work for them. Why am I becoming buddy-buddy with everyone again? Shouldn't my prowess in the field be self-evident? My job doesn't even INVOLVE people or people skills and yet I still have to fake it?

I am introverted by the way, people drain me. For the extroverts in the audience this means that: no, I am not like you and the reason I have few (but damned good) friends is because new people ACTUALLY DRAIN MY PSYCHE. It has nothing to do with just being bitter and anti-social, I LIKE being alone most of the time or with few trusted people. Please remember: We introverts likely better understand you extroverts than the other way around.

Now then, I wonder if I can start a company of my own and only hire based on skill... anyone who BS'es their way in will get the can.

Anonymous said...

What we need is a culture. A common culture. That would go a ways towards nixing these opportunities foe being a DB.

Anonymous said...

Nonsense. Networking is just salesmanship.

But it is true you'll often hear "salesmanship isn't a real skill" from the ranks of unemployable dorks.

"It's not fair that salesman gets laid and six-figures...all he does is TALK...meanwhile I've got REAL skills like electrical engineering/programing/coding, etc."

You hear this a lot from the unemployment line.

Anonymous said...

This has always been a problem. This is not a new phenomenon. And there is no cure.
Even I have noticed that better looking people are promoted regardless of skills. And as far as I know it is scientifically proven.

Anonymous said...

AMEN, AMEN, AMEN, and again I say AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Boy you sure can put into words the feelings I have! Thank you, thank you, thank you. You just wrote the essay that I needed to send to my son.

My son is married to an East Coast b***....er woman, that believes all you have to do is "network" and you will get rich.

She thinks that her chiropractor license and her ability to network is all she needs to make a 6 figure salary.....

Oh and she doesn't think she needs to work 60-70 hours a week using her chiropractors license to help get to that salary!!!!!!!!!!!

pant...pant...phew...thanks for the forum to unload.

So I sent your post to my son, so he can at least get some idea of the thoughts running through my head.

Steve

Anonymous said...

What's sad is that these companies base employee reviews/raises/promotions on these people skills rather than the technical work the person is supposed to be doing. After the networking types get promoted based on their people skills rather than technical skills, they can only evaluate their employees based on those people skills. So, the cycle just continues.

Anonymous said...

Interesting point of view. I had often the same feeling that "networking" was a waste of time. However, because it is so common in this world, we should neglect it as a means to attain our objectives. Let's just say we should network AND focus on real skills. Thanks for the great article.

Anonymous said...

On one level I agree with you, but as you pointed out these people are in sales. In sales you have to be a people person schmooser or you don't sell a thing. No sales, no revenue, no revenue no business. I was in sales for a mercifully short period of time and could not sell a thing. I looked around me at all the assholes in sales and it sickened me that these guys could make good money and I couldn't make a dime. Now I am a technician. I don't have to schmoose with anyone and I couldn't imagine trying to live off only 70k a year. - minuteman

Anonymous said...

Hasn't sales always been about networking?

Chris said...

Cappy.

Absolutely correct.

And the reason that the US is heading down the gurgler. There seem to be two reactions to this, by the way

1. Get hard goods and hard booze and enjoy yourself (Fast bike, fast lenses for the camera). Keeping your net worth in objects not paper (and property in the US is paper as the robomortgage caper shows).

2. Retreat to Jim Rawles American Redoubt and hunker down.

The problem is that fratboy smooth CEO finds himself trying to manage a company where no one trusts him and politics is all -- while the kiwis, chinese, Aussies and Krauts all have CEOs who used to farm, design stuff, make stuff, do stuff.

Now, Sales has its place. Heck, most of my relatives sell. But (and it is a big but) they are on commission, and they are not executives.

In the rest of the world, if you over sell and take other people down with you, you are (if lucky) bankrupt and banned from operating even a cheque account for eight years and (if unlucky) in prison.

Most other countries have engineers running companies. Not career politicians -- who are kept well away from the productive sector of the economy, as they do enough damage among the parasitical state sector.

Anonymous said...

I believe in doing business by adding value.

Salesmanship has the potential to be a legitimate way to add value. Party A values product X at $Y; Party B has an X but values it at less than $Y. A good salesman can make the exchange so that both parties benefit. That's honest dealing.

Most salesmanship, however, is lying. Most salesmanship is saying, "Yes, this miraculous product X is worth $10Y, but if you act now, I can sell it for $8Y."

That is just dishonest, and there's no long-term future in it.

Dan said...

And yet another strike right down
the middle by Cappy. Those who can do, those who can't talk.
They could inscribe that on America's tombstone.....probably in Chinese.

PC Geek said...

"Most other countries have engineers running companies. Not career politicians -- who are kept well away from the productive sector of the economy, as they do enough damage among the parasitical state sector."

I have also heard from several sources that other countries are more likely to have engineers and people with actual skills (as opposed to bs artists with law degrees)in political leadership as well.

In all areas of life in America, lawyers and blabbermouth hyper-extroverts make the rules and make the cash, while the hard-working, more introverted engineering types do the actual work. A smarmy 'networker' will be promoted over someone who can actually get the work done every time.

Like everything else in this country, it is unsustainable...but when do we hit that point?

kurt9 said...

Mostly I agree with the captain on this one. However, sales is the exception in that sales really is people-oriented. In most industries, the sales guy does have to network and schmooze people. This is less so in technical sales (semiconductor tools, advanced materials, etc.).

The captain is 100% spot on with regards to non-sales careers and, especially, engineering careers.

In industrial automation, we can spot a bullshitter a mile away.

Derrick Bonsell said...

I suspect over time this behavior will self-correct.

There are plenty of corporations with brilliant upper level executives with amazing business skills, not just socializing skill.

Apple is one that comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

I worked in sales a short time and I still feel dirty from that experience. In sales you are encouraged to keep going into debt to keep you a hardworking little drone. Sales may be necessary for a company to increase profits but salesman should only ever be promoted to sales managers and no other positions.
The real problem Cap is that the bullshitters, networkers and salesman get their jobs by smooth talking HR ditzes.

@ minuteman: What sort of technician are you?

Jokah Macpherson said...

I am really bad at sales. I suspect empathy is important to sales, in the sense of guessing what your potential customer is thinking and feeling, but I tend to act as if most people think the same way I do even though that is decidedly not the case.

Anonymous said...

I have absolutely no use for sales people. I know what car, computer etc I want to buy before I walk into the store. I have never understood why anyone would let a stranger, who stands to gain whether the right choice is made or not, influence their decision in purchasing a major asset such as a house or a car.


Frankly, if all the sales droids were to retire to Katmandu or disappear in the Bermuda triangle I think that people would adjust to their absence quite well.

P.S. A BMW car is a 'bimmer' (there is a magazine with that title). A BMW motorcycle is a 'beemer', the term dates back to the '50s when 'beemers' were raced against 'beezers' (BSA) and 'trumpets' (Triumphs).

Al_in_Ottawa

V10 said...

As some others have said, sales does have a necessary and vital function.

I spent about a year and a half as a sales clerk at an electronics (devices and parts) retailer. I'm an introvert, but I can open up pretty quickly with someone that wants to talk shop.

Those were my favorite customers: they've got a specific problem, and I have to find a solution that will work. And if the solution involves items we sell, that's a happy bonus. I wasn't on commission, and I'm a terrible liar, so for me it was all about fixing the problem, not fast-talking someone.

I'm reasonably sure this approach shows. This was in a small town, so many regulars made a point of shopping during mine and my coworker B's shifts, because we had a reputation as being 'technicians', where as our other clerk coworkers prided themselves (for reasons beyond us) as being 'salesmen' (schmoozers and glib tongues). Even after I was laid off, the regulars still came to me for tech support and advice.

Sales is important, but only when coupled with the productive. Otherwise it's just a con game, which will sap honest men. The grifters and shysters, on the other hand, thrive where you expect your sales force to move crap products and services. Not just because they are naturally better liars and manipulators, but because on some level they enjoy the challenge of trying to sell refrigerators (and defective ones at that) to Eskimos.

Anonymous said...

@Amateur Strategist:

I'm an extrovert. I like people and I like being around them. It energises me. And I still hate networking. It's boring. It's pointless. You don't really get to know people and you wouldn't choose to hang out with most of these people. So it's not just introverts.

Also, why the defensiveness about your introversion? We extroverts know what it is. We know what you like. For all the kvetching from introverts about how misunderstood they are, all of the aggression seems to come from introverts bashing extroverts.

Norm said...

I have worked for and with too many people who talk the talk but don't walk the walk. They convinced business owners, some very smart business owners, to hire them and in some cases hand over the reins of the business to them. They leave after a few years when the owner has had it with their lack of performance. They are never fired as they seem to be good judges of when the owner's tolerance for their BS has run out and the network smoozer has networked into another "great opportnity I can't pass up".

Sadly, the owner usually replaces smoozer #1 with smoozer #2.

Anonymous said...

What Capt. says about networking though, doesn't only apply to sales. I've worked with plenty of people that got their jobs due to their ability to bullshit rather than actually do or even want to do the job they were hired for.

Networking itself is not bad, it's how it's practiced today as a separate and distinct activity as apposed to the act of socializing with those in your field.

I do find it amusing though that usually the networking bullshitters usually have to rely on people without those networking skills to actually get anything done.

Lib Arts Major Making $31k/yr (I got a raise) said...

"But let me ask you a question - who is more likely to be promoted to CEO in today's corporate America?

The smooth talking DB who wears sunglasses in doors and is fun?"

You mean more likely to be elected President, right?

I think we've seen the result of the smooth talking DB...

Anonymous said...

Hello Cappy:
Thanks for the great article. I agree with most (but not all) of what you stated. I do agree that networking is VASTLY over-rated and relied on too much. Unfortunately for job-seekers, I also believe it is a necessary evil for getting around the rats-nest that is HR. For my last two jobs, I secured the interviews through friends on the inside. The cruel irony is that one of those places had a huge HR department that existed solely for the purpose of funneling the right people in. While I agree that networking has done a great job in getting the most sociable people employed (as opposed to the most talented, competent, or hardworking people), I disagree with the idea that it is not a skill.
Full disclosure: I am NOT a people person. I would rather be debugging a setup, banging out code, or assembling a structure, than sitting quietly while another human steals twenty minutes of my life telling me the story of how their kid eats crayons and now has rainbow-colored poop. While this attitude makes me unsuitable for a position in the current corporate culture, it makes me even less suited for seeking employment therein. Active listening was something I learned through Toastmasters international. Convincing my brain cells to not kill themselves while someone drones on way past their 15 minute time-slot came through meditation (it’s really more a work-in-progress). Herding the person I am interacting with towards the point of their tirade is something I learned on the job. One of the hardest things to learn about networking was identifying the people who will get to the point, instead of rambling on and on.
What little networking I can do, is a skill that I had to learn. I do not like it, but I do when I have to, and I acknowledge it is part of the current climate.
PS. I purchased a copy of your book for the neighbor’s kid. He is a good kid, which automatically puts a target on his back. Hopefully this will help.

Tenmagnet said...

At one time, men worked with their hands, and were replaced by machines.

Then, they began to work with their minds, managing and designing things, until those tasks will be replaced by computers.

This is why sales and marketing are becoming bigger and bigger industries. I can imagine a future where most of the american population is just engaged in selling things to one another.

Anonymous said...

This writeup reminds me of my cousin who's 27 and a year younger than me. Ever since he was younger, he was able to talk his way through everything and naturally ended up sleeping with the type of girls i was only able to think about.

Naturally, he ends up working as an estate agent after quitting college and within 9 years, builds himself up to be the manager of the company.

The perks of the job which involves a company Mercedes and access to housing gives him the ability to sleep with tonnes of girls by making them believe he has assets that he owns.

Naturally, this annoys me since i decided to work my ass off and finish Uni, and get a job and work my way up the ladder, only to not get anywhere near as he does.

Compared to his Mercedes and insane commissions, and pussy. All i have is a Vauxhall Opel and nothing more than Game to get by on a lay once in a while.

The world really is unfair. I've often said and will say it again...
Game, like every other life skill is all about your ability to sell yourself...

You can have the shittest product or offer, but if you have the chops, there's nothing in life you can't do.

I've personally witnessed my cousin blag his way through high end nightclubs all because of the years he spent cutting his teeth selling property in his workplace...

The best things will always come to the smooth talkers, not the people who are most skilled.

Anonymous said...

It's fratboy silliness and I hate it.

Anonymous said...

networking is the real man's way of getting job.

are you to tell me that submitting a resume and waiting around patiently is the key to professional success?

quite the opposite.

networking is THE way high level players make moves.

Anonymous said...

Folks blather about "networking" to get a job. I have never used a network to get any of the four jobs I've had. I get emailed and called by recruiters regularly. I have never done anything but post my resume a couple times.

If you actually have hard skills you do not need to network to find a job. Technical competence is so rare these days getting a high paying job is trivial. You can march into your boss's office and demand a three month sabbatical.

Hard skills are pretty obvious these days by credentials, project experience, and google search results. You don't much need to schmooze or sell yourself.

I guess there's a case to be made for marketing yourself to get the best deal possible, but it's hardly necessary.

YT said...

"I do find it amusing though that usually the networking bullshitters usually have to rely on people without those networking skills to actually get anything done"

Oh shit, it looks like my boss is on here wasting time too.

Anonymous said...

There is no substitute for skill and talent.

However, I recommend you take a look at the SCIENCE of Social Network Analysis before making any dismissal of the impact of networks on the world.

Even the most skilled will fail to make an impact if not "connected" to the right node.

Carolyn said...

"But let me ask you a question - who is more likely to be promoted to CEO in today's corporate America? The smooth talking DB who wears sunglasses in doors and is fun? Or is anal retentive, boring economist counterpart that insists on looking at the figures?"

False dichotomy. The person with the best of both gets hired.

heresolong said...

I would say, having had a chance to give this some thought, that networking was never intended to replace skills, but to complement the skills when time came to find a job. I have read statistics that suggest that a large percentage of jobs are never advertised because they are filled before they get to that point. This can be more efficient for companies so getting your name and skill set in front of the people in charge of making those decisions allows you to be in the running for those jobs. I don't see a problem with this. Getting any job involves selling yourself, whether through networking or through an interview process.

Captain Capitalism said...

Carolyn,

Mutually exclusive event. It's like wanting the reliable tattooed Harley bad boy accountant, surgeon, single man, Christian who is a virgin, but can rock your world in bed.

Oh, and he's never been divorced or had kids, but you know you can change him and his coke habit.

;P

Cpt.

Indiana_gol said...

At last somebody understands what the fuck I'm saying.

Developer Dude said...

It's "Bimmer", not "Beemer" (certainly not "Beamer"); the former is BMW car, the latter a BMW motorcycle (yes, I have owned both - I paid cash for both too).

"Networking" is a good skill to have - unfortunately I suck at it (damn you Aspergers!), but still manage a six figure income because I have a "real" skill (code monkey). Yes, some of "networking" is fake, some is just being able to communicate effectively (again, damn you Aspergers! damn you all to hell!) and it is useful when it comes time to interview for a job or to make sure your accomplishments are noticed (damn and double damn you Aspergers!).

Whatever. Don't hate them because they are fake. If you really are better then just move on and let them do what they do well. The people who hire/like/associate with fakes deserve what they get. I just want to do my job and then go home and work in my garden (I like both) - I stopped worrying about other people doing better (or worse) than I am a long time ago.

Developer Dude said...

It's "Bimmer", not "Beemer" (certainly not "Beamer"); the former is BMW car, the latter a BMW motorcycle (yes, I have owned both - I paid cash for both too).

"Networking" is a good skill to have - unfortunately I suck at it (damn you Aspergers!), but still manage a six figure income because I have a "real" skill (code monkey). Yes, some of "networking" is fake, some is just being able to communicate effectively (again, damn you Aspergers! damn you all to hell!) and it is useful when it comes time to interview for a job or to make sure your accomplishments are noticed (damn and double damn you Aspergers!).

Whatever. Don't hate them because they are fake. If you really are better then just move on and let them do what they do well. The people who hire/like/associate with fakes deserve what they get. I just want to do my job and then go home and work in my garden (I like both) - I stopped worrying about other people doing better (or worse) than I am a long time ago.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

Networking can get you in the door, but skills are what let you keep the job. Plus, your network is only as good as others' regard for your skills. I've gotten quite a few jobs by having an 'in' but after being hired I had to perform. I've also been burned reputationally by recommending folks who didn't end up performing.

Colin said...

I've launched several small businesses - some winners, some losers - and the most important function in a new enterprise, hands down, is sales.

The only exception would be businesses with products so remarkable they sell themselves. But if you didn't create Google, FB, iPhones, etc., you're probably not in that club.

So for the vast majority of products, the #1 make-or-break function is sales. That's why sales guys get paid well. Networking is crucial not only to business development, but also seeking new opportunities, identifying threats, and more. That will never change.

Anonymous said...

agree completely with this one, but the shareholders of a company are far more powerful than a CEO anyway
its many against one
and its been like that for ages
so fix that
and then CEO's will need to be smarter again
CEO's are just the scapegoats.