Networking without Pity
Wed, 08/31/2011 - 11:31
Let’s face it: Your reputation still precedes you
“Which one of you guys wants to be a reference librarian?” Cartoon by Richard Lee
I’m working on a new house project. It’s one of the most complicated projects that I’ve ever taken on. There are a million details from the size of the window jambs to the energy rating of the glass in the windows.
The construction universe is filled with a diversity of people. There are designers, architects, decorators, framers, electricians, plumbers, plasterers, carpenters, door hangers, window hangers, cabinetmakers, and on and on and on. For a novice like me, it’s all very confusing and requires a great deal of research. Never have I needed a library so much. But a library only gets you so far. You might be able to figure out the details in hanging a door, but how do you find a reliable professional to hang your doors? It’s a jungle out there, right?
Well, right and wrong. The construction industry is filled with excellent craftspeople as well as bad. How can you be sure that you are going to get quality workmanship and not a shoddy job? Actually, it’s not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. There is a network out there, and if you connect into it, will make life a lot easier.
This network is informal and unwritten, but very reliable. Everybody knows somebody. The trick is to connect at the very beginning with someone who is good. You start, say, with a carpenter who has a sterling reputation. Then you ask her for the name of a good plumber. You get the plumber and then you ask him for an electrician. Everyone who does good wants to be associated with other good people. That’s the way it works. In construction, reputation is everything. I met one contractor with his own business who has never done a dime’s worth of marketing or advertising—but he has had a thriving business for 30 years nonetheless. His secret is word of mouth, and if his quality were to sink, his reputation—and his business—would sink with it.
All of this came as a revelation to me because I spent 30 years of my professional life in public library administration. This meant the most cumbersome hiring process imaginable. It required studying résumés, checking references, designing interviews and assessment centers, organizing staff “meet and greets,” creating short lists, and finally making a hiring decision.
To make matters worse, every hiring move above the level of a high school page involved a committee, which easily added 20 or 30 hours to the process and plenty of extra stress and tension. I’m always amused at newly minted library school graduates who wonder why they never seem to hear back about their applications.
Does this thorough and comprehensive process ensure a successful hire? No. Every hiring authority or committee enjoys some hits and misses. A lot of references won’t tell you a thing about a candidate because they all fear lawsuits. So in the end, your hiring decision is often a dice roll. But what the process does ensure is that you have done everything by the book, and in the bureaucratic world of the public sector, “by the book” is what really counts.
After a few years of deciding to do things by the book, I decided to write my own book. I decided to focus on hiring from within. That way, I would be hiring a known quantity and not someone else’s mistake. There was, however, one big problem: My best paraprofessionals had to make a 90-minute drive to the nearest library school to qualify for their professional union card.
Now, of course, everything has changed and anyone can get an MLS from a laptop. Hiring and promoting from within has never been easier. I recommend it.