Lou McKellar is a friend of Cinder and a fantastic networker. Having worked for large companies in the Bay Area, Japan, and Portland, he brings a wide range of networking experiences to the table. Lou has worked in sales, marketing, and HR, and he is currently a Human Resources Manager at Intel.
Lou, why do you think networking has been helpful in your job searches?
I think networking is useful in business in general, whatever job you’re doing, whatever discipline you’re in. If you’re not in a large company where you already know everything, then networking is a smart thing to do so that you have people you can reach out to for best practices and ideas.
When it comes to looking for jobs, it’s been my experience that applying online is almost a waste of time unless you are the obviously perfect candidate in a candidate-poor environment. It just doesn’t work; you’re counting on your piece of digital paper to end up on the right stack as the sorting happens.
I would guess that for entry level positions, where the requirements are pretty cut and dry, it might work more often, but the higher up you go, the more difficult it is to appear to be the perfect person, and the more likely people are to leverage their network to find the right person.
Was there a point when you realized that networking was important?
I think it tends to come and go in waves for people. A wave could be that you find yourself looking for a job and realize that you’ve ignored networking for too long, or your role changes, and you realize all your contacts are obsolete, or you move.
What’s the difference between networking in Portland and the Bay Area?
One of the differences is that you’re going to bump into more people, more potential networking candidates, in the Bay Area. It’s just such a densely populated area. It’s so geared towards technology and certain industries. You could walk into a Starbucks and say “I’m looking for an analog engineer,” and if there are 30 people in the Starbucks, eight arms are going to go up.
You’ve lived in Japan before – what’s networking like there?
In Japan networking is critical because it’s all about introductions. Things that really matter are what company do you work for, what company have you worked for, what college did you go to, how old you are you…
The idea of the company man is still there. It’s changing, but lifetime employment was the way it was. You moved around within the company, but that’s where you worked. If you have 100,000 people within the company, you can move around, but it would be a renegade, historically, who would move from Toshiba to Mitsubishi, because they were the people you were competing against.
In the past, what have you looked for in networking?
I have four networking principles. My first one is to find a way to get yourself curious about people, because people are fascinating. If you can get yourself in the framework that all people are fascinating, you just don’t know it yet, I think that’s a healthy way to get out there and network. If you can get yourself in the framework that all people are fascinating, and you just don’t know it yet, I think that’s a healthy way to network. If you adopt that approach, you can get yourself out of the mindset of “what can this person do for me?” I think it’s a utilitarian way of thinking, and I don’t think that attitude is sustainable.
My second principle: you know how Nike has the mantra “just do it”? My networking mantra is “do it anyways.” I am, believe it or not, a naturally shy person, but you’ve got to do it anyways.
Does networking get easier?
It gets easier, but it doesn’t make it necessarily fun. You find a way to work around the shyness. I get tired … you’ve already got a job in most cases, you’ve already got a family at home, with a house, and all sorts of things you should be doing. Networking opportunities pop up at times, and they’re not likely to be your high-energy times, but you’ve got to do it anyways.
My third principle is to “pay it back and pay it forward.” If you want to engage in long-term networking in a psychological way, and feel good about it, then get ready to help back and be ready to be helpful in general.
The last principle I have is to stay organized and have a system. If you’re networking on a regular basis, you’re not going to remember everybody’s name, or where they work. There’s nothing wrong with writing some notes or keeping a spreadsheet.
Can you give an example of when your network has been helpful to someone else?
I recently had lunch with someone I hadn’t seen in a long time. She had been doing a temporary gig for the summer because someone at her company knew her and called her in to do some staffing. The next morning, I went for coffee with someone who was looking for an entry level recruiter, so, I put those two together. I don’t know that anything came of that from a job standpoint, but I am certain that both of these people are glad they met each other. It’s fun introducing people like that!
What people don’t think about when it comes to networking is that, to a degree, you’re obligating yourself to a group of people. When you’re networking, you’re letting people know who you are, you’re letting people know what you do. You’re getting into conversations of what people do well, and you’re becoming part of their network as much as they are becoming part of yours. So, unless you’re going to be a jerk, you can’t ignore the people that are going to reach out to you because you networked with them and only reach out to them when you need them. That’s not going to work, people are going to remember.
Do you have any other tips outside of your 4 principles?
One of my networking things is that I’m always willing to meet people on their terms. For the first meeting, if I’m reaching out to them, it’s on their terms and I’m paying. Or, at least, I attempt to pay three times before I allow them to pay. Another thing – always send a thank you.