I have read and heard more opining about the value of "networking" and "connections" than I could relate in an entire book. But, having discussed the issue with people who made it big and who themselves are now the "connection" that everyone covets, two pretty cut-and-dried principles emerge. First, connections might get you in the door. Second, they will never keep you in the room.
Bill Shaw, president and chief operating officer of Marriott International, summed up the views of many of the people I interviewed when he said that "connections" are of very limited value in the corporate world. "They might open a door—maybe help you get an interview—but they will rarely get you a job or a promotion," according to Shaw. Most invincible executives feel that aspiring professionals place too much importance upon connections and networking.
That said, they do agree, as Shaw said, that a connection can get someone in the door of an organization. Even to get in the door, however, you need to have a "true" connection. Let's start our discussion, therefore, with the definition of a "connection." Just as you cannot fabricate opportunity; you cannot fabricate a connection. Remember, prominent people are inundated with requests for help. And it seems that the vast majority of them will help when they can.
Yet there are very important limits. First, former Attorney General Janet Reno says that she very much dislikes being asked to write a recommendation for someone she does not know well. Here is how she put it: "'Ms. Reno, would you write me a letter of recommendation?' 'I'm sorry, my dear, I don't know your name, what you do, or anything about you.' 'Oh, I thought you might just churn something out for me. It would mean so much to me.' And I say, 'Well, have I had any experience with your work?' 'No.' 'Well sorry.'"
Former United States Attorney Edward L. Dowd Jr. similarly notes that he is always willing to take the time to recommend or otherwise assist someone whom he knows. "I help someone out with a job recommendation literally every week and I am happy to do so," he says. What he is reluctant to do is recommend someone he has never heard of just because he or she is the friend of a friend. "First, it never works," he says. "People can tell a generic recommendation when they see it and it carries no weight, so it is a waste of everyone's time." Second, you must remember that credibility is a very valuable commodity among invincible executives. "This guy I am supposed to rave about may be a total loser. I'll look like an idiot recommending him," says Dowd.
If you are seeking a connection through a friend, it may sometimes be possible for you to arrange a meeting with the connection and provide that person materials demonstrating your accomplishments. "That works sometimes, but it is still a long shot," says Dowd. "Unless you can say 'I have known and worked with this person,' letters of recommendation usually get thrown in the trash."