Are You a Marble or a Sponge?

I knew two employees – Mark and Sarah.

They both had the same position, the same level of education and the same amount of work experience. One day, an unexpected shift in the economy forced their employer to lay them off. Both Mark and Sarah found themselves looking for work. It took Mark a year to find a new job. By the time he was finally offered a position, it was for less money and doing something he wasn’t very excited about. Sarah was a different story. She had three different job offers within two months. She ended up with a pay raise and a promotion. How could two people with such similar backgrounds have such different job search experiences?

Mark the Marble

Mark spent his career looking out for himself. He was pleasant and professional, but he wasn’t keen on connecting with those he met in order to build a solid network of workplace contacts and resources. He didn’t go out of his way to help co-workers or see any value in building professional friendships. He simply rolled along and did only what was necessary to keep his career on track by his standards. Mark was a marble.

Marbles are people that as they progress through their careers, don’t take the time to connect with others beyond the pleasantries to build meaningful professional relationships. While they maintain a shiny professional persona (i.e. nobody says anything bad about them), they fail to gather any weight in the form of contacts and resources that can help them in the future. Marbles tend to be self-centered and approach all career decisions with the question, “What’s in it for me?”

Sarah the Sponge

Sarah had taken a different view. She was also pleasant and professional, but she chose to reach out and build friendships with those she met along the way. She made the effort and invested her time in building a network, helping others with their careers and doing her best to be a valued and respected colleague. She quietly absorbed as many connections as she could. Most were not of any immediate benefit to her career, and might not ever be. Sarah was a sponge.

Sponges are people who make it a point to connect and build relationships with managers, co-workers and clients. They see value in building a strong professional network by getting to know people on a deeper level. By acquiring and maintaining workplace connections, they build professional weight that they can leverage in the future.

As professionals, we all have the choice to be a marble or a sponge.

Everyday, with each new person we meet, we are given the opportunity to connect. Research shows that the more connected you are in the workplace, the easier it is to find work. In fact, in spite of all our technological advances, studies show that more than 80% of all jobs today are still landed by referral. In other words, the six degrees of separation theory holds true when it comes to job search. So, who knows? The few extra moments you spend befriending someone could lead to your next job. And, since it can’t be anticipated which of these moments will pay off in the future, each time you decide you are too busy, or don’t want to bother with connecting, you may just have cost yourself a future opportunity.

Now, for those of you who are saying, “I’m terrible at networking. I don’t have the personality for it,” I say, quit with the excuses and find a way to connect on your own terms. This online test can help you understand different Interaction Styles in the workplace and how you can connect with them.

FYI – Shy Can Be Mistaken As Rude

I recently worked with a very shy person who was often mistaken as rude and mean because of the serious look he had on his face and his unwillingness to interact with people he didn’t know well. He came to me because he could sense his inability to connect was hurting his career. He was right! What surprised him most is that he assumed I would recommend he change significantly. Instead, I simply showed him a few “tweaks” to his approach that he could practice, such as smiling more and asking some simple, yet powerful questions to engage people in conversation. It worked and he soon became quite skilled at building connections without having to change his personality.

In summary, if you aren’t making the effort to connect, you could be hurting your career. And, if you feel like your connecting skills aren’t up to par, get some help. The next time you are in the job hunt, you’ll be glad you did.

P.S. – First time reading my posts? Thanks for taking the time to stop by! Not only do I write for Linkedin, but I’m also founder of a popular career advice site,CAREEREALISM,and currently run the career coaching program,CareerHMO. I hope you’ll check them both out!