Creating A Network

Everyone agrees. Networking is one of the most positive and effective ways to find a job or expand your business. Networking is the process that leads to building the relationships to support your goals.  It takes time, planning and follow-up. Like planting a garden, the results are not always immediately apparent. The fruits are not always harvested at the end of a conference or after a chance meeting or even when you get the job you wanted more than life itself. In fact, the process of networking never ends.

For me, networking has offered a lifetime of incalculable rewards—both of giving and receiving. I was struck by such a feeling this week when I served on a food careers panel at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) with Andrew Smith, the editor of the Oxford University Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. I had met him several years ago when I attended a talk he gave for The Culinary Historians of America. Ron Tanner was on the panel too. He is vice president of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT). I met Ron through the Fancy Food Show where I used to sell my little single subject cookbooks.

The meeting at ICE was designed for the students and faculty. I wanted something from them. I wanted to teach a course on Food Jobs at ICE so I asked the President of ICE if he would take me on.  I also wanted Ron’s help in announcing the publication of my book, FOOD JOBS, on the NASFT web site, which, in my opinion, is the best of all the daily information web sites. I asked him (nicely!) for this favor and he willingly granted it.

Andrew Smith teaches culinary history at The New School in Manhattan. He also wanted something. He wanted ICE students to attend special events at The New School.

Ron Tanner wanted two students to help out at the next Fancy Food Show. He asked, and several students accepted the invitation, for what in this case is actually a paid position.

In return, several students asked the panel for specific help.  One wanted to know how to pursue a career as a food historian. A young student wanted to know how to write a proposal for a cookbook. I immediately e-mailed her some information.

Another student raised her hand and asked me why I wasn’t listed on Wikipedia. I told her that you are not permitted to write an entry for yourself. She offered to compose the entry for me. I accepted her offer. Now she’s decided to ask others in the culinary world if she can write their biographies for Wikipedia too. This could be the diving board to propel her into a whole new interesting (and well-paid) career.

Andrew Smith is  also is the past Chair of The Culinary Trust, the philanthropic partner of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). Ron is on the Board of Directors of this organization. I was one of its founding members and worked on several committees before being appointed president. We on the panel hoped the ICE students would join our association. We provided many incentives on why to join and asked them to look at our association’s website.

The time I devoted to IACP flowered into innumerable friendships, memorable conversations and countless unexpected opportunities. Every segment of the food community has similar organizations and all are easily accessed online.

When I look at my ever-expanding network of cherished friends, I realize I am part of a lovely, celebratory, constantly hungry crowd of food lovers. This makes me rich beyond my wildest dreams.

When I asked colleagues to describe their careers for FOOD JOBS, every single one agreed to do so. Not one asked for a fee of any kind. Their generous contributions will, I hope, inspire and help many food lovers get started in their chosen corner of the vast food universe.

This brings me back full circle: It is important to remember that networking is different from selling. The object is the relationship: you are not trying to get someone to buy your product or services in 20 seconds or less.  The value of networking is reaped over time and returned dividends in both imaginable and unimaginable ways.

If you buy a lottery ticket and you don’t win gazillions of dollars, you won’t think it is your fault that the prize went to another person. It was not because you were having a bad hair day or the person who sold you the ticket didn’t give you a kiss.

Yet, if you randomly apply for a job through a want advertisement and you don’t get it, you begin to think there is something wrong with you. There isn’t. It could be that your chances of even getting a response to your inquiry are about the same as winning a lottery. It has been estimated that the likelihood of getting an answer or better yet, the opportunity to have an interview is less than one percent. In other words, there is a one in a hundred chance for you to get your foot in the door. If hundreds of qualified applicants answer an ad for a job, your chances are even slimmer. Alas. All too often it is whom you know…

So what do you do? Today, take the important step of establishing or reigniting your network. Ask for help. Maybe your friend has a friend who has a friend. Figure out how to meet the people are who are in a position to be your mentor and guide you with your career.

If you want a culinary career but are not sure how to get started, volunteer at food events. Attend conferences. Launch a blog. Explore how to write an article for the magazine or web site that occupies the niche in the hospitality industry in which you are interested. Be nice!

O.K. this may be pie-in-the-sky.  It is expensive to go to conferences. Even if you are quite impoverished, you can contact the organization that interests you and offer to volunteer in exchange for getting in. Ask to have your travel expenses covered. You may not get a fistful of money but that doesn’t mean you are not being paid.

Once you are hired you have to think up a project — some work that is not part of your official duties. You have to take your courage in your hands, introduce yourself and ask for what you want. If you don’t ask, there is virtually no possibility somebody will come along and offer it to you.

You never know when the next opportunity will come your way and you must always be ready to welcome it — fearlessly! Keep your business card where you can reach it easily. Don’t’ fumble. Don’t mumble. Follow up.

My tip: Be a pal. A job offer will follow. You can count on it.