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September 16, 2021

Network vs Connections: What's the Difference?

Post By:
Debra Wheatman
Careers Done Write
Guest Contributor:

Looking for work. It’s HARD. They say that looking for a job IS a full-time job. Of course, I know this. I’ve spent the past two decades counseling, guiding, advising, encouraging, and motivating people regarding the job search process, its annoyances, perils, and many other things. This also includes “talking people off the ledge” after they went through 17 interviews with Microsoft (yeah, that happened) and still didn’t get the offer. What do you need to know about someone that isn’t discovered after, I don’t know, seven interviews? Are ten more going to make a difference? Maybe they decided to cohabitate. I’m not sure. Did I mention he didn’t get an offer? What nonsense is this? Don’t call me again. I’m no longer interested; I don’t even care how enticing the offer is. Anyway, I digress. Let’s move on and discuss the HOLY GRAIL – The Network. Here’s the story. 

Normally, I would never even consider writing about something personal. I am, by nature, someone who is insanely private. I rarely post anything about my life; my husband doesn’t even know my real name. You won’t see any pictures of me in a hospital attached to tubes or taking a selfie in the nail salon. After all, who wants to see that anyway? My close circle knows the down low; if I have something I would like to post, I might put it on Instagram, where I probably have six followers or something. Of course, I also know these six people really well. This time it’s different because even though it’s personal, it’s absolutely related to networking, the power of the network, and the amazing things that can happen if you tap into it! 

I run my own business and have done so for the past 20 years. So, it makes sense that I would not be looking for a job myself. However, the more than 10,000 with whom I’ve worked have looked – some on multiple occasions. My steady question is always: “What are you doing about networking?” Do I make introductions? Of course, I do! That is part of how I help people. But this time, it hit close to home when Cory, my 22-year-old son, came to me to explain that he HATED his job. He couldn’t take it; he told me one afternoon. I could hear it in his voice. He sounded like he was going to totally lose his mind. I told him what I had told countless clients. You will find something else. If you can’t bear it, quit. I recognize not everyone has the luxury of being able to just quit. People have families, bills, and mortgages. I get it. I didn’t relish the fact that my stating “Quit” meant that my kid remains squarely on my payroll until he finds a gig where he can pay his rent and eat. I am okay with that in the short term. The tone in his voice sent this mama into panic mode. If he told me at that moment that he needed to take a trip around the world with a stop in the Maldives, I would have given my tacit approval.

A few days passed. We spoke a lot. He was nervous about quitting. I get it. He doesn’t want to rely on me. Nice. I’ve raised a good person. He wants to pay his own bills and be independent. But at what cost? “Quit,” I said. A few more days passed. Then the text came in- “My last day is the 30th“. I didn’t even have to hear his voice. I read the relief in that small bubble that just popped up on the iPhone. Then the next question came- “What am I going to do?” Let me say this. His “network,” if you want to call it that, is tiny. He moved to Florida for a job that he just quit. Because of COVID, he didn’t work in the office (which frankly was part of the problem), so he didn’t build any friendships. Everything was virtual. I appreciate the virtual work lifestyle. For people that have experience and have been doing their jobs for years, working from home is SWEET. I have clients singing HAPPY by Pharrell Williams around their house. But for a young person, there’s nothing better than building camaraderie at the office. I also know a ton of professionals that prefer the office environment. No doubt, where this topic is concerned, your mileage may vary. 


“How am I going to do that?” he said. Of course, I was going to help. And help I did. I made this job search my bitch – literally. Cory wanted to work in “The Machine.” I don’t know why exactly – or maybe I do. He was a political science major as an undergrad, currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration. He firmly believes that the government has the most power to help people. You see, this is a person who believes that no child should be without food or education; there is no reason that the wealthiest country in the world should have people that don’t have access to proper healthcare or life-saving medication; there is no excuse for people to have to work two and three jobs and barely make ends meet while Jeff Bezos can fly himself into space on a whim; there is no excuse for marginalizing people based on their ethnic make-up, religious beliefs, or skin color. You get the idea. And I wholeheartedly agree. Is he a do-gooder? Maybe. I can think of worse things. The point is that he wants to add value. He wants to serve the public. He wants everyone to be able to vote.

I don’t know how much you know about getting a job in Washington. Let me be the first, or maybe the second to tell you. It’s HARD. That is something of an understatement too. To say that this is a world in which who you know matters doesn’t even come close to the tip of the iceberg. So, what did I do?

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I NETWORKED is what I did. I started writing, calling, texting – everyone. I also want to point out, in fairness, that I am insanely connected. I mentioned earlier that I run my own business. When I launched Careers Done Write 20 years ago, I had some clients. It has grown steadily over the years. 

I have never advertised. My business has grown exponentially via word of mouth. I have a database of 15,000 people. My network is DEEP and WIDE. And I went to them. I like to say that help sometimes comes from people and places that you least expect it. I was not proved wrong here. My clients, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude, came out in full force. I went to the people with ties to DC, those working directly on The Hill, people at think tanks, people at nonprofits, elected officials. For any of you who know me, you know I am relentless. I just don’t stop. I can work without a break. When I set my mind on something, I am unstoppable, indefatigable. Admittedly, I can be overwhelming. My husband regularly tells me, “Deb, nobody works or responds the way you do – NOBODY.” Maybe he’s right. Regardless, my network is the asset I tapped into to help Cory.

Calls were arranged, Zoom meetings set – all from people open to the idea of helping an entry-level person with a passion for service. And, the best part is these same people are reaching out to him now! They have ideas, other introductions, advice. It is amazing what happens when you engage in conversations. Of course, as part of this, I didn’t just ask for help. I OFFERED something first. The people to whom I reached out are clients. They are people with whom I have conducted business, in many instances on multiple occasions. My ask always followed something that I offered. I should also point out that I am regularly in touch with my clients. I check on them. I say hello. I always offer to speak and if they need anything, I am there. 

I reach out to see how they are doing, how their job search is progressing, how their new roles are working out. The point is that networking takes effort; it is something that you should be doing throughout your career. Don’t bury your head in the sand – or the pile of papers on your desk and look up five years later to find the landscape has changed. Be resolute and proactive in your efforts to build, manage, maintain, and grow these relationships. At some point, I can assure you – you will NEED help. There are no guarantees where work is concerned. Whether you leave a role because you choose to or the decision is made for you, your network is the very thing that can help right your ship in choppy and uncertain waters. To avoid networking is the equivalent of career suicide. Ok, maybe that is a bit aggressive. However, without a network, your job search (or client search) will be much more arduous and painful. That is definitely true; I have seen it first hand from people with whom I’ve worked and networked over the years. Some people have learned the hard way the challenges of not building a network. 

Building a network takes time. It’s not something that happens overnight, and you cannot “set it and forget it.” I often say there are two things: your network and your connections. They are not the same. Your network is comprised of the people you can call on when you are in trouble and need help; they will come running. Your connections are likely a much bigger group. They are acquaintances, people you’ve met in passing, friends of friends. They are not your network. Can they become your network? YES. That is where the work (and the magic) happens. Don’t delay. Do it. Reach out to people. Schedule an in-person lunch or coffee meeting. Schedule a Zoom call or even a regular phone call. Stay in touch. If you do this, reaching out to someone won’t be weird. It won’t be uncomfortable. You won’t have to worry about making the call and have it be four years since you last connected. Awkward. 

Does building a powerful network take time and effort? YES, it does. Anything that has the potential to pay dividends of this magnitude will take both of those things. The benefit to you is that when you find yourself needing assistance, it won’t be excruciating to pursue. In fact, you will (like many of my clients) land in a bed of feathers. After all, who is going to refer someone they don’t endorse? It looks pretty bad on the referring party to suggest someone that is an unknown quantity. 

How do you get started? I am SO SO glad you asked! Join groups – those that you can attend in-person (if they are open now) and groups online. Contribute. Add your thought leadership. Write to people and ask to speak for the purposes of networking. Don’t ask for something before you offer. Give to get. Try not to ask someone: What can I do for you? I can assure you that nine times out of ten, they won’t have the answer. This also puts the onus on them to come up with a way you can add value. Do research on your target. Learn about their background, what they do for a living, other places where they have worked. I am sure you will be able to come up with something – an idea, an article, someone else you know that might add value to that person. Wash, rinse, repeat. You will find that your network will grow, your credibility will increase, and your brand will thrive!

You’re wondering now what happened with Cory, right? He’s interviewing. There are two people in particular who have been absolute ROCKSTARS with high-level DC connections. I don't want to speak too soon but it looks like his search is going to come to a positive conclusion here shortly. The other spot of good news is that he is taking measurable steps to build his network. He’s got a long career ahead. My crystal ball is at the shop, so there’s no way to tell how circuitous his road will be at this point. With a good network, whatever rocky path may occur, he will be well positioned to weather the storm. 

There’s power in the people. Build it. Manage it. Grow it. They will come!