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Lesson 1: VaYeshev: “Mention me to Pharaoh” – Career networking: You can do it anywhere (even in jail!)
“But remember me when things go well with you, and please do me a favor and mention me to Pharaoh so as to free me from this place”
– Genesis (40:14).
Joseph worked as a servant for his master, Potiphar, who was impressed with his work and made him responsible for running his entire household. However, after being falsely accused by his master’s wife of sexual harassment, Joseph was sent to an Egyptian prison. The prison warden, noting Joseph’s apparent organization and people skills, put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners. These included two of Pharaoh’s ministers, his chief butler and chief baker, who had been imprisoned for their wrongdoings. Joseph showed sensitivity to their mood, inquiring as to their downcast appearance. When the two ministers reported being troubled by their dreams of the previous night, Joseph offered to decipher them, seeing himself as God-inspired. Joseph’s interpretation of the chief butler’s dream suggested that he could look forward to being released shortly. With the chief butler now in an improved mood, Joseph took this opportunity to ask him to mention him to Pharaoh when things returned to normal “to free me from this place.” Along with Joseph’s belief in God’s providence, he felt he needed to make every effort to advance his objective of being released from prison. Asking a favor of the chief butler was anchored in the relationship they had forged, and it proved successful––two years later.
What can we learn from the interchange between Joseph and the chief butler? Joseph leveraged his relationship with him to achieve his immediate career goal: release from prison. Notice that Joseph asked him to intervene only after having invested in the relationship, first taking an interest in his mood, then offering to help by interpreting the butler’s disturbing dream. In doing so, Joseph was able to showcase his dream interpretation skills to the chief butler. Joseph clearly had other skills, but he may have surmised that his God-inspired dream interpretation skills were uniquely valued in Egypt, especially in Pharaoh’s court.
Joseph’s efforts bore fruit, but not immediately! It took two years before the chief butler recalled Joseph’s skills to help Pharaoh with the latter’s own disturbing dream. While in prison, Joseph probably developed relationships with others, but this was the contact that bore fruit. One might even view networking as an application of a verse in Ecclesiastes: “Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days.” We never know which contact will bear fruit and when, but that uncertainty should not hamper our efforts.
Most of us know that career networking is the ultimate tool for advancing our career search and maintaining our careers. Nevertheless, many of us somehow find ways to avoid implementing this practice to its fullest. While some individuals easily develop and expand long-term relationships, others (such as introverts) typically view networking as a daunting strategy that demands deliberate and dedicated effort over time.
Career networking is a process that involves cultivating relationships with people (family, friends, current and former colleagues, and neighbors) who are potential sources of information for job prospects or other career-related or work-related goals. Networking does not end with shaking a few hands at a job fair. It is an ongoing process that requires nurturing and–yes-time, even when you’re happy in your dream job. Short-term contacts are valuable, but maximum benefits are more likely to emerge from longer-term relationships. Networking has several dimensions. Here are a few, but adopting even one or two will advance your career goals immeasurably.
- Strive to continually expand your network among family, friends, neighbors, and especially past and current colleagues at school and work.
- Seek opportunities to assist your network members and accept help when offered––strive for a win-win relationship.
- Share your plans and brainstorm with your associates, even picking their brains for more ideas. Relish all levels of encounters, formal as well as casual.
- Maintain relationships throughout your career: Send holiday and birthday greetings, send the kind of jokes or professional clips you know they would appreciate and set aside some quality time for the occasional face-to-face coffee.
- Patience: These relationships are valuable over time, but don’t expect them to work their magic immediately (Joseph had to wait two years!). Persistence in cultivating these contacts will provide a critical anchor for navigating a volatile job market.
Some may find investing in relationships among current and former colleagues superfluous at best and a waste of precious discretionary time at worst. Career maintenance is not quite the same as car maintenance, but you get the idea: Even if your car is humming along smoothly, a lack of periodic maintenance actions may cause it to run less efficiently. The precarious nature of today’s (and tomorrow’s) job market seems to have excised “tenure” and “stability” from the workforce vocabulary. The repercussions of the pandemic-era job market have only boosted networking’s critical role. In your current job, networking can help maintain your presence on the front burner when sudden promotion opportunities arise or when your organization suddenly chooses to relocate.
Points to Ponder:
- It is not always only whom you know but how you know them. Over 80% of surveyed workers noted that networking was a factor in obtaining their current position. Career networking requires cultivating sincere relationships with others over time: It’s part of your job!
- Consider choosing two or three former colleagues and initiating a low-level email exchange (if just one cooperates, that’s fine!), perhaps leading to a meeting over coffee. Can you make your initial approach in the next two weeks? Sometimes, that very first step––a networking ‘cold call’––becomes the most challenging hurdle, and you may find that the rest will progress naturally.
- Try this: If you’re an introvert, you are likely to have mixed feelings regarding networking. While you may be comfortable listening actively and dialoguing with a conversation companion in a scheduled face-to-face meeting, you might shy away from initiating new contacts. So, when trying to cultivate a new relationship, some introverts have found it helpful to ask a trusted colleague (or neighbor) to make the introduction to a veteran in your field or someone with a unique career trajectory from whom you can learn. This could ease you past the ‘dreaded ordeal’ of a cold call.