Finding friends in high places

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Although nepotism has its limits (you’re never going to get a job as a molecular biologist purely on the basis of having the right connections), knowing someone in the industry you want to get into can’t do your chances any harm.

At the very least you can phone up to cadge a few tips on what to put in the covering letter before you fire off your CV to the cold unknown of a human resources department.

Think you have friends and relations only in totally useless places? Consider the theory of six degrees of separation, which means you are just six introductions away from literally any other person on the planet.

So your Auntie June’s first cousin (that’s right, the one who fits boilers for a living) could have a mate who has a mate who is the wife of a close colleague of Barack Obama. Meanwhile, her neighbour, who runs a hairdressing salon, may just be a few precious steps away from Stephen Hawking, Angela Merkel or, er, Peter Andre. Truly, the world is connected.

And with our old buddy the world wide web, there are a host of e-networking sites which will allow you to skip across the degrees of separation, schmooze up a storm and build a powerhouse of career-enhancing contacts.

That’s not to say that e-networking is a complete doddle. First there’s the conundrum of what to say to someone you have not seen in a decade or more but who is apparently now forging ahead in the film industry—especially when your clearest memory of him is the time he nicked a Penguin biscuit out of your lunchbox when you were at primary school together.

Some subtlety is required. It’s best not to mention the Penguin, for example. And though something along the lines of: “Hey, I hear you’ve made it in the movies! Gizza job!” gets to the point, it’s better to play it a bit cool. If in doubt, try: “Amazing to see you on this site! How are things?”, which gives you the perfect springboard to quiz them about their career.

Bear in mind that, once ensconced behind a veil of cyber-anonymity, many people find it all too tempting to wax lyrical about themselves, smoothing over the cruel workings of fate with a little soothing fantasy and indulging in daydreams of what they’d like to be rather than what they are.

In short people lie their heads off online. So when your ex-biscuit thief gets back to you on what he’s currently doing, take it with a pinch of salt. He might well be a genuine, bigshot Hollywood screenwriter, but watch out for the telltale little phrases of delusion.

Take “doing some consultancy”. This often translates as “recently sacked, now scraping by on whatever work I can find”. “Freelance” is media-speak for “teetering on the brink of penury”. And the fairest real-world translation of “up-and-coming” is very often “a complete failure to date”.

So tread carefully. Be patient, too. It might be a while before you hear back from Barack Obama. But one thing is pretty much guaranteed: soon enough you’ll start receiving messages from people you haven’t seen in donkey’s years—people of whom you remember next to nothing, except perhaps for a dark, half-forgotten memory of once “borrowing” a certain item of confectionary from their lunchbox ——

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