Ben Casnocha:

Today, we’re gonna talk about network intelligence, and how to make better decisions because our decisions are our destinies, and every startup company that has ever been founded is defined by a small number of crucial choices the entrepreneur makes.

You know, who to bring on as your co-founder; who do you take money from; the initial product vision; when and how to pivot; how to scale.

Like if you look back at any great company, you could probably distill the trajectory of the company’s success into a handful of these crucial moments where the founder picked the right path, basically, and that set them on the journey ahead.

And I think, likewise, if you look over the course of a life and a career, there are a set of these crucial decisions that people make that are just so vital, right?

Maybe it’s what college or graduate school to go to, or what first job to take out of college. Maybe a crucial conversation you have with your manager as you are angling for a promotion. Maybe a career pivot you make later in life; maybe you totally switch industries. So there are these sort of crucible moments.

And what we argue in The Startup of You is that you make much better decisions when you have much better information; that your decisions, the quality of your decisions rely on the information you have, or the information you don’t have.

Reid Hoffman:

And I think one of the things that people don’t realize is that that intelligence is useful all along the path. I mean, the key kind of juncture moments.

Like, if you think about it as travels, like, do you take the left path or the right path? You know, these kinds of things are super important, but also how you model the world; how you understand it; what you think your own competitive advantages are; what you think the world is changing; what is—what do the opportunity landscape look like?

And all of that comes through network intelligence. You know, it even starts with when you’re very beginning of your career, like, should you just go read some books and just, you know, kind of search for some information on the internet and say, “Well, that’s what that looks like?”

No, you should go talk to people who’ve had experience, and who might be able to provide you something interesting and useful that will help you amplify your path.

Ben Casnocha:

There’s information that you get from people, which is really the subject of this episode, but there’s also information you get from books. You can Google stuff. You can go to conferences. You can listen to lectures.

So information is abundant, but the key type of information—the key medium from which to obtain information—that we think really makes a difference in your career is, as you say, network intelligence. It’s the information that sits in the heads of other people, people that you know, because to make great decisions in your career, you often want information that’s timely.

You sometimes want a subjective perspective, that’s molded to your particular life situation, and it’s hard to get that in a book. Now, there are some great books out there that can be useful, but if you’re trying to decide between Job A and Job B; if you’re trying to decide whether to major in one topic or another; if you’re trying to get help on how to negotiate compensation with somebody…it’s sometimes a lot more efficient, more effective to talk to smart people in your network, pose a question to them, and integrate their feedback into your decision-making process.

And that’s what we mean by network intelligence.

Reid Hoffman:

Personally, when I confront almost any serious decision, one of the questions I ask myself is: who should I talk to about it? Who can I ask about it? Can I get to someone I know, or someone who maybe someone I know knows, and ask a question or two that would greatly accelerate my coming to a much higher point of information that would make me have a much better decision, a much better sense of it?

And it isn’t just like, “Well, you know, should I go into the tech industry, or should I go into the auto industry, or that company?”

But it’s also, you know, questions like: if I wanted a job at that company, how might I get a job at that company? What are the paths? What is the culture that’s there? What would be the right best fits for me and that company? What would be the things that would be most useful for me to evolve if this was the industry that I wanted to be playing in?

All of the most current information is actually in fact, in people’s heads. The—it’s actually not written down. Yes, even with, you know, blogs, and all the rest of the stuff. They kind of like, “What’s shaping—what’s a hypotheses, what’s kind of a set of different things that are kind of going on?”

It’s rarely, actually in fact, written down and there’s tons of information that is highly relevant that’s not written down; it’s mostly in the minds and the perceptions of people who are working in industry, doing things.

Ben Casnocha:

Totally. I mean, and there’s certainly—and I think the nuance there is…I would definitely agree that there’s lots of information that doesn’t exist anywhere, except in people’s heads.

If you’re trying to evaluate the quality of a person you might wanna work with, you’re trying to reference-check someone—we’ll talk about that later—that’s almost always in the heads of other people who’ve worked with those people or know those people.

There is also sometimes information that is written down somewhere, it’s just far more efficient to use your network.

Like you can compare like going on Yelp and trying to figure out, “Hey, which of these 65 restaurants in Boston should I eat at?” Or I’ll ask my friend who’s lived in Boston for 20 years, “Hey, where should I go for lunch?”

And so sometimes it’s just a lot more efficient to ping someone you know. I think the lunch example is not purely hypothetical, like I think despite how we open this episode—talking about crucial decisions as sort of you’ve amplified, Reid—this process of pinging your network for advice and help can be useful in a range of types of decisions.

Perhaps, in fact, we overrate the usefulness of this technique or this framework for the big life decisions and underrate the usefulness for small decisions. I mean, there’s a sense in which when people are really struggling with huge life decisions—like, “Should I marry this person or not? Should I have kids or not? Should I move countries or not? Should I totally reinvent myself?”—they tend to maybe talk to too many people and get too much advice.

And then for small decisions—like, “Where should I go for lunch?” Or, “Hey, what’s a good book I should read?”—they actually under-ping their network.

Reid Hoffman:

Most often, almost everybody has some interesting expertise on something, but also doesn’t have expertise on everything. You know, sometimes they have expertise on you. Sometimes they don’t in terms of the questions that you’re asking.

And so it’s good to be an active listener to going, “Okay. That’s interesting. So you have a point of view on this, and maybe you have a great and interesting point of view on how this particular industry is evolving, and that’s really useful. And maybe you just have a reflexive opinion where you actually, in fact, you don’t know anything.”

So like, for example, if you asked me about how is the shipping industry working, I would go, “I don’t really know. I have the same kind of opinion that, you know, maybe a, you know, someone who reads the news does, but I know who I would call. You know, Ryan Peterson. I’d call, you know, Ryan, and say, ‘Okay, you have a lot of expertise in this. What’s going on?’”

And that they—that’s exactly where network intelligence begins to kick in.

Ben Casnocha:

Totally, CEO of Flexport. Yeah. And I think that’s exactly right.

And when we talk in the book about how to really get systematic about this process—which I think is the difference between sort of a beginner approach and the advanced approach—I do think network intelligence, it can be a very advanced game. People can get very sophisticated about it. And I think both of us aspire to be really thoughtful about how to go through this process, ‘cause you’re right, Reid. There are people in the world who have certain domain expertise areas—that’s almost everyone, everyone is an expert on something—and then there are people in the world who know you really well.

And when you’re making a career decision, often you’re looking for a little bit of both, right? You’re making a decision about whether you should, you know, say you work in marketing today, and you’re debating whether to go to a coding bootcamp and reinvent yourself as a software engineer.

Okay. There’s a bunch that’s gonna go into that decision. What’s the landscape of software engineering jobs? What type of bootcamp is best in market? Is it worth paying for that? Do you go into debt to go to that sort of class? What language to study – Ruby on Rails, JavaScript, C+, whatever…So there’s a lot of decisions that are sort of related to the domain expertise area.

And then there’s a set of dynamics that relate to you personally. What do you really wanna do in your life? Is this a good fit for you? Would you like this kind of job relative to the job you currently have? And so you wanna be talking to people in your network who know a lot about the domain area and ideally know you, and it might not be the same person, right?

Your mom might know you really well, and can kind of offer a perspective on fit, but somebody who’s been in software engineering for 15 years or who—best case—did the same transformation or transition that you’re envisioning, right?

Like, hey, you go on LinkedIn. You find somebody who—in your network for a second-degree connection who worked in marketing for eight years, and then you notice their job title changed to software engineer. They probably went through a career transition. They would have really great domain expertise on that process.

When you were growing, scaling LinkedIn, any interesting juncture points where you had to ping someone in your network to get great advice?

Reid Hoffman:

All over the place, everything from questions about who to approach in financing to, you know, questions of organizing the executive team to, you know, what should be the tempo of our product release schedule or technology release schedule…

But like, for example, in LinkedIn, we initially—we were right; we were focused on every individual; our top customer is every individual member; you know, ‘Members First’ is the first LinkedIn value.

And we thought that that would be paralleled in the business model. We thought that what would happen would be that every individual would subscribe themselves, that might expense it, but that there would be an individual relationship with LinkedIn.

Very quickly, literally the moment that we started offering subscription features, we started getting pinged by companies that were, you know, “Hey, actually in fact, we’d like to buy the corporate subscription. We’d like to manage this as a corporate asset. We can actually see, you know, whether it’s our recruiters, our sales people, our hiring managers, our researchers…we think this is a corporate activity at corporate play, and we’d like to have a corporate product here.”

And we were like, “Oh, we’ve never really built a corporate product before. We don’t really know how to engage in this.”

And yet, like all startups, the “jump-off-a-cliff, assemble a airplane on the way down,” we have very limited time. You have to make decisions well before you’re comfortable with them; you have to, you know, hazard guesses, recorrect.

So we basically said, “Okay, well, what do you do?” And I said, “Well, let me call some of the people I know.”

So I called, you know, David Sze, who is our partner from Greylock. And he said, “Well, actually, in fact, you should talk to Aneel Bhusri,” you know, the CEO of Workday.

And, I called Aneel and he said, “Okay. So, look, you really don’t know a lot here. You need to lo know a bunch. Here’s some key concepts. And let me connect you with Mike Stankey. ‘Cause Mike—who has done a lot of work with me at Workday and everything else—is really expert on this stuff, and has the time to go into some depth with you and your team, figuring out what you need to do.” Right?

And so this is the kind of the ‘working through the intel’. Like, what’s the frame? How do I make decisions? What does competence look like? And it’s great—

Ben Casnocha:

And it’s also the third degree. I mean, it was like David Sze to Aneel to Mike.

Reid Hoffman:


Ben Casnocha:

That’s a classic instance of having to go through the maze to figure out who’s the right person to talk to, who has the time to talk to me, who has the right expertise to share with me?

Reid Hoffman:

Yes. And so frequently on network intel, it’s not just, “Well, what do you know about this?”

“Who do you know who I should most talk to? Can I talk to them? Will they help me?”

Ben Casnocha:

Yeah. It’s actually a great question to have in your back pocket every time you talk to someone super interesting from whom you’ve gotten great advice—to ask, “Who would be one or two other people who you’d recommend I speak to?”

Reid Hoffman:

Yes. Who would be the best person—who would be someone who might say something, you know, kind of like very unusual or different sometimes is interesting.

Ben Casnocha:

Apparently, you’re never supposed to ask a drug dealer, “Who’s your dealer?” Right? Because that undercuts their business.

But in network intel, sometimes interesting to ask somebody, “Who do you learn from?”

Reid Hoffman:


Ben Casnocha:

So, like, who does Aneel Bhusri talk to for enterprise tactics, right? Like there’s this sort of lineage of wisdom that gets passed on and sort of being able to map that can be fun, and ultimately the higher you can get in the ladder, maybe you’re getting to some of the deep, essential truth that gets passed on.

So you’re talking to Mike, talking to Aneel, we’re all talking to different people in our networks all the time, as you say, but different sorts of decisions. One of the things that makes those conversations work or don’t work are the quality of the questions you ask. And it blows my mind sometimes how bad some people are at asking questions and in the career space, this is particularly endemic.

I think I commonly see people ask career questions that are way too vague. I call them ‘blue sky questions’. It’s kind of like, “What do you think I should do with my life, Reid?”

That is too broad, too vague. Narrow it down, adjust the lens, zoom in, and present something concrete. And so we can talk about a few tips for how to ask better questions, and I’ll start with this: zoom in and ask for feedback or advice on a specific scenario that you might be grappling with.

So if you have a specific—if your use case is, “I’m debating whether to get out of marketing and go into software engineering, what do you think are the two to three risks that I should think through in that process?”—that’s a good question, in my opinion.

Or, “What do you think are the one or two skills that software engineers have that I might not naturally have?” You’re living in the world of the concrete.

If instead your question is much broader, like, “I’m in marketing, I’m not quite sure I love it. I’m not quite sure what I should do next. Do you have any advice for me, Reid?”

That’s a very hard question for someone to respond to. Unless you’re really close with the person and they’re willing to indulge a multi-hour exploration of your life landscape, that’s probably not the right question to ask someone in your network.

Reid Hoffman:

Well, and there’s another core principle there in all of your relationship with the networks—people even you’re close to, but…certainly everyone else who you have just met or have some light knowledge of, which is: you wanna ask questions where they feel good about answering the question; that it isn’t like, oh, just kind of difficult, irritating—people hate being asked questions that they just don’t know the answer to or anything else.

And so if you say, “Well, what should I do?” It’s like, “Well, I don’t know for you.” And so then is this a really good interaction, and so forth?

And you can reflect that a little bit of like, think about what kinds of questions, like if you were to get, you know, and it doesn’t mean it’s the same for all people, but like what you would be able to answer.

And if you’re not sure, asking some questions about them and how they navigate—like to use a software engineering example, “What have you found are some of the key skills in software engineers?”

So, sure, if you ask the question about me, they might go, “Well, I don’t really know about you and what the delta is,” and that would be awkward.

But if you’re asking them, it’s like, “What have you found to be the really key things?”

They say, “Oh, I think it’s actually really important to be knowledged of the—of machine learning, and current techniques and staying on top of that.”

You’re like, “Oh, and then what does that involve?” You know, etc.

And then you can begin to map it yourself, but you wanna ask questions where you think the person will go, “Oh yeah, I love answering this question. I know how to do it. I can do it really well.”

And as they dynamically gets into the conversation, it’s things that you can then ask the next question, and begin to tie it to, you know, more closely to you or more close to your circumstances.

But it’s very important to have—to ask that question in a conversation. ‘Cause I’ve been asked the question about like, “How do you think I should get into the tech industry?”

And you’re like, “Well, get into the tech industry.”

You know, it’s like, you know, “What do—what work do you think I should do?”

“Something compelling for you.”

Or it’s like, you know, like that’s the answer that’s the same level of, just, unusefulness of the question.

Ben Casnocha:

Totally. I mean, as I think about it, the only people who you should ask questions that are super personal to yourself, like, “What do you think I should do, Reid?” are your close allies in your network.

Only people who know you well, where you have that alliance and relationship, will the other person be willing to probably offer really prescriptive, direct advice to you and feel comfortable ‘cause, “Hey, I know you. I’ve been working with you.”

And I feel like your allies, sometimes—this is where it can be really helpful is—if they can call you out on, “Hey, I think you might be deceiving yourself in this way,” or, “I feel like I know you and you might be underestimating this dimension to your personality or something.”

But that—there’s only a small number of people in your life with whom you have that closeness of relationship. If you’re generally talking to people in your network—you’re friendlies, the broader community, second-degree connections. I love the advice of: ask them about their career, and then you yourself apply it to your own career. But don’t ask them to put themselves in your shoes and try to make your hard life decision.

The other thing that’s key with question-asking, especially in the career landscape or life advice, is following up.

Sometimes when you talk to smart people, they will default to advice that’s…can be cliche or that you’ve heard before, or that’s just sort of their initial politically-correct, “Hey, this is an easy answer.”

But double-clicking and following up and saying, “Well, tell me more, what do you regret about becoming a software engineer? Like, what are the downsides of the job, or what’s most frustrated you?” can be a great follow-up if you feel unsatisfied at that initial answer.

Reid Hoffman:

Yep, exactly. And it’s again thinking about like—and this is a generally good practice, which is: what amazing thing, when you’re talking to someone, you might be able to discover from them, and then ask them a question about it.

It’s a generally good life practice, but it’s particularly important when you’re trying to get information and make decisions about, you know, where you might be putting your time and energy and career path and life path.

And so, you know those questions around like, “Oh, well, where might there be magic in your head?” that would be a question that you would most naturally answer, and be—feel interested in answering, and feel emotionally present, ‘cause they’re like, “Oh, I know how to answer that question.”

So like if someone, for example, asked me…you know, “Oh, well how do you do interesting tech investing in various ways?” Okay.

If they say, “How should I manage my retirement account?” It’s like, “Uhhhh.”

Ben Casnocha:

Totally. I think this idea of asking questions, getting advice, and then also asking other people the same question, and sort of comparing the answers can be really helpful. I mean, if you conceptualize—part of what we’re saying in this episode is conceptualize your network as a vast sensor network that’s pulsing with information, right?

All these people you know, the hundreds of your connections, they all have a perspective on the world. And that can be really, really valuable to you, and to develop network literacy—which is our phrase for being really good at doing this process that we’re talking about—to be network literate is to see who you know, see what they know, and to ping oftentimes several people about a key decision you’re trying to make.

And so you’re asking questions, you’re hearing from one person, “Gosh.” They really think it’s key that you go get a master’s degree in computer science before you become a software engineer.

Then you ask the same question of somebody else, and they say, “Oh, formal education’s overrated. Those—that’s all CS theory. What you really need is like an apprenticeship at a real software company.”

And, okay. That’s interesting. It’s a different perspective, and you’re kind of pinging your network, and then the crucial sort of ultimate task that only you can do for yourself is to synthesize the advice you hear and make your own decision, right?

You can’t outsource a difficult career decision. You can talk to multiple people: domain experts; people who know you well; people who might disagree with each other. But at the end of the day, you have to stitch that all together, and that’s the crucial process of synthesis, which is kind of the cherry on top of the network intel process.

Let’s finally talk about reference checks.

You know, decisions about who to work with in your career are the most important decisions you can make, and becoming exceptional at reference-checking through your network is a powerful skill to develop.

And, in the new edition really—so this is some new content in the 10-year anniversary—we talk about growth loops and compounding value of soft assets. And one of the ways that your network serves as a kind of moat or something that accelerates in value as it grows larger is because the larger your network, the easier it is for you to do reference checks. Because one of the truths about reference-checking is that if you actually know the person who you’re calling to do the reference check, they’ll be much more honest with you.

But, let’s assume for this exercise, Reid, that you may not know the person who you’re calling to do a reference check. What are some tips and tricks?

Well, first of all, maybe we should level set: when should we do reference checks? What are the use cases? We often think about it when hiring somebody, but should I be reference-checking the manager I might work for? Should I be reference-checking colleagues? Should I be reference-checking vendors before hiring them? And then any tips that we can both share about effective ways of having that conversation.

Reid Hoffman:

It’s urgent that you reference-check when the person is going to have a substantial impact on the life that you…you know, your work path, your happiness, your ability to be effective, etc. So that’s one of the reasons why reference-checking so often goes into, you know, “I’m a hiring manager, I’m hiring somebody, I need to reference-check them.”

Similarly, you should reference-check your prospective manager. It is actually, in fact, a really key thing to do that most people don’t think to do.

Ben Casnocha:

Yeah. You’re being offered a job or interviewing for a job. You often are ready to provide your own list of references for your employer, but we’re saying be ready to reference-check the manager who you might work for yourself.

Reid Hoffman:

Yes. And one of the things that I actually frequently give is a piece of advice—people when they say, “Well, should I take Job 1, Job 2, or Job 3?”—is, you know, which person that you’d be working for…do you have a much more kind of compelling relationship with? You’re gonna learn from? You’re gonna build a lifetime alliance with? Will be supportive of your work and so forth? Because that is actually in fact a much more important, higher-order bit than, “Oh, well this one is an assistant product manager job versus this one’s a product manager job.”

It is even probably more important that this one’s a job at, you know, Great Company X versus a…Okay Company Y because that relationship that you have with your manager, amplifying where you’re going with your skills, your career, soft assets, everything else—is super important.

Now, frequently, you won’t know, and then you go, “Okay, well, I’ll go to Great Company X,” or whatever else.

Ben Casnocha:

But you’re saying know by reference-checking, which I love.

Reid Hoffman:


Ben Casnocha:

And there’s this line, I think Marcus Buckingham/someone said it: “People”—or maybe we actually said it in The Alliance now, you know, who knows?

“People join companies, but leave managers,” right? They often join a company because they love the mission of the company or whatever, or the comp package, but then they become so disillusioned by their relationship with their manager that they leave.

I wonder if the ideal scenario is “Join a manager, leave a manager.” Like you should join a company for a lot of reasons, but prioritizing the relationship that you might have with your manager and your colleagues is critical, and, as we’re saying, reference-checking those people—and this is where again, you can use the LinkedIn product to do this effectively. Someone close to me who was recently interviewing for a job and using LinkedIn…I was able to help them identify two or three prior direct reports of this manager who had since left the company, and thus could be super honest about their experience with that manager. And that kind of intelligence is invaluable when you’re weighing a career opportunity.

Reid Hoffman:

Yes, exactly. And so, look, there’s a couple general things about referencing. If you’re really going to bedrock, until you’ve gotten to a negative reference, you haven’t actually in fact done all your referencing. Because everybody has some negative part in their reference, and it might be relatively innocuous, like, “Oh, they get busy and they don’t pay attention,” or—but there are things there, no one is only strengths.

Then there’s some questions around like, okay, how do you ask the questions in a right way? And, sometimes by the way you have to be careful about it, ‘cause you know, how does it get back to the person?

But there’s a bunch of things like you say, “Well, if it didn’t work out, what would be the thing— why would it not work out? If going to work for this person didn’t work out, what do you think the reason would be it wouldn’t work out? And you don’t—may not know me that well, but like, what would be those things?”

Or, “Okay, everyone’s a combination of strengths and weaknesses. What are this person’s challenges or things that they’re working on?”

And if they say, “Well, they’re too perfectionistic, or they work too hard”—by the way, in a manager that could be a little alarming, depending on what it is—but you say, “Well, no, but like ones that are like the real ones.”

Like, for example, if, you know, people will find with me, if they’re reference-checking me, they’ll say, “Well, really great at creative problem-solving, really great at kind of that out-of-the box-thinking, and a great firefighter for crises…Not as good at running the trains on time.”

Right? Because strengths and weaknesses kind of tend to go together, and like, you know, when I’m building organizations, I know that about myself. So I hire other people to help me with that, and to build it, strength in them. That would be like a strength-weakness paired if someone were reference-checking me.

Ben Casnocha:

It’s a good point. And like, so if someone’s offering a bunch of positive-flowing commentary on a strength, you could, as—if you’re doing the reference check—you could say, “Hey, you know, every strength usually has a weakness. What do you think the inverse of this is? Or what weakness or shadow is this strength aligned with?”

But I think also helping people who are fans of the candidate speak positively in the beginning, sort of like, “Yes, rave about the person you love.” And encourage that: “Wow. This person sounds really awesome.”

Okay. Now let’s talk about some of the weaknesses, like even great people are gonna have these weaknesses, but their fans, their references are gonna wanna be able to brag about them first, so they feel like they’ve kind of checked the box of being a good ally.

One sort of really tactical nugget I heard that was intriguing was I’ve had a hard time sometimes referencing folks that worked at large companies, like I was trying to reference somebody once who worked at Goldman Sachs, and everyone at Goldman had complete—was on complete lockdown. Like, “We cannot violate our policy of ‘We don’t provide reference checks’. We can only confirm employment, etc. etc.”

And that is something you’ll sometimes run into. It’ll be hard to get an official reference check. I like this technique of texting or calling somebody and saying, “Hey, you know, trying to learn more about Jane Doe. You know, please text or call me back if the person’s truly outstanding. No worries if not, you know. If you think this person’s really killer, would love to grab five minutes.”

And then even if they call you back and say, “Hey, I really can’t talk to you because of our policy,” that’s still a good signal. And if they don’t call back or don’t text back, well then they basically told you, in not so many words, that they may not be A-plus.

Reid Hoffman:

Yep. And that’s I think a great technique. And another one of it is kind of the, “If you can’t tell me anything, I’ll presume that it’s so bad that you—you’re on this kind of lockdown because it’s so negative.”

Ben Casnocha:


Reid Hoffman:


Ben Casnocha:


Reid Hoffman:

And, frequently people—if they go, “Oh, wait a minute. No, no, the person’s pretty good. Like, look, I can’t really talk about—I have a policy, but the person’s pretty good.”

You can, by going either super positive saying, “Okay, if you’re not gonna talk to me, I’m gonna assume not super positive.” Another one is, “If you’re not gonna talk to me, I’m gonna assume super negative.” And both those things can kind of cause people to at least give some signal.

Ben Casnocha:

Yeah. And sometimes asking people about, you know, tips for how to work—“Hey, I’m gonna start working—I think I’m gonna be working with Reid soon. Any tips on how to best partner with him?”

Sort of framing it as “Give me advice on how to best collaborate” can sometimes access more honest feedback than, “So what do you think of Reid as a human being? What are his strengths and weaknesses?”

Sometimes people clam up to speak poorly about someone who they respect. But if framed in the context of, “Hey, I’m really impressed. Had a lot of great interviews, a lot of great conversations, think it’s probably gonna work out. Would love some of your advice on if I were to work with Reid, how should I best be his partner?”

Reid Hoffman:

And there’s a parallel that I do in recruiting that’s probably useful for most people.

‘Cause most people worry about, like, well say you’re recruiting a person from a job at Goldman. And they’re in the job at Goldman and you’re—you want to get, you know, kind of feedback from other people. But on the other hand, you don’t wanna pollute the environment around the person it’s—all kinds of bad things, and so…frequently, what I’ll do is when I’m calling a reference, I won’t say, “Well, I’m interviewing, and I’m thinking about giving a job,” or, “We’re very close to giving a job.”

I’ll say, “You know, I was told that maybe I should recruit this guy, you know, Ben or this woman, Sarah. And I’ve heard some great things. Are they someone I should try to reach out to and recruit?”

Like you can think about that parallel that just a slight side-step can still get you all or 95% of the referential information you want without the kind of possibly disastrous tells of something—it might be a side consequence that would be very bad.

Ben Casnocha:

Totally. Yeah.

This is like in the hypernuance part of it, but I think it’s—it’s important, especially at higher levels of recruiting or reference-checking, which is: you don’t wanna put the person who’s giving the reference—make them a co-conspirator and like this disastrous thing of where you’ve recruited somebody out of a company. It’s this whole political situation, so you’re trying to give them sort of plausible deniability.

Reid Hoffman:


Ben Casnocha:

Do they think how your framing works? I mean, I think—

Reid Hoffman:

And also they might not even really know. They might say, “Look, they’re really great, but I doubt you could hire them.”

Ben Casnocha:


Reid Hoffman:

And I’m like, “Okay, great.”

Ben Casnocha:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly.

Great conversation. I mean, we—we say in the book, “Who you know is what you know.” Some of the most important knowledge or insights that you can garner to make better decisions in your career exist in the brains of the people in your network.

And we’ve talked about how to organize your network, perhaps into people who know you well as a human, as a person, and people who might have specific domain expertise that you’d wanna tap depending on the type of decision.

And Reid, as you talked about in terms of the LinkedIn enterprise model, one among many crucial decisions that both you have made and I have made in my career and in our businesses—that have allowed us to make better decisions by talking to smart people in our networks.

So, you know, we’d encourage everyone listening to take a moment—in the next week, in the next month—and actually try to map out your network and the expertise areas that each person represents. And so, again, if you conceptualize your network as a vast sensor network, what does each sensor represent, and by way of expertise or perspective that could be useful?

And so map that out a little bit. And the next time you’re at an important crossroads in your career, be intentional, be proactive about reaching out to these people, asking great questions at their appropriate level of zoom, and then doing that synthesis to hopefully set yourself on the right track.

Reid Hoffman:


Ben Casnocha:

Reid, thanks for the conversation.

Reid Hoffman:

Ben, as always.