There are, in my view, sixteen essential individuals in anyone's life that should be in your Rolodex/Palm Pilot/Day Planner.
"There's a startup in the Valley that's looking for someone with your experience. Pay's solid ... about 20k more than what you're making right now plus stock options, but you can expect to log some pretty heavy hours. Good crew there, and the CTO led his last company to a $250 million IPO. If you're interested, get me an updated CV and I'll forward it along."
According to BLS numbers, the average working American will change jobs four or five times in his career (and in least half of those situations, be involuntarily laid off). If it hasn't already happened to you, sit tight - your turn is coming. Do you want to be one of those hapless drones combing through classified ads or hitting up college chums you haven't spoken to in years for job leads? Doesn't it make sense to have someone who has a working understanding of your professional strengths as your advocate to the right employers in those moments?
While mediocre headhunters are worse than useless, an experienced and competent recruiter is a godsend to corporate division managers and business owners, sparing them countless wasted man-hours interviewing unsuitable candidates by culling a list of well-qualified professionals to review.
As an employee, a well-respected recruiter can be your most valuable ally when you've been passed up for promotion and need an exit strategy ... or worse, just found out you've been part of a six-thousand-person layoff. If you currently hold a salaried position at a well-known company, chances are, a recruiter has contacted you at least a few times. Even if you are completely happy at your job when a headhunter calls, take him up on a lunch meeting anyway.
Since you are not looking for a new job, feel free to grill him mercilessly to size him up. A good recruiter can take the heat. Is he smart, competent, and honest enough to disclose the downsides of the job listings he's showing you? Is he capable of winning the respect of CEOs, seasoned entrepreneurs and hiring managers? From the average-level up to Sigma-Two-level headhunters, the answer is 'no' - but you'll learn something, and are free to continue your search; if you are content in your current job, accepting calls from recruiters represents a passive 'fishing' strategy that keeps you on the radar while honing your own interviewing/interrogation skills. Keep the dialogue open and do your own culling until you connect with a knowledge professional you can trust to be your inside track when the moment comes and you find yourself needing to get your CV in the hands of the right person, right now.
2. Computer Security Guru
"I don't know what the hell you've installed. I'm going to do a full wipe of your hard drive and reinstall your apps. Don't download crap off strange websites any more, ok?"
Think about the data on your personal/work computer and all the incredibly valuable information it stores related to your personal and business matters. Now imagine the utter devastation you'd suffer if the content of that computer were somehow compromised.
With proliferation of computer viruses, spyware, spyware-disguised-as-anti-spyware, and increasingly sophisticated phishing incursions, your computer is a single point of failure in a constant, escalating war between data thieves who write insidious programs designed to steal your information, and the white-hat infosec guardians who build the countermeasures to defeat them.
Unless computer security is your profession, it pays to have a personal ally navigate this minefield and keep you updated on what you should/should not install, which systems are riddled with vulnerabilities as well as how you should backup/secure your data. It's like any insurance policy; a pain in the neck and a major hassle all the way until the moment when you realize you need it.
"I know the sellers are offering an attractive price, but it's attractive for a reason. The MLS report won't show it, but there's a jail three blocks away, just across the county line. Not worth the $40,000 discount ... it would be too expensive at half the offered price."
The single largest financial transaction you will likely make during your lifetime is the purchase or sale of real estate. A canny Realtor, savvy about the nuance of the neighborhood where you will purchase/sell property, is worth every penny of their large commissions. That's the good news.
The bad news? Like the headhunting profession, the potentially large income of real estate, combined with the low barriers to entry, is catnip to nitwits and encourages many mediocre people of mediocre ability to enter the field and pollute it with their incompetence.
Does that sound harsh? Probably. But judge for yourself.
On the low end of every realty brokerage office are dabblers - typically housewives who pick up a real estate license and transact one or two deals per year (usually for friends and family) to sustain the illusion of independence/professional employment. Slightly higher up on the totem pole are agents who work a salaried day job and are 'doing real estate on the side until it gets big enough that I can get into it full-time.'
These Realtors are to be avoided at all costs. If they aren't taking their real estate career seriously, why should you?
At the other extreme are the high-roller SuperAgents. If you spend any time in an upper-middle-class residential district, you'll probably see the same faces staring out at you from those For Sale ads again and again. These agents have spent years building a network of clientele and are extremely well-connected in the local homeowner's community; very often, they hire a team of licensed lesser agents to work beneath their brand.
The virtues of working with an established winner are obvious - the downsides, perhaps less so. Many SuperAgents spread themselves very thin; unless you are engaged in a multi-million-dollar transaction that demand their personal attention, some SuperAgents will farm out your transaction to one of their less-experienced subordinates and simply collect their skim off the top with little or no actual interaction with you. In essence, a classic bait-and-switch, you engage what you thought to be the services of a highly-experienced real estate professional and ended up paying full price for an amateur. I want to stress that this is not always the case - I happen to know two SuperAgents who take pride in their willingness to walk every client through all elements of a real estate deal - but if you wish to hire somebody is the "#1 Agent in [insert city]" it is something to be aware of.
In my opinion, the ideal Realtor is someone who is on the cusp of becoming a top producer/SuperAgent ... a #8-ranked person in an office of 45 ... somebody hungry enough to care about earning your trust and referrals, but not so busy that he's out of touch with the needs of his smallest clients. He's educated about the pulse of the local markets, knows the area's school districts inside out and most importantly, willing to tell you things you may not want to hear.
How do you find a good Realtor? Same as with any other professional: ask around. Size them up. Throw them curveball after curveball and try to rattle them. Repeat.
4. Criminal Defense Attorney
"You have one job, and one job only: shut the hell up. Volunteer nothing. Let me do all the talking."
I can hear some of you scoffing at this suggestion. After all, you're an upstanding, law-abiding citizen. Why in the world would you need a criminal defense attorney? Same reason you carry life insurance (you do own at least a Term Life policy, right? No? Bad blogger, no donut!) - not because you need it right now, but because you're covering yourself for circumstances beyond your control.
True story: an old college friend working as a surgeon found himself in a divorce situation. To exact maximum leverage (and, doubtless, motivated by no small measure of sheer malice), his ex-wife decided to level the vilest accusation you can make against a father of small children. Even absent ANY corroborating evidence, once certain legal balls start rolling, there is no force on earth that can stop its relentless progress.
In spite of the fact his own kids stepped up to protest the D.A., the man faced multiple felony charges and was arrested at his hospital in front of nurses and fellow co-workers, led out in handcuffs and spent the night in county lock-up while CPS goons interviewed his children, filling their heads with God-knows-what.
After an agonizing five months of pre-trial motions (and two changes of defense attorneys), all charges were dropped - but by then, the damage was done. He's forever an 'accused felon,' and in a family court, a father branded with that particular scarlet letter fighting for custody may as well be tilting at windmills during court recess. Hell hath no fury, and all that, neh?
Odds are good such tragedy may never strike you, and I doubt most of you reading this will ever need to make that 2 a.m. phone call. Even so, it pays to know that one capable criminal defense lawyer who can navigate through those dire situations with minimum of damage.
Or be the person who can make that call on behalf of a friend on the edge of desperation.
To be continued ...
5. Personal Finance Advisor/CPA
6. Medical Doctor
7. Police/Law Enforcement Officer
8. "The Wolf"/"The Cleaner"
9. The Event/Ticket Connection
10. The Local Celebrity
11. Big Money Guy
12. Local Politician
13. Auto Mechanic
15. Mr. Connections
16. Best Friend