Want to go from cubicle to corner office? You have to put in the effort to advance your career outside of your job in order to get there. Over at US News and World Report today, I talk about the ten ways you can advance your career by going the extra mile. Read it here.
Lord, do people do some strange things when they network. To make sure you’re not one of them, hop on over to US News and World Report today where I talk about the eight networking don’ts to build the best possible relationships for your career. Read it here and then share your best tips on networking.
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I hate meeting people. I would prefer to be holed up in my apartment, lovingly arranged to every last detail purely to make me comfortable, than to present myself to the world. It’s not that I actually dislike people, but the whole process. The getting ready, the logistics, scheduling a time, finding a place – nevermind if you can’t meet me in my preferred five block radius. If it’s raining outside, I will cancel. If I have a blemish on my face, I will cancel. If you want to meet for no reason, I will cancel.
Meeting people is like writing is like exercise. All take convincing. You have to talk yourself into it, hype yourself up. Then things go fine. Great even. Sometimes amazing.
Last week, I was in New York for a media tour. That’s where you pack twelve meetings in two days and meet with anyone – editors, reporters, interns – who will listen. And oh, holy crap, how I loved it.
Sure, we could have saved a couple thousand in expenses, and done the same thing over email, or the phone, over web-ex or even text. But the power of face-to-face, to see these people in person, to meet and speak… to have a conversation. Well, if I could do media tours full-time, I would (except, with my own bed at night).
Technology is supposed to make it easier for us to connect, but it actually makes it worse to have a conversation. That’s the argument of Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and professor at M.I.T. and author, most recently, of Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.
“We are tempted to think that our little ‘sips’ of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t,” Turkle argues. “Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference.”
Nowhere is this more important than if you’re trying to do something. Build a company. Launch your career. Get a raise. Do anything but settle. Meeting people is the quickest way to success. I used to say when you put yourself out there, the universe rises to meet you, but really it’s your network.
So if meeting people is like fruit, technology is like candy. And the longer we stay in front of our computers, the more sluggish we feel. The anxiety kicks in. So do the excuses. Then it’s just easier to stay home, send an email, and do absolutely nothing.
We convince ourselves that working works. But it doesn’t. So get up. Talk to someone. Have a conversation. Tell me how it goes. Tell me how things start happening for you. It is single-handedly the best thing you can do for your career, company, life.
(Technology gives us shortcuts. This isn’t one of them.)
I get around three to four pitches a day from PR firms and they all suck. Some of them suck so badly I want to re-post them on my blog and make fun of them, but that’s not what I do here. Yet.
You don’t want to make their mistakes. Maybe you want your old boss to give you advice on your current job situation, or need a restaurant recommendation, or you want a blogger to write about reality TV star suicides. Whatever it is, here are four rules that apply:
1. Be personal.
Mass emails are interruptive advertising. They are the commercials I skip, the billboards I glaze over and the fliers that line the trash. If you have someone’s email, you should have their name. Use it.
But a name isn’t personal enough anymore. You know what’s personal? Showing that you respect me enough to know something about me. Anything. Talk about your mutual friend, your fellow obsession with brussels sprouts, or how you respect their blog/company/daughter and why.
Extreme targeting through the cultivation of conversations and relationships is the future of advertising. Big companies will do this by creating spaces where consumers will come to them and receive personalized value in return. You can do this by making it fun, easy and enjoyable to enter into a conversation with you and by showing the value you provide. You’re human. Act like it.
2. Be persistent.
There is no such thing as a perfect pitch. One, because it has to be customized for each person, and two because you can’t possibly know what each person will respond to unless you’ve worked with them before. Even then, people are fickle.
Everyone makes the first call. Everyone leaves one message. And everyone is also counting on you to give up. Maybe not the first time, but certainly the second or third. Don’t be a wuss. If your request is important, keep trying. People are busy, or maybe you didn’t pitch well enough the first time, or maybe they just want to see if you have the gumption to keep playing.
During college I was the top fundraiser for my university foundation. Here’s why. We had to make five asks in a phone call. Ninety percent of my co-workers would stop after one ask or get uncomfortable after the second. I made all five. Don’t give up.
3. Be specific.
People can’t read minds. Trust me, I’ve tested every boyfriend I’ve had. Nothing.
Most people don’t have specific requests. They send information or they send praise, but no call to action. Tell me what you want. It’s great that you’re writing an e-book on careers or it sucks that you’re having problems at work. And I’m glad that you love my blog, but is there something I can do for you? Then tell me. Follow through. Close the deal. It’s easy to do this by ending a conversation with a specific request:
“Can I count on you to give $100?”
“Does a 1:00 pm call on Thursday work?”
“Will you attend my restaurant opening?”
4. Say thank you. For the love of God.
My last job was all about keeping young professionals in the city. So when a candidate said she had been rejected by a local organization for a job, I asked her who the contact was. When it turned out to be someone I knew well, I offered to call my contact and ask that person to take a second look at the candidate. My contact agreed, the candidate was interviewed and was subsequently hired for a position.
And I never heard a thank you. Ever. That sort of thing happened all the time and what irks me even more is that it still does. Constantly. You have to show appreciation.
People don’t help you out of the goodness of their hearts. People help for two reasons: 1) they want to feel good when their advice or assistance pays off, and 2) they think by helping you, they can help themselves.
When I got my current position, I called the friend who got me in the door immediately to thank her. And then I sent her flowers. Oftentimes, when you ask for something, there’s not much you’re able to give back in return. A simple thank you goes a long way.
What’s worked for you? What hasn’t? Share your practical and creative tips below.
In what is arguably one of the worst times in American history since the Great Depression, the people of America have their chins decidedly up.
The sanguine mood is characterized by “an outbreak of niceness across the cultural landscape — an attitude bubbling up in commercials, movies and even, to a degree, the normally not-nice blogosphere,” the New York Times reports.
Enron and Madoff are no match for the almost hermetic happiness that now protects the Nation. It’s not sugar-coated like the self-help decade of the nineties. Nor does it resemble the maudlin contentment of the shut-eyed fifties. Instead, it’s a cheerfulness that smiles next to adversity.
It’s nourished by President Obama himself, who has cottoned such unprecedented praise and agreement that the press can’t help but gush. That goodness has spread virally – as happiness has been proven to do – and companies and individuals are following suit.
“Companies that have the highest retention have the nicest atmospheres,” the New York Times reports. “And in a situation where people are losing their jobs and you have an option of whom to hire, you’re going to hire the person who is complimenting your tie. Nice becomes a competitive edge.”
Alice.com is a good example of this. It’s not just that we have a ping pong table and encouraged nap time, but that our co-founders consistently encourage and compliment employees, partners, customers, potential vendors, and others. I didn’t even know this was a viable way to do business. That is, our work is not predicated on fear, failure, politics, or manipulation.
Such plushy and persistently optimistic companies give power back to the employee, back to the customer, and back to the idea of social community where the greater good is served over the individualistic ambitions of wealth or influence.
Mean is out. Earnestness and altruism are in fashion. Humility is an aphrodisiac. The roof has caved in, and people are responding accordingly. Not by panicking, but pulling up their bootstraps and making lemonade. And giving their neighbor some. And the prostitute down the street. And the dog too.
Even hard-core adherents to darker fantasies like Eminem are “just coming clean and exhaling.” The rapper’s newest album ripostes on his drug addictions, and his subsequent challenges and triumphs more than women stuffed into trunks.
And while our children will most certainly rebel against us, perhaps under the objectivism of Ayn Rand or the cynicism of Gen X, our optimism, vanilla, mediocre and conservative as it may be, is prevailing.
What is happening now is that glee is rising from collectively pushing forward at all costs, not knowing if it will work and accepting that there’s a good chance it won’t, and working towards something greater. All together. With differences of opinion, but with respect as well. With civility and common courtesy. And with confidence in humanity’s decency.
Consider getting an online Associate Business Degree to start building your business network and learn the basics of entrepreneurship.
Marketing jobs are all the rage despite the fact that marketing departments are one of the first to be cut in a recession. And I’ve always liked marketing, but I didn’t major it in college, and none of my experience has ever directly related to the topic. But my new job? It’s all about marketing.
Here’s how to transition into a field that you have no specific education or direct experience in:
1. Ignore your last job title. Titles don’t matter. Experience does. “Director” could mean any number of things – managing budgets, event planning, fundraising, etc. But instead, I made it to mean word-of-mouth marketing, building community, and member (read: customer) acquisition and retention when I interviewed for my current job.
Your experience is valuable whatever you do, so you need to learn how to talk about it in a way that matters. Good managers realize it’s not about your title, but what you did. My first boss out of college looked for candidates who had waitressing experience (note: I didn’t, but still got the job), because she believed waiters learned a valuable skill set.
Translate your experience into how it will be meaningful.
2. Network now, while you still have a job. When I announced I was leaving my last job, I received several emails that read, “What’s this all about? I thought you were you going to give me a heads up when your mind started to wander…” Too many people start networking after they’ve started looking for a new position. You should be constantly networking.
More than anything, constantly networking means doing your job well, representing your company with integrity, and letting other people see that. Like when people ask, “How’s the job?” be ready to list two to three key accomplishments – both personal and company-related – like, “It’s great! We’ve acquired two new sponsors, expanded our Board, and are starting the process for building our new product on Monday.”
And it doesn’t matter if you just started your job. After a conference last week, I followed up with the business cards I collected. One email I received back read, “Let me know when you’re ready to job-hop again. I need a good PR person for [company] to manage marketing our own business and brand.”
3. Please, start a blog already. Now that I work for a start-up company, people keep asking me how to get a start-up job. Especially those with no online presence whatsoever. Uh, yeah. The easiest way to prove that you’re serious, knowledgeable and competent in an area that you seemingly have no experience or education in is to write a blog on that topic. Because writing a good blog isn’t actually easy at all, it’s hard.
And if you’re serious about finding a job in engineering instead of accounting, or intellectual property instead of family law, or sports-casting instead of painting, you have to be serious. If you think it’s stupid to start a blog on the topic, then maybe you don’t want it as much as you think you do. I’m just saying. Be honest, and then put the work in.
4. Customize your resume to the company. Don’t insist on putting everything you’ve ever done on your resume. If you’re a real estate agent, don’t describe the job, but instead describe your accomplishments, how you stood out, and why your experience makes you stellar to the position you’re applying for. Writing a great resume preps you for a great interview.
The easiest way to learn how to do this is to review other resumes. Reviewing what other people have done is the quickest way to improvement because you’ll see how much information is irrelevant and how quickly you get bored. Here, you can start by reviewing the resume I wrote to get my current job. It was pretty awesome at the time, but only a couple months later, this version already makes me cringe. You should constantly be updating since you are constantly changing.
Apply the same customization and personalization to your resume that you expect when you get book recommendations from Amazon.
Last Friday, Monica O’Brien of Twenty Set wrote about how blog networks sucked and that there wasn’t any advantage to being part of one. I disagree and this post is my response.
Here are the four universal truths about blog and social networks, and how to use them to your advantage:
1. Network means it’s not just about you. Social media by definition is social and is thus a give and take world.Traffic will not magically be sent to your blog, nor will exposure magically occur.
Joining a network – whether that be a blog network like Brazen Careerist, a social network like Facebook or Twitter, or the professional network LinkedIn – doesn’t mean that all of sudden things will be easier for you. Really, it only means that your work has just begun. Hard work.
I mean, I get it. I’ve been there. We think that since we are letting networks have access to all of our writing – words that we have toiled over until 2:00 am and let sit until 2:37 am just to feel motivated and confident enough to even publish – that we should reap grand rewards. That just by giving away permission to our soul, great things should happen. I’ve been there, but that’s not how it works.
It works by not only allowing more people into your world, but by listening to them, hearing them and responding. It works by participating and figuring out how you win with your post and how the community does too.
2. You can’t be found without showing up. A blog network is not your blog. Think of a network as the meeting place – a community house, a bar on a Friday night, the lunchroom at work, whatever. Your blog, in contrast, is your home. You’re the same person – and your posts are the same – in both places, but different people show up and different conversations occur.
If you stay at home, people will find you, but the majority won’t know you exist. Similarly, if you go to the bar and just sit in a corner, that girl is not going to magically give you her number. So you can’t just blog in a vacuum, nor can you join a network and expect that to be the final step if you want to build exposure and traffic. People don’t just find you – you find them.
And that isn’t a theory just for beginners; it’s a commandment for established bloggers. The fact that Penelope Trunk syndicates the heck out of her blog is no coincidence to her success, nor is the fact that Chris Brogan shows up to every social media event imaginable. You don’t stop working ridiculously hard when you’re established. You work harder.
3. Use their network to build your network. A blog network is not promising you a product like cereal, but is selling you on relationships. Before Brazen Careerist started, the sense I had of the Gen Y blogging world was limited; I knew around twenty-five Gen Y bloggers. Now I know and have access to hundreds, not only because Brazen Careerist helped discover those people, but also because Brazen created, inspired and facilitated that particular market to be part of the conversation.
I take advantage of the Brazen network by looking at the community profiles in the same way I look at who my favorite Twitter friends are following, or who my real-life friends and I have in common on Facebook.
And when people comment on a post of mine on any network, I don’t just hope that they subscribe to my blog, I’m proactive. I check out their blog, reply to them, comment on their posts, link to them and begin to build a relationship. I get interested in what they’re doing, because they’ve shown interest in me.
I can’t imagine how I would find these people – those that are interested in my topic – in an easier way. That’s called building community and it’s what social media is all about.
4. Blog networks do give special treatment for two reasons. The first is to attract a lot of traffic from good writers. Want to be featured on the front page of a network? Be a good writer. You could be among the most-hated participants but if you write well, you’ll still be featured.
The second is to reward the people that they have relationships with. This isn’t unfair, it’s smart. Relationships make the world go round. I personally have no idea how blogs are picked to be on the front page, but there’s an easy way to circumvent whatever process the blog network has installed. That is, build a relationship.
Email the community manager if you feel you have an especially good post to, 1) promote yourself, 2) begin that relationship, and 3) make the community manager’s job easier.
I guarantee that a better attitude to success is to ask not what the network can do for you, but what you can do for your network.
Update: This post was also published at Damsels in Success.
Recently, more of my time is spent meeting with people who request to meet with me, instead of the other way around. Here’s some advice from being on the other side:
1) Give me a compelling reason to answer you. A lot of networking advice tells you to just check in with someone so that you’re on their mind.
But this sucks for busy people.
When you receive hundreds of emails a week, an email that “checks in” is like a nag draining you to do the dishes. That’s because while the email needs to be answered it becomes the lowest priority out of all the rest.
That email subsequently makes me feel guilty, sits in my inbox until the end of the week, and by the time I have time to answer it with something nice and charming, I’m exhausted.
So please, don’t check in with me unless you’re family.
Instead, tell me why you’re writing. Be interesting. Tell me that you were just in the paper, or that you’re working on a new project and want my feedback, or how you can help me, or that you just went on a great road trip. Preferably, the shorter and the more value, the better.
Networking is about developing relationships. Act like it.
2) Don’t lead me on. Someone recently tried to schedule a meeting with me, and then proceeded to reschedule the meeting, not once, not twice, but four times.
Now, I reschedule meetings all the time. It’s the nature of the beast. But there comes a point when you should use the etiquette napkin to clean up your act.
I also recently requested information from a piano teacher and found her rate to be quite expensive. When she followed up with me, I told her that it wasn’t in my budget. I could have told her I didn’t have the time, or that I needed to think about it, but being a tease is only acceptable on a Friday night. Outside of that, you’re just annoying.
3) Be specific, but mysterious, and a little humorous. When asking for things like meetings or advice, it’s important to give just the right amount of detail in a succinct manner. Something like, “I’d like to meet with you to learn more about you, tell you about the new idea I have to restructure my organization, and I hear you like blueberry pie, so I know we’ll have lots in common.”
Now I know not only that you’re interested in me, but why you’re talking to me, and I’m excited to meet you. Think of it as email foreplay.
Also, when people offer to pay for my lunch as an incentive to go to a meeting, I love this. Because as I’ve mentioned, I’m on a budget. But if I told the President of some company I would pay for his lunch, not so good. You have to find value in a way that’s important and specific to that person.
Use the internet to find out what might work. You don’t have to say, “I stalked you on Google,” but simply “Oh, I heard you enjoy sushi.”
4) Don’t ask for something I can’t give you. A lot of people email me and ask for things. We all like this, because it makes us feel special and powerful.
But it’s frustrating when you’re asking for something I can’t give you. Don’t ask me to promote your product on my blog when I’ve never promoted products on my blog. Don’t ask me to allow you to “give a talk” on your services when my organization has never allowed that.
There aren’t a lot of lines to cross when you’re asking for help, so you’ll know what’s right and wrong by simply paying attention.
Nobody likes to say no. Make it easy for me to say yes and the conversation will be gravy. In fact, letting me help you in a way that’s easy for me will increase my goodwill towards you. Funny how life works.
5) Tell me how you can help my friends. This is the Holy Grail of networking advice.
There’s only so much that I can do individually for my network and the very nature of having a network is expanding it so that we can all help each other more. Similarly, there’s only so much that a CEO can do for his company, a manager for his employees, and so on.
To that end, I’m always excited when people come to me with opportunities that I can pass on to others in my organization. This is probably even more important than helping me directly, because it makes me look good.
It’s also probably the hardest to do, but if you can pull it off, you’ll be so awesome you can give yourself a gold star.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Should I bring my gloves?”
“Yes, bring everything warm that you have,” I said. Sam went up to his hotel room and came back with his scarf, his gloves and nothing else.
“Where’s your coat?” I demanded.
“This is my coat,” he said. I looked down at his suit jacket and back up at his face, confused.
“Okay,” I said finally. “Come on then.” I walked outside, a little worried how Sam and I were going to get along if he didn’t even understand the meaning of the words “Wisconsin” and “Winter” in the same sentence.
Sam assured me, however, that he was tough, and true to his word – no matter how much I baited him – he didn’t complain.
Tough is a good word to describe Sam. Not in the traditional steel factory sense of the word, but in the hard-hitting, no-nonsense kind of way. He’s interested in people, he’s interested in change, and he wants to know how to bring the two together.
He’s practical about where he comes from, the detours he’s taken, and turns the notion of a designated path on its head. And perhaps that is what is so refreshing about Sam. He’s straightforward, but uniquely human at the same time. Like when after a particularly meaningful story, Sam stated, “I wore socks today. I hate wearing socks.”
Sam gave his speech on Wednesday night (which was really good), and we all went out to dinner afterwards. And on Thursday, Sam and I proceeded to spend fifteen hours together straight. We went on a tour of Madison into the shops, and the art museum, and our Capitol (although Sam insists that “It’s pretty, huh?” isn’t really a tour at all), and then off to lunch meetings, coffee shop meetings, sushi dinner with Employee Evolution, after-dinner drinks, and after-drink conversations.
And as we moved throughout the day, I felt how great it was to be making a new friend. It’s single-handedly one of the most powerful things, to begin to trust someone, to share your dreams and goals, and your frustrations and anger. To have a mutual respect and desire to change the world. Our generation thrives so much on loose connections, Facebook friends, being quasi-anonymous, that making deep connections often seems like too much work.
But it’s not. It’s just being observant and open. It’s asking the questions beyond simply where you come from and what you do:
“Why are you controversial?”
“How can we work together?”
“Why are you so tight-lipped about your dating life?”
“Do you think you’re moving too slowly?”
“What’s the soundtrack to your life?”
“Do you work out of this coffee shop often?”
“What’s the story behind changing your beliefs?”
“How did you know your wife was the one?”
“What does edgy mean?”
Sam and I asked each other these very questions. It’s about investigating and caring about who the other person is. It’s about wanting to know someone intimately, because that’s all we really want anyway. To be known, appreciated, challenged.
When I meet with people, even CEOs or semi-celebrities, the most interesting discussion always happens after we should have ended the meeting. It’s the point where you can get up and leave, or you can ask another question, an unexpected question, a silly or meaningful question, but a question that pushes deeper.
It’s easy to ask the basic questions. But friendships aren’t forged, and change doesn’t happen with easy questions. Instead, you have to ask the story behind those questions.
You have to reach around and ask about the cup of cold coffee sitting on the black table with the guy standing in a kilt on the staircase. You have to ask about that. You have to ask about who a person is.
Last week, I scheduled a meeting with one of the top CEOs in Madison, Mr. Rich. Here’s how I did it and how you can too:
1. Make first contact. Meet Mr. Shaker at an event. Go up and introduce yourself. Yes, I know this is hard, especially when CEO #1 stands by CEO #2 and Celebrity #3. Must they cluster? Go and introduce yourself anyway. You are not a chicken. Go! You don’t have to have a lot to say. Just introduce yourself, set the stage for a meeting, and gracefully exit.
Another option is to send a letter. A letter is for when you have no way of meeting them in person. It warms up the cold call. It should be short and to the point, and give appropriate information, but not enough that a meeting isn’t necessary. The primary purpose of the letter is to set the stage for your phone call to set up a meeting.
2. Write yourself a script and act. I learned the value of a script, and the basis of all relationship-building in business, when I was a telefunder in college. Not a telemarketer. TeleFUNDER. Big difference.
As a telefunder, I read off a script, and after four years, I knew that script by heart. Every time I sat down to make calls, I pulled the script up on the screen. Half the time I wouldn’t even look at it, but it gave me the confidence to know exactly what to say, improvise, and to become the top fundraiser out of hundreds of other callers.
These days, when I make calls, I still bring up a script. It’s short and to the point, and I’ve thought out many of the potential objections in my head.
Then I lower my voice. This is because I have a high girly voice, and that’s really annoying on the phone. I learned this the hard way when I tried to be a cheerleader my first week of telefunding. I almost got fired I was so chipper. Pay attention to what you want to convey and act it out.
3. Be persistent. The first time you call you’ll probably get their voicemail, or the secretary. They’re counting on you to give up. Not the first time. Nobody gives up the first time. But maybe the second time, or the third. Don’t let your attempts taper off. You have to be the person that calls back the fourth, fifth, sixth time.
Call on different days and times of the week. While your worst time might be Wednesday at 8:30 am, that might the perfect day for you to reach Mr. CEO.
Or maybe email is better. It just depends. A general rule of thumb is that older generations will respond quicker to phone calls, while twentysomethings will respond quicker to emails. Skip the guessing game next time by asking Miss Celebrity how she prefers to be contacted when she hands over her business card. Golden.
4. I said persistent, not creepy. If I call a CEO five times a week, I only leave a message once or twice. You don’t want to be all scary about it.
5. Be persuasive and positive. Never ever remind the CEO that you’ve already contacted them last week in your message. You can refer to your first contact, but not the ten calls you’ve made in between. I guarantee that the CEO knows about the ten calls you’ve made, and if you just stay upbeat and positive with the tone of your voice, they’ll call you back.
Persuasive doesn’t mean pushy. Persuasive isn’t begging. Persuasive is confidence. Don’t confuse it.
6. Be strategic and ready for run-ins. It never fails that I am often embarrassed in front of important people.
In calling Mr. Rich to set up a meeting, I ran into him three different times unexpectedly. The first was when I was walking to the coffee shop wearing my “pigpen” pants and he rounded the corner. I think the term “pigpen” is self-explanatory. This is not the time to talk. Smile. Say hello. Keep walking. The second was when I came out of a public restroom and I opened the door right into Mr. Rich. Smile. Apologize. Keep walking.
The third was at an annual dinner. It was one of those times when he was standing next to two other bigwigs. This is not the time to keep walking. Stop. Introduce yourself. Go back to step #1.
7. Notice the flow. The hard and time consuming stuff is in the beginning. Getting a meeting is much harder than the meeting itself. Make it work.
Go on with your bad self.
Need more? One of the best series on networking can be found here.
At a conference this week, I introduced myself to two young men. I found out they were venture capitalists, and I began to tell them what I do when one of them cut me off. “We live in Chicago,” he said. Oh. Okay.
I shifted gears and jokingly repeated an observation that I had heard from another conference goer. “So, some people say you all are like pirates,” I said. Silence. I thought it was a joke. The dagger look told me otherwise. A sore topic, I guess. I had no idea.
We talked for quite a bit longer and came to the mutual understanding that venture capitalists are, in fact, not like pirates, and I realized that one of them was pretty good-looking.
On the back their business cards, I wrote short notes to remind me of who they were. “Cute venture capitalist,” on one and “not a pirate,” on the other. Just to be clear.
The conference ended with numerous courageous spirits presenting at an event called “Elevator Pitch Olympics.” Participants pitched their business plan in ninety seconds, and then a judging panel graded their hearts and souls on a 1-5 scale.
As the first participant ended his ninety seconds, the judging panel wrote their scores on small whiteboards and held them up for the audience. Businessmen and investors around the hall yelled, “Darker markers!” and “We can’t see!”
“I can see just fine,” I replied to those around me. “You all need contacts!” The guy behind me persisted, “I can’t see!”
“What? Is my head too big?” I joked. He laughed and in an instant I knew exactly who he was. I had just made apparent to one of the biggest players in Madison that my head might be big. And that he could be blind.
I gave my brightest smile and turned back around, writing to my friend next to me, “Oh. My. God.”
Everyone hates networking in the beginning. It feels unnatural after we’ve been spoon-fed our friends in high school and college. Nevertheless, I forced myself to go to networking events a few years ago because my boyfriend at the time told me that I didn’t have enough friends. That was the same one who told me I was boring. Quality, I know. But he was right. Honesty hurts:
1. Talk to boring people. Generation Y has the habit of being easily distracted. We defined attention deficit disorder. But that’s not the way life works. You can’t look over the other person’s shoulder. You have to be genuinely interested; you never know who will be useful towards your goal.
Some of the smartest and most successful people purposefully stay under the radar, and if you’re constantly scanning the room, you’ll miss them. Instead, treat each person like they are the most important person in the room. Make sure they have your full attention. Then pat yourself on the back when you discover the diamond in the rough.
2. Say what your dreams are. You’re an accountant, but you really want to be a musician. So, when people ask what you do, say that you’re a musician. The world conspires in your favor when you put yourself out there. I promise.
3. Meet before bedtime. Snookie Jaguar and I met last week, and he made a good impression on me. All the more so because it was 11:00 pm on a Wednesday night, and I was still wearing the same thing I had put on at 7:00 am. I met Snookie about an hour after a meeting with a local politician, and a few hours after a happy hour meeting. In other words, it was well after I had started my work after work – the kind that begins when I close the screen of my laptop.
Late-night is the new meeting time. Deals have always been made outside of working hours, and that is particularly suited towards Generation Y. We work all the time. It would be a mistake to think that work begins at nine and ends at five. If you want to get ahead, nine to five means nothing to you.
4. Heart your waiter. Act like you’re serving the waiter instead of the other way around. Smile, be overly polite and ask for their opinions and recommendations. People watch your behavior around wait staff closely, and many judge you specifically on the interaction you have with the waiter.
Don’t forget to give big tips. Twenty percent (not just fifteen) is a good rule, even if the service was horrible. People always glance, albeit discreetly, to discover how much you’re giving. Be generous.
5. Sober up. At your next happy hour, order a non-alcoholic drink. I don’t drink pop, so I usually just order water. People don’t notice. What they do notice is the lawyer in the middle of the room, swaying in a little too close to his talking mate. Entertaining as it may be, you are forming your reputation and it’s best to keep your tolerance level, however high it may be, a secret.
In one of the many interviews for my new job, the interviewer talked about how he would prefer to take applicants to the bar across the street to discover who they really were. There’s something about a restaurant and bar environment that makes you act differently. That’s the reason people do deals over meals and drinks. You show who you are involuntarily. Outside the office is where people will decide if they trust and like you.
6. First in, first out. Be the first one to call and set up a meeting. Then be the first one to send a thank you letter or email at the end. It shows that you can take initiative, that you’re effective, thoughtful, detail-oriented, and responsible. It’s a successful interview without having to get dressed up.
7. Fake being well-connected. Visit the best hair dresser in town, at least once if you can’t afford it regularly, so you can refer others to him. The information you will glean from your thirty minute appointment will be reason enough.
Or maybe you know a personal trainer, chiropractor, banker, interior designer, realtor, or day spa owner. Whatever. Just pick a few and have them ready to pull out of your pocket so that others will think you are well-connected. The up-and-comers will be grateful for the recommendation and the connected will have the impression that you’re already in their circle.