The mysteries of networking #6

Does networking really take place in a galaxy far, far away? I think that’s the way some of us approach it – a great excuse for not engaging in the process. And then, there’s the whole ‘mentoring thing’ – Do I need one? How do I find one? Then what do I do?

It’s pretty simple. It’s hard work. Actually, once you start the work doesn’t end. You just need to recalculate the equation. It’s not a chore, it’s an amazing, fun exploration. And you can start today, with the folks in a college classroom, colleagues at work, members of your book club or athletic training group.

“There’s a Chinese saying: “Explore what’s best in the others and follow.” Among my friends, I always learn the best from them.”  Lee Shau Kee

Think about that. “Explore the best in others and follow.” Who are the ‘best’ in your world or the one you want to join? What are the qualities/values that align to win your vote as best@what they do? If you could have a few minutes with them, what would you ask?

The ‘networking’ thing is the exploration. Think about how you might go about planning for a hike, or travel. Why are you going? What do you hope to find? What research have you conducted to prepare? And, you’re planning to have fun, right?

Apply the same process to networking. “Explore the best in others…”

“…and follow.” Once you have started a conversation, it’s time to examine the next layer of career success. What has been the path to success? What were the failures, trade-offs, and recovery? How many detours came along the way? What do they look for in folks they hire?

Ask questions unique to your career aspirations. Your goal is to spark a longer conversation, one that may lead to a continuing professional relationship – a mentor.

“Among my friends, I always learn the best from them.”




The mysteries of networking #5: Try it in reverse

Folks entering the job market for the first time are often hesitant to reach out to potential networking contacts. What do I have to give in return? is a common question. The answer may be to ‘network in reverse’.

Traditional networking is a commitment of mutual support over time. The majority of established professionals hold no expectation of immediate reciprocity when advising newbies to the job market.

Turns out, their expectations need revision; there’s quite a bit of knowledge to be shared by the most recent additions to the workplace. Just don’t be surprised when you get the call from someone twice your age asking, Will you mentor me?

That’s exactly what happened when The New York Times assignment editor, Phyllis Korkki approached social editor, Talya Minsberg.

Let’s start with a quick inventory of your skill set. What is the skill that has been burning a hole on your ‘to do’ list for the last six months? You know, that one thing you are a bit afraid of, but would catapult your career if you just spent some time learning?

Who do you know who can serve as a bridge to knowledge or provide a bit of training and support?

That’s basically the story of Phyllis and Talya, a ‘reverse mentorship’ initiated around the joys of technology, specifically Snapchat.

Phyllis shared her story, ‘Schooled by a Mentor Half My Age’.

“How on earth did I become an “older worker?”

It was only a few years ago, it seems, that I set out to climb the ladder in my chosen field. That field happens to be journalism, but it shares many attributes with countless other workplaces. For instance, back when I was one of the youngest people in the room, I was helped by experienced elders who taught me the ropes.

Now, shockingly, I’m one of the elders. And I’ve watched my industry undergo significant change. That’s why I recently went searching for a young mentor — yes, a younger colleague to mentor me.”

She found that ‘reverse mentor’ in Talya who was ‘Seeing Age With a New Lens’.

 “A few months ago, Phyllis Korkki, an assignment editor at The New York Times who sits a few cubicles away, approached me with a question that gave me pause. “Will you mentor me?” she asked.

I gave her what I imagine was a blank stare, and responded, “Wait, what?”

Phyllis is a longtime Times employee, an accomplished journalist and an author. So the fact that she was approaching me for mentorship was unexpected.

She wanted to do what she was calling a reverse mentorship. She wanted to challenge herself and learn something new, something outside her comfort zone, she said. She wanted to learn how to use Snapchat.

Snapchat is a popular social mobile app that features, among other things, stories that live for just a day. And she came to me because a large part of my role has been guiding editorial strategy in the brave new world of stories that disappear in 24 hours.

So of course I was happy to meet with Phyllis one on one.

But a mentorship? I was honored, albeit a bit perplexed.”

It was at this nexus of generational knowledge transfer, that the two connected in an informal ‘reverse networking’ relationship that has benefited both, and serves as a model for an ‘older brain’/ ‘younger brain’ mind meld.

Phyllis realized the benefit of utilizing a new application @work, as well as the learning experience itself.

“It was exhilarating to see my progress — and embarrassing to witness my missteps, like putting my finger over the camera at the close of the cat cafe video. (But have you ever tried to record yourself while trying to keep a cat on your shoulder?)”

Talya, the mentor, observed Phyllis’ first venture into Snapchat’s geofilters and emoji.

“Eventually, Phyllis took to the official New York Times Snapchat account to broadcast three stories. And three times I waited with bated breath to watch those stories, feeling like a teacher in the back of a classroom waiting for a student to give a big presentation. Each time, she got better — and I was eager to tell her about it in person.

When I gave Phyllis a glowing review, she kept saying, “Really? You like it?” I think we both recognized the moment as a milestone in the reverse mentorship. We both felt success.”

And  that’s the ultimate benefit of a mentoring relationship: both participants experience success.

Your assignment, this week@work, should you choose to accept it: go find your Phyllis or Talya and engage in the career energizing process of a ‘reverse mentorship.”

The mysteries of networking #4 ‘missed opportunities’

Many of us consider networking a ‘dark art’ that requires a magical ‘insiders’ key to gain access to the influential. What we miss is the daily opportunity to connect, as we ride the bus, the train or stand in a long TSA line at the airport. Wisdom can present itself in all shapes and sizes if you open yourself to conversation.

This past week, consultant, Whitney Johnson shared a recent experience via a post on LinkedIn,  ‘An airline cancelled my flight and put me in a van. Along the way, I got lots of lessons on how *not* to network.’

After offering a fellow traveller, a member of the Class of 2016, a ride home after a diverted flight, she realized her passenger had no clue how to network.

“As I was giving him a lift home, I learned a lot about him: his name, where he grew up, where he goes to school, his major, what his parents do for a living, his own career aspirations when he graduates in a few months. We even discovered that we have an acquaintance in common. Meanwhile, I made a few mentions of my children, such as my 19 year-old son is living in Brazil, my husband teaches at a local university. Conversation starters.

I’ll confess I felt a little invisible—and exasperated. I find it easy to ask people about themselves. I genuinely enjoy doing it. It’s one of my strengths, and we’re often exasperated with people who aren’t likewise adept at the things that we do well.

But here’s the real take-away from this chance encounter: this young man is looking for a job when he graduates in a month… I could have potentially helped him, if he’d just shown a little of the moxie that would have motivated me to recommend him.”

This is not just about a ‘newbie’ to the job search process, it’s a story that recurs daily. Just walk through an airport departure area and observe the diversity of folks and contrast that with the homogeneity of technical disconnection. Each individual, existing in the ‘comfort cocoon’ of their temporary piece of real estate, happily texting colleagues and friends, totally ignorant of the ‘chance’ professional encounter in the adjoining seat.

There’s no magic in networking. The magic is in the conversation, perhaps leading to a relationship. All of us harbor ideas and dreams. What are they, if not shared?

This afternoon, seize the moment, and start a conversation with a stranger, or maybe the acquaintance you pass in the hall every day. Listen, share, and you may be on your way to mastering the ‘not so mysterious’ art of networking.

What do you do? Crafting an answer of identity @work

It’s the icebreaker question, ‘What do you do?’ It seems like a simple question, but it’s often difficult to explain our life’s work to strangers. Our workplace is defined by acronyms, our comfort zone is among our peers who share a common language.

It was the dilemma writer Elizabeth McCracken expressed in a 2014 tweet.

“21 years into a publishing career & I still have no idea what to say when someone says, “A writer? Have I heard of anything you’ve written?”

Maybe it’s not just the question, but the response we get when we attempt an answer. It’s the incorrect assumptions folks hold when they have a passing familiarity with a career.

Lincoln Michel used the query to imagine ‘If Strangers Talked to Everybody Like They Talk to Writers’.

“There is something unique about the way people talk to writers. Strangers seem very willing to offer career advice — “self-publishing is where the money is!” — literary advice — “People love vampires!” — or to oddly ask you to guess what work they’ve read in their life and if any of yours is among it. It got me thinking about what it would be like it people talked about other professions in this way.”

“Huh. A chef. Do people still eat food?”

“An accountant? Wow, I haven’t even looked at a number since high school.”

“Software programmer? Like, for actual computers sold in stores or just as a hobby?”

It’s not just writers. Most of us have embarked on career paths that carry with them a variety of inaccurate stereotypes.

Is it possible to craft an answer that informs, clarifies and avoids unsolicited advice?

Yes, and it’s storytelling without revealing the ending.

First, decide what you want to share about your work. Then imagine you are describing what you do to aliens. Finally, think function, product, audience and benefit.

Let’s go back to the writer, who may want to keep their work confidential, and avoid unsolicited feedback.

Authors are familiar with providing ‘soundbite’ summaries of their work to ‘sell’ a book proposal, and can employ the same technique to describe their work. For example: “I’m a writer and I recently completed a memoir that will be released in the fall. My next project is a profile for a weekly magazine which involves travel to Austin, Texas next week. Have you been to Austin? Can you suggest any good restaurants in the area?”

This sample response answers the question without divulging confidences, describes the work in familiar terms and redirects the conversation to connect on another, recognizable topic, food.

Who knew writers accumulate frequent flyer miles, get stuck in long TSA lines and patronize fashionable restaurants?

In crafting your response, consider your audience. How likely are they to be aware of your work? This is not about ‘dumbing down’ an answer, but about connecting through shared language and experience.










How to use ‘bracketology’ to add a little ‘March Madness’ to your job search

This is the time of year when everyone, including the President is selecting who they believe will advance to the final four in the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball championships. With a little imagination, you can use the bracket concept as a decision matrix to manage career choice, job search or your network.

In 2007, sportswriters Richard Sandomir and Mark Reiter published ‘The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything’, applying the methodology of March Madness to everyday decisions.


“Bracketology—the practice of parsing people, places, and things into discrete one-on-one matchups to determine which of the two is superior or preferable—works because it is simple. It is a system that helps us make clearer and cleaner decisions about what is good, better, best in our world. What could be simpler than breaking down a choice into either/or, black or white, this one or that one?”

How can we apply the scaffolding of March Madness to job search? Let’s say you are totally undecided (confused, terrified, ambivalent) about your next career move. All you know is you’re not happy with your current work situation. Where do you begin?

Try categorizing your interests using the bracket system. Instead of four regions, fill in four career fields that might interest you. Next, identify sixteen possible employers in each field. Once you have your potential employer roster identified, begin your research.

This may be a good time to develop a parallel list of contacts: a bracket representing your network. Use the same four career categories and identify folks who have broad expertise  in the profession. In this ‘exploration’ phase you are aggregating data about industry trends, market leaders, and potential for growth.

As you progress with your data gathering, you will begin to eliminate some organizations in favor of others. Once you get to your ‘elite eight’ employers, schedule your in-depth information interviews.

As you talk to people you will begin to establish a realistic assessment of ‘organization fit’, and evaluate your chances for success.

The ‘elite eight’ forms your target list. By the time you have narrowed your selection to eight, you should feel comfortable that each employer presents a realistic starting point in the next phase your career.

As with any selection process, you don’t have total control. The employer extends the offer and you have the choice to accept or continue to pursue other options.

The NCAA tournament lasts three weeks. If you start filling in your career brackets now, you will advance through the exploration process at a pace to be ready for interviews by ‘tip-off’ in the championship game.

Its time to add a little ‘March Madness’ to your job search, and some fun to a typically stressful routine.


Holiday Homework: Write your story

It’s the holiday season and you have one assignment to complete before the New Year begins – write your story.

During the Thanksgiving holiday I encouraged readers to participate in the Story Corps ‘Great Thanksgiving Listen’, conducting interviews  with relatives to capture the oral history narrative of America.

This week’s challenge is about you; to think about your life as it has evolved to this point, highs and lows, and write a short story, your story.

Before you craft your resume, schedule a meeting with a networking contact or head to an interview, you need a story; the narrative of how you arrived at this point in your life and career.

The end goal is to collect as much information about your past before you open your laptop and begin to browse resume formats. Most folks make the mistake of finding a template and relating their story via someone else’s outline. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t acceptable resume formats. It does mean that it’s premature to begin with the resume before you have considered the narrative you wish to convey.

Storytelling has become the latest marketing approach adopted by entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 CEOs. Google ‘storytelling’ and the initial search results will reflect current business practice vs. writers working on the great American novel or the hottest new screenplay.

Here’s the thing. If the folks you hope to work with are employing storytelling to advance their business goals, it may be time for you to practice your skill.

Buried in the list of google results is a link to an video, ‘George Saunders Explains How To Tell A Good Story’. It’s one of the most viewed videos of the year, which may provide another hint to why you should take seven minutes out of your life this week and watch.

Let’s pause a minute to address all of you who have gotten to this point and are stressed because all you wanted was a few words on how to write a resume in ten seconds.

Nothing of quality results from ten seconds of effort. And this is your life, eight to ten hours of every five days of seven.

Back to George Saunders.

“A story is kind of a black box, you’re going to put the reader in there, she’s going to spend some time with this thing that you have made and when she comes out, what’s going to have happened to her in there is something kind of astonishing. It feels like the curtain’s been pulled back and she’s gotten a glimpse into a deeper truth…

As a story writer, that’s not as easy as it sounds..”

It’s not easy to tell your story. There’s a lot of stuff that in the end may have no relevance to your job search. But it’s important to conduct an annual rewrite to update and adapt your original script.

Let’s borrow a term from the screenwriters and suggest you are developing a draft ‘treatment’ before you write a resume, network and interview.

Micki Grover defines and describes how this summary of a story fits into the screenwriting process.

“All we’re talking about is a short document written in prose form and in the present tense that emphasizes, with vivid description, the major elements of a screenplay. Yes, treatments are actually written in prose! The essence of the story and the characters should be evoked through exhilarating language and imagery.

Treatments have a style of their own just as screenplays do, and they too take time to master. Writers who swear by using treatments find that it’s a fun outlet to write with a voice that screenplays and synopses sometimes constrain. The ultimate goal is simply to tell your story in an engaging way, as if you were passionately telling your best friend about a new script over coffee.”

That’s your holiday assignment. Develop a ‘treatment’ that tells your story in an engaging way, connecting the dots and inviting an audience who may be interested in promoting your talent.




The Saturday Read – Gift a book this holiday season

One of the best presents one can give or receive is a book. #ShopSmall today and visit your local bookseller to find the perfect gift for everyone on your holiday list.

Let’s start with a client or your boss, two challenging categories for gift giving. You could go with a bottle of wine, chocolates, fruit basket or Starbucks card. But that’s what they’ll get from your competitors and colleagues. If you want to stand out and demonstrate, in a very tangible way, that you’ve been listening when they talk about their interests outside of work, a book just may be the way to make a connection. And I’m not talking about the latest business best seller.

Former Seattle librarian and current NPR commentator, Nancy Pearl has written a series of ‘Book Lust’ books recommending current and back list titles for “every mood, moment or reason and travelers, vagabonds and dreamers”. Her suggestions sample the catalog of titles published since 1960, so you will no doubt rediscover some gems to twinkle under the tree.

Create a list of folks @work. Then make a few notes about each and their interests. Visit an independent bookseller today, #SmallBusinessSaturday, and ask for suggestions. Often the best books of the year will never make The New York Times bestseller list, so you will need a little help from someone whose life is about books.

Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Costco don’t count. For the important task of matching books with colleagues and clients, you need the expertise of someone invested in presenting a diversity of titles.

“Independent bookstores never had to answer to the dictates of public markets. Many of their proprietors understood, intuitively and from conversations with customers, that a well-curated selection—an inventory of old and new books—was their primary and maybe only competitive advantage. In the words of Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, “The indie bookselling amalgam of knowledge, innovation, passion, and business sophistication has created a unique shopping experience.”

Some may think a book is a risky gifting proposition. The risk lies only in not  paying attention and failing to seek out help from experts. Take some time today to shop on Main Street and pick up a few books for the holidays.

“Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside them, and it’s much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world.” Neil Gaiman





What are you planning to do after graduation?

It’s the question that can cause one to instantly lose their appetite. It’s Thanksgiving and just as you are about to digest your first bite of turkey, someone decides it’s the perfect time to quiz you on your plans after graduation.

Here are a few ideas to manage the conversation.

If you have a job offer, focus on discussing your plans for starting your career. You may find that family and friends have contacts within the organization or career field you are entering. Ask for names and start to build your professional network.

If you have recently started your job search, share your experience to date and ask for advice. My favorite response is “I am considering a number of options, what ideas do you have for me?” This turns the question around and you may gain some new insight in the responses you receive.

Let’s say you have been focused on midterms and getting through the semester. You haven’t started to look for a job or internship. You may still be undeclared, considering a variety of concentrations. Ask for advice. Talk about the classes you enjoy the most and your activities outside the classroom. This gives people a starting point to respond and suggest possible options.

Whenever possible, give people something they can work with. The more specific you can be in talking about what career interests you have, the better the chance they will be able to help and provide a referral. Bring home a few copies of your resume. I am not suggesting you leave them on the dining room table, but it is a good idea to be prepared.

Planning for the Thanksgiving Career Conversation

It’s the annual celebration of Thanksgiving, that time of year when families get together and complain about dissatisfaction with work. What if we approached the holiday season as an opportunity for taking action on shelved career plans?

We tend to think of the holidays as a time to get away from our workplace. And yet, it can be a time to reconsider career choices and solicit input from family and friends.

Let’s reimagine the pre or post-dinner conversation that has previously been a competition to demonstrate who has the worst boss, longest hours, deadest of dead end jobs. Consider a conversation where you identify your spot on your career timeline, articulate your goals and ask for guidance on next steps.

Your friends and family are your most trusted advisors. They’re the folks who know all your faults and are still there. Don’t waste their time with a whining session. Respect their abilities to listen and share feedback.

Start with the past year and what you have accomplished. Even in the worst job situation we can salvage a few learning experiences, from both failure and success. Come up with a way to communicate your skills, leaving out acronyms, to enable folks to envision how your strengths apply across fields.

Next, recall that dream job that has been tantalizing you, but disappears in the fog of the everyday demands of the workplace. Got it? Now you have your baseline and end goal. Don’t be shy about sharing it.

What’s missing? The interim steps to get you from point A to point B.

And this is where those negative conversations turn into positive and productive discussions. Now that you have shared your goals, folks are empowered to help: adding to your list of skills based on a long term view of your career, providing input on strategy and offering connections to keep the conversation going after the holidays.

It’s not just the folks who are contemplating career transition that can benefit from these holiday interactions. If you think all is well in your career, a close confidant can often detect warning signs you may be missing in your optimism.

The real value of your family/friends ‘board of advisors’ is their ability to hold you accountable to your dream. You will see them, same time next year, and they will ask you how far you’ve travelled on the road to your destination.



The one thing you should bring to college

Are you getting that ‘back to school’ feeling yet? You know, the urge to go out and purchase new pens, notebooks, trapper keepers? For most of us ‘going back to school’ is another day at the office. For the Class of 2019 it’s the beginning of the college experience and they are ready with carloads of clothing, supplies, electronics, bedding and food.

There is one item missing from the checklists, and it’s an essential for the college freshman – a journal.

For six years I taught a freshman seminar at the University of Southern California. My gift to each student was a simple Moleskine classic lined notebook. There was no requirement to fill in the blanks and turn it in at the end of the semester. It was my way of suggesting that recording one’s thoughts and experiences would provide an outlet from the stress of freshman year.

The benefits of a journal extend far beyond the daily scribbles of events. As you write, your communication skills improve as you create a narrative of your days. The practice of collecting your thoughts creates structure and discipline at a time when the transition to life at college offers multiple distractions.

You are capturing memories crafted in words. What makes you unique? Who are you meeting and what are you learning as you engage with your new community?

Social networking sites provide a way to catalog your contacts, photos and portfolio. Everything you post will follow you through life in a parallel virtual universe. How do you capture the feeling of transformation as you grow at college and in your career? Online you are the public relations version of yourself. On paper, your journal is your record-keeping of reality: failure, rejection, obstacles presented and obstacles overcome.

“One advantage in keeping a diary is that you become aware with reassuring clarity of the changes which you constantly suffer and which in a general way are naturally believed, surmised, and admitted by you, but which you’ll unconsciously deny when it comes to the point of gaining hope or peace from such an admission. In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today, when we may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.”  Franz Kafka ‘Diaries, 1910 – 1923’

You are writing your story in real time. Don’t edit, but do read what you write and be amazed, looking back at what you have accomplished.

Journals are not just for college. They are our personal reference library of life experience.