The mysteries of networking – part three

Everyone tells you to ‘network’ to find a job. And yet the majority of us freeze at the thought of connecting with strangers to obtain information about careers. And it’s not just being shy. Most professionals who have made connections to establish business relationships find it difficult to translate those same skills to find a job.

Summer gives us an opportunity to ease into the process. We tend to think of networking as a formal meeting that involves lots of preparation in advance. There’s another approach that involves the chance encounter and spontaneous conversation away from the workplace. Vacation travel can offer unique alternatives to test your informal networking skills.

Last week while I was waiting for my delayed flight at Newark Liberty I observed a conversation between a pilot and a passenger in the boarding area. At first there was the normal exchange, sharing travel disruptions past, but that was followed with introductions, exchange of business cards and a more in depth conversation about work and life. Amid the chaos of summer travel two professional were networking.

It starts with curiosity and a desire to be continually learning.

While you are traveling, relaxing on a beach or hiking in the mountains be receptive to an opportunity for unexpected connection. Take a few minutes and disconnect from your electronics and observe your surroundings and fellow travelers. Test your ‘talking with strangers’ skills by noting something about an individual and initiate a conversation. It could be as simple as a comment to someone wearing clothing with a logo of your alma mater or favorite sports team.

These random conversations may not result in information directly related to your career advancement. But if you believe we learn from the wisdom of others, the conversations will yield valuable clues to experience, failure and success.

Nurture these informal connections along with those directly affiliated with your career field. Keep in touch via social networking. Never underestimate the value of your informal network to inform and influence your career choices.

The Mysteries of Networking – Part Two

Are you curious about why some people succeed and others do not? If you had the opportunity, who would you like to interview about their success? What would you ask? Identifying folks you would like to meet and crafting questions for a conversation is the foundation for a lifetime of networking.

Start by making a list of who you want to meet. Since we are talking about careers, let’s focus on professional connections. Once you have your list, google these folks for background, then email or call to schedule an appointment.  Anticipate rejection, but don’t give up. Request a minimal length of time (15 – 20 minutes), offer a wide range of dates (next 3 weeks) and be charming and humble (even if arrogance if viewed as an asset in the industry).

Brian Grazer calls his approach to networking ‘curiosity conversations’. He found, early in his career:

“First, people – even famous and powerful people – are happy to talk, especially about themselves and their work; and second, it helps to have even a small pretext to talk to them.”

“I developed a brief introduction for the secretaries and assistants who answered the phone: “Hi, my name is Brian Grazer. I work for Warner Bros. Business Affairs. This is not associated with studio business, and I do not want a job., but I would like to meet Mr. So-and-so for five minutes to talk to him…” And I always offered a specific reason I wanted to talk to everyone.

My message was clear: I worked at a real place, I only wanted five minutes on the schedule, I did not want a job. And I was polite.”

Minimize rejection by having your script ready with your specific reason for the meeting request.

Once you have your meeting, develop a set of questions. Keep it short and to the point. What is it that you want to know about this individual that will help guide you in your career decision? Here are a few suggestions:

Why do you think you have been successful in this field?

What experiences served as building blocks to your success?

Did you experience failure? How did you recover and move forward?

How do you balance work and family? Have there been tradeoffs?

What do you look for when selecting a new employee?

What does it take to be a success in this field?

Try to meet with folks at their workplace. It is one thing to hear people talk about their work, it is another to experience the work environment and observe them in it. Remember, you are trying to absorb as much information as you can in a short time to help you in your career decision. Think Dian Fossey among the gorillas of Rwanda. Observe the culture, the behaviors and the office decor.

How many people should you meet? It’s not about quantity. It may be that your first contact answers your questions and you are on a track to follow your dream. Or, your first information interview only leads to more questions. Before you leave, ask for an additional contact; someone who may be able to answer these additional questions.

Networking is about building relationships. The quality of the effort depends on your ability to listen and act on the information you receive. It’s a practice, not a 911 call when your job is threatened.

Adapt your style for lifelong learning and networking to incorporate elements of Brian Grazer’s ‘curiosity conversations’:

“For thirty-five years, I’ve been tracking down people about whom I was curious and asking if I could sit down with them for an hour. I’ve had as few as a dozen curiosity conversations in a year, but sometimes I’ve done them as often as once a week. My goal was always at least one every two weeks.”





The Mysteries of Networking – Part One

How do you ask people to help you figure out what you want to do with your life? Everyone talks about networking being a critical skill in a successful job search, but few people do it well. Many people are just shy. Others feel intimidated by a process that seems to be asking for something without providing something in return.

A number of years ago I was working with an executive in the advertising industry. She had just been ‘downsized’ from her leadership position in a merger. As we discussed her next steps, it became clear that she had no confidence in her ability to reach out and connect with those who could help her build a bridge to her next assignment. Like many, she perceived networking as asking favors from strangers vs. a way to build relationships to sustain a career over time.

It doesn’t matter if you self-identify as an introvert or extrovert, networking is a challenge until you understand why you are doing it.

Start with the basics. Know your talents, abilities and aspirations. Then craft a short narrative to share with those you meet. Practice. If you don’t find yourself getting excited about your message, no one else will.

Put yourself out there. Online social networks offer a place to catalog your contacts, update your profile and share professional insights. They are not a replacement for social interaction. They are however, living organisms that need nurturing over time, not just when you experience a career drought.

Enroll in a continuing education course. Get involved in community activities. Join a professional network. These are all low risk opportunities to connect with others. Your goal is to find ways to relate to folks with common interests and lower the anxiety level when meeting strangers.

Professional networking is a way of connecting with people with a similar career interest; sharing information and contacts in the field. People love to talk about what they do. Don’t be intimidated, but be realistic in your expectations. In today’s workplace, the priorities of the work may take precedence over returning a call or email. Be sensitive to business cycles when asking for a meeting and be patient.

Be prepared for the conversation. This is not the time or place to ask for a job. It’s a time to listen, obtain good counsel and establish a foundation to continue the connection over time.

What can you give in return? An answer should organically grow from the discussion. It may not be a fair exchange at the time. But as you continue your networking activities you may find a reason to circle back and reconnect.

Networking is first person research. You know people. It’s time to start the conversation.

Bracketology for the job search procrastinator

It’s that time of year, ‘March Madness’, 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 and humor, you can apply the bracket concept as a way to narrow down your career interests and begin to identify potential employers.

Let’s say you are totally confused and quickly losing your confidence in the process. Everyone you know seems to have this ‘career thing’ mastered while you’re still floundering.  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. Identify sixteen possible employers in each field. Go to each organization’s website and get a sense of how they describe what they do and the culture that enables their employees to succeed. Utilize social networking sites to identify folks you may know who are employees in your selected organizations or have contacts that could be of help.

Your goal in this first phase is to access a basic level of information for comparison.

As you progress with your research, you will begin to eliminate some organizations in favor of others. Once you get to your ‘elite eight’, schedule your information interviews. As you talk to people you will begin to establish a realistic assessment of your chances for success in an organization.

This ‘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 next step in your career.

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

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