Monday, February 24, 2014

An Easy Way To Take The Awkwardness Out Of Networking

There can be awkward moments when you are trying to build your professional network. It's hard to know what to say to start trying to build a professional relationship with someone. I've found though, that there is one simple question that can really help jump start a relationship in a lot of situations.

Could you tell me about how you got to where you are?

In other words, you're asking someone to share their story. It's usually insightful, maybe inspiring, but everyone has a story and often people are not afraid to share it. There is also something personal about hearing about the long and sometimes windy trail that has lead to their current endeavors. This question can be very natural especially if you're young in your career or a student.

picture of a quote "we all have a story to tell"

I interned at Adobe when I was an undergrad. I met with an executive in another department to get some advice as I was still figuring out what I wanted to do for my career. I asked that one question (with a few follow up questions, of course) and we talked for 30 minutes. At the end of the conversation she asked if she could help me by introducing me to other people in the company. She asked me! There is something about telling someone your own story that often inspires you to lend a hand. Now, I'm not writing this so you can ask this question and try to flatter someone into helping you. That is not my intention. I just want you to know that it's a common outcome to asking this question. The most valuable thing you'll get out of asking that question is getting to know someone better and being inspired by their story.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Negotiating Tips For People Pleasers

I'll admit it. I'm sort of a people pleaser. I'm not a complete push over, but I highly value harmony in my personal  and professional life. This past year in business school I've taken two negotiation classes that I've really enjoyed. In the classes, when we would do mock negotiations, it became painfully obvious to me that my people pleasing can get me a terrible deal in a negotiation. Here are my top tips I've learned to help people pleasers like me not get a raw deal in negotiations.

Guy smiling holding a piece of paper that says yes

Prepare. If you do your homework beforehand, you'll know when you get past the point a deal is worth it for you. (This is called a it to learn more). You can be confident going into a negotiation that you have a very strict walking away price and won't let your need to find harmony put you in a worse situation than where you started.

Team up. Bring someone into the negotiation that likes a little bit of conflict. It will balance you out and keep you in check if you're settling too quickly.

funny meme about partnership, showing a bear fishing with a person

Avoid in-person meetings.  If you tend to cave when you're in person, send a proxy, do it over the phone or maybe even email. It's really easy to hold your ground when you're not there in person. It's harder to read social cues through those mediums, but it might be worth it for a people pleaser.

Be optimistic. For a lot of people pleasers, this just makes you more comfortable. In tough situations, remind whoever you are negotiating with that you are still optimistic you'll be able to reach a deal.

Eagle trying to carry away a huge turtle

Take a timeout. It's like a timeout in basketball, if you feel the heat from the other side and it makes you want to settle, just kill the momentum by taking a break. If you're on the spot, say you need a class of water or need to go to the bathroom.

a nba player trying to call a timeout from the floor

Negotiating well is a skill. Even if it does not come naturally, with effort and a little bit of practice, you can greatly improve your skills. If you want to learn more, I recommend "The Truth About Negotiations" by Leigh Thompson

Cover of truth about negotiations book by Leigh Thompson

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why You Want To Make Introductions For Your Professional Network

You just got an email from a friend asking for an introduction to one of your connections. Should you ignore it? Pretend you don't know them? Wait 6 months to reply, then tell them it got sent to SPAM?

I'd like to make my case on why you usually want to do it.

The inspiration for this post came from a great article Reid Hoffman wrote called Help the People You Know with Small Gifts. In the article he explains that "the best way to strengthen a relationship is to jump-start the long-term process of give-and-take." He goes further to say that "pleasant friendships are nice, but the best-connected professionals are ones who can really help their allies. This is what makes a professional network and not simply a social one."

Picture of Reid Hoffman at LinkedIn

Generally speaking, introductions do not take a lot of time. At most, it'll take a few minutes to fire off a few emails. Those few minutes though, could change someone's life. A few months ago a former roommate asked if I'd introduce to him to one of my friends that works at Facebook. He wanted to abandon his career in academia to become a Data Scientist. I thought he was smart and talented, so I made the introduction. It took me less that 5 minutes. A few weeks later, I saw he accepted a job with Facebook. In a few minutes I created immense value for two people. My friend got a new job and the person I introduced him to got a great new colleague and probably a fat referral bonus.  

Particularly with introductions, I find that what goes around comes around. It's always a pleasant feeling to send an email asking for an introduction, knowing you were able to help them when they were in a similar situation a few months ago. Don't make the introduction though, if you feel you'd have to get something in return later to feel satisfied. It's best to do it with no expectation for return, then be pleasantly surprised later.
two hands shaking in greeting

There is a caveat though, don't do it if you don't respect and trust the person you are making the introduction for. Look for opportunities to facilitate mutually beneficial relationships.

Whether you're making an introduction to help someone find a job, close a deal or just get some great advice take the time to make it happen.

Monday, February 3, 2014

How To Network Without Being Annoying, Phony or Fake

My brother really hates "networking" in the negative stereotypical sense of it. He does not like going to networking events. His nightmares involve approaching random people and asking for favors, but guess what, he has done an amazing job at building his network since he graduated from college.

A picture of Punch Drunk Mustache artists at comicon including Sean Pando
My brother is the one in the middle with the white shirt

All he does is one simple thing, he participates in his profession.

Let me explain. My brother is a talented concept artist who has worked for the likes of Lucasfilm. Check out his blog here. When he started his job at Lucasfilm out of school, he really wanted to learn from the talented artists that surrounded him. He did whatever he could to participate in what the other talented artists he worked with were doing. Those activities varied greatly. Sometimes that meant he was doing crossfit during lunch with his coworkers. Other times it meant he was attending evening classes sponsored by the company on different art topics. It also meant he would attend screenings of the shows from other departments (tough life, right?) Through all of these activities he got to know some coworkers that were going to do a concept art book. He got invited to participate. Next thing you know, he's launching a concept art book with some of the industry's best. Check out his book called Punch Drunk Mustache here. Below are a few images from his book.

concept art picture of a tree frog landscape
Credit: Sean Pando

Concept art picture from amy beth
Credit: Amy Beth

Contributing to the book has provided even more opportunities for him, like attending Comicon in San Diego last year for his book launch. Expanding his network beyond just the people he worked with directly has created many freelance opportunities for him.

If networking is difficult or scary for you. Don't do it. Just participate in your profession. Find the watering holes of  the people you aspire to be like and just show up. If you do this, you will naturally expand your network and possibly your skills. So, just get out there and find those watering holes.

A picture of animals in africa around a watering hole

If you want to learn more check out this video where I talk about this concept.