Take charge of your career! Learn to network

Part two of a two-part series which originally appeared in the March 2008 EmoryWire. To read part one, see The Battle for Your Network Stars.

Networking can be a simple as having a good conversation. Ask good questions. Listen. And by all means read the story to the right to learn many more hints for better networking.

You’ve read the statistics, heard the advice and fully embrace that networking is one of the most important career management skills that can be developed. But why can it still feel awkward or intimidating?
“It’s unfortunate, but a reality is that many professionals are motivated to network only after a job change has occurred or is eminent,” said Jodie Charlop 82Ox 85C, executive career coach for the Emory Alumni Association (EAA). “Networking feels uncomfortable because we start it at time when we feel we need something—a job—and that naturally makes many professionals feel vulnerable.”

After all, who wants to call up someone you don’t know and ask for help?

According to Charlop, networking doesn’t require bold tactics, a gregarious personality, or the latest and greatest spin on your elevator speech. What it does require is a genuine interest in learning—learning about yourself, learning about opportunities and, most importantly, connecting to and learning from others.

Create a Learning Moment

When you call your contacts, are you asking them if they know of any available positions? Of course, it seems intuitive that the most direct route will get you the most direct result. Not so, Charlop said.

Reframing is a critical first step from both a practical and positive relationship standpoint. If we are asking for an opportunity to learn, most professionals are more than willing to either help directly or open the door to someone who can.

Jessica Boar 02L, an attorney at Bingham McCutchen LLP in New York, agreed. “Many times I get emails or calls from alumni or other professionals, and their question is, ‘Are there any openings?’” she said. “Most often, the answer is no, and then I don’t hear from them again. Ask me to set up a time to talk or have lunch to discuss the industry, the firm’s culture, offer career advice and/or make other connections, that’s a different story.”

Be Open to All Connections

Do you feel meeting with anyone other than a decision-maker is a big waste of time? You may miss out on powerful opportunities to learn about companies and opportunities in a more meaningful way. Professionals at different levels are often more accessible and available to provide excellent insider insight. They frequently spend more time with you, they can be powerful allies, and also provide valuable connections to internal decision-makers and influencers. Don’t presume or make imaginary distinctions that only decision-makers can help you.

Do Your Homework

Have you taken tangible actions to learn about a specific industry or career path? Dean Leavitt 81C, chairman and CEO of Volume One Entertainment, a New York and Los Angeles based feature film production and financing company, said that doing homework on an industry prior to an interview demonstrates your interest or even passion about that industry.

“It’s easy in my business to say you are passionate about movies, but if you are seriously interested in the business as a possible career, I would at least expect that you have read key industry publications, have a basic understanding of some of the larger issues facing the industry, have opinions about them, and ask informed questions,” he said.

In today’s information age, data are readily available via online sources or a business library—company information, industry reports, bios and competitive reports, white papers. Doing homework shows that you have invested time and that typically pays back dividends in building common ground. No one should ever walk into a networking meeting unprepared.

Time to Connect

Do you know exactly how much time you have with a contact? Charlop said a typical guideline is 15–20 minutes for a phone call and 30 minutes for a face-to-face meeting. If a professional can spend additional time with you, consider it a gift in today's fast-paced landscape. Of course, every contact and situation is unique. Best to never assume. Once you know, you can plan to be brief or take some time to get to know the other person and explore opportunities and issues more deeply.

Barbara Jaffe 73C, senior vice president for Home Box Office, has a very demanding schedule as she evaluates technologies and new business opportunities for HBO’s products, but enjoys helping others connect. “If an alumnus is recommended, I am happy to help make connections within my network and the organization,” she said. “I can typically find 20 minutes on my calendar for a telephone chat or quick visit to see how I can best help.”

Conversely, Raymond McDaniel 83L, chairman and CEO of Moody’s Corporation, has his own distinctive approach. “My network is a precious business asset, so before I connect you to anyone in it, I need to have trust in that relationship,” he said. “I’ll spend time with someone just understanding who they are, where they are headed, and offer any advice or guidance I can. From there, if I feel comfortable, then I can share a few resources that I think would be most on target.”

During the career coaching process, alumni on the networking path for the first time or trying to improve are tasked to carefully evaluate the flow of networking conversations. “We typically meet after each five networking conversations, whether phone or in-person and evaluate what’s working—and what’s not,” Charlop said. “Networking is like a muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.” But typically it only takes five or six quality conversations to help clients experience the value, warmth, and connection with other professionals—and that helps eliminate the awkwardness in connecting.

Relationship, relationship, relationship

Successful networking is about the ability to have a conversation, show interest in others, and create a space to connect and learn. The by-product of that relationship will be new opportunities. To help bring the meaning home, Charlop often asks alumni if they would prefer to be a telemarketer or a knowledgeable consultant.

Consultants listen and ask smart questions and use that intelligence to figure out how to uncover new opportunities. Telemarketers play the numbers, focus on the transaction and move to the next person on the list. After coaching more than 700 professionals, Charlop said quality of relationship pays out exponentially over quantity every time. “Build good relationships…and the job will come.”