Here are the 4 critical networking mistakes people tend to make, based on a presentation I gave for the University of Chicago Alumni Club of San Diego…
Hi, there. George Karris here, career and executive coach. I wanted to share 4 critical mistakes people make in networking. Now, this is based on a presentation I made for the University of Chicago alumni club last week. I thought it’d be useful for a broader audience. I wanted to rerecord what I said so that you can enjoy it and hopefully, learn something from it.
The four mistakes. What are they? The first mistake is not making networking a core part of your career strategy. What do I mean by that? Your core career strategy is really the direction you’re looking to take your career. If you don’t have a clear sense of your career strategy, you’re not alone. Many of my clients don’t have a clear sense of that. We work together to define that. For the purpose of this talk, I’m going to assume you have a clear sense of where you’re trying to go.
Networking Mistake #1: Not having networking at the core of your career strategy
The first mistake is not really making networking core to what you do in your career and helping you achieve your goals. Let me give you a couple of stories that illustrate the difference between not having a clear career strategy with networking in it and having one that does. The first of the story, I’m going to change some of the details a little bit about it, it’s about a friend named John. John worked at a Fortune 500 company, rose through the ranks, started out in finance, was an analyst there, rose up through the ranks, then worked in corporate strategy, and then went to work in marketing. While he was in marketing, he really got into this concept of design thinking, which is this concept where you use design principles to really innovate and create new products and services and solutions. He was very much behind that concept. He had a team that was working for him around it. It was initiative at the firm that was important.
John had been really successful at the company. He’d risen through the ranks. He had very good networking at his peer level all the way up through the executive ranks as well below him. Very well, liked very well, respected and very, very confident, very very good and successful individual. I talked to him when he was nearing the, he didn’t notice at the time, but nearing the end of his term at the firm. I said, “Where do you see your career going?” He said, “I’m thinking probably in the next two to three years, I’ll leave the firm, but I really want to ground myself in design thinking and really prove it out. Then after that, go work at a firm that really has this more at the core of what they do or perhaps start my own consulting agency.”
You can probably guess what came to pass. What came to pass was the firm wasn’t doing as well from a financial and operating perspective and design thinking became much less important to it. It cut the group including my friend John and several members of his team. Where did that leave him? It left him in this position of needing to build a network externally, and people didn’t really know him for design thinking. He was really starting from scratch in trying to achieve this goal. Okay, that’s one story.
Second story is about my freshman year college roommate, a guy named Marc. Marc, from the very first day of school, and when the rest of us at 18 were trying to figure out what we wanted to be and maybe what we wanted to major in, knew exactly what he wanted to be. He knew he wanted to be an asset manager. He knew he wanted to work for a guy named Stan Druckenmiller. Now, I wouldn’t have known who that was. I’m guessing you don’t know who that is. Stan Druckenmiller is a guy who worked with George Soros, who started the Quantum Fund and made a fortune shorting the pound in, I don’t know what year … I believe in the late ’80s or early ’90s. He made a fortune. George Soros is a billionaire. Stan Druckenmiller is also a billionaire, I believe. Marc wanted to work with him.
So, he took a job on campus, but he didn’t just go and take any old job. He didn’t work at the dining hall to be around his friends. He didn’t work at the computer lab because he would have been able to study at that point. He went and got a job, worked in the Treasurer’s Office because he knew that this most successful alumni would be in close contact with the treasurer. He met the treasurer. He got to know him. He got to know the successful influential alumni and of course, Stan Druckenmiller, who was on the Board of Trustees.
Now, I don’t believe Mark’s first role was working for Stan directly, but he certainly … When he graduated from college, he wasn’t like the rest of us that were looking at the job banks and recruiting and figuring out what we’re going to do next. He was already well connected. He was able to advance his career in that direction. He later did work for Stan Druckenmiller. He may still work for him. I’m actually not sure. I’ve lost touch, but he’s been enormously successful. It’s because he knew his career goals and he identified the people that would help him progress in making those goals from the very beginning.
What does that mean for you? It’s a couple of things, right? One, have a clear sense of your career strategy and where you’re looking to go. Once you’ve got that, really create a list of who are the people that you could meet or be in contact with that would most enable you to achieve those goals. Take a second, actually think about it. If there’s one person that you could meet who would allow you to achieve your career goals, who would that person be? Then, if it’s not that person, let’s say that person’s the President of the Unites States or whoever it is, who would be the #2 person, who would be the #3 person? Get a list of those people. Then use LinkedIn, which is a tremendously powerful tool, to figure out how you might start going about the process of connecting to those people so you can achieve those goals. That’s the first key mistake people make around networking is not using networking as a means to achieving their career strategy.
Networking Mistake #2: Not managing your digital profile
The second mistake people tend to make is around not managing their digital profile and not really having a clear sense of brand. What I mean by that is that online, there is a very real sense of who you are and what you represent and whether that’s from LinkedIn or Facebook. It’s out there. It’s your role really to start to cultivate that. What do I mean by that?
Let me give you an example. This is an example of a classmate of mine from Harvard Business School who I didn’t know particularly well. I’m going to call him Tom. In some way or another, we are at Facebook friends. A couple of years ago, he started posting these articles. They were articles about leadership and they were articles about happiness, and they were articles about career success and all of these interesting topics to me. I always used to look forward to Tom’s postings because there was always something good. They’re always high-quality articles. They weren’t like these random, little snippet opinion pieces. They were well researched. They were good. It was good content. This went on for a long time and I didn’t really think much about it.
Then one day, I was thinking to myself, “Who do I know who’s really got expertise around life satisfaction, happiness and all of that?” The name that immediately came to mind was Tom. Frankly, it just pissed me off. It pissed me off because when I was in business school, I did this independent study on life satisfaction, careers and happiness. As far as I know, I’m the only one probably in the history of the business school that care about those things and to actually do research on it. Certainly, in the class of 2005, I was the guy, I was the expert around it and yet, as I sat here reading these posts, I thought to myself, “Everybody out there in social media would think what I thought, which was Tom was the guy who’s got the expertise around this, not George, right? Even though George has more expertise most likely. I don’t know what he’s done in between. Maybe he’s developed a huge amount of expertise.”
The point is he was cultivating a digital brand very, very consciously. Almost subconsciously, it shaped my perception of him and his capability set. If you think about it, the only people who think perhaps I’m an expert are the people who are very close to me or myself, but lots of people think Tom is the expert.
When you look at your digital profile, you want to think about what is it you want to be known for and you want to really consciously work to promote that. As an example, if you’re really into project management and you’re sort of “I’m a great project manager,” you want to be sharing articles about project management. You want to have a profile that talks about project management. You want to really put those things at the forefront so that you can start to be known for those things. That’s really the objective here.
In terms of steps you can take right now, first step would be adjust your LinkedIn profile to represent whatever it is you want to be known for. I talked about my friend John. He’d want to be known for design thinking, so that should be listed in his profile. He should talk a lot about that as an example. He should share articles about those things.
Now, there are variety of ways to approach it, a variety of ways to do it. All of which I worked with clients on. I think at the core, what you want to remember is there’s a certain message you want to share, and you want to share that message by sharing articles perhaps by producing your own content and sharing that and also commenting in relevant areas and groups. So, that’s a bit about LinkedIn, Facebook and creating a digital profile and how you can really shape your brand there.
Networking Mistake #3: Not telling a good story
The third critical networking mistake people tend to make is around story. When I talk about story, I mean the story that you would tend to share, whether you’re in an interview or a networking, or on your LinkedIn profile, it really tells a bit about who you are and what you can offer the person that you are meeting with or hope to meet with.
Story is really easy to get wrong. I’ve even had clients who are marketing experts say, “I’m really good at creating a story for someone else, but doing it for yourself it’s really difficult.”
Let me give you an example of one of my clients and the story before and after we worked together. The story before we worked together sounded something like this. I studied accounting and finance in college. From there, I went and worked in investment banking in New York. It was a really good experience. We did mergers and acquisitions. We took some companies public. Then from there, I worked at a boutique investment bank. Then from there, I went to the other side to actually work at an operating company, gained some experience there. The company went public, which is good. I was on the mergers and acquisitions team. Now, what I’m really looking for is an FP&A-type role and a new firm that’s mid-sized and poised to grow.
That was the story. You could imagine if it was me telling you that story, how eager you would be to share my information with one of your contacts. We all tend to be very protective of our contacts and who they are and who we share them with. If you don’t hear a very compelling story, then it’s really hard to do that. We worked together and created a new story. This isn’t going to be perfect because I haven’t rehearsed it to the extent that he has and this is based on my recollection, but here’s roughly how the story changed.
I knew I had an interest in finance from a young age. When I was in college, I got very interested in finance and accounting. From there, it was clear to me there’s only one place I could go, which was into the belly of the beast, Wall Street, investment bank. We did mergers and acquisitions. We took companies public. It was this amazing experience. I learned a ton. I was working crazy hours. It was just amazing. I loved it. After I’ve done that for a while and seen companies go through these various stages, I decided I wanted to have a more robust picture of the whole process rather than my specific role within it. I joined a boutique investment bank, so that I would have a better experience around all of what it is to do these kind of transactions.
Once I’d seen a few of those, what I decided was I really want to experience this from the other side, from the operating company’s perspective. I was very selective and very careful about looking for a company that was at the right size that was really poised to go public in the next couple of years and finally found a company just like that. I went to that company. We took the company public. It was a very, very successful IPO, raised a bunch of capital. From there, we went in acquiring a number of businesses, which is great. Then, we got into more of an operating phase. I did some FPA work for them as well. Now, I’m really looking for another company that’s poised to grow, where I can use my interest in finance and my experience to really help that company be successful. Perhaps taking it public in the future as well.
Hopefully, what you can see is that’s a much more engaging conversation, a much more engaging story than the first. There’s a couple of reasons why. One is it’s a little bit more emotional. You talk about some of the emotions that happened in the story, being excited, the belly of the beast, if you will, on Wall Street. Some of those concepts. Also, it gives you the why. Why these decisions were made. Why you did these things in your career. Then ultimately, how you can benefit the person on the other side. If I just heard that second story, it’s like, “Wow, this guy is a rock star where he’s very selective about what engagements he takes. He’s taking companies public. He’s done M&A deals. He’d seen things from both sides, like what a stud, right? That’s the idea here behind telling your story and telling your story really effectively is you want something that really resonates and connects with people.
What does that mean for you? What it means for you is think about your story and make sure it tells the why you’re interested, make sure it’s emotional, it connects with people, and then also illustrates what you can do for someone. Really, the best thing you can do is partner with somebody on this, whether it’s a career coach or a friend or a mentor, whoever it is, but really rehearse the story so that it’s clear, it makes sense to you, makes sense to your friend. Maybe it even makes sense to your mom. Really take the time to really hone that story and get it down and crisp and concise.
Networking Mistake #4: Being a taker not a giver
Okay. The fourth mistake people tend to make is around being takers rather than givers. What that means in a networking context is when you go to a network event, you tend to think about, “I could stay home today and, I don’t know, watch Netflix and have a beer or go out to this networking event. Well, I know I should go to the networking event, but what am I going to get out of it?” A lot of people tend to approach networking from that perspective, “What can I take from it? What can I get out of it?” If somebody has given you their time, it’s almost like as well, “How can you help me get a job?”
From an executive perspective, I’ve been on the other side of that where people want to meet with me and have this informational interview, if you will. Of course, I’m happy to do it especially if that person is referred from a friend but what you really want to do is think about what can you give that person on the other side of the table. The reason you want to do that is it really triggers this deep human, I don’t know if it’s an emotion or a need, but a sense around reciprocity and fairness.
What I mean by that? In my office, we have two assistants that I share with a couple other offices. Maybe 6 months ago, these two women were going out to get a lunch order and they asked me if I want anything, I said, “Yes.” They went and got it. I went to pay them when they got back. They were like, “No, no. It’s on us.” A $7 burrito from Chipotle. They both left the firm before I was able to pay them back this burrito. And I feel this need to repay them. What’s crazy about it is if either of them were to call me now and say, “Hey, I needed an hour of your time, would you give it to me? I would give it them in a second. The crazy thing is that a $7 burrito is nothing compared to my coaching rates.
That’s the power of reciprocity. That’s what you want to engage when you’re meeting with someone. What do I recommend? I recommend that if you’re meeting with someone, you want to think about an article that might be relevant to them, think about any information that might be relevant, maybe it’s a book, maybe you’re buying them lunch. Whatever it is, you want trigger that reciprocity.
Incidentally, the best gift that I ever got from a networking meeting: I went to a networking meeting, wasn’t really expecting much of anything. This individual gave me a whole bunch of details on one of my competitors. It was like, “Wow. What an awesome gift?” You can imagine what I did immediately after that meeting. I picked up the phone, called somebody I knew who I thought might be able to connect her with a position that might be of interest. That’s what you want to give because as soon as you give like that, you get something back.
What I encourage you to do for next steps, if you’re meeting with somebody for a networking interview or whatever it is, try to think about a gift that you can give them, whether it’s an article, book, lunch, or even just the simplest thing is, at the end of the conversation, say, “Hey, you’ve been really kind with your time and I really appreciate it. What can I do to help you?” At the very least, that will be appreciated on the other side because you’re honoring their time, you’re respecting it. Most of the time, people will say, “Nothing for now, but thank you for the offer. I appreciate it.” Sometimes, they might take you up on it. The idea is to really trigger this emotion where if I do something for you, you want to do something back for me as a recruit or as somebody who’s trying to find a position.
Okay. We talked about four critical mistakes people make in networking. The first is not using networking as part of their career strategy. The second is around not having a clear digital brand. The third is about not having a clear story that you can tell somebody who’s sitting on the other side of you. The fourth is about being a taker rather than a giver. I can tell you that I’ve made all of these mistakes in my career in one way or another. I didn’t have a strong LinkedIn profile. I didn’t use networking to advance my career outside of the firms that I was in. I’m probably guilty of the other two as well. I’ve made these mistakes andI really encourage you to try not to make these mistakes and really do use networking, use it as a tool and be much more successful as a result of it.
If I can help you in the process of networking to advance your career or coming up with a clear career strategy, please let me know. I’d be happy to consult with you. I usually do a free intro session so that we get can a sense of what you’re trying to achieve and how I can help you. If you like to do that, please feel free to visit my website, stepoutoftherace.com, and schedule that. I hope you enjoy this video and thanks for your time.