How to Be a Good Networker

For many of us, networking can seem like a necessary evil. We understand it’s importance, but can’t always get ourselves to follow through. Why? There is a lot of work required and it’s easy to make mistakes along the way However, the rewards from networking and building relationships can be significant.

I started professionally networking when I was 16, and over the course of my career have been on both ends of hundreds of networking conversations. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes but I’ve also built some incredible relationships that have helped me grow personally and professionally, and have learned some great lessons around how to network effectively.

Be Specific – It’s great that you want to “pick someone’s brain” over coffee, and while your intentions are probably good, picking someone’s brain could mean so many different things. To be most effective, you’ll want to be specific about what you want to talk to someone about, and you’ll want to communicate that in advance so they know how to prepare. Also, be sure to follow networking etiquette.

Be Grateful– If someone is going to give up 30-60 minutes of their day to talk to you, that’s 30-60 minutes that they are not working on one of their many priorities on their daily to-do list. Make sure to show gratitude for their time by A) being gracious and polite in all communications and B) by using the time effectively by not going over time, and by making the conversation as thoughtful and engaging as possible.

Be accommodating – We all live busy lives, but if you’re going to ask someone to meet with you make sure you are showing some courtesy by being flexible around their schedule. You want to make it known that you value their time, so simply telling them you can only meet on weekends during these windows is probably not the best approach.

Be Efficient – When you reach out to someone to introduce yourself you don’t need to tell the your life story, just the highlights and your purpose. I’ve gotten (and seen requests) that read more like novels. A brief introduction and a specific ask (ex: a 30-minute phone call sometime this month) is suffice. Also, since we’re all so smart-phone driven consider that there’s a decent chance this person might be reading your request on their mobile device – novels don’t show up that well.

Be Prepared – Show courtesy and respect for their time and willingness to meet by coming prepared to your meeting. Take the time to do your research. While you don’t always need a formal agenda, coming with some prepared questions and objectives for what you want to talk about always helps guide the discussion. And if possible, avoid questions that can easily be answered by a simple Google search.

Be Valuable – Networking is a two way street. You might be asking for their time and advice, but you can (and should try) to be valuable to the other person. Perhaps you can offer them something, such as expertise on a particular topic they are interested in, or feedback on something they are working on. At the very least, most people can appreciate a thoughtful and/or intelligent conversation on a topic that interests them, so consider saving time in the conversation to engage them on topics you know they care about.

Be Persistent – Networking doesn’t end when the conversation ends – it’s actually just beginning. If you want to cultivate and get value out of a new networking relationship you’ll need to follow up down the road. For starters, it begins with a follow up and thank you email, but don’t let that be the end. Find ways to engage with that person down the road, whether it’s to see how they are doing or what they are working on, or, to provide an update of your own. Other people appreciate when you think of them, so finding appropriate and friendly ways to engage will help you build relationships.

Networking is an investment, of time, energy and other resources. While it may seem daunting or cumbersome, I’ve found that taking the time to follow these rules has not only yielded strong relationships but has made the process incredibly worthwhile. Anything worthwhile requires an investment, and networking to build up your personal or professional life is certainly one worth making.

When is it time to move on?

Yesterday, I had the chance to speak to a bunch of 2nd Year MBA students about their upcoming career transition back into the working world. Someone asked the question “How do you balance doing your everyday work with thinking about the next career move?” It’s a great question and one that I’ve pondered and discussed with many other MBA graduates. I wanted to share my answer and in general how I like to approach the idea of looking for a new job versus staying in your existing one.

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For me, I have a few principles that I’ve used to build a framework for evaluating whether I need to move on or stay in my job. Here they are:

  • There are always ups and downs, and while it’s okay to be concerned about some rough or stressful weeks, these things happen and that’s a part of life.
  • In most cases, you need at least 10-12 months to get something meaningful out of a job. If you stay for anything less, you might be selling yourself short. (There are always extenuating circumstances to this)
  • It’s okay (and good) to think about the future, but it’s important to not let it impact your day to day effort.

With that, I like to think of my career as 2-year sprints. During that sprint, I do 4 check-ins, one every six months. During the check-in, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Am I still learning everyday?
  • Do I like and respect the people that I am working for and with?
  • Am I committed 100% to doing my best work?

If I can answer yes with supporting evidence for all three questions, that’s usually a green light to keep going. If there is a no, or a lack of supporting evidence to any of those questions it means I need to do some additional probing to understand the root cause.

In some cases, there are  factors that cause me to answer no that I recognize and appreciate but am OK with moving forward on. In other cases, I need to either A) dig further, B) create an action plan for how I am going to work through it or C) it’s time for me to put the wheels in motion for moving on to my next opportunity

It’s not a binary decision of Yes/No, but it’s a simple framework for how I like to evaluate my job in the arc of my career. The main takeaway here is not the questions or the check-ins but the ability to dig deeper into understanding what’s causing my feelings and to do something about it, whether that means keeping up the great work or starting to search for something new. I encourage everyone to come up with their own framework and series of questions that they can reflect on every few months. I think you’ll find it will help you figure out if you should stay put or move onto the next gig.

When you can still win when you lose in sports

Growing up, I played a lot of sports. It was a critical part of my childhood and insturmental to my growth and development. As a shy and quiet kid, sports gave me an outlet to learn skills like confidence, discipline and hard work. The team aspect enabled me to learn to build relationships and trust with others and helped me feel comfortable enough to come out of my shell. As I think back to critical learning experiences in my life, playing team sports has to be on that list. The memories I made and the relationships I formed still stick with me to this day.

As a now washed up “retired” athlete there’s nothing I enjoy more than watching, playing or talking about the latest game, especially if it’s basketball. As such, March Madness is a big deal for me and in some ways is like my second Christmas.

For those of my friends who know me well they know I have a bit of a conundrum when it comes to college basketball. I grew up in the house of a Duke Alum, did my undergrad at Boston College, and went to business school at the University of North Carolina. That’s three schools in the ACC, all who play each other regularly, two of which who literally are trained to dislike the other from the moment they become a fan. Upon hearing of my allegiances, many of my friends are perplexed about the situation, but when I explain it and they hear my enthusiasm for the game they appreciate my loyalty. In light of that, I take plenty of heat for cheering for certain teams.

The time I met Dick Vitale in 2007

Dick Vitale and I in 2007

As most people know, UNC played in the National Championship game last night and unfortunately lost a heartbreaker. Nobody, especially elite athletes at the highest level of competition wants to lose, but to do it after you’ve made it to the finals and to lose it on the last shot is absolutely gut-wrenching.

Since I’ve been affiliated with UNC for the least amount of time, my allegiance is probably not as strong as die-hard fans but I could very much feel and agonize with the pain of my fellow Tar Heels, not only because of the heartbreaking loss, but to see players like Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige leave the program on such a sad note after all they’ve done for the school.

My first Duke-Carolina basketball game in the Dean Dome (2015)

My first Duke-Carolina basketball game in the Dean Dome (2015)

Every now and then, a team will have a player or two who embodies all of the aspirational qualities that represent the core of the school and Brice and Marcus were two of those people. It was hard not to love them for their play on the court, but also for what they stood for and embodied as Tar Heels. Ask any diehard fan and they’d tell you how much pride they took in seeing Brice and Marcus with the Tar Heel Jersey. Furthermore, that love was mutual, as both Brice and Marcus loved wearing the Carolina uniform and served as incredible ambassadors of the team. Watching Brice sob while being consoled by teammates and not being able to see Marcus hoist the trophy made me feel a bit of pain in my heart, even the royal blue/white and Maroon and Gold parts.

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One of the reasons that I love sports is because when the game is on the line it brings out the inner qualities that are at the core of human beings. Last night, Paige put on a hell of a show, and literally almost willed UNC to victory. In the most critical of moments, the smallest player on the court came up with big shot after big shot. While in the end he came up short, his indomitable spirit, leadership, and willingness to give everything he had are all incredible qualities at the very center of a talented young man. Brice’s raw emotion and passion for the game was evident from every reaction whether it was his thunderous dunks or watching the final shot go in. I think any objective sports fan would be proud if a guy like that wore his or her uniform.

Oftentimes in life, and especially in sports, there’s no prize in second place. And while nobody wants to walk away with just a moral victory it’s hard not to feel proud of the team’s accomplishment this season. Brice and Marcus may have lost the game, but they certainly won over a lot of hearts in Tar Heel Country as talented basketball players and exceptional Tar Heels. It may not be the only victory they wanted, but it’s sure one to be proud of.