Networking to stick-out in a crowd
When the Seattle Mariners Safeco Field opened for the first time, a friend and I attended the highly touted event. I was a huge baseball fan and what’s not to like when your team takes to the field for the first time at a brand new state of the art stadium. Our seats were in the outfield, and because we sat underneath the Safeco sign everyone in our section received a t-shirt commemorating this first game on the field. Needless to say, we felt pretty special. With everyone else in our section, I immediately threw on my t-shirt. My buddy didn’t put his on the entire game, his thinking was this: They are going to be taking 100’s of pictures today and if he is the only guy in this section of red t-shirts not wearing red, he will be able to see himself in all the posters and pictures memorializing this day. Turns out, his foresight was correct. There were a lot of pictures and posters of Safeco field on opening day and if you look close enough, you can see a few white dots in a sea of red t-shirts. The guy was in marketing and always thinking about how to get noticed.
Today’s post is about getting networking; specifically, it is about networking so you can land an interview. A couple of times a year, I visit a few of the local colleges and talk for an hour or so on the topic of interviewing and resume writing. This is all very high-level stuff because there isn’t much you can do with 1 hour and a class of 100. To me, it is like trying to teach someone how to fly a plane in one hour. It may give the student confidence, but at the end of the hour, someone is going to crash and burn. (I always offer my contact info for additional time to anyone interested in following up.)
In my own networking efforts, I just had coffee with a founder-entrepreneurial friend that also visits college campuses, the difference is that he talks about being an entrepreneur and working in start-ups.
The scary commonalities
I think would be beneficial to share and hopefully, readers can take some of the learning’s and apply them to their own networking efforts. Although we were talking about different topics to different demographics our experiences were uncannily similar.
- We both go to classes of 50 to 200 graduating students and talk for 45 min to a couple of hours.
- There are always a couple of very attentive students, a few students obviously bored, and the rest mildly interested.
- When the talk is over, there is the polite “golf clap” and then the young future minds of America exit quickly.
There is always 3-5% of the audience that will hang around after the presentation and these graduating students networking efforts also share a common theme:
- They say “Thank You” for coming out to the class because they know this is volunteer work.
- The introduce themselves and we shake hands.
- They usually have a few follow-up questions or personal observations about our presentation or their own experiences.
3-5% numbers are fairly consistent
Maybe our talks are so polished and informative, we have answered all questions. Maybe we fail as public speakers but I do make a conscious effort to shower the morning of these talks. If the class is smaller than 30, it doesn’t surprise me if no one swings by to say hello. For the record, we absolutely appreciate it when the audience comes up to validate our efforts. Yes, it makes us feel like the time was well spent and that we may “actually have a clue” in our areas of expertise.
Here is where the similarities continue:
Within the next day or so we both receive LinkedIn requests for networking connections from that 3-5% that stayed after the presentation to say introduce themselves. Most of these LinkedIn requests have no personal message, they are just “requests”. See my sentiments on that attitude here.
- One or two students will have a short intro in their LinkedIn invitation, reminding us where we met, and additional appreciation.
- Within the same week, we receive an invitation or two to have coffee or an invitational interview. These will come from that 1%.
- We hear nothing from the rest of the class. Silence. Trees falling in a forest and a cricket’s kind of “silence”.
Of course, we will both meet with the young co-eds, I mean young students, and out of those two invitations, one of these students will KNOCK IT OUT OF THE BALLPARK. They make an impression that will stick with us for a very long time and I am not talking pigtail and short plaid skirts. They do this by coming to the meeting and with a mastery of Networking 101.
- Insist on paying for the coffee, even when I know they probably can’t afford it as easily as I can, (I have a job, they are a struggling student).
- Conduct a LinkedIn research on my work history.
- Conduct research on the company I work with.
- Ask questions about how I progressed in my career.
- Ask for career advice.
- Follow up with a thank-you note.
As June approaches and the students are getting ready to graduate, the similarities between our two experiences continue down the Uncannily Scary Road.
- Students requesting a LinkedIn connection increases significantly.
- The requests are followed up with a note that is short and to the point. “You spoke at my school, what can you do to help me find a job?”
- My entrepreneurial friend and I are reminded of the HBO series “Shameless”. If you aren’t familiar with it, you should check it out, the program gives new meaning to the word.
And the home-run hitter that invited us to coffee a few months back:
- Sends us a short note reminding us how we met and the coffee we shared.
- Sends a cover letter, resume, and a note that we can literally cut and paste into our own email to be sent out to a potential employer.
- They usually have searched our LinkedIn network and picked out 1 or 2 companies of interest (but no more than 2) and ask for an introduction. This candidate eliminates all barriers to entry and makes our efforts to assist their search frictionless for us.
- Our home run hitter usually gets a job and we keep in touch with that person for a long time after. That job may or may not have come through us but they keep us updated and thank us for the help.
- I recently received a Soiree wine aerator from a young Product Manager who really appreciates design. I helped him with his resume as it went through a number of iterations and yes, I did ask him to interview with our company confident he would land a position. The gift was an over the top gesture, but you bet I will remember this guy! I met this PM through an introduction to our entrepreneurial friend spoke at one of his classes. This PM would be the proverbial 1 percenter. Thank you, Big D! Woot!
I don’t know where our Home-Run Hitters learned how to execute their networking skills. Maybe the parents are senior execs in business or they are professional executive recruiters, but this is EXACTLY how I would approach the opportunity. This candidate demonstrated the behavior I want to work with.
The student who went the distance did what we consider the absolute minimum when it comes to networking. They really didn’t do anything special; they showed common courtesy and made it easy for us to help them. I am confident if we asked them what they thought of their efforts, they would also say this wasn’t any special effort on their part. This minimum level of follow-through sticks out like a young pregnant girl with a black eye pushing a baby stroller at your upscale shopping mall only because the rest of the field did nothing. It doesn’t take much to stick out these days.
Next time someone presents on a topic, stick around after the show and introduce yourself. It’s easy to stick out in a crowd.
See you at the after party,
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.
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