Posted in Networking

Alleviating Risk is a Key to Networking

Imagine I saved up for an entire year to buy a car. I make some sacrifices of not going out to eat, no vacation, no concerts, etc. Eighteen months later I have saved $20,000.

Now I’m ready to buy my car. I go look at three cars. They all have between 10,000-15,000 miles on them and pretty similar features. All of them are in my budget. This is tough decision because I worked really hard and sacrificed to buy this car. Then my good buddy I worked with two years ago calls and says he I’m selling my car. It has 35k miles on it. It is the same price as the others. I would almost always buy my buddy’s truck because it is familiar and feels like less risk. Sure it has more miles but I know he is the type of guy who would take great care of his car. This $20,000 means a lot to me because of how hard I worked for it so naturally I’m going to be less risk tolerant.

Now imagine I network my way into a really good job. I work hard, stay late, and do all the small things right. Finally the day comes where I am made manager and can hire a new junior person. I interview 3 candidates. All impressive in their own way. I’ve really sacrificed to be in this role so I don’t want to mess this up. Just like the cars, a friend calls and says “hey I have someone who use to work with me or this candidate comes highly recommend from someone I respect. She/he may have a year less experience than you want but she/he is solid.”

Who do you think I’m going to hire? Having that common connection alleviates a lot of risk for me. Sure the other three have references but I don’t know their references. Just like the cars they all are likely good choices but they could be total lemons for all I know. The least risky move is to buy the car from the friend and hire the candidate that comes recommended from someone in my network.

We often become so focused on getting a job we never think about it from the hiring manager’s point of view. This hire could be an equally big moment in their career as well. Therefore it is vital we do everything we can to be the low risk option. You become that low risk option by building connections and getting good people invested in your career. This is what we focus on to the point of near obsession in D.C. Hopefuls Fellowship. I learned that the key to my career success was starting in my most inner of circles and networking my way out. Those lead to meaningful and eventually impactful relationships that took me from unemployed on an air mattress to the Senior Intelligence Analyst working on the 9/11 cases in less than 3 years.

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Posted in Networking

Jumping Through Hoops to Build Career Investors

Sometimes in networking, it is not cut and dry. Once in a while, you land what on paper looks like a dream contact. You are introduced to someone in your field they sit down and start telling you all the things they will do to help you! You can’t believe it! Unfortunately, those are rare and oddly enough in my experience end up not being that helpful because no relationship is formed. Around a year ago I was really interested in a certain type of government work that was related to my experiences but much more focused. Naturally, this was going to be difficult since I was looking for a small pool of people in which to connect. Finally, after several months I was able to network my way into a coffee with Sally, a young woman in this field, who would have amazing insight. She offered some good advice and to introduce me to someone she knew. After the meeting I quickly sent a thank you email to her and followed up about the introduction. I was very confused when she connected me with an older gentleman who had worked on Capitol Hill over a decade ago and had been in scientific research ever since.

To this day I am not sure why on earth she thought I should meet with him since I have no interest in working on Capitol Hill and scientific research is nowhere close to my career field. The young me would have dismissed this entire introduction but practicing the steadfast spirit I knew better. I

spoke with him, asked questions, wrote a thank you note, and even followed up with him a few weeks later. I jumped through these hoops because I knew for some reason Sally thought I should meet him and the very least it created a common contact between her and I. Now Sally can feel more comfortable introducing me to other, hopefully, more relevant, people because she knows I will not make her look bad.

Eric, a student I’ve been working with, recently had a dilemma where he made a great contact but she would only make recommendations about job sites or companies. This was a nice gesture but also something he could do using google. I encouraged him to stay positive and persistent with her. The key would be to look up all the sites and companies she recommended and give her feedback.

“Thanks for recommending indeed.com I went on and created a profile like you recommended. I also checked out company XYZ they look great! Do you know anyone who works there? I’d love to connect with someone to learn more.” When you follow people’s guidance, it can make it easier to make ‘an ask’ down the road.

A lot of people will not just introduce someone they do not know to their contacts so your goal is to become someone they DO know. Always track the advice people give you and give them an update, it is a great way to stay in touch.

Let’s say this contact doesn’t know anyone at XYZ Eric can stay in touch anyways and in a couple weeks he can reach out and say “hey I have not had any luck on indeed.com do you have any advice for making my profile look better? What worked well for you?” People love to know that their advice sunk in with someone and it makes them feel valued. Also by always relating it back to them (“what worked well for you”) they get to talk about themselves and feel more connected to you. This is one way to build the all important career investor!

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Posted in Networking

Ditch the Pitch and Tell Them ‘Our Story’

Success in D.C. is centered on meeting people and building connections. One of the most difficult parts of making it in D.C. is being able to quickly and clearly articulate what you want to do. I have met with dozens of people and asked the simple question “what do you want to do”, only to have them nearly fall over trying to come up with something. I too have struggled with this question, because like many of you, I have a wide array of interests. When I first moved to D.C. I never knew how to answer that question because so many things about government and politics interested me. In the beginning, anything at the State Department seemed like my dream job but I was often embarrassed to say that. So naturally I did what several online career coaches and gurus teach and I developed elevator pitches, which inevitably lead to failure for several reasons.

Reason 1: When it comes to initial networking most people do not want to be pitched. An elevator pitch is you selling yourself to someone else trying to explain why they need you. This is a great skill when you have landed an interview but not when you are simply grabbing a coffee or being introduced over email. Nobody likes to be sold to anymore. We are the generation that mutes or fast forwards commercials and installs add blocks on our computers.

Reason 2: People prefer to hear stories! There is a reason that almost all major religions’ teachings are through stories. People want a narrative not facts or lists.

Reason 3: My elevator pitch never worked because it was all about me! Sure, in interviews I would include information about how I can help the company, which is great, but in networking I was always focused on myself. I am not the only one who has made this mistake. I know this because of the 80 plus students/recent grads I’ve met with, I think only one has ever asked more than one question about me. Once, during one of the very first D.C. Hopefuls Fellowship calls I asked the attendees to write a brief pitch/statement introducing themselves to the group and sharing their goals.

Some form of the word ‘I’(‘I’m or I’ll) was used 42 times. Some form of the word ‘me’ (myself, my, or mine) was used 25 times for a grand total of 67 times. The words ‘we’ or ‘us’ were never used and the words ‘you’ or ‘you all’ were used 3 times.

If you do not understand why this doesn’t work, think of it this way. My wife and I recently went to visit our newlywed friends. While sitting around, my wife discovered a massive photo album. She sat for over an hour with our friend and looked at every picture. I couldn’t understand why she cared so much about their pictures. Then after nearly an hour she got really excited and said, “Look Tommy here is a picture of us!” Then a few minutes later, “look here we are again!” As we drove home she said “I loved that we were in four pictures considering we haven’t known them that long.” We all do the same thing. We love to look at pictures when we think we might be in them. I have a friend who tells the same stories over and over, even if everyone has heard them before. My wife pointed out to me recently, “You know you always get annoyed when he tells a story except when he tells a story about you.”

So if we know people do not want  pitches, they like stories (like the two I just told), and they want to hear about themselves, then tell them a story about themselves that lets them get to know you, make it ‘our story.’

Most of the pitches I received read exactly the same. “I am originally from X and I went to school at X. I majored in X and plan to move to D.C. upon graduation. I really want to do something different with my life and pursue my dreams in D.C. I hope through this group I can learn the right skills and make good connections to help launch my career.”

 

Instead, I coach Fellowship members to pitch this way: “Hello, much like all of you I am still working on my undergraduate degree and like some of you I attend the University of X. Just like all of you I dream of building a career in D.C. after graduation but am not sure where to begin. I know we all share a similar wish to do something different with our lives and we share the common dream of making DC a reality. I look forward to learning from each of you and hope to make D.C. a reality for all of us.” See how the second one is ‘our story?’ The second example creates investment and personal commitment from the others who read it. This is an important skill to practice, as you will often be introduced via email to new people. Find any way you can to tell ‘our story.’

In person meetings can be more difficult.  Recently I was connected to a woman who works in intelligence but also worked on campaigns. My first thought was to tell her how I had done similar work and tell her all about myself, but instead I made ‘my story’ ‘our story.’ When I met her for coffee I said “I am really glad you agreed to meet with me. Sarah says you all met at the State Department. Did you both work in the same office?” I let her tell the story of how she knew our common contact, and did not interrupt to explain how I knew Sarah. Eventually she asked me and I told her. I then said “I see you went to Alabama. I went down to a game there once and I had a blast!” She told me a few stories, then asked why I had been in Alabama. I explained that I went to Arkansas and was at Alabama to watch Arkansas play there. By the end she was more than eager to help me because she was able to talk about herself and tell me stories.

She probably did not learn as much about me as I would have hoped, but everything she did learn also related back to her in some way. Most importantly, she left the conversation happy and wanting to help me. I was not overly shocked when she introduced me to several other useful people, all of which said she had really great things to say about me!

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Posted in Networking

You Are NOT Set

One thing that has alarmed me in launching D.C. Hopefuls is hearing from young professionals who politely say “I’ll pass this info along Tommy, but I’m all set, I landed a job after undergrad.” It pains me to post this, but you are not all set. Rarely do people in D.C. stay at jobs more than 1-3 years, especially entry-level positions. The old days of going to work somewhere and staying for 30 years are pretty much over. To be fair, I know people who landed great jobs in D.C. straight out of undergrad and 8-10 years later are still working at the same organization. However, when you dive deeper, you learn they have gone out of their way to advance themselves within the organization and have likely moved jobs within the organization several times. They network and advocate within that organization the way most of do in the outside world.

You all know the story by now, but it is worth repeating when I landed my first job at the Pentagon I was convinced my whole career was set. I told my parents “all the people who have completed this program received jobs in the international division after graduation; my whole career is set at 22!” I was insanely naive. There is no way to know when cuts, hiring freezes, horrible bosses, or simple stagnation will swallow your career.

It has taken 4, 6, and 8 months for me to begin positions after I interviewed, which does not take into account the months of networking and searching to land the interview. My current position was presented to me through a contact that I met in February 2015, he made me aware of the job in December 2015, I interviewed in January of 2016 and I started May 2016. These things take time, in my most recent example 15 months!

If you become complacent because you think you are set, you are setting yourself up for a disaster. I heard sharks never stop swimming or else they will drown, which I always assumed was not true but the internet has informed me for some sharks it is in fact true. Be like a shark, not aggressive and bloodthirsty, but never complacent and always on the move.

This does not mean always move from one job to the next, but always be looking to connect with people and better yourself. Take the long-term view of your career. I have connected with several young job seekers at the stage in their search when they have a strong lead or had recently interviewed for a job. I have shared advice, given resume feedback, helped prep them for the interview, and gave pep talks, only to never hear from them again after they landed the job. It hurt my feelings how quickly I was discarded after they achieved their short-term goal. I have learned to not take it personally; it is a simple sign of immaturity. It is always unwise to discard any potential contacts no matter what you believe you have achieved. People remember how they are treated and there no worse feeling that being unhappy or unfulfilled in a job and knowing you must start building your network from scratch.

For some sharks being still equals death, don’t let complacency kill your career.

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Posted in Networking

Stop Looking Up and Look Around

After about eighteen months in D.C., I realized that I needed to start networking. It was becoming more apparent how important it was to make connections, and I wrongly thought I had none. Like many young job seekers I help today, there is a tendency to look up. I wanted to meet the most senior person I possibly could. I wanted to meet with the Air Force General Counsel himself while dismissing the young attorneys all around me. I tried to meet a Congressional Chief of Staff while ignoring the staff assistant I knew from college. I tried to meet the Vice President of a contracting company, paying no attention to the entry level analyst I knew from graduate school. I looked at the young attorney, staff assistant, or entry level analyst as tools to get those high ranking introductions, not realizing they were the real connections I needed! As I have said several times, all my jobs have come from close friends around my age, not some senior level connection.

Imagine we were all in a class together and our final project was to write a long report about a museum, located about an hour away. We all waited until the last week possible to complete the assignment and discover all cell towers are down. We remember that two of our classmates are at the museum, so we use a landline to call them. One classmate has been at the museum all week. He begins to tell us all about the museum. We appreciate his enthusiasm about the museum, but we need directions. Unfortunately, it has been over a week since he arrived, so he does his best by providing vague directions. We then talk to our other classmate. She just arrived at the museum a few minutes ago. She knows next to nothing about the museum, but she just got there. She is able to provide detailed directions because she just arrived.
As a young job seeker, the best people to talk to are those who have recently arrived. Remember the world is still being run by generation X and baby boomers, but they entered an entirely different job market and did so in an entirely different manner. We millennials have to look out for each other! By all means, talk to everyone you can and meeting senior level people is fantastic, but secondary. Stop looking up and look around!

* Please join the D.C. Hopefuls Newsletter!
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* Follow us on twitter at @dchopefuls
CLICK HERE to schedule a 30-minute conversation with me about your  career aspirations, struggles, and/or questions