The Advice on Networking No One Ever Gives You

The Advice on Networking No One Ever Gives You

I only get inspired to write when I get heated about a topic. This month I am extremely passionate about networking—more specifically, how to nurture your network correctly. Because I enjoy sharing advice, I often meet with new grads and young professionals looking for career guidance. I help them review cover letters, offer lessons learned, and when I can, connect them with potential job opportunities.

Lately, I have been shocked by the bad networking habits exhibited by many of the intelligent and highly-capable individuals with whom I have met. Recent experiences in particular made me question whether at their age, I also had poor networking skills. After some reflection, I realized to my horror that I did. I can recall a handful of mentoring opportunities my dad helped me get in my early 20s where I performed less than admirably. There is one meeting in particular with a C-Level executive that makes me cringe.

Everyone preaches that networking is good, that it’s supposed to help you. Few people teach you how. Everyone arms you with advice for making new contacts. Few people teach you how to keep those contacts. Most people promote the notion that networking is about transactions—”I help you, you help me”. Not enough people promote the idea that networking is actually about fostering a lifelong community of contacts that respect, trust, and like you. We are failing students and young professionals by not filling these knowledge gaps.

Most of the good networking habits I have grown to expect I have learned the hard way. By sharing them below, I hope to spare you the trouble. The list is by no means all-encompassing, but it consists of the five networking best practices I value most highly and that I see missed time and time again. I would love to hear how they work for you. More importantly, if you have other networking tips you want to add to the list, we could all benefit from and would be ever grateful if you share them in the comments below.

1. Before requesting a meeting, define why you are reaching out and say so. Do you want to understand what it is like to work in my field? Are you meeting with me because you are hoping I will consider you for a job? Are you looking for general career advice from someone with my particular experience? When you walk out of the room, what will you consider a successful outcome? A well-defined purpose is absolutely critical to any fruitful discussion. Therefore, if you reach out to me with your goal for our discussion, I am more likely to meet with you and better positioned to help you.

2. Come with questions and genuine interest. Since you will have explored the purpose of our meeting in advance, use that to put together a few questions to guide our discussion so you get the information you are looking for. After you ask each question, listen attentively to the answers and take notes, where appropriate. Your nerves may get you from time to time—I know I blacked out a few times from panic mid-discussion during the cringeworthy meeting I mentioned before—but find a way to ground yourself so you can absorb my answers.

3. Follow-up with a “thank you.” Most people, including me, don’t offer their time or advice for a “thank you.” However, we are extremely grateful when we receive one and it tells us you are polite and professional. A hand-written “thank you” note is rare and automatically gets bonus points. Remember, if I connect you with my network, your behavior reflects on me and my hard-earned reputation. A simple “thank you” shows me I can trust your social graces and makes me ten times more likely to recommend you.

4. After our meeting, let me know how things are going. Was my advice useful to you? What worked? What did not work? Do you have any follow-up questions? Of all the advice I have shared, only two people have ever contacted me to let me know the outcome of my suggestions. Their feedback not only made me feel like the time I spent with them was worthwhile, but it also helped me understand how to better help others in the future.

5. Do not wait to reach out until you need something. Last but not least, your network should not be a resource you only turn to in a time of need. Like friendships, professional contacts should be fostered continuously. I like to set Google alerts for contacts and companies with whom I have an established relationship so I can stay current on their professional accomplishments and send them a note whenever there are milestones worth celebrating or discussing. My dad also taught me to keep track of birthdays and anniversaries by putting them in my calendar. This is not to discourage you from reaching out when you need advice or a favor. However, that should not be the only time your network hears from you.

The Most Important Lesson Of The “Yanny” or “Laurel” Debate

The Most Important Lesson Of The “Yanny” or “Laurel” Debate

The last two days all the internet can talk about is the “yanny” or “laurel” debate, the audio equivalent of 2015’s “The Dress”. (Remember the debate about whether it was black and blue or white and gold?) Friendships and families stand divided over whether an audio clip says one versus the other. Science says what you hear depends on what frequencies you are capable of hearing—people who can hear higher frequencies hear “yanny,” people who cannot hear “laurel”—and several outlets, like the New York Times, have manipulated the frequencies of the clip to help you hear both.

To my surprise, I hear “yanny.” I expected to hear “laurel” because I have a track record of listening to music really loudly at FlyWheel, when I use my headphones, and when I’m in the car. From time to time, I hear the telltale high-pitched “eeeeeeeeeh” indicative of hearing loss so I did not count on having much high-frequency hearing left. I consider my place on the “yanny” side of the debate to be a personal win. Ironically, the original recording—the one circling the web was made by a student who recorded the clip from his computer speakers so it varies slightly—comes from the page for “laurel”. (P.S. When I listen to the original recording, it is much easier to hear both.)

Regardless of whether you hear “yanny” or “laurel,” there is an important lesson we can learn from this debate about how we communicate with others. Think about it. We’re all listening to the same audio clip and hearing two very different things. (Heck! During “The Dress” debate, we were looking at the same dress and seeing two very different things.) It brings to light the high variability between people’s interpretations of the same input and how easily it is for us to miscommunicate.

There are a billion factors that affect how we interpret our surroundings beyond what frequencies we can hear (or, what pixels we can see) like where we grew up, what we studied in school (if we studied in school), what religion we practice, and past experiences. The way we communicate, the words we choose have to account for or overcome each of these to get us on the same page. That is why I am so fascinated by psychology in my pursuit as a communicator and why I read books like “The Rhetoric of Rhetoric” and “How To Win Friends And Influence People.” They help me understand what variables exist and how they change the way I need to communicate with different audiences to improve understanding. It has helped me build better relationships with others, achieve better outcomes, and reduce my conflicts with others…except in this case, where the answer is unequivocally “yanny.” Fight me.

Why Having Hobbies Makes Us Better Employees

Why Having Hobbies Makes Us Better Employees

Do you have a life outside of work? You should. The hobbies we pursue on our own time teach us skills that make us better, more well-rounded employees. For example, running has taught me to be disciplined, mentally tough, and patient—three valuable tools for excelling in the workforce. Writing a top Miami lifestyle blog has helped me develop advanced communication skills that are critical for the presentations and media interviews I give as part of my “day job”.

Our hobbies can also make us into more open-minded employees by working different parts of our brains and exposing us to new perspectives. “When your job defines you, your world becomes very narrow,” asserts Ray Williams, author of Eye of the Storm: How Mindful Leaders Can Transform Chaotic Workplaces. Each hat we wear broadens the way we see the world. I know I am a more efficient problem solver and connect better with others because I see the world from different angles: as an environmental professional, as a writer, as a runner, as a scuba diver, as a dancer (thanks, Vixen Workout!), as an amateur photographer, and so on and so forth.

Last but not least, hobbies make us happier employees. Beyond their ability to calm our minds—I turn to running and Vixen when I need to burn off stress—they offer us a sense of fulfillment, of belonging, of purpose. Yes, we can get these from our jobs but as the saying goes, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. It is good to diversify where we get our happiness so when one source goes awry (a bad day at the office, a subpar workout, whatever), we have other sources of happiness on which we can depend.

Whether our hobbies make us more well-rounded, more open-minded, happier or all three, fostering a life outside of the office has a resounding impact in the office. Think of your hobbies. What are they? How does each one make you a better person, a better employee?

And now, for your quote of the day:

“Find three hobbies you love: one to make you money, one to keep you in shape, and one to keep you creative.” —Anonymous

It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

“Devastating”,”monster hurricane”, “most catastrophic storm ever”, “apocalyptic storm”, “like a lawnmower from the sky”. Those are some of the words the media used to describe Hurricane Irma, the Category 4 storm passing over Miami as I write this. How do those words make you feel? Based on the mass exodus, gas shortages, long lines at the supermarket and violence over plywood and gas, I’m going to guess they make you feel panicked. It’s not your fault—those terms are designed to put you on alert.

Saying “the storm that, according to the models, may cause devastation in Florida” is not quite as attention grabbing as “the storm that swallows Florida in the latest forecast”. The former also doesn’t move us to take action, to prepare with the same urgency. I calmly traveled to Iowa two days before Hurricane Irma “made its way toward south Florida”. I changed my flight back to Miami and started preparing when Hurricane Irma became “the hurricane that will make Florida disappear from the map”.

Most people don’t think twice about the words they use when they communicate but word choice matters. Not only can it spur emotion like it was intended to do pre-storm, but it can also prevent miscommunication. (And, based on these ten examples, even seemingly small miscommunications can have massive consequences.) It is a tool that when properly used, can vastly improve the understanding of what you want to convey. And, if you take it one step further, can even get others to do what you want.

During my quarantine, I watched this George Carlin skit about saving the planet and was blown away by the effectiveness of his word choices in communicating his message. At one point he claims the human race will go extinct by referring to us as an “evolutionary cul-de-sac”. Let that visual sink in for a second. Isn’t it the perfect metaphor given the configuration of the tree of life? (In case you forgot your high school biology, I’ve included an example of a tree of life below.) It helped me really feel the finality that the end of our species would entail.

Tree of LIfe

This week pay extra attention to the words used by others when they talk to you. What were words and phrases others used that conveyed a clear, concise message? Which were ambiguous or confusing? The nuances you pick up when you’re on the listening end can help you be more effective when you’re on the communicating end.

Also, pay careful attention to the words you use when you talk to others. These 25 tips will help you make better choices. They’re intended for writers but are just as applicable for verbal communication—plus, the author’s examples of poor word choice are hilarious. In the end, I am confident you will find they’ll help you become a better communicator.

And now, for your quote of the day:

“Words are free. It’s how you use them that will cost you.” —Unknown

Why Great Employees Don’t Always Make The Best Bosses (And What To Do About It)

Why Great Employees Don’t Always Make The Best Bosses (And What To Do About It)

Have you ever noticed that most people in leadership positions are where they are because they excelled in technical roles and were given opportunities for advancement? Take inventory in your office. What do the careers of the middle and upper managers look like? In the places I’ve worked, the majority of my colleagues have climbed the corporate ladder for exceeding expectations in past positions.

That has certainly been the case for me. My meteoric rise to department director has culminated from a promising performance record, a series of fortunate circumstances, and supervisors who have put their faith in me. If you look at my resume before this position, it left a lot to be desired in terms of experience beyond technical work. It has been up to me to sink or swim these last few months. Motivated by the desire to see our team and its members succeed, as well as to show my supervisors that they made the right choice, I have Michael Phelps-ed my way through it.

This Harvard Business Review article for new managers points out that, “just because you were a terrific producer before you were promoted it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be a terrific boss.” You see, “for most newly appointed managers…the skills and qualities that earned them the promotion are very different from those that will serve them well as a leader, and they’re often left to figure it out on their own…” It is up to us—those lucky enough to be entrusted with leadership positions—to be conscious of this disparity and prepare ourselves for our new roles by acquiring (or refining) management, leadership and business administration skills required to be successful.

It has taken a village to get me in “boss” shape. It would have been so much easier to default back to my comfort zone: doing the technical work that I’m good at and got me my promotion. Instead, I have relied heavily on the wisdom of my mentors, my supervisors, my friends, my family, the experts at Dale Carnegie, books, and articles to foster the skills with which I am less comfortable. It’s going to continue to take all of these resources and a few life lessons (read, mistakes) to refine them as I move forward in my career. Nevertheless, I’m headed in the right direction.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are three Harvard Business Review articles I found particularly helpful in approaching my role as a new manager like a seasoned pro:

And now, for your quote of the day:

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” —Alexander Graham Bell

Why Your Stereotypes About Millennials Are Unfair And Potentially Damaging

Why Your Stereotypes About Millennials Are Unfair And Potentially Damaging

On Monday morning, the CBS This Morning team was talking to a financial expert when one of the anchors insinuated all millennials live in their parents’ basement. The discussion, stemming from this CBS Money Watch article that alludes to the same stereotype, made my blood boil. I am a millennial and I have been living on my own for over 10 years. I have never, nor do I ever plan, on living in my parents’ basement. Moreover, I have been financially independent my entire adult life and I am more financially stable than most people in older generations. How dare they undermine all of my hard work!

Do I know millennials that are not financially independent or do not live on their own by circumstance or by choice? Definitely—but I also know Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers who are in the same shoes. It’s not a millennial thing. It’s a human being thing.

If you know me, you know I rarely write about contentious topics. It’s not because I don’t have strong opinions—I’m a Type A Virgo so you know I do—but because I find little benefit to being openly outraged about most topics. I’m a firm believer that you accomplish more by listening to other perspectives than criticizing, condemning or complaining about them.

But, that’s the thing about the older generations’ overwhelming perspective on millennials: it’s an unfair generalization that can impact our professional careers. You may think your bias is benign, but psychologists have proven your prejudices—no matter how well-intentioned, no matter how subconscious—affect your behavior toward us. They can cause you to overlook us for positions, for promotions or for growth opportunities, the very metrics you use to judge our success (or lack thereof, in your mind).

I am writing this to respectfully ask that you consider the idea that not all millennials are lazy or entitled. We can do better to balance the conversation. We can do better to stop dismissing a group of individuals, whose time of birth—not their traits—brand them as millennials. We can do better to show that, like you, we may not be perfect but we have a lot to offer in the workforce.

Next time you want to gripe about how much time we spend on our phones, pull up this article in Financial Fluency from my colleague Vania, who is in her 20s. She is religious about her credit score and uses her phone time judiciously to keep it in check. Next time you want to complain about how we’re not serious about saving, read this article on personal finance from Man Repeller, a blog started by 28-year-old Leandra Medine that leveraged its captive millennial audience to promote the importance of saving money. Millennials like Vania, Leandra, and I are not as rare as you may think. Please don’t water down our accomplishments with your preconceived notions about our generation.

(Just like not all millennials are the same, I recognize not all non-millennials feel this way about us. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge you for not perpetuating the worn-out stereotypes. Heck, some of you even sing us praises, like Sanjeev Agrawal in this Forbes article. My sincerest thank you to you for giving us a fighting chance in world that tends to think millennials are the worst.)

And now, for your quote of the day:

“Young people are not perfect. We don’t know everything, sometimes we try to move too fast, and in some cases our ideals are at odds with reality. Instead of antagonizing us, listen to us, collaborate with us, and invest in our ideas.” —Tony Weaver, Jr., Forbes, June 7, 2017