What if I told you I had the one secret that could help you achieve a world-class level of success. What if I said that Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods became the athletes they are today because they did it. And that without it, Barack would not be our current president. And that every single Fortune 500 CEO today did the same thing. Well, the truth is that most highly successful people – athletes, musicians, professionals, speakers, and thinkers – are doing it. Nowadays, skill and passion can only get you so far. The most successful people also reach out and find mentors.
It’s no mistake that I said the word “find” in my introduction. While some world-class performers and leaders did stumble upon their mentors, most people don’t. That’s because the good mentors can be really hard to find. After all, the most successful people in the world work long hours and have limited time, dozens of competing priorities, and goals that they can’t let go by the wayside to help someone who may not even respect their time.
But from experience, I know that great mentors definitely do exist. And because I was lucky enough to find a SUPER-mentor in my very first job, I wanted to share a few words here on my site that I also shared with a friend – a current MLT fellow seeking out a little advice on networking.
See below for that person’s question, and below that for my response. I’ll note that I only included selected parts of the conversation, as some of the information might have revealed too much about their identity, and as other parts were less relevant to the content of the message. I’ll also note that this post turned out to be longer than expected.
(Skipped part of question)
1) I’m glad you enjoyed Leading Matters. (And I applaud your participation in the middle of your exams!! you are a rockstar!) It sounds like your Chicago event was really engaging … (deleted part of message)
2) You are awesome for thinking about MLT in your blog. Myself and my fellow b-school prospectives are juggling a few things that you might find relevant to write about:
(Actual list of things deleted)
The biggest thing on my agenda right now is networking. I am nervous about cold calling people in my industry (i.e. social investing). But I know that I have to get over that initial fright if I want to get anything out of this. (I actually just got back from dinner with someone … who a Kellogg alum put me in touch with!) I also wonder how do I extend those relationships beyond just a one-time informational interview? How do I stay in contact without being bothersome? Should I make myself helpful to them?
Good luck with the rest of your finals!
MY RESPONSE TO QUESTION
Good to hear from you and thanks for your message. This is a really good set of questions, and now is the perfect time for you to start thinking about them as you go through the MLT process and start to think about new career options, most of which are challenging to break into. But the good news is that once you get used to reaching out and become more skilled at it, it actually becomes a lot of fun, especially for outgoing and high potential professionals like yourself. Here are a few of my initial thoughts:
As I said above, I was lucky enough to find a phenomenal professional mentor early in my professional career. I concede, though, that most people don’t have that experience. And for reference, when I say I found a mentor, I don’t take that word lightly. In my case, mentor means someone that I valued highly enough 1. to turn down a job that paid 20%-25% more in salary right out of school and 2. to subsequently turn down a chance to work at a bulge bracket bank to work him at a mid-sized consulting firm that didn’t carry half the level of prestige as the bank, only carried a percentage of the salary, and had me move across the entire US as a result.
That’s because in my view, these types of strong relationships are critical to your career success – my general motto is “it’s better to learn in your 20s and earn in your 30s.” But most people still don’t invest the time, and they would never consider the idea of foregoing resources to find these strong relationships. In today’s age where internet is king, Google searching tends to be most people’s first option. And others look for answers in self-help business books on weekends, rely on opinions of friends and family, and give too much credibility to formalized mentoring programs at work.
Sure, these sources can all be useful, but they’re certainly not perfect. At my old firms, I often saw how people were given “buddy” roles and mentor titles without an ability to perform in the role. Similarly, I’ve seen how many people rely on friends and family members because they tend to give a lot of positive reinforcement, which is not always what you need. But people still tend to default here.
That’s because but finding real connections, let alone mentors, is hard. For some people, it takes months, even years to find someone who understands you and cares for you and your goals. And so going through the “networking” process you asked about tends to be the best way to do that. That means continually engaging with new people, getting and giving new information, and over time connecting with others.
Unfortunately, this kind of reaching is no easy feat and there’s a lot of grunt work involved. It takes a lot of thoughtfulness, as you write emails, make calls, and navigate your way to finding new connections. Similarly, you have to know more about your target industries and have a better sense of who you are as you go out to meet with these people, so you’re sure not to waste their time. And as a result of that, it takes time, energy, and perseverance. But so do all relationships right? Staying in close touch with friends and family during 1L was almost impossibly hard for every single person I knew. Similarly working toward any dating relationship often takes a lot of time and effort. In my opinion, there’s not much difference. Nonetheless, the grunt work involved in networking tends to keep people from really engaging in the reaching out process.
I do realize, though, that everyone is different, and that one person’s propensity to reach out people may be different than mine or than yours. So in some respects, you have to do what you’re comfortable with, so you can be effective when you do meet new people. On the other hand, I’d also strongly recommend pushing yourself out of your comfort zone just a bit and reaching out more than you might otherwise get in touch with, especially now as you seek information on business school and careers. After all, if you don’t get comfortable with it now, you’ll be forced to on the first day of business school a year from now, not to mention for years to come afterward.
Now I’ll respond more practically to a few of the things you mentioned. First, my opinion is that there’s absolutely no need to have any initial fright, because there’s a pretty large many people who would be willing help someone in your shoes. Most people that you’d be reaching out to tend to be proud of their institutions, school, and employers. And even if they’re not, they tend to be proud of the advice they can offer. Similarly, a lot of people are looking for ways to give back to their communities and to those who may want to follow in their footsteps.
I mean, consider the reverse. What if someone came up to you and said, hey (name), I’d love to be just like you someday, and I want to go to (name) University and work at (name) Company. Personally, I’d be really flattered, and I think a lot of people would feel similarly. And as a result, some of them might really take the time to give the information you’re looking for. And if you’re thankful, keep the modes of communication open, update them on your progress, and then be sure to reciprocate when you can, then you’ve got potential to make a real connection. And here’s my pitch – that in the end, the process becomes something that’s not even networking. Instead it’s seeking out new ways of connecting forging strong relationships, and becoming mutually beneficial. And personally, I always strive to be more beneficial when I can.
Next, to directly respond to your last question about how to stay relevant. That’s a tough one because no two people or circumstances are the same. Because of that, my first thought is to focus on the relationship, not on using fancy tactics. Because when you forge those strong relationships, you don’t have to worry about staying relevant. That’s why you always get back to your best friends and to family members when they get in touch with you. Because those relationships tend to be strong.
But from a tactical perspective, here a couple of things that may help. None of them are rocket science. In fact you could have come up with all of them on your own. Also, none of them are they my original ideas. Instead, they tend to be things that lots of people do and also things I tend to do when I remember.
1. Try Different Methods. You might try using different methods to connect with people, such as email, phone, in person, LinkedIn, etc. In my experience, relying on a single source can be less effective in some circumstances, especially if your new contact decided to avoid using that source for a short period of time.
2. Return the Favor. If you have managed to somehow stay on a person’s radar, then you might help return the favor by sharing information to them, on relevant topics. In these cases, I tend to default mostly to things that are HIGHLY relevant, sometimes sending news, connecting them with people in their industries, giving referrals, or passing along hello messages from mutual connections. But you should be careful of overdoing it and be sure that you’re not forcing your way in. I tend to only do this in very authentic ways, because otherwise it’ll likely feel too forced.
3. Don’t Replace Face To Face. I also think face to face encounters tend to be more effective when you’re in the establishing stage. For example grabbing drinks, coffee, lunch, or meeting up at the office all tend to work pretty well, depending on what you’re chatting about. Not only is it a more intimate environment that allows you to discuss real issues and be more open and vulnerable but it’s also more of a mutual investment of time which naturally tends to create a bond.
4. Get Out To More Events. Sometimes the best way to bump into someone, and to actually get the face to face encounters you need, is to go to different types of events where people are out and about. Not only networking-themed events, but also cultural, academic, and volunteer events, where you’ll tend to find people who you have things in common with.
In the end, though, making real strong relationships, is the goal, not finding tactics to stay in touch. Often times for me, I just try to feel it out, since in most cases no two relationships are the same and because time is so limited. But fortunately, there are a lot of smart and successful professional seeking the same thing you are. So once you make a connection, it should be pretty easy to build those relationship. If only dating were this easy too, right
Thanks for writing. And good luck!