Hand offs

Speed Networking Can Kill

One of my favorite John Wooden quotes: Be Quick But Don’t Hurry.

When you rush you make mistakes. Speed kills. I should know I have been a speed demon most of my life. I do believe that if you want to succeed you need to move and move quickly. Yeah the slow and steady tortoise can win the race but to qualify and compete in the race of life, you need to move. However, moving too fast, especially without thinking can hurt you. I have had many hard lessons, especially when I was younger, where I accelerated and ran right over my allies and opportunities.  Speed kills

We are all so busy that we rarely distinguish the tasks on our plate. Everything can be treated with the same value and care or lack thereof. That can be disastrous.

Emails, text messages, and communications fly in at you at hyperspace speed. You delete, forward, and reply with the best of them. But we have to know when something requires a different pace and attention. Something personal, sensitive and even emotional requires super slo mo. Otherwise you can come off too transactional and cold. Haste truly makes landfills!

My first marketing manager had a love hate relationship with my proliferation of ideas. He loved the diversity and the ability to  alter the reality we faced. He hated my ideation and the versioning I might come up with. He stopped me one day and said, “Speed, price or quality—pick two.” You may have heard this, but at that time it was a wonderful chilling moment as a young twenty-something manager. He was saying you can’t have it all and speed comes with a cost.

We all learn, or suffer the consequences, to adapt to the situations we encounter in the speed of life.

Last week, I encountered several speedsters, all of them under 30, who made big blunders in trying to react to me too quickly.

  1. Cold e-mail intro leads nowhere--I contacted a young woman that I had met several times to see if she knew someone at a particular company. I was trying to make a connection for another acquaintance. I was researching who I knew who had the “warmest”/closest connection. When I inquired through social media, she said she did know someone (turns out not very well) and immediately made an e-mail intro. The abbreviated uninformative intro never worked and I never heard from that person. It was clear that my contact was trying to be helpful but in her speed she may actually have unwittingly done more harm than good. I later found a warmer connection to that same person and this acquaintance of mine handled it the correct way. They talked to me, they talked to my referee, and then they talked to the company contact. A real connection was made.
  2. High speed brand mis-management—I was introduced to an intern at a company I was visiting. It ended up we were waiting together in the conference room and I asked him, “Where were you before this?” I assumed that he would reveal the university he graduated from. He blurted out, “I got a useless masters degree to bridge me to this internship and then later I will get my MBA. I always wanted an MBA.” Huh? A million questions jumped into my head, but the inflection, body language, and overall demeanor of this young man screamed lack of confidence and even embarrassment. Did he know how much this hurt his brand? No pride in his accomplishment nor affinity with this masters program. I never learned the identity of this “useless” program. He seemed bright but his articulated storyline to a stranger was poorly delivered and thought through. His brand crashed and burned right in front of us.
  3. Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail (another Wooden quote)—Had an informational interview and quasi-mentoring session with a young man who wanted career advice. The focus of his inquiry was for-profit vs non-profit sectors. However, this 27 year old gentleman had not done any homework, no research, no introspection, no prep for our session. It was a frustrating time for both of us. He wanted me to tell him what to do and I wanted to know what he wanted. Seemed like he was so busy he neglected to remember how busy I am. So I asked many questions and he had no answers. Mentoring done well, is about the bigger questions of purpose and goals, not serving as a human Google search for careers.

Yes, in all three cases I gave these people feedback on what they said and did......

The point here is to make the time for the relationships that matter. To stop and listen. They are not ALL another to-do item on your list. Get milk, balance check book, make dental appt and get mentored. Get your story together. Think about to whom you are speaking—a person who might be able to help you--even strangers. What is your first impression? Take time to make the actual connections--life is not a video game. 

Let’s be quicker but less hurried. Less transactional, more personal. Make the effort to connect with the person in front of you. If you don’t, the victim could be you.

Thanks for slowing down and reading. John


Insurance of Your Pre-existing Network

I was talking to my relatives in Italy. We were comparing notes on the relative (no pun intended) virtues of our countries. Since they have lived in both countries, they had an advantage in evaluating both. My cousin's wife said, "you have the pursuit of happiness and we have the guarantee of health. She asked, How do you pursue happiness without your health? Here's what the Italian Constitution says:

The Republic safeguards health as a fundamental right of the individual and as a collective interest, and guarantees free medical care to the indigent.

Here was the interesting part for me. When you have a pre-existing condition in Italy you will get medical treatment/care for life! The exact reverse of what we think in the US. A pre-existing condition is a bad thing. It is to be avoided. It will trigger exclusions of your insurance, especially if you change jobs. In Italy, as it relates to insurance and medical treatment, a pre-existing condition is a good thing. It assures you and your family that you will have the medical care you need.

Not here to debate these systems, but perspective is a powerful tool.

Clearly when you have insurance, you have confidence. When you have confidence, you have courage. When you have courage you have the opportunity to become fulfilled and happy.

Each of us has pre-existing conditions of our lives. We have to accept the facts, idiosyncrasies, and attributes of our lives. Sometimes we think of these things as liabilities, as things we should hide or ignore. We know that every liability can also be an asset. One of the most overlooked assets is our pre-existing network of friends and family. It is an under-utilized resource. We seek the new over the tried and true. Why? As Seth Godin says, we tend to like the shiny over the known. Like the youthful and naive sales rep who thinks new customers are the only source of a strong business. We know that most business comes from our existing base of customers and connections. And you gain the new connections through the existing ones--we usually call this word-of-mouth. For some reason we ignore this logic when it comes to our careers.

Connecting with people we know is so much easier --People with whom we have a relationship. But human nature is to think we already know them, when it is virtually certain we do not--because we have not engaged them in the specifics of our quests. We are seeking connections to opportunities at companies, employers, people who are doing what we want to do etc. It is truly amazing who people know and how they know them. Tennis partners, church goers, school parents, college roommates, neighbors, colleagues......never underestimate the breadth of another's network and therefore your pre-existing one.

Your desire to redefine your life, get a new job, go back to school or start something should push you back into your existing contacts. Fewer excuses to talk to people you know. Almost everyone procrastinates meeting new people, because it takes effort and overcoming fear. But talking to people you know to be introduced to who they know is easy and even fun. Don't make this an All About Me mission. You catch up with people, you offer to help them and you engage them in your objectives. Plus your network wants to help you. And you want to help them.

The key is being introduced. Never just get a contact from someone. Always get your contact to introduce you through email or a phone call. Warm hand offs eliminate cold calling.

Your best and most effective insurance plan for the health of your future lies in your pre-existing network. It is a great source of confidence and courage. Mine it. Explore it. Strengthen it. It will help you advance your goals, expand your network, and reconnect you with people you care about.

Thanks for reading. John


The Art of the Intro---Do you have a Hype Man?

If you believe that your success is tied to others, then you have to connect. Connect with people that help advance your thoughts and ideas. Connect with people who show you the paths to greater fulfillment. Connect with people who give you validation and an important sense of community and belonging. You have to understand that doing it alone is impossible. That isolation and insulation are your enemies. Once you accept this, then you have to engage others in your quest to become the best you can be. The best way to meet people is to be introduced to them.  Properly-introduce-yourself-572x297

As I have said many times, networking is a contact sport but it is also a team sport. In that vein, working with a partner or a team makes it so much easier to meet people. Meeting people at a social gathering, corporate reception, or other general networking opportunity is so much more fun and productive, if you are being introduced to others. No one is truly comfortable with the solitary process of "cold calling" and walking up to people we do not know and introducing ourself. The process of having someone else pave the way by making the connection is always more elegant and effective. If you want to meet new people or a specific person, form a pact with a person or people you know going to the event, to introduce one another to people they meet/know to each other.  This can turn these often anxiety ridden moments into a pleasure.

After I gave a presentation on networking and the power of the introduction recently, a young, very hip African American man approached me. He thanked me for the idea of "being introduced" to others. He was very excited and animated and told me that it was like having a "hype man". "You know, a hype man, the guy who promotes the rapper", he said (he crouched down starts shaking his dreadlocked head and pointing at an imaginary rapper and rapping) "He's the greatest rapper!" Yes, we all need a team of hype men or women. Advocates to give us third party endorsements. Someone else to talk about us, instead of ourselves. My best friend Willie used to call me his "Press Asian" when we were students. :) I was trying to help him get more visibility on campus. I was unwittingly a very early version of a hype man! We need others to refer us, promotes us, and introduce us to "audiences" and opportunities.

The old maxim holds true, " Could not have said it better myself."

But the art of the introduction goes beyond the sometimes superficial event scene and can be more targeted than general hype and promotion of your brand. You also need people on your hype team who know you well to partake in a much more strategic form of introduction. An introduction to others who you don't know that the team thinks you should meet. Others you have identified and want to meet. In either case, a warm introduction that gives you more credibility and enhances your value can make all the difference. 

The answers to these questions will help determine your strategy to meet people through introduction to advance your network and your career. 

  1. What are your goals, your priorities, your needs? What are you looking for? In other words, you have some direction that guides your networking. Otherwise, you foolishly think opportunity will come up and throw you a surprise party. 
  2. Who do you want to meet? Who do you want to talk to? Have you identified specific individuals, experts, executives, potential mentors/sponsors that you want to meet? There should always be people that you have respect, have a valuable perspective, or could help you-- people you would like to talk to.
  3. Which organizations, companies, non-profits do you admire? At some point you want to know these entities better, understand them, and perhaps be affiliated with them? Like individuals, you should be tracking organizations that you think are leaders, innovative or just plain intriguing. 

With these goals and targets in mind, you need to unleash your hype team. Talk to your inner network and pick their brains on who knows the people and organizations on your list. Start recruiting your hype team members. Make sure they are up to date on your resume and your skills, knowledge, and abilities. And then push them to find connections and introduce you.

These referrals are not a list of names and contact info given to you---that is bad form. There must be a warm hand-off, which requires a personal and professional introduction. In some cases you may want to draft an intro, just as you would do for a letter of reference. What do you want the intro to say and sound like? Why leave it to chance?

Of course, this only works because you are the hype man for your network too. You have to be willing to refer and introduce your network to others. 

Lastly, if you are ever going to be introduced as a speaker, or recognized at an event, make sure you provide some guidance. Often, people will ask you to draft the public intro. Don't just give your resume and cross your fingers--provide the intro and shape your brand!

Use the team concept of networking to meet people and uncover opportunities through introductions. Get a hype team and join a hype team or three. Make every introduction count. You will see that networking can be more enjoyable and successful when you work together. 

Thanks for reading. John


Networking with the Headhunters

Love the term "headhunters" because it sounds so ghoulish, mercenary, and a bit scary. Of course, we politely call them executive recruiters and talent recruitment. Back in the day, these firms were considered pretty elite and mysterious. Don't call us we'll call you! Hired by larger institutions and corporations who paid at least 30% of first year comp--so very expensive. The key advantage is the good firms have robust databases and can call currently employed people and get them to consider career moves. And at the very least, they network with these people to get referrals. Like great sales people, recruiters network like no others, because searches cross sectors and industries, so meeting great candidates can always be useful for a future search. But the economy has hit these firms too. Searches are down and the pool of highly qualified candidates are way up. While the advent of the web and career search sites has reduced the influence of headhunters, they are still important--especially as you climb the career ladder. Puppet-heads-l

Not talking about the firms which try to place temps or fill vacant entry level positions for a fee. Although some of my advice applies to them.

My best opportunities have come from headhunters. I have been placed by some of the largest firms in the business. Korn Ferry, AT Kearney, Heidrick and Struggles, Spencer Stuart, but there are zillions of small specialty boutique local firms as well. And the giant companies like Google have their own internal search "firms". I probably have a conversation or e-mail from a head hunter every week. So I have cultivated relationships with many firms over my career and many view me as a hub for contacts. This has served my network well. Like all firms, the quality of the firm is measured by the quality of the rep and there is a range of talent in the best and small firms.

In general, head hunters are akin to commission salespeople. They need to produce and they need to think about the next gig. So if they are any good, they will be a bit pushy and want to know if you need their services, that's their job. Passive recruiters will be looking for new work. You accept that as part of the conversation.

I was given advice early in my career to treat inquiries from headhunters as special calls. Like warm network calls, make time for them. Why? Simply put, brand management and development. Your reputation and thereby your potential is sculpted by others, by the marketplace, by the 360 degrees of your sphere of influence. And headhunters can play a role in the shaping of your brand. What if every headhunter had you on their list? Remember the general rule of networking that I preach here ad nauseum:The more people who know you, your skills, your helpfulness, your career trajectory, and your smiling face--the better! 

But is your head worth hunting?...........Let's assume it is :)

By the way, headhunters call about specific searches and call people they are recruiting who also know candidates. They don't call the unemployed very often. So thinking, you will talk to them when you need them is the dumbest thought. Breaks the cardinal rule of networking: Give first, then receive. And besides you know that desperation networking or emergency job networking are the most dangerous varieties.

I was talking to a close friend who has an amazing background and career. Her reputation and brand are spectacular, better than she thinks. She is very successful, but has a disdain for headhunters. She is a linear career planner. She does not look at new opportunities to remain focused on her current role. Therefore headhunters are distracting. She does not interview or talk to recruiters, until she needs to. This approach has worked for her, but as you might suspect, I disagree adamantly with this mindset. Despite her personal view, I have pushed her recruiters and opportunities on a regular basis. I see her potential as much bigger than she does. Finally got her to pursue a few leads. I got her to consider these in the context of brand management for the FUTURE. I am trying to help her see beyond her current horizon, because the future is not predictable. And luck and certainly the past are not guarantees of what could happen tomorrow.

Here are my quick tips on head hunters:

  1. Do some research on headhunters: Find out who and what firms are considered the best in your field and which ones are not so well thought of. What firms would you hire if you ever needed one?
  2. When they call or e-mail, respond--Be a resource. Don't just reject this as a nuisance because you are not interested. Find out about the opportunity, get the job spec, give them advice and then try and refer them candidates. I usually give my network contacts a head's up and send them the spec vs just giving the recruiter a name.
  3. Refer great candidates to headhunters unsolicited. Not desperate unemployed friends. But terrific people you meet and know that are gainfully employed and should be on the talent radar screens. Encourage them to meet and try to make that connection. Not all firms will do this, but again based on your relationship with a specific recruiter, it can work.
  4. Meet with a recruiter face to face--After you get to know the recruiter or you sense some chemistry, meet with them to better understand their business and for them to get to know you. You know that every informational interview IS an interview, so be prepared.
  5. Invite recruiters to events to meet your circle of people. This can be a win win.
  6. When do I call the recruiter for myself? Almost never. I call them to get advice on career moves, on their take on certain employers and to get insider info on that sector/company/industry. You don't call them to announce your general availability. No No.

Building your brand is a full time job. Part of that process is engaging headhunters proactively to help them. Instead of viewing them as annoying salespeople, see them as part of a larger network that can assist you and your network. Like all great networking that is driven by helping, the benefits can be career changing.

Thanks for reading. John


Don't refer unqualified candidates. Don't pass the trash!

The power and influence of networking trades on your reputation--your brand. If you do not manage your brand by making sure that nothing undermines it, then you are a very poor personal brand manager.

If you have any semblance of a network, then you are being asked to help friends and relatives with their job searches or even more likely, for their friends or relatives. Always respond to assist and be helpful as I  have advised repeatedly here. The benefits you derive often exceed any you dispense.

However the decision to refer or hand-off your friend, relative or others is one that you have to examine carefully and thoroughly. Just as you stand to benefit from the experience you also can also damage your brand.

Referring job candidates that you know are not qualified, prepared, or even good is simply stupid for all concerned.

In Waiting for Superman, the award winning documentary on the state of education in America, it characterizes the process of exporting or exchanging horrible teachers between districts as either "passing the trash" or conducting "the dance of the lemons". Principals and Superintendents who can not fire really bad teachers because of tenure, opt to shipping these teachers to other districts in exchange for their bad teachers. It is an obscene process that reflects how little the kids/students matter. Pasing the trash

When anyone refers, forwards via e-mail, a candidate they do not know, or worse, a candidate they know is weak--they are passing the trash. Imagine what this does to a brand, especially if they are a repeat offender at referring bad candidates.

I get dozens of referrals a month for specific jobs. And there is a dramatic increase in this transactional, thoughtless, process of referring candidates bereft of quality. Sometimes it is plain embarrassing. But always a waste of time. I have to decline the candidate AND explain to the referrer that the person is not even close to the specs.

People just want to get the task of helping people off their plate and on to someone elses. This is a cardinal sin of networking and mentoring.

Why mentoring you ask? Because the referrer needs to take the time and effort to help the candidate reflect on their goals, on their resume, on their process. This is where mentoring can be the most valuable. Stopping someone from a poorly defined job search and adding value to their journey is the purpose of mentoring. These moments of mentoring can be super powerful. No one is served if you just robotically agree to "forward" their resume. And you become known as a trash passer!

Passing the trash is a new form of spam. Puts me in the position to be the bad guy. because not only do I swiftly decline these candidates, I tell them and/or their referrers why. In a number of cases I de-brief the candidate on their missing qualifications, typos on their resume, career goals and the lack of fit. But somebody has to push back and stop the stream of trash. I feel sorry for the candidates because they are pretty much riding the process out. However, they get damaged in this process too. They are seen as not having their act together and when ruled unqualified, that hurts them psychicly and in the marketplace.

Stop before you refer someone. And don't refer anyone you think has dodgy or sketchy qualifications. No one wins and almost everyone loses, especially you.

Thanks for reading. John


Friending and Linking with purpose

Aren't first impressions important anymore? How we introduce ourselves, what I call your BIT(brief introductory talk) can make a world of difference in how the conversation and the relationship get started. How we shake hands, hand out our business cards, and what we say, form these critical impressions. And whether people are added to our networks will be largely governed by these impressions. But for some reason, these common courtesies and protocols go out the window when we go online. We do things online we would never dream of doing face to face. Connecting through online social networks may seem less intrusive, so really smart and nice people abandon generally expected etiquette. I guess it is so easy to hit the send button and move on to the next transaction that they don't think about it. Fb

What am I talking about? Okay I get a FB or Linked-in request every day. You know, on FB, "so and so would like to be your friend. If you know so and so, click Confirm." or " I'd like to add you to my professional network on Linked-In." If I know the person and I see this connection as mutually beneficial, then I confirm or accept immediately. However, 90% of these requests are from people I do not know or once met years ago. But since their request does not give me a clue how I know them, acknowledge the time that has elapsed, or even a superficial and insincere request about my health and well-being, I hit delete. Even a note that says "I need to use you, would you mind?" would be refreshing! Logo_linkedin_88x22

Ignore or delete these requests:

  1. Crashers-It is very irritating to get a friend or a link request from someone you don't know AND they employ the generic pre-set message Not even a salutation, note or indication what they want. Don't have time to solve the riddle or read minds and I certainly do not want any strange interlopers in my network. Delete.
  2. Left Fielders--This person seems familiar or maybe knew them in a previous life. You have not heard from them in years and they again use the generic request. Ignore or delete.
  3. Posers--You know this person but they did not give you the time of day before. Now they are in desperation mode. Like a lonely heart looking up old flames, they are looking to reconnect and it will be a one-sided deal with you on the losing end. And again, there is no explanation. Delete.

The problem is people can appear to be in such a rush or sending such quantities that thoughtfulness and personalization are trampled in the name of speed. And speed kills. We have to avoid being hit and run networkers. Our brain has to be engaged before we floor the gas otherwise we get into accidents and hurt ourselves. 

Not unlike a resume that does not have a cover note. Or when presumptuous people  give my name as a referenceand don't give me a heads-up. I may have a very favorable impression of the person, but have lost touch. And the new position they are seeking surprises me and since I do not know what they have been doing in the interim I can not connect the dots. Elegant hand offs matter. Making the extra effort to manage the process and give it a personal touch is invaluable.

There is an art to reconnecting with "old" contacts. It takes thought and time.

What if you opened your snail mail box and found a bunch of business cards inside, would you call them? Absolutely not. The BIG difference in a social network is that by confirming or accepting I would also agree to give them access to MY network. That scares me. This could be borderline network theft. Crash the network and then let them take what they want. And who opened the door?

Networks of contacts, circles of friends, and/or your connections are a precious resource that is to be protected and nurtured. There is no prize for the most. This is one place where size does not matter. Yes, if you are selling stuff or services then making mega connections will be helpful. (if everyone knows that is what you are doing) Any attempt to mask sales with empty attempts to share or support is a violation of the network. But we do want to share our networks as well. How we share and who is in our networks is always your choice.

Like everything, and as Covey says, "Start with the end in mind". What is the goal of your network? As you know, there is a real and profound difference between your professional and personal networks. Especially on FB, you have to make choices. Do you care if you have casual acquaintances, friends of friends, mixed with your best buddies and family and work colleagues? People find you on FB, people you knew, people you liked and not, people you care about and people who are seriously irrelevant. How can you treat them all the same? It is a gut check. Do you care? Do you want to read about their current lives? Make the call. The quality of your network is based on your choices, it always has been. And in the end it reflects you.

Good networking requires effort and time. Reading people's walls or Linked-in updates can be fascinating, but I have never found them sufficient to strengthen the network. I have to supplement by going offline to private e-mail, phone calls, or even a human interaction to make the online transactions meaningful. Some will argue with me. I endorse whatever works for you, but the quality of your network starts with your confirming or accepting that initial request. And if that request is personal and thoughtful, then your network grows with purpose.

Thanks for reading. John


How Do I Help Others Network? The Conveyor Belt of Life

In the final analysis, I think we all will be judged on how we help one another. Have we unconditionally and effectively assisted our friends, colleagues, and family members, especially in times like these? Everyday I receive a request of some sort--regarding a job, a reference, looking for a new career, trying to connect to a new network of opportunities, review a resume etc etc. I am sure you are getting your share too. Usually the person in need (PIN) connects to me through someone else. And that person knows me somehow. I make a quick determination whether I can help the person and take next steps in my process--more about that later. People are eager to hand off the PIN in a quick transactional way. Like a hot potato, the PIN is quickly tossed to someone in the network, sometimes with care and sometime recklessly. Hot potato Sometimes with a nice intro and warm request. Often with a pretty inelegant hand off, leaving the PIN to say, "So and so said I should contact you." Hopefully I know or like so and so.:)

In sports, life,  and work---the art of of the hand-off is a valuable and necessary skill. On a relay team, how well the baton is exchanged determines how well they do at the finish line. Passing baton When a huge corporate sale is made, how well it is turned over to operations will create results for the customer and generate great word-of-mouth and more sales. On the assemblyline of life we must depend on the work that precedes us and hand off to the "workers" after us a better product otherwise the end product suffers. What we do builds on what others do. Otherwise life is like a giant Lucy Ricardo conveyor belt of chaos and lost productivity. 

 

If there is an evil conveyor belt operator, all bets are off. :) Seriously the only way the system of life works is when we each do our part and do it well. The probability of the quality of the end product goes up with the diligence and competency of each step. This goes for parenting, the education system, or project management or architecture. But it definately applies to networking.

I am the victim of bad hand-offs at least once every week. They go something like this: 

  • The voicemail message squawks:"Hi John, so and so said I should talk to you about my career/job search/resume." I think to myself I wonder who so and so is.
  • A friend calls me and says, "My wife's sister was just laid off and is going to connect with you. Can you help her find something in LA?"  I think what a very unfocused request.

Bad, bad, bad, hand offs! A disservice to me and especially the PIN. Here's how to prevent bad hand-offs and actually help the PIN. 

  1. Prep the PIN--When we agree to help someone who is connected to someone we care about, we have to help them. Meaning--Help the PIN think about their strategy, their resume, their approach and goals. Hold up the mirror to them and tell them what you see. Do their goals match their experience and resume? If not tell them. Do you know how much time the PIN has to find a new job or career? Makes a huge difference in what kind of assistance they need. What are the requirements for the next gig? Salary? Location? Don't put them on the assemblyline without your honest advice and assessment.
  2. Give them my SWIVEL Download SWIVEL new 2009. I provide this to almost every PIN who is referred to me. It causes them to stop and slow down
  3. Prep the Network--At least make a call or send an e-mail alerting the network that this PIN is coming down the conveyor belt. A brief note on how you know them, their resume , and what you think they need (as opposed to what the PIN thinks)
  4. Follow-up with both--Touch base with both via e-mail. Did you connect? If so, how was it? Thank the network!
Yes, I know this takes more time, but we are dealing with human beings not widgets on this assemblyline! This is a full service networking site not the cheap imitations. :) Seriously, that's why it is a lifestyle and not a hobby. How we help PINs in all walks of life shape who we are and our sense of fulfillment. Nothing like an assemblyline that cares about the quality of its production.

Thanks for reading. John