In November 2020, I developed two webinars in a four-part series on career development for the University of Washington Professional and Continuing Education.
The first, Maximize Your Career in Your Current Organization, covers what I describe as the three pillars of career management: Managing your career trajectory; managing your manager; and managing yourself. The second webinar, titled How to Network When Your Not Networking, covers what I describe as the career lifecycle and how (and why!) networking fits into that.
I’m not about to speak extemporaneously in an 45-minute webinar in front of hundreds of people, so I wrote out, word for word, my 7,484-word script and practiced reading it from a teleprompter. Exhaustively. If you’re more of a reader than a video watcher, here’s the script:
Thank you, Piyu, for the introduction. And thank you for having me back! I have really enjoyed putting together a presentation that complements last week’s webinar but also gives you all entirely new content to chew on.
I’m thinking I won’t pause for questions until the end – but Piyu, feel free to interrupt me if there’s a burning question that you think I need to address immediately.
I thought I might start off by telling you a little bit about myself and my coag practice. And I want you to pay particular attention to how I do this:
So I’ve always been interested in stories.
When I was a kid, I was always writing stories – fantasy, fairy tales, the stuff I liked to read – the stuff I still read, to be honest.
When I got to college, I studied history because I was interested in the stories that had actually happened to actual, real people. And my first career out of college was in journalism where I wrote about the stories happening to real people right now.
I became interested in business, and eventually got an MBA and spent the next decade in marketing roles at Alaska Airlines and Amazon. However, over time, I found that my stories tended to be about the numbers in my spreadsheets, and I missed stories about people.
I found my way to coaching, where my work now is all about my clients’ stories.
In some ways, my work has come full circle, although now I view the stories through the perspective of 20 years in the workforce, raising children while in that workforce, and finding a path to meaningful work that makes sense to me.
Okay, enough about me! Let’s talk about your career, and the role of networking. Nothing I’m going to say here is rocket science, but I’m hoping the framework and organization of content is helpful to you as you think about your career.
I want to note that while I am describing real clients, I’ll talk about their industryies in very general terms, I may change their professions, and I may change up the pronouns in order to protect my clients’ confidentiality. There’s one exception, with real details because the story is so good, and I will explicitly call that out.
Okay, the topic of this webinar is How to Network When You’re Not Networking. For the purposes of this presentation, I’m going to assume that that means that you mostly like your job, maybe you’re starting to think about what’s next, but you’re not in a full-blown job search – although everything I’m going to talk about is still highly relevant if you are.
So what can you do now to prepare for a future job search, or promotion, or career change – how can you plant the seeds for that future state in a way that is interesting and natural and engaging?
Let me share my screen so you can see the structure of what we’re going to cover in the next 40 minutes.
It can be useful to think of networking in terms of the classic journalistic Who, What, Where, When, Why and How, although I’m going to mix up the order and start with Why. Why do you need to even bother with this networking thing? We’re going to talk about something I call the “career lifecycle” – which sounds awful, doesn’t it? I think you’ll find it reassuring, actually.
We’re then going to jump to the Who: who to network with, and we’re going to talk about luck, and rabbits, and a wall in your house. Confused yet?
We’re going to talk about the What – what do you even say in a networking conversation. You know you’re supposed to “network” but what does that even mean? We’ll go through a couple of the Dreadfuls. Sounds dark, right?
We’ll talk about How to reach out to people you don’t know and I’ll share a template I use with my clients.
And we’ll talk about When it’s time to move on to your next thing. How do you know that’s the right decision?
Okay, we’re now starting with the Why: why bother networking – even when you’re not really networking. No matter what’s going on in your life right now, and I hope there are lots of good things going on, you likely have a job, or you have had a job, or you will have a job.
Ideally, you love your new job. It meets your needs, whatever they may be. Good salary, autonomy, growth, challenge, structure, responsibility, meaning, friendship, benefits – whatever is important to you.
However, over time, you start to think about wanting something else. Maybe you want to grow in the role, maybe you hate your management, maybe you’re curious about something else. But for whatever reason, at some point, it is highly likely – I’ll go out on a limb and say it is almost guaranteed – that you’ll start thinking about moving on.
So what do you do? You start looking for a new job. Maybe it’s in your field, maybe it’s at your current company, maybe it’s across the country, maybe it’s a total change.
And eventually, one way or another, it is highly likely that you will find a new job. And the cycle repeats. Like I said, not rocket science.
Now, of course, there is the scenario where you hate your new job.
I want to offer you the perspective that that’s in fact a good thing. You’ve learned something. You’ve learned that you never want to do whatever that is again.
If you hate your new job, eventually – hopefully! — you start looking for an new job. And eventually, one way or another, it is highly likely that you will find a new job.
You want to be loosely repeating Steps 1 through 4 for the entirety of your career, with a couple of Step 2x’s thrown in there for course correction.
Networking during Step 2 and 3 lays the foundation for the success of Step 4.
It’s the hardest time to do it. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Let me get out of screenshare and give you a break from powerpoint.
Okay, we before we go any further, let’s define networking. Or at least how I like to think about networking.
A lot of my clients first sit down with me with the sense of this onerous, arduous, potentially humiliating chore that they know they should do, but they don’t really know how to do it and they’re dreading it. Does that sound familiar?
I talked to a new client just the other day. He worked at a large company, was buried in his work, said he’s awful at networking and never met anyone outside his building. That’s probably pretty typical, right?
We talked about how networking is about having interesting conversations with people doing cool work in this world. That’s the mindset I approach networking with: people are usually really nice, and it’s fun to talk with nice people who are doing great work you’re interested in. It’s exciting. Energizing.
Okay, so how do you find those interesting people in order to have those interesting conversations? We are now at the Who.
In order to get to that, we need to talk about the role of luck in your career. You’re lucky to have a good manager who supports you and is interested in your potential; you’re lucky that you happened to hear (page 4) about your current role from some random connection; you got that lucky break. I could on – but do you see what I’m getting at here? And yes, I know you’re also really smart and you’ve worked really hard to get where you are in your career.
As I was procrastinating and avoiding working on this presentation, I read a quote in The Atlantic magazine from a famous mathematician talking about the election.
“Unlikely things happen so constantly that you could say reality is mostly one unlikely thing after another.”
You can ask pretty much any successful person about their careers and many – most?—will say that they got really, really lucky. I have found that to be true in my coag practice, anyway.
All of which is to say that I am convinced that luck is probably going to play a major role in your career – in addition to your hard work and expertise and smarts. So we need to talk about managing luck.
To illustrate the role of luck, I want to talk about rabbits.
So I have giant rabbits in my backyard. It all started with Papa Bunny, a giant gray bunny. I knew he wasn’t neutered, and it’s possible I didn’t share that information with my husband.
He seemed lonely – pining — so I got him a friend. Whom I happened to know wasn’t spayed. Pretty soon we had lots of bunnies, which isn’t the point of this story. But you know that saying about rabbits? It’s true.
Anyway, one day just after Easter I get a call from a friend. There’s a little, baby Easter bunny in her garden, getting eaten alive by crows, and could I come rescue it? Of course we go get the little baby bunny and put it with all its new bunny friends.
And the huge rabbits try to eat the baby bunny. It’s like Watership Down in my backyard. So I’ve got a problem.
I go for a dogwalk and run into my neighbor. I tell her about my rabbit problem and a friend of hers joins us. We finish chatting and laughing about rabbits, and my dog and I wander home.
Twenty minutes later, I get a text from my neighbor. Her friend had just texted her, to tell her that she saw a perfectly new rabbit hutch for free on the side of the road. Kids and I jump in the car, go get the rabbit hutch, put it in the backyard, and put the baby bunny in there with lots of straw and timothy hay and mint and sage and parsley from the garden. Happy baby bunny! Problem solved!
So the reason I like this story as a metaphor for networking is that it’s all about luck. I happened to run into my neighbor, I happened to talk about the bunny problem, her friend happened to stop by, her friend happened to see a rabbit hutch sparkling on the side of the road as she drove home. She was nice enough to take the time to text my neighbor; my neighbor was nice enough to take the time to text me.
This wasn’t a straight line to a solution: this was a series of unlikely events, like that mathematician described in The Atlantic article.
IF this story is a metaphor for networking, how do you find the rabbit hutch? How do you help luck find you? How do you optimize for luck?
We’re going to talk about a couple of different directions to tackle this from. The first has to do with what I think of as a Yes! Mindset.
I work with my clients about being open to trying new things, meeting new people, doing things that are scary and hard. So, for example, I like to take classes in things I’m scared to do. So this has been ski courses, improv, woodworking – big power tools are super scary.
I think it’s important to do things, as adults, that are challenging, that put us in beginner mind. And you meet completely random people when you do this. These people become part of your network. On a chairlift, we got to chatting about our work; as a result, one of my fellow ski students has been one of my favorite clients for a couple of years now. I was networking. I was skiing.
So notice I’m not talking about networking meetings here, or networking conferences. I’m just talking about living your life and introducing new and random things into it. We like random, as you’ll see.
Okay, the elephant in the room is how to do this in covid times.
I gotta say, people adapt, I see my clients adapting. It is an excuse to say you can’t do this because of masks and social distancing. So, for instance, I’m talking to you all right now – that’s pretty random. I’m taking an ESL certification course – that’s a zoom classroom full of new potential networks. Right?
I want to invite you to type in the Q&A how you’ve adapted and are doing hard, fun, scary things while still following public health rules. Pee-you, interrupt me and let’s hear them if you get a good list, okay?
In addition to stirring some randomness into your life, despite covid, let’s talk about building out your network laterally. Again, without really networking. One way of thinking about this is to make friends at work. Intentionally make friends at work. Let me share a client story to illustrate this.
This client works at a large tech company that you’ve heard of. She’s a lovely person, kind, funny, and super smart. She had gotten feedback that her coworkers thought she was aloof.
We were mulling over this feedback, which had hurt her feelings and shaken her sense of her identity at work, which she loves.
I asked her, almost off-hand, what she does at lunch. (This all happened in Before Times). She describes that awful feeling of walking out into the cafeteria seating area, into the sea of faces, and being afraid of not seeing anyone she knew, of not having anywhere to sit – and of people watg her.
Can you relate to that feeling? She said it reminded her, in a pretty awful way, of middle school. She said it’s a lot easier to eat at her desk and just not deal with that feeling.
We talked about how that perception that she’s aloof and her eating lunch by herself at her desk could be related. We talked through different solutions and she decided she would say Yes! When colleagues were asking around to see if anyone wanted to go to lunch. Saying her ideas that out loud to me, her coach, transforms this “should” into a plan and a commitment that she actually wants to do– that’s one of the cool things about coag.
So she’s saying Yes!, she’s doing something that’s scary for her, and she’s building out her network laterally by making friends at work. She’s networking without networking. Again, it’s just lunch, not rocket science.
So, obviously, this harder to do virtually. And it’s a lot easier to turn off your video camera and avoid the virtual lunchrooms or happy hours or whatever else your organization is doing to bring people together in these times. And that’s probably a mistake and a missed opportunity to network when you’re not really networking.
So we’ve random, and we’ve got lateral networking. Now let’s talk about growing your network up through the organization, even when you’re not really networking. Let me share a client story to illustrate this.
This client works in marketing for a large telecommunications company: MBA, middle-management, ambitious, young. She first started working with me because she wanted to work on her confidence.
She told me a story about how her manager was presenting some big, interesting proposal to his executive and asked her if she’d like to help give the presentation. Good manager, right? That’s all about visibility.
She said no.
She had reasons around being tired, she’d had a long week – but mostly she was scared. And then she was full of regret and self-recrimination.
There’s a lot going on in that story from a coag perspective in terms of growth mindset; and confidence; and anticipating her manager. But I want to look at this story in terms of building your network upwards through your organization.
Who knows whom she would have met if she had gone to that meeting? Who would have seen her? Whom might she would have connected with? Who might have sponsored her on an interesting project as a result?
If you say No, you know exactly what will happen. Who knows what will happen if you say Yes?
I want to go off on a little bit of a tangent and talk about increasing your visibility.
Let me share a quick story to illustrate this, which is not actually about a client. This was at a dinner party. I was chatting with a friend of a friend in the kitchen. She was talking about how her boss keeps asking her to publish thought leadership pieces on LinkedIn. She was complaining how that just seems like a waste of time.
I couldn’t help myself.
I pointed out, gently, how that’s a self-sabotaging perspective. Writing and publishing or otherwise communicating broadly about areas where you have expertise is a great way to increase your visibility and increase your chances of developing allies and sponsors higher up in the organization. That’s networking without really networking, right?
I’d like to add that now, during covid times when there are fewer distractions, is a great time to be working on increasing your visibility, in a way that plays to your strengths.
Not a writer? What about video? Hate the idea of talking to a camera? Think about how you can add to your organization’s knowledge management. If you were talking with me in a coag session, we’d figure out what you can do, what you can sustain, and then we’d calendar it, or game-ify it somehow. Okay?
So we’ve been talking about saying Yes to new things as one way of finding that rabbit hutch, by stirring in randomness, by growing your network laterally, and by growing it upwards in your organization by increasing your visibility.
A second way to find that metaphorical rabbit hutch is through jealousy.
But jealousy is a really useful emotion. We tell ourselves stories about why we should or shouldn’t do things, or we believe other people when they tell us what we should do, or can’t do.
Jealousy tends to cut through all those should and can’ts.
One of my favorite questions to ask clients who are casting about for the next thing is to ask them: Who are you jealous of? And then I need to add: professionally jealous, I’m not necessarily interested in whom my clients are jealous of in terms of other people’s appearance or love life or personality – although I might be!
These could be people you know; these could be friends or colleagues; maybe people you read about in the newspaper or see on TV. People doing interesting work that gives you a stab of jealousy: that feeling of, Shoot that looks awesome – how come they get to do that? I want to do that. Pay attention to that feeling – it’s super useful.
This feeling can also show up as wistfulness. Every time I walk into a hospital, I have this wistful feeling of, Darn, I wish I were a doctor. There’s just something about that environment I really like. Pay attention to that “Oh, I wish…” feeling.
Keep track of when you feel jealous or wistful. Write it down. Those feelings are a bit like dreams, very ephemeral and easy to blow away once your brain gets busy with the shoulds and can’ts, and talks you out of it.
So now I want to talk about keeping track of all this randomness. You’ve had some interesting rabbit hutch conversations, you’ve been noticing where jealousy and wistfulness show up for you – how do you keep track of all these random threads in a way that leads to something?
So let’s talk about The Wall.
Now, I love my spreadsheets and you could certainly organize this project in a spreadsheet. But I want you to think about taking a wall in your home. Every time you have an interesting conversation that has you thinking about what might be next — sometime down the road — you write it down on a sticky and put it on The Wall. (A client told me that you also have to use some painters’ tape, otherwise your stickies will fall off the wall. )
On that sticky, you write the name of the person you talked with, the date, and something you learned in that conversation.
Okay, I’m going to share my screen because I can’t really stand up and show you how this works on a real wall like I do in my office.
Okay this model works whether you’re in Step 2, 3 or 4 of your career lifecycle. The difference probably lies in your intensity and focus:
if you’re in Step 2 – when you like your job and have no plans to move on — this is an amble
If you’re in Step 4 and you’re actively job searg, this is a brisk jog.
Say you have an interesting conversation with your friend Joe whom you used to work with. You write Joe’s name on a sticky, the date, and something you learned in that conversation. Now Joe’s going to introduce you to two or three people in his network, each of those people get stickies, and once you talk with them, you date it and write down something you learned. And they’ll each introduce you to two or three people, and this grows logarithmically .
This is a hypothetical scenario — it doesn’t usually work quite this well because not all people respond when you reach out to them, but some people do – particularly if you introduce yourself compellingly, which we’ll get to.
Now this is where it gets interesting. When you were talking with, say, Mike , he mentioned something you’d never thought of before – maybe you didn’t even know the field or the role existed. How would you? It’s really tough to know what you don’t know – and that’s why you’re ambling along having these conversations in Step 2 of your career lifecycle.
And that’s why you write down something you learned in each one of these conversations. It could be something prosaic like “don’t try to eat a hamburger over a networking lunch”; or it could be super profound, some insight into what you really want to do next. The point is, it’s your job in these conversations to learn something new no matter how great or how much of a bomb the conversation was.
Anyway, Mike mentions this interesting idea, maybe even just in passing, and it catches your curiosity. That idea gets a fresh, new section of The Wall.
And you start to think about whom you can talk to who works in this random idea. I don’t care if you don’t think you know anyone. If you have hundreds of LinkedIn connections, which you should, you’ll know someone. Look at your alumni associations. Your nonprofit boards. Your old Frisbee team. People at church. Get really creative. And you start building a network as you explore this new idea.
Now, you’re going to be on a run or a dogwalk or in the shower, and you get another totally random idea. And that idea gets a fresh, new section of the wall. And you start to think about who you can talk to who works in this random idea. See why we like random?
So, over time, you slowly build out The Wall, exploring new ideas, keeping track of what you’re learning.
The Wall is a living, evolving mind map of the different futures that you’re exploring.
Okay that was all hypothetical and risks being pretty BS-y, so let me overlay a client story over this model. I have this client’s explicit permission to use details so you can really see how the model worked for him.
Okay, when he and I first started working together in October 2018, this client was a chemical engineer working as a compliance manager at a chemical company. I’ll call him Chris. He was in Step 3 in his career lifecycle: very experienced in his role and getting kind of tired of it. He was tired of working in a factory. He had this sense that he could be doing something else, something more, but he didn’t know what that might be.
He starts having a series of conversations with people: former colleagues, old professors, friends of friends.
And then Chris has a Rabbit Hutch conversation.
In a moment of panic, he had applied for a compliance job in a related field and had gotten an interview. But he decided he wasn’t interested in the role since he wanted to get out of compliance – and this is the important thing — he took the time to call the recruiter to cancel the interview.
This recruiter thanked him for letting him know. The recruiter said a lot of people just ghost him if they decide not to interview, which is a bit rich coming from recruitment which, I’ve observed, ghosts job candidates all the time.
But anyway. Chris called to decline the interview because he’s a polite guy: he’s well brought up – in fact he flew across the country to surprise his Mother on Mother’s Day, which irrelevant to this story but a really nice detail.
Anyway, Chris and the recruiter started chatting about Chris’s plans and ideas for his career.
And during that conversation, Chris connected his expertise in compliance to his interest in sustainability. Although he is an environmentalist in his personal philosophy, he had never considered this professionally, and it would never have occurred to him that his chemical engineering background could be an asset here.
That was the rabbit hutch.
He then has a number of conversations where this idea evolves. He sent me an update afterwards, which I want to read to you. You can really hear in this email how this new idea is taking shape:
He writes: “I’ve also had some good networking calls, and the last one I had really keyed in to something I’m interested in around sustainability. “
So you can hear how he’s exploring this new idea, right? He continues:
“Specifically around how businesses are starting take a more serious look at risk management.”
You can see how he’s really starting to focus on what he wants to do. That last networking call connected Chris with a hiring manager and, eventually, he has a job offer and is moving across the country.
Notice the timeline here. This project took a year. Chris started in Step 3 and wasn’t in a rush, he’d disappear off my radar for months at a time as he worked on networking calls, and went skiing and hiking and — fishing, literally.
Also, notice how non-linear this process is. Back in April, he happened to apply for a job he was qualified for but didn’t want, talked with the recruiter, which sparked an idea, which put him on a new path to explore.
The point is, when he was in Step #3, when he was feeling dissatisfied with his job and his career: he didn’t start with an articulated vision of working in climate change.
It was the process that got him there; not some so-called assessment or workbook or “what are your passions”-kind-of-conversation. It was just a series of interesting conversations, a series of unlikely events, most of which were dead ends, but all of which led him, ultimately, in this new direction.
Hang on, let me get out of share and give you a break from powerpoint.
Okay, one last thought before I move on. Think about having a goal of how many networking-y-type conversations you’re going to have. Say you’re flying high in Step 2 – you love your job! However, you know that, eventually, that will start to change. So what do you want to do now to prepare for that? What can you sustain? One conversation a week? That will lead to some 50 conversations a year. That’s a lot of potential rabbit hutches. Two a month? One a month? This is very coach-y, but set a goal and calendar time to poke away at it.
Actually, I have one more thought. Being forced to do this virtually right now is no reason not to do this. In fact, I think it actually makes it easier. You don’t have to figure out where to meet for coffee, you don’t have to deal with traffic or parking, and ask the other person to significantly interrupt their day to do so. But I want you to think about one really tactical thing.
Make sure you have good equipment. Make sure you have good lighting, a good webcam and good sound.
I was talking to a new client the other day. He was trying for VP roles and was getting interviews but not landing anything. We were talking through his job search strategy – what could he be doing wrong? – and I realized I couldn’t really see him. It was like he was sitting in a dark cave – I couldn’t see his face or his eyes, his voice was tinny, the angle was all weird, he was looking down and I was looking at the top of his head. Spend time and money fixing that stuff, okay? It’s probably worth it.
Okay, now we’re going to move to “The What” and talk about what to say in these networking conversations because the very idea of them can feel awkward and icky and potentially humiliating, right?
Okay, if any of you were here last week, you may remember me saying, If it matters, you prepare. These networking conversations, and these chance – lucky – encounters, matter, and so we’re going to prepare for them beforehand.
Over the years, I’ve collected six predictable questions that you know you’re going to be asked in networking conversations. I call them the Dreadfuls, the Six Dreadfuls, although I’m mulling over adding a seventh.
Okay, before we jump into the actual questions, I want you to think about the process of answering them as a creative – writing – exercise. I want you to write out your answer, and when you like that story, I want you to translate it from written English to spoken English, complete with pauses and umms and the quirkiness of how you actually speak.
Once you like that shortened answer, I want you to memorize it. Memorize it to Happy – Birthday – song – memorized. (And the concept of that level of memorization is borrowed with appreciation from the Wait but Why blog, which I recommend).
So when you’re sitting across from someone you find really impressive — intimidating even — and they ask you a Dreadful, your mouth can be busy answering the question fluently and confidently, while your brain can focus on the things we need it working on, like body language and eye contact and being funny and being smart, rather than stumbling over an easy, dreadful question and feeling like an idiot and losing confidence – and potentially missing the rabbit hutch.
Okay, let me switch back to my powerpoint so you can see and hear the dreadfuls. Brace yourself.
Okay, the first dreadful is “So, Kathryn, tell me about yourself.”
So for a lot of people, this is a dreadful question. I mean, what does it even mean? Are they asking about me personally? Professionally? Recently, or, like, my whole life? It’s a dreadful question because we don’t really know what they’re asking for, right?
If you prepare beforehand, you get to control what the question is actually asking.
If you think back to the beginning of this webinar, I answered the First Dreadful.
I said: “I thought I might start off by telling you a little bit about myself and my coag practice.”
I then told you something about me, a defining characteristic: I like stories. I traced that characteristic back to when I was a kid writing fairy tales. I weaved it through my education – why I studied history – and my career choices: journalism, MBA, marketing, coag. I answered the First Dreadful, but I answered it exactly how I wanted to – and hopefully it was interesting, memorable, maybe even impressive.
As you listened to me answering the first dreadful, maybe you even thought that my career makes sense, that it followed some logical progression. That maybe I even had a plan.
Nothing could be further from the truth: like most careers, mine is a mish-mash of luck, chance and randomness, combined with whatever ability, skill and hard work I could throw in there. But it sounds like I had a plan, it sounds like my career makes sense, and that is a very powerful – and empowering.
There’s a Steve Jobs quote that I appreciate, that he gave at a Stanford commencement. He said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
You are connecting those dots in the First Dreadful.
You need to watch out for Dreadful variations. These sound like : So what’s new? What’s your story? What’s your deal? What have you been up to? What’s up?
If your CEO asks you what’s up, you don’t want to be saying, “Not much.” Okay?
Sometimes when I work on this with clients, they’ll say, Isn’t this just an elevator pitch?
And I guess it is, but to me an elevator pitch has a sales-y flavor to it. I want your answer to the First Dreadful to be real; I want it to be about something you actually really care about.
I do, actually, really like stories and always have; I do, actually, really care about my clients’ stories. Even though my answer to the First Dreadful is just a story – it’s a true story.
I think when you talk about something you really care about, that means something to you, it shows in your eyes and your voice. You’re not boring when you talk about something you care about. It’s not sales-y.
So that’s how to answer the first dreadful: identify some defining characteristic; trace it back in time, and weave it through your educational choices and career.
One last thought on the first dreadful: It’s easier said than done. This simple, little question is actually really hard to answer, so give yourself time to iterate on it; give yourself time to be inspired.
The Second Dreadful is about your work. Where you are in your career lifecyle is going to affect its dreadfulness and its variations.
If you’re in Step 2, and enjoy your work, then the question What kind of work do you do? is probably not a dreadful.
However, it is really important that you have an answer to its variation : What are you working on? You need to be ready to go with that answer when you pass someone in your management chain in the hallway, or in a meeting with your skip, or over drinks with colleagues at the end of the week – when we get to do that again. Maybe this spring?
It’s a bit tough for me to tell you, specifically, how to answer that question here, but in general, make your answer relevant to the person who’s asking. So that can sound something like this:
“Hey Kathryn, what’re you working on these days?” “Oh hi Mrs. VP! You’d be interested actually: you know your xyz initiative? I’ve been working on abc that does this and that cool thing.”
Now, the Second Dreadful becomes significantly more dreadful if you’re in Step 3 or 4 : you’re thinking about a new job but you’re not sure what it is. How do you answer What kind of work are you looking for? if you don’t actually know?
So let me give you permission to say “I don’t know” but you need to package it up so it sounds intentional and interesting. So that can sound something like this:
“So, Kathryn, what kind of work are you looking for?” “That’s a great question, Sue, and something I’ve been exploring. I’ve been talking to a number of interesting – people- like- yourself as I really take the time to figure out these next steps in my career.”
So I just said I don’t know, but didn’t that sound like I had a plan? Plus I got some flattery in there, which is always a useful tool and we’ll talk more about in a bit.
The answer to the Second Dreadful evolves as you look for the Rabbit Hutch. If you think about that client case study, my client Chris started with compliance and ended up in climate change, and his answer to the Fourth Dreadful was informed by, and – evolved – as – a – result – of, every networking conversation he had.
I’m going to skip the Third Dreadful because it’s really for a full-on networking project and not so much for when you’re not really Networking.
But the Fourth Dreadful is relevant, regardless of where you are in your Career Lifecycle.
So the question is How can I help?
And it can be dreadful if – the – person – you’re – talking – with – doesn’t – ask – you – this question. Which means you need to make the ask. That can be really hard for folks.
Before I start describing how to answer this question, I want to step back for a moment and talk about the goal of these networking conversations.
You’re not asking for help. You’re not asking for advice.
You are asking for ideas. You are trying to know more about what you don’t know. And you are asking for introductions to people who – might – know – more – about – that.
You’re not sitting at someone’s knee in these conversations. What you’re doing is aspirational. You want the person sitting across from you, or on the other side of that screen, to be thinking to him or herself: “Wow, she’s actually taking care of her career. She’s getting out there and networking and talking with people. Damn, I need to be doing that. Especially now.”
Okay? I coach my clients towards this mindset.
So there’s a two-part answer to the Fourth Dreadful. Answer 4a is about catg new ideas, uncovering what you don’t know, learning something new. As I said before, it’s not about asking for advice – I’m very skeptical of advice in general, by the way: no one knows what you should do next, take any advice with a huge grain of salt, okay? How’s that for advice?!
Anyway, answer 4a can sound something like this:
“Kathryn, how can I help?” “Thanks, George, for asking. Given what we’ve talked about and what you know of my background and interests, where could you see me adding value? Where could you see me slotting into an organization like yours?”
Right? You’re mining for ideas. Notice how the answer is not: What do you think I should do? See how asking for ideas is so much more powerful than asking for advice?
Okay, answer 4b is about asking for introductions to people outside your current network. The answer sounds something like this:
George, I’m wondering, given what we’ve talked about in terms of my career growth, whom do you know who could be helpful to me as I explore these next steps?”
One thing I like to point out to my clients and I don’t really know how important it is, but I do really believe that words matter: notice how 4b is not a yes/no question.
I’m asking Who do you know? Not, Do you know anyone? I think it’s too easy to say, Yeah, no, I can’t really think of anyone, sorry.
But who do you know – there’s an implied flattery there: who do you know, you important, connected, influential person – of course you know lots of people who are helpful. See the difference?
I’m going to skip Dreadfuls five and six because they’re more relevant for networking in a job search, not as much for the topic of this webinar. I’ve written about most of them, so you can search for them in the Seattle Times or on my website.
One last thought on the Dreadfuls:
As I was preparing this webinar, I wanted to use that quote about luck and preparedness – we’ve all heard it, right? I looked it up, and apparently Loo-wie Pass-toor said it: Luck favors the prepared mind.
When you have that chance – lucky encounter, you want to have the Dreadfuls prepared. Be ready to answer that question from your CEO or your ED or that great manager in that other department who you’d love to work for.
Don’t miss the rabbit hutch because you didn’t prepare.
Okay, so I bet the burning question some of you may have right now is “Yeah, great, but how do I even get that person to talk with me? They don’t know me – why would they waste their time?”
So we’ve gotten to the How: How do you reach out to someone you’ve never met or haven’t talked to in years and years.
So a lot of the answer has to do with asking for what you want, which I went into in some detail in my webinar last week.
You need to find the in. How can you help this person? How can you make them look good? Make it about them, not you.
And a little flattery will get you a long way. Let me share a personal story to illustrate this.
I received a LinkedIn message out of the blue from someone I never met. Let me read aloud the good bits.
Okay, so meeting someone I don’t know for coffee has a high opportunity cost for me. I charge for my time and energy, and an hour for coffee with someone I don’t know is very expensive for me.
This person recognizes that I am a high caliber coach; she recognizes that I have expertise and insights. That feels really good – and this is the important part – even – when – I – know – exactly – what – she’s – doing in this message. I mean, she recognizes that I have valuable perspective. She sees me as generous. In fact, I have always thought that it is a pleasure to connect with me.
Hang on, let me get out of screen share. Needless to say, we had a lovely coffee and I introduced her to a number of people in Seattle. A funny thing about this story is that she’s not a native English speaker and this is the best networking request I’ve ever received.
So let’s wind this down by going back to the Career Lifecycle framework and a pretty interesting question that comes up in my office a lot. This is the When.
How do you know when you’re moving from Step 2 to Step 3: from loving your job to getting ready to move on. How do you know you’re not just going through a rough patch; just having a bad day; maybe it’s just hormonal, right? How can you know?
So one thing I talk about with my clients is something I call the Whisper.
It’s just this little feeling, a whisper of a feeling, that something isn’t quite right. That this isn’t a great fit. That you should be doing something else. Sometimes, it’s a scream, which is harder to ignore. But pay attention to that whisper. You ignore it at your peril.
I work with my clients on getting really clear on what their non-negotiables are in their careers and work life. Are you learning and growing in your role? Are you bored (which is, by the way, really important to pay attention to)? Do you start getting sad on Sunday eveningss? How much of a role does dread play in your life? What does Monday morning feel like to you? Are you on a track for promotion? Is the scope of your responsibilities expanding in the way you want? Are you getting the respect and appreciation that you as a human person naturally and innately want?
Answer these questions – or whatever the relevant questions are for you – and give the answer a number on a scale of, say, one to five. Do this, every day? once a week? and plot over time. You’ll start seeing broad trends – it’ll smooth out the bad days, or that stupid mistake you made, or the weird look you got from your boss, or whatever else happened that has churned up this feeling.
If you see a strong signal of, say, “bored” day after day for a couple of months, then that’s probably something to pay real attention to.
Tracking these feelings lawn-ji-too-dinally helps prevent a reactive response and helps you make a careful, thoughtful decision as you embark on Step 4.
And with that, we’re ready for Q&A.