Don’t Skip These Work Events

Sometimes the last thing you want to do after a long day is spend more time with coworkers. Your idea of going to an “after work event” involves your couch and definitely not a suit. But our current environment makes it all too easy to get disconnected from our peers. Whether we telecommute, work in decentralized locations, or are just incredibly busy, we often go far too long without face to face interactions. So while it’s more than acceptable to miss a few of those events, make an effort to not miss them all.

The internet will never replace in-person

There is something to be said about getting together face to face. There is something there that can never be replicated by social media no matter how many tweets we post or photos we add to Instagram. This is not to denounce social media or the value of it (this is a blog after all), but it is to say we must realize that social media and virtual realities can’t reproduce the connections and interactions that are forged when we get together in person. In my casual surveys of our ‘virtual’ consultants on how best to engage, given most are millennials, I often expect a podcast or twitter session.  However, the most common answer is an in-person get together.

Out of sight, out of mind

As Woody Allen said, “80% of success is showing up.” Often we work from necessity: “This needs to be done now, who here can help?” But opportunities arise for those who realize it’s not just about the right timing, but the right place too. I frequently tell our consultants who are waiting for their next project to come to the office. When we host brown bag lunches or celebration dinners, I always encourage employees to attend in person and introduce themselves to someone they’ve never met. I tell them this, not because they can’t do their work from home or to make them uncomfortable, but because, more often than not, their potential next Project Manager or the person who will help them solve their latest problem is there too. That simple act of seeing someone and shaking their hand puts them at the front of our mind in a way that no email or resume can – no matter how amazing it is.

People make it all worthwhile

It’s easy to make work all about work and it’s just as easy to get burnt out from doing so. Ask anyone who stays with their organization why they do it and nine out of ten times the answer will be, “the people.” When we spend time with our coworkers, we commiserate over challenges, we collaborate on solutions, and we connect over a shared purpose. Camaraderie is not something that can be manufactured; it’s built through the moments we share. We develop relationships with people through our time spent together, over lunches and at conferences and potluck dinners, not through teleconferences and LinkedIn. It is those relationships that bond us to our organizations and lead us to stay day after day.

So go to that work event, the brown bag lunch, the town hall. Don’t miss those in-person interactions that have become all too rare today and yet that we often pass off as just another thing to do. Whether you are looking for your next opportunity or just need a reminder of what it means to be a team, there is no real substitute for getting together, putting the technology down, and talking face to face. It was a New Year’s resolution for me to do just the same. I, too, am working to go to more events outside of my normal network. Sometimes it’s tiring, not being home at night during the week, but the importance of connecting, networking, and just having casual connections is an important part of our self, our career and our ability to grow.

Getting Your Career Off to the Right Start

Every year, around this time, we get a new class of bright, eager IBMers who have just graduated from undergraduate studies and are ready to start their new careers. They are excited about their futures and want to know what they need to do to succeed in this new environment.

In so many ways, these IBMers are no different from any of us who are starting a new career, moving to a new position, or faced with a new challenge. We all want to know how to hit the ground running and demonstrate that we are capable of being successful. And sometimes, the new position seems daunting because, above all else, we do not want to fail. There have been many articles on the subject recently (I like this one from Business Insider), and I wanted to add what has worked well for me in the past.

Find a mentor: Most mentorships develop organically, without the formal “Will you be my mentor?” ask. Instead, look for people who can be influential and inform the career decisions you need to make. Surround yourself with people who are insightful; people who think differently than you or who have been successful in their environment can have advice that you would not have considered. These people can be peers, subordinates, or leaders in other areas. The most important thing is for your mentors to be willing to be candid and helpful. Eventually, your mentors may even become your strongest advocates as you progress through your career. But don’t forget, mentorship is a two way street and you must bring as much to the relationship as your mentor does.

Get involved and get to know your leadership: Attend town hall meetings, networking events, and other activities that will allow you to interact with leaders. Within the first month or two, try to have sit-down, informational interviews with all of the mid-level leaders in your area. These interviews need only be fifteen minutes, but they are excellent opportunities to find more information about the opportunities that exist and the career paths that are available. Ask the leaders about their passions and if they are involved in any special projects or initiatives in the organization. Most leaders will also want to know more about you, in return.  Knowing your leadership is beneficial to both parties; your leadership can volunteer you for projects that meet your interests, and you can continue to get involved in the organization.

Be open: Be willing to go outside of your comfort zone. Try new projects, build new skills, and be open to opportunities that you have never tried. Ask questions and share your informed opinion. You have a seat at the table for a reason, use it! Being open also means accepting feedback and constructive criticism.  Being open can be one of the scariest things in a new career, especially when we do not want to fail. Instead, look at these opportunities as ways to grow and develop.

I think it benefits all of us, whether we have been in our careers for two months or 20 years, to reflect periodically on the things I mentioned above.  I would love to read the best career advice you have received, so please share your thoughts in the Comments.

What I’m reading now: The Power of Bringing People Together

Out of the many ways that managers get things done, one of the most underused is what I call “convening authority”: the ability to bring people together to share information, build alignment, or solve problems.

7 Tips for Networking

I recently read an article from the Harvard Business Review titled, “Never Say No to Networking.” I couldn’t agree more.  As I’ve mentioned before, you will find there are many more opportunities out there for the people who actively pursue them. And networking is one of those activities where you may not know what will come of it, but you might find that it leads to a career changing opportunity or at least a solution to a cumbersome problem. While I am sure we have all heard over and over again that networking is essential, many of us still struggle with it. Even in the age of the omnipresent social network, we are not necessarily better prepared for networking.  So for those of you looking to take networking beyond your status update, here are a few tips:

The Scenario: You just got invited to an association dinner, and despite the temptation to stay home and watch TV, you accepted. However, you’re already nervous about talking to new people and you aren’t even sure what good will come of it. What should you do?

  • Know before you go:  Check out the list of invitees and see if any names pop out. Use sites like LinkedIn to connect names with faces and backgrounds. Perhaps you may find that someone works at a company where you recently applied or someone else went to the same college as you.  This information will help you to be more effective and efficient in your networking – plus it will give you something to talk about.
  • Ask for introductions:  If you found someone you are interested in talking to, ask the event host to introduce you two. A third party introduction can be an easier way to start up a conversation. You can also ask the host to suggest someone to talk to, the result may be something like, “Oh, you should talk to John, you are both patent lawyers.”
  • Be relevant: Research the subject of the event and find out the latest information on the agency, group etc.  This allows you to be relevant to the conversation.
  • Be yourself:  When all else fails, just be yourself.  Talk about the things you are passionate about, whether that’s your job or the local hockey team. Remember everyone else is in the same boat, standing among many strangers and just hoping that someone positive will start up a conversation with them. That person can be you, and perhaps the rival team fan you met will turn out to be an excellent connection for a new project.

Now you’ve made connections and want to set up a one on one meeting. What are the key things to remember?

  • Have purpose: As Paul Bernard said in his recent article on Huffington Post, “It’s crucial to have a clear understanding of why you are networking. When you’ve scheduled a networking conversation, know what you are looking for — is it a job, information, a referral, or advice?” Both you and your connection only have limited time, having a plan allows you to use it wisely, and shows your connection that you are serious.
  • Give back: Networking shouldn’t be one sided. A connection needs to know that you are as valuable to them as they are to you. Make sure to ask what they are working on and if they could use help.  Connect them with other people, invite them to events, help them even when you don’t need help yourself. This is all part of nurturing the relationship to ensure its continued growth.
  • Follow up: Always follow up with a connection. Get their information and send them a thank you note for their time. If you achieved something because of the relationship, let them know. The important part is to keep the bridge open.

There is a reason that you have heard about networking from everyone from your professors to your coworkers to bloggers. With the amount of emails and information people receive, overload is easy, which is where personal connections can really make a difference. So as Kathryn Minshew said, “Never say no to networking,” because if nothing more, it will be great practice for the connection that really counts.

What I’m reading now: Networking

The best networking suggestion I can offer? Always say yes to invitations, even if it’s not clear what you’ll get out of the meeting. I’m not arguing for long, pointless, unstructured conversations with everyone you meet. But many of my most fruitful relationships have resulted from a meeting or call in which I was not entirely sure what would or would not come of the conversation.