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One of the hardest things to do as a young professional is learn to how develop and nurture a network. Business contacts, new friends, potential future employers and college buddies are all integral parts of a network because you simply never know how life will play out and how each person might affect your life in the future.
For many young people, there is a stigma attached to the word “networking” that implies it is some kind of impersonal way of collecting contact information for the sole purpose of finding a job or internship. It can be scary to ask strangers for help or to attend events with professionals in your industry. But it can be even scarier to think about sharing your contacts with others, perhaps even competitors for the same job or internship you might be after.
I felt this way for a long time. Until I read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. This book changed the way I looked at networking. It made me realize that networking is just a fancy word for creating meaningful relationships with people. Creating relationships is difficult, but maintaining mutually beneficial relationships is even harder. Many people have a tendency to keep score when it comes to networking, thinking there is a finite amount of equity in each relationship and that you might use up your chance at receiving help from a contact by connecting them with someone else. Keith explains:
Connecting is a constant process of giving and receiving—of asking for and offering help. By putting people in contact with one another, by giving your time and expertise and sharing them freely, the pie gets bigger for everyone.
A network functions precisely because there’s recognition of mutual need. There’s an implicit understanding that investing time and energy in building personal relationships with the right people will pay dividends.
You have to stop keeping score. You can’t amass a network of connections without introducing such connections to others with equal fervor. The more people you help, the more help you’ll have and the more help you’ll have helping others.
As a recent college graduate, I have many friends looking for jobs and internships right now. I enjoy doing what I can to connect these friends with people in my network, regardless of whether I might want to try to work for some of those contacts later in my career. If I can play some small role in helping two people find a good match and help them benefit each other, then I’ve done the best thing I can do for everyone involved, including myself. It would be foolish to think I should tell my friends I will not put them in touch with a business owner I’ve met through my own networking efforts because I want to reserve the ability to contact that person only on my own behalf.
In the book, Keith sums up this point nicely.
My point is this: Relationships are solidified by trust. Institutions are built on it. You gain trust by asking not what people can do for you, to paraphrase an earlier Kennedy, but what you can do for others. In other words, the currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.
In a time when employment is hard to come by and internships are more competitive than ever, it’s important to remember that generosity can go a long way toward creating a meaningful network. Thank your mentors for investing in your future. Help your friends connect with people you know if they can benefit from knowing each other. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help in your endeavors, but more importantly, don’t be afraid to help others in theirs.
It always seems that New Year’s Eve is a good time to reflect on the past year, re-evaluate what is important in life and think about what to prioritize in the coming months. As I look back on the last year of my life, I realize it’s been a whirlwind of changes, firsts and excitement. I’m sharing my year in photos, offering a glimpse into my life and what 2009 held for it.
I rang in the new year in East Lansing, celebrating with great friends, like Nick Lucido. Just a few days later, I left my job at The State News, a place I’d worked for about two and a half years. It was the first time I made the big decision to leave a job I loved to pursue the next big opportunity in my life. I began my final semester of college at Michigan State University, still feeling like graduation was in the distant future. For my final college spring break, I was able to go snowboarding in Sun Valley, Idaho and enjoyed a week in the mountains with a good friend and good boarding.
When spring rolled around, I watched my Spartans play their way into the Final Four, feeling excitement for my school’s basketball team during my senior year. I got to see the team play in Detroit at Ford Field in the National Championship game. Though the green and white fell to North Carolina that day, I witnessed the overwhelming sense of pride in the state of Michigan and rejuvenation of Detroit inside that building.
In May I graduated from Michigan State University with a BA in Advertising and specialization in Public Relations. Finishing college in four years with a degree I’m proud of was one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. Shortly after, I landed an internship with Delta Dental of Michigan, working in corporate communications and starting down my path to becoming the communications professional I prepared to be in school. My boss was Ari Adler and he’s become a tremendously great mentor and helped me get excited about my future in Lansing.
During the spring and summer I focused on my internship, but found a little play time, too. I got to spend quite a bit of time at my family’s cottage on Hubbard Lake in northern Michigan and was able to celebrate my 22nd birthday with friends and family during a visit to Chicago.
For the first time in years, most of my family was together for a family reunion. We all gathered at our cottage to celebrate Grandma’s 80th birthday and everyone having a chance to get together. In August, I traveled to San Francisco for my first consulting gig. An old friend of mine works for Clixtr, a Silicon Valley startup that created an iPhone app around the ultimate social camera. The idea is innovative and I believe in the vision of the company and what location-aware photo sharing can mean for social networks, businesses and marketers. I helped with creating a PR and social media strategy and was proud to use my knowledge and experience to help the company start off on the right foot after its TechCrunch 50 launch.
This fall I made a decision to have knee surgery, attempting to fix problems that have plagued my leg for years. The procedure had a fancy name (Tibial Tubercle Transfer) and with some luck and physical therapy, the outcome should be exactly what I hoped for. Despite the knee brace and difficulty of travel, I was able to visit my parents at their new home in Colorado this Thanksgiving. After my Dad’s retirement, my parents relocated to Castle Rock, CO and our family was able to gather to celebrate the new life they’ve started. My younger brother lives in Seattle, so it was a joy to see him since I get so few chances to do so.
I’m ready to start 2010 and embark on the exciting journey ahead of me. I will be starting my new job as Communications Coordinator at Delta Dental in January and look forward to the challenges of becoming a full-time professional. Here’s to a wonderful new year!
Today the PRSA Chair & CEO Michael Cherenson spoke to the Central Michigan PRSA chapter about the PR profession, ethics and issues facing PR professionals in today’s industry. He shared stories about the evolution of PR and his experiences watching the profession change as he grew up around it, watching his father practice public relations.
During his presentation, Michael said something that really resonated with me: PR pros know how to say no. There are no awards for saying no. We don’t get media coverage for saying no. We don’t generally get praised by executive management for saying no. But we do know how to identify which ideas, opportunities or messages could be detrimental to our brands. We do know how to discuss the impact of negative stories with different audiences. We do understand that the media likes to cover bad news and doesn’t care what crazy stunt a company might be willing to pull to get attention for good news. We are the unsung heroes, protecting our organizations’ reputations.
In many cases, knowing when to say no is just as important as knowing when to say yes. The beauty of brainstorming is that there are no bad ideas, just the free-flow of creativity. But when ideas from the drawing board need to be implemented, it is often up to the communications professionals to identify which plans could be detrimental to the organization. By nature, communicators have audiences in mind with every choice they’re part of making and they understand that the idea of “no such thing as bad press” is a myth.
It’s important to take chances and it’s important to push the boundaries of creativity. But it’s even more important to remain conscious of the brand identity at all times and stay away from the kinds of messaging that could destroy it. PR professionals already fight stereotypes of being “spin doctors” and shameless self promoters. By keeping what’s best for our organizations and clients in mind and knowing when to say no, we can instead be the guardians of our brands. We are the unsung heroes.
What do you think? When have you said no because you knew it was the right thing to do? Why do you think saying no is often so much harder than saying yes?