November 2, 2011

A funny thing happened on the way to my blog today.  The person from whom I derived the lesson that I want to share with you commented on yesterday’s post.  Not knowing that I was even starting a blog, nor that today’s comments are taken from a conversation that I had with him, he said, “It’s all about the people in your life, Alana… great post!”  Well, Eric M., thank you!  Thank you for your encouragement today – thank you for sharing that very same sentiment with me in 2007 when I came to you with the ridiculous notion to quit my job and strike out on my own. 

In 2007, when I made the snap decision to leave Sprint, I was overwhelmed.  I didn’t even know where to start, though I did readily acknowledge that networking would be critical to my success.  Knowing that I could not rely on my extensive internal Sprint network, I decided to quietly begin networking with professionals with whom I had interacted in a volunteer capacity.  There were five of them… Oh, there were others, too, lest anyone feel left out, but this group was my starting point.  I contacted each of them, told them that I was considering a career move and asked if I could have a little bit of their time.  Each of them graciously agreed and spent more than a little time with me.  I remain grateful to this day.  In time, I will tell you about each of them, but today’s lesson comes from my first meeting with Eric M. at First Watch, a local breakfast spot.

From the get go, Eric did a great job of settling my nerves and helping me to establish a process for beginning my networking quest.  He suggested that the first thing I ought to create was four lists – dear reader, I suggest that you finish reading this post, then go make your own four lists.  They are described below:

        I.  People I know in the community.  For me, this list was comprised of people with whom I had participated in community service initiatives, friends of mine with whom I had previously interacted only socially, people I knew through synagogue (church for many of you!), parents of my son’s school friends and sporting club teammates, and the like.  Everyone on the list was a professional who I admired and who, I believed, would be supportive as I began the process of networking.

      II.  People who I want to know in the community.  This list was comprised of people who I admired, had heard of, may have met, but none of whom did I know well.  These were people to whom I needed an introduction and I was hopeful of finding acquaintances who could forge those meetings.  More on this later, but LinkedIn became a powerful tool for me to accomplish this task.

    III.  Companies that I admire and want to get to know.  This was a more challenging effort for me.  I started by writing a description of my ideal company, identifying the characteristics that I admired, then finding out which companies possessed those or some of those qualities.  As you create this list for yourself, depending on your mission, you will need to make modifications based on who you are meeting with, what information they may be able to share, etc.  In other words, know your audience and be prepared to be flexible depending on what you learn about the companies you have already documented and others that may come to the forefront.

    IV.  The top 20 items most important to me in my [career search].  For many of you, you can replace the words, “…important to me in my career search,” with something like, “…important to me in order to generate more sales,” or “…important to me as I look for ways to get involved in my community.”  The point is, understand the type of person or organization that will be meaningful – in a big way or small way – as you embark on your networking quest.  Some of the attributes on my top 20 list included:

  1. Kansas City-based
  2. Entrepreneurial culture, open to new concepts/ideas, innovation
  3. Embracing of technology
  4. Management responsibility (i.e. manage and mentor a team)
  5. “Work-Life Balance” (i.e. family-friendly environment with some scheduling flexibility)
  6. Opportunities for continued advancement
  7. A sense of ownership (i.e. P&L responsibility, key deliverables that drive company success)
  8. Company with a sense of corporate social responsibility that encourages community involvement
  9. Insight into multiple parts of the business, industry
  10. Minimum salary requirements

Surely, your list will be different than mine, but I encourage you to be honest with yourself, be clear with your intentions, and consider things like geography, culture, technology, function, personal aspirations, etc. when documenting your list.

In closing, over lunch today, I had the chance to talk with a friend who is beginning to explore career moves and who expressed frustration in terms of not knowing where to start.  It took me right back to 2007; I suggested that she make a few lists for herself, similar to the ones that I have just described to you.  Whether you are looking for career transition ideas, a way to grow your current business, or simply want to expand your group of contacts in the community for the sake of doing so, I hope that this pre-coffee-lunch-coffee-prep, specifically, the list making concept, is useful to you.  I welcome your feedback and recommendations for other useful lists to consider when expanding one’s personal network.

I look forward to coffee (well, in my case, a large Coca-Cola from McDonald’s) with you tomorrow when I perform THE BIG REVEAL and tell you just what the heck coffee-lunch-coffee is anyway!