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Tips for Remote Networking

What an honor to be asked to speak to the Computer Futures Dell Women’s Group. Breaking the Glass Ceiling’s Elizabeth Lam gathered a fantastic moderator Stephanie Herrera, along with panelists Lysa Miller and Meshell Baker, to help the women of Dell network to get ahead while working from home.

Good topic right? How do we switch from casual in-office and off-hours elbow-rubbing to a social-distanced networking strategy? (Goodness, imagine how weird it will feel to one day soon ACTUALLY touch another human’s elbow outside your family!?)

Turns out, much of our advice is the same. It just takes a BIT more confidence to reach out when you didn’t just bump into each other in the office break area.

How to reach out:

If you’re targeting a peer (we spent more than a few minutes discussing how your peers will raise you up in a company), go with a compliment, an offer to help, and some authenticity.

Example:

Hey Katie, It’s Lauren over on Jo’s team in sales. I overheard your name in a meeting last week (saying great things of course) and wanted to make a personal connection. I admire your work so much. Want to do a virtual coffee later this month?

OR 

Hi Katie, I work in the sales department and in truth, I’m a fan of yours. I don’t know a lot of women outside my small bubble and I hope we can connect and find ways to help each other. Virtual lunch next week?

What neither of these do is start with what I WANT (like most LinkedIn sales connections, right)? Be the person trying to add value to their network rather than trade it for a fast sale. Also, neither said a specific way you can help Katie (we had questions about this… how can I help Katie? Doesn’t matter, just lead with your intent to do so somehow if you can).

When networking up to a boss, an executive, etc, compliments still pay. Mention an article, a comment, anything from his or her body of work and you are automatically in the top 10% of connections. Now go further to try and add value – an article, an introduction, even something funny. Reaching out and making the effort to do more than be a LinkedIn connection differentiates you. What prevents you is fear.

We all feel small compared to someone else out there. Like this:

“Who am I to reach out to Jill Konrath? She’s a big-time author and probably super busy and I’m just a small business owner. What could I ever do to help her?”

OK, I admit, that one was me. So I emailed her to ask her to get involved with #GirlsClub because I was a coward. She replied and told me to call her. She gave me advice. We talked like girlfriends. She spoke at RiseUp. Next, we shared a drink in an airport and now a big hug every time we can. Not everyone asks… not everyone tries to give back… not everyone is YOU.

Example two from the reverse angle: I meet a few hundred women every year speaking for and training for #GirlsClub and Factor 8. (OK, maybe a few thousand these days). I can count on one hand the number who have gone past a LinkedIn connection to email or text. Several are SDR-level folks, several are SVP-level folks. Some I absolutely now cherish as friends. Wouldn’t have happened had one of us not reached out to build something authentic. It’s like making friends back in school but with the wisdom that social stratum (like titles) are crap. Feel a connection? Make a friend.

So reach out. Like this:

Hi Ted,

Loved what you said on our “All Hands Call” about the new strategy and being long-term partners with our clients. So happy to have you on board as our new CRO! I’m Jill over on Mike Finsel’s team in the Marketing division. Ever need a street-level perspective, just let me know!

Boom, network built. Now ask a question next month and send something valuable the month after. Volunteer for a project that reports up to Ted. Relationship built!

Finally, we talked about the importance of differentiating between a network connection, an advocate, and a mentor.

Since the above was more “networking,” let’s go right to the latter two:

A mentor is a long-term relationship typically outside your current workplace who is giving you their time and wisdom to help you in your career (and personal!) development. The wise adviser or sage.

An advocate is someone who delivers your best-case-scenario sound bite when you aren’t in the room. 

Wait. Sound bite? Glad you asked.

Here’s the hard truth: hiring decisions, award decisions, promotion decisions, project decisions (you getting the theme here) nearly always include at least one closed-door discussion of leaders talking about candidates.

I know, we wish it was all a numbers-based objective computer-generated probability score where we are all treated equally. As much as companies put processes and guidelines in place, a leader is always going to talk it out with another. 

Our advocate speaks for us in this room. She is high enough to be consulted and invited into the room and has enough knowledge about us to make our 2-sentence sound bite actually informative and for our benefit. Let me show you the difference:

Without an Advocate:

HIRING BOSS: “What do you think of Amy for the position?”

OTHER LEADER: “Amy? She’s the new BDR leader right? Long brown hair and adorable dog in the background? Came from Infor? Not sure, seems pretty capable. Sharp.

With an Advocate:

HIRING BOSS:What do you think of Amy for the position?”

OTHER LEADER: “Amy? She’s the new BDR leader right? Long brown hair. . .

ADVOCATE: “I know Amy. I’m impressed with her ability to get things done and quickly. Did you know she more than tripled our results last year? She’s in it for the long term and a solid choice. She gets it.”

Now you want one of these right? Smart. By the way, you might not call your advocate an advocate. Your company might call them mentors. When recruiting a mentor / advocate inside your company, treat it the same as if recruiting a peer, but you are asking for their input and time vs. coffee. Like this:

Hi Kira, this is Kaylee in the Marketing Department. We met last week on the XYZ call, and I’ve been a huge fan of your work since joining Dell 3 years ago. I admire how you speak out in calls and bring a totally fresh perspective to planning meetings. Although I already benefit from working with you, I wonder if you’d be open to us working even closer? I’m searching for a mentor who will work with me once every month or two to help me reach my goal of one day being CEO. What do you think?

There are a million things to customize in here to make it your own voice, but let me tell you from experience that a note like this is hard to ignore.

And if you ARE ignored, you assume it’s an oversight and you reach out again! No response again you call the admin to assure your messages got through and then maybe rethink if he/she is the right fit anyway! (Surely they’re swamped. Try your #2 choice or wait a quarter and ask again).

Top tips to get started with a mentor (or advocate playing mentor):

  1. You schedule EVERYTHING and do all the lifting – follow up emails, agendas, reschedules, video links… you get it. 
  2. Learn her or his story first and ask 1-2 advice questions that relate to their journey. Then explain your goals and dreams and what you hope to accomplish together.
  3. Go-forward meetings be ready with questions, scenarios, needs, etc.
  4. NEVER miss, be late, cancel last minute, or no-show. Grrrr…

I loved all the advice our panel had to share about how to get it done, but mostly I just appreciated the nudge to get out of my little bubble and do more networking for my career. COVID has made it both harder and easier – let’s look on the bright side of an even playing field and face-to-face without the plane fare or conference invite. 

Now get out there and meet some people!

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