A networking story: The two-way benefits of building relationships in business
By Ellis Chase, Advisor for Alumni and Executive MBA Career Development
Building new relationships is an essential part of career transition. All too often, however, building these connections can cause the most discomfort. One of the common questions I receive from clients and students is, “Why would anyone respond to my request for an informational interview?”
They don’t understand why someone, especially someone they don’t know, would want to talk with them about their career.
After we spend time discussing possible ways of expressing the request; i.e., “I’m doing some market research in …” or, “I’m performing some personal due diligence on next career options in …” there is still this issue of “Why would someone spend valuable time talking with a stranger? Or even someone they’ve met before?”
Say yes to a request
While it’s true that some will not respond well to these requests, begging off because of time issues, or thinking that it’s a direct job request (which it most certainly should not be), I’ve always thought that people interested in building their own careers should be amenable to a reasonable request for their time from those in career transition.
Even more important, I believe saying “yes” to those requests may have a significant career benefit—for both sides. It’s quintessential symbiosis.
I figured this out in my own career several years ago when I began to notice that when I agreed to meet with people who were attempting a move into my field, sometimes these people were able to help me out later on.
There are many examples of these incidents that I enjoy telling my clients and students to make them more comfortable with building new relationships; the following is my favorite.
Taking a phone call as a favor for a colleague
Several years ago, the head of a university career management program where I eventually consulted for more than 15 years asked me if I’d talk with someone who was an alum of the program and had done some advising work for it as well. Of course, I agreed, for many reasons—it was a favor for the person who had hired me, and she was the person who sent in my invoices every month. (I also liked her a lot.)
Her referral was unable to meet with me in person, so we set up some time on the phone, and had—as I learned late —a good talk.
About a year later, the dean and I were interviewing candidates for the director’s position in the program where I was consulting. I particularly liked one candidate, as did she, and he was hired. He was very impressive, and I thought he would be great for the program. He was—and is.
Job security in jeopardy?
Here’s where things get complicated for consultants. When a new head of a program or department is hired, the consultants usually are the first to go, because that new management person will want to bring in his/her own professional associates. Therefore, I was convinced my tenure was about to end shortly. The new director was very connected to the school, so I figured he had lots of people he would want to bring in to replace me.
We did hit it off, though, and began to significantly add to and build the program. We spent a great deal of time conceptualizing the growth of what evolved into a groundbreaking department in its field.
But I still wasn’t comfortable, even though my hours had increased.
Then, he changed our arrangement to put me on retainer—every consultant’s ultimate goal.
I began to realize that maybe I was going to stay.
One day I asked him why he had been so nice to the guy (me) who had been left over from the previous regime. He looked at me, puzzled, and asked,
“Don’t you remember that you spent quite a long time with me on the phone a few years ago? You were really helpful.”
I didn’t remember.
“Do you remember that I sent you a bottle of wine to thank you?”
This I remembered.
Then I looked it up in my notes and saw that we had indeed met.
A relationship comes back to be a benefit
I loved torturing him about this story (especially in front of large classes), saying he needed to improve his presentation to create a more lasting perception (this always got a big laugh). Truth is, it was my memory that was the problem and probably not the way he presented. As I mentioned before, the guy is impressive.
The real point of the story is that I had created a relationship that came back to reward me in a very significant way. I hope he feels the same.
Translating a career transition into a business transaction
I had been on “the other side of the desk,” and there was at least as much in this interaction for me as there was for him—probably more for me. This is a critical point for all those in career transition to understand. It isn’t a matter of “poor me, going out there with hat in hand, asking for handouts of help and information and maybe a referral or two …” In truth, it’s a business transaction, almost always where each side benefits. After all, what is business? It’s relationships! In this case, I was the one giving out the advice—and we both benefited, significantly, in the long run.
The relationship continued for many years and resulted in the most gratifying and productive consulting assignment I have had to date. All because of that one phone call.