Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on May 15, 2023.
Going beyond your comfort zone and networking with people is a skill critical to career success. In July 2020, I wrote an article on this subject. This is an update of that article.
In a 1994 interview, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs tells of when, as a high school student, he called Bill Hewlett, co-founder of tech company Hewlett-Packard, to ask if he had any spare parts that he could give Jobs to build a frequency counter. Not only did Jobs get the parts, but he also landed a summer job on an assembly line manufacturing frequency counters in a Hewlett-Packard factory.
During the interview, Jobs said, “I’ve never found anyone who has said no or hung up the phone when I called [to ask for help]. I just asked. … Most people never ask. And that’s what separates the people that do things from the people that just dream about them. You gotta act. And you gotta be willing to fail.”
Reaching out to the CEO of a tech company and asking for help as Jobs did would be outside one’s comfort zone for most people.
The power of exiting one’s comfort zone and networking came into sharp focus for me when I was able to introduce a student at Drexel University’s Pennoni Honors College to a C-suite executive at eBay.
After speaking with a group of Pennoni students at a lunch-and-learn event about how to develop into effective leaders as their careers progress, one of the students who was majoring in marketing introduced herself and shared her goal to work in Silicon Valley after graduation. She asked me if I knew anyone she could network with in that field and location.
I immediately thought of Richelle Parham, chief marketing officer of eBay at the time (and a Drexel alum) who I had met the previous year. Within hours, I connected the student to Parham.
This student was the only one to ask me for help. Had the student not had initiative, the introduction would not have occurred. She took the risk of rejection. The worst I could have said is, “I am sorry. I can’t help you.”
Many jobs are found through people you know in your network. Everyone should develop networking skills because you never know when you will need to rely on your network to find your next job.
Networking enables you to meet new people, introduces you to new ideas and perspectives, and helps you consider new approaches to problems. It provides a way to benchmark others and discuss best practices within your industry. Networking builds communities of individuals who have similar or related interests.
So, how can you effectively develop these skills?
- Always be out and about meeting new people.
- At an event, learn how to join a group conversation and how to graciously depart the group to meet other people at the event.
- Recognize people in serious conversation and know when not to interrupt them.
- Learn how to start conversations with those you have not previously met.
- Practice sharing what you do in a few sentences (the proverbial elevator speech).
- Don’t dominate conversations. Make good eye contact, be a good listener and show interest by asking relevant questions.
- Look for common interests and subjects that can form the basis of a future conversation and relationship.
- Develop meaningful connections with just a few people rather than shallow connections with many.
Obtain the email addresses of those you have networked with to let them know how much you enjoyed speaking with them. Include something in your email that you both spoke about so you are memorable and can differentiate yourself from other people that individual met that day. When the opportunity arises, help those you have met. They will do the same for you.
Networking is one of the most powerful tools you can use to further develop your career, regardless of whether you are a college student, individual contributor, mid-level leader, business owner or CEO of a company. It will also help you build your interpersonal skills. Networking is a skill that should be taught to and practiced by all students, regardless of area of study.
Remember what Steve Jobs said, “That’s what separates the people that do things from the people that just dream about them.” Get out of your comfort zone. Introduce yourself to someone new. You never know what opportunities might open for you.
Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.