Archive for the 'Career' Category

Networking Doesn’t Have to Be Hard: Changing Your Expectations

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

When I asked my Facebook friends what I should write about in this series — or their own key advice for networking — my friend Marcel replied:

Part of it is time and the other is putting yourself out there without expecting anything in return.

These are two great topics to address, and I want to talk about both of them in terms of mindset or expectations.

Putting in the Time

A lot of people, in my experience, regard networking as somehow separate from their other personal and professional activities. True, you DO have to put in time for networking to be effective — but it’s not an outrigger activity. It really should be woven into the rest of what you do.

Think of this way: if you’re a working professional, most of your waking hours and much of your human interaction unfolds in a professional context. Even if you work from a home office or a series of hotel rooms, your mind spends lots and lots of time in working mode.

From a personal perspective, it would be a shame if you didn’t cultivate and harvest enjoyable interactions and friendships from all that time spent. From a professional perspective, it would be a shame if you put in all that hard work . . . but your personal contacts and their friends didn’t know enough about you to appreciate your abilities and achievements.

Networking is really nothing more complicated than cementing the human relationships that accompany your professional life. And that’s worth your time.

For this post, I’ll leave that at the philosophical level. In later posts we can dig into more of the ways that you can fold networking into your ordinary daily activities: cleaning out your inbox, reading things online, attending business meetings, and on and on.

No Quid pro Quo

Marcel has it exactly right when he talks about “putting yourself out there without expecting anything in return.”

This cannot be overemphasized: Networking isn’t about keeping score.

Uber-networker Keith Ferrazzi emphasizes this in his book Never Eat Alone — and in all of his writing about networking. You’re trying to connect with people, help them out, find areas of common interest, and invest your life and theirs with more meaning. It’s not a point-scoring contest.

Now, if someone goes full narcissist on you — always taking and never giving — sure, give them a wider berth. And you don’t have to get buddy-buddy with every cordial person who comes along. But that’s the same whether we’re talking about a college friend, a romantic partner, a colleague, or the other parents who split carpooling duty with you. In other words, it’s common sense for dealing with human nature.

In professional networking, one of the best things you can do is lead with curiosity about the other person — or even an offer to help. Examples:

  • “Hey, Marcel — how’s it going? What’s keeping you busy these days?”
  • “Great to see you briefly at the school the other night, Alicia. Tell me more about your new role — sounds like you’re running the show over there now!”
  • “Thanks for the shout-out on Twitter, Bryan. I see from your LinkedIn profile that you’re between jobs. Anyone I could introduce you to? Or how else can I help?”

Easy-peasy. You’re starting and nurturing conversations with friends, right? No need to make it more complicated than that — or to keep score on who owes a favor to whom.

Does this approach work for you? What would you add?

Networking doesn’t have to be hard: LinkedIn Endorsements.

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Last year, LinkedIn rolled out a new feature called Endorsements. It’s tied to the “Skills & Expertise” section of your LinkedIn profile*, and it lets your LinkedIn connections endorse your good qualities as a marketer, editor, project manager, or whatever else is relevant.

If you go to my LinkedIn profile, click the “View Full Profile” button, and scroll down to the Skills & Expertise section, you’ll see that friends have been nice enough to endorse me for my abilities in blogging, social media marketing, writing, public speaking, and so on. And every time someone has endorsed me, I’ve gotten a little notice in my inbox about it, which means . . .

Easy networking opportunity! All I have to do is drop the person a quick note, like this:

Hi, Robin–

Thanks for the LinkedIn endorsement — I appreciate it.

How’s life been treating you lately? What projects are you tackling in 2013?



Maybe Robin’s a former colleague I’ve been out of touch with, or maybe she’s just an acquaintance I met at a conference five years ago. I may not know what’s going on in her life at all — which is fine, because nothing in my note pretends that I do. It’s just a gentle, lightweight follow-up.

Note that, because her endorsement came via LinkedIn, I don’t even need her e-mail address. I can simply drop her a line via LinkedIn’s own private messaging functionality.

Note, also, that I could reuse this note — or something much like it — for just about anyone. They won’t know that it’s boilerplate, and there’s no need to make it any more complex than this.

Next steps:

  • If you can honestly comment on your friend’s expertise, go to her profile and endorse her for a skill she has listed. It’s as simple as clicking a button.
  • If you worked with this person and really liked them, you could go further and write them what LinkedIn calls a Recommendation — a short little testimonial in which you talk about her good qualities as a professional.
  • If she answers your note with something simple that doesn’t open up a dialogue (“Doing great — hope you’re well!”), no problem — it was just a friendly Hello for both of you.
  • If she answers your note with something meatier (“I see you switched jobs a couple of months ago. I’ve been thinking about a career shift myself . . .” etc.), then you’ve started a more substantial conversation. Share your thoughts — or even just encouragement — and maybe introduce her to another friend who could help her out.

If you’re involved in other social networks, you’ll immediately see that this model can be extended to any of the notifications that hit your inbox when someone likes your Facebook status, follows you on Twitter, and so on.

Easy enough? What are your thoughts on this?


* You DO have a LinkedIn profile, right? And you keep it up to date? If not,

  1. Get cracking.
  2. Tell me in the comments what else I should write related to LinkedIn in this series.
Image source.

Networking doesn’t have to be hard: introduction.

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Is “networking” a dirty word for you? It doesn’t have to be.

Especially since I’m drumming up work for this new chapter of my career — more about that in another post — I’ve been putting extra energy into networking lately, and thinking more about what goes into it. Friends tell me they have a hard time with it, and this includes friends who are both extremely personable and highly skilled professionally.

I recognize that I enjoy a key advantage when it comes to networking: I have the personality of a talk-show host. That overarching reality is probably not transferable to someone not wired like me.

But I also benefit from a mindset and a set of skills that are transferable, which is why I’m going to write a series of short posts under the rubric of “Networking Doesn’t Have to Be Hard.”

My list of topics already has several entries on it, but I would love to hear from you what topics I should cover.


Image source.

Creative collaborations that make financial sense.

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

Lately I’ve been soaking in a lot of the material from the Future of Storytelling site. I particularly enjoyed this 12-minute feature on Damian Kulash of the band OK Go.

OK Go has been successful with a 21st-century approach to making music — focusing on their overall creative output and financial returns, rather than obsessing on record sales. In fact, as Kulash explains, they parted ways amicably with their former record label for precisely that reason.

Instead of pursuing chart-topping hits, the band derives revenue from a mix of music sales, touring, and — distinctively — their YouTube-sensation collaborations with car companies and other commercial entities. For Kulash, this isn’t a case of selling out, but rather of pursuing opportunities to do intriguing creative projects that are also financially rewarding.

I especially like what he says toward the end of the video about completing a lot of creative projects — some of which are successful enough to subsidize the others. It’s a portfolio approach to creative endeavor, and it’s not fundamentally different from:

  • Graham Greene alternating between writing the novels he saw as “serious” and those he thought of as “entertainments”
  • Orson Welles and other filmmakers doing the same thing, making crowd-pleasers to give themselves the financing and credibility to make passion projects
  • Farrar Straus and Giroux banking on the success of Tom Wolfe to make it easier to keep books in print for the likes of John McPhee

Since I first watched the Kulash video a couple of days ago, I’ve been thinking about this applies to my own mix of creative and commercial work. I’ll share more results as I have them.

Meanwhile, how might the OK Go approach work for you?



Do you even know what the goal is?

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Don’t feel bad if you don’t. In my experience, many talented, ambitious people — even successful ones — don’t really know what they’re after. Or, if they know, they’re not willing to admit it and go for it. So if you’re unclear of your goals, realize that you’re not alone . . .

. . . but then get up and do something about it. I wrote my most recent CareOne column specifically to address this challenge:

How Will You Know When You Win?

Years ago, I learned a business lesson that’s as valuable as it is simple: When you’re setting out on a project, you want to have it very clear in your mind — and in the mind of anyone involved in the project — how you’ll know when you win.

In sports, it’s simple: you have a better score than your opponent when the game is over. If you’re a salesperson, it’s the straightforward question of whether you met your quota or not.

But not everything can be so simple.

So how will you know when you win in your own life?

I encourage you to read the rest on the CareOne blog and then let me know what you think.

Image source.

Parse, Purge, Plow.

Monday, July 30th, 2012

When your work gets overwhelming (hint: this is relevant to me today), slow down, shut out the noise, and do three things:

  1. Parse. Divide things by type, by project, by urgency, or whatever makes sense. Batch them up and sort them — just enough, not obsessively — so that you can see patterns, sequences, and priorities for your work.
  2. Purge. If it’s not important, just throw it away. Don’t waste energy clinging.
  3. Plow. Set aside your worries — as well as any tendency to over-plan — and take the first task in hand. Plow that furrow. Then the next one. Then the next one. Work until the sun goes down, then leave it until tomorrow. Get your rest.

Don’t give up. Good work is worth it.

Don’t just visit: make yourself bicultural.

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

One of the problems I see for creative people working in the business world is that they feel that they’re “just visiting.” I think this tends to work one of two ways:

1. They think of themselves primarily as creators: “I’m really a painter.” “My real love is music, but it doesn’t pay the bills.” “I’m a writer first.” So they see the corporate work / day job as a big distraction that’s holding them back from being what they “really” are.

2. They identify themselves primarily with their moneymaking profession, such that the creative outlet is never more than a sideline. “Oh, I write poems on the side.” “I have a pottery shed in my backyard, but it’s just a hobby.” So they’re “really” librarians or marketers or programmers or whatever, and the creative part is just a sideline.

Live in Both Cultures

What I’m trying to do for myself — and what I’m recommending to you — is to adopt the approach that you’re BOTH of these things. Just because most people don’t combine the two doesn’t mean that my being a marketer must detract from my fiction writing. And vice versa.

In other words, I don’t have to treat myself like a creative refugee who REALLY belongs in Novelist-land but who finds himself for an extended period in Corporate-land, stumbling over the dialect and never really feeling at home. Similarly, I can immerse myself in deep reading, conversations about art, and especially my own artistic process, without feeling like that has to alienate me from those of my fellow corporate citizens who are more interested in other things.

In other words, I can be fluent in both languages and at home in both cultures, no matter how small the overlap is between the readership of Forbes and that of The Rumpus. And maybe I can help other biculturals navigate their own way, while better translating the artistic process for the more strictly corporate types and business processes for the more strictly artistic types.

See also:

  • William Carlos Williams
  • Wallace Stevens
  • Anthony Trollope

Does this make sense? What do you think?

Why I’m blogging again.

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

When I started blogging, years ago, the purpose was to use the blog as the sort of “outboard brain” that Cory Doctorow talks about: you blog primarily to capture interesting ideas, sites, art, quotations, etc. so that you don’t have to remember them. That these thoughts are then shared with others is a bonus.

Over time, my goals changed, and I’ve used this blog as a place to share advice on things like job hunting, comment/rant on the state of the world, share life events, and publish short stories. I’m constantly amazed when I go back through the archives and find things that I completely forgot I had written.

I’ll probably still write posts like the ones I’ve just described, but now I’m focused on using the blog to think through my own work as a creative writer living day to day in the corporate world. To be clear, my day job is a lot more than writing, and I’ve had the good fortune to become a real businessperson over the past several years — instead of being a writer/editor in a business setting. That work is serious to me, and not just because I need to do it to support my family. It’s taken on a life of its own.

Meanwhile, though, my true career mission is to write and publish good books. Many factors have slowed down that process over the years — or, to be really honest, I have allowed many factors to slow me down. So rather than sit back and give abstract advice at arm’s length, I want to make this more of a journal of my own parallel working life: I’m a corporate marketer AND a fiction writer, and both of those things are likely to continue for many years to come. This blog is about figuring out how to do that with more success in both of the parallel tracks, and more balance and peace of mind as a whole.

Anyway, that’s what I have in mind here, and it’s why I’ve already talked this week about committing to your own creativity and about the creative inspirations tacked up over my desk.

Getting from here to where I intend to be — a successful writer of books, with or without the corporate work — will take years. That’s fine by me, but I want to use this venue as a way of recording and sharing my progress, in hopes that it will be (a) interesting, and (b) useful to others who are on a similar path.

Happy to have you along for the ride.

Transferable Skills: Finishing.

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Let’s start with a little story. A friend of mine once asked me for career advice. I pointed him to the series I had written up on job-hunting a while before. We got together after that, ostensibly to go over his resume, but really to help him think through what alternate paths he might like to take for the next part of his career.

He had been stuck for a long time in one line of work that he didn’t particularly like, and he couldn’t see his way out of it — to the point that he literally could not come up with skills he had that might be applicable to other lines of work. So I started talking with him about transferable skills.

The poor guy was beaten down so much that he was thinking in terms of “I can use Microsoft Word” and even his words-per-minute typing speed. I tried to get him thinking about broader concepts like “communicating” and “troubleshooting problems for customers,” but none of it seemed to ring any bells for him.

He’s still stuck in that same line of work, years later.

Creative or Corporate: FINISH

The further I go in business, and the longer I write, the more I believe that real success lies with those who finish things. It sounds simplistic, but stick with me:

  • Successful projects are finished projects.
  • Good pieces of writing (or art, or music) are finished pieces.
  • The things that shine on your resume are finished things.

Et cetera. The point is that real accomplishment comes from finishing important work. And the plain truth is that rewards fall disproportionately to those who do the most finishing — even though their finishing is imperfect, even though it means other things left by the wayside. Think about the people you know in business who have built reputations around getting things done. It could be a CEO or an office manager, but they have made it clear, by repeated demonstration, that if you give them a task they will carry it all the way home.

(Computer programmer and entrepreneur Joel Spolsky published a book about hiring ace programmers. He called it Smart and Gets Things Done — because that’s fundamentally what he looks for in an employee. Somehow, the entire book is available online in PDF form.)

Think, too, about the creators we admire — Austen or Rembrandt or Jack White or whomever. They’re known for their finished works. Even great unfinished pieces, like Dickens’s Edwin Drood or Beethoven’s 10th Symphony, intrigue us because we know what those artists were capable of . . . based on their prior finished works.

Taking Myself to Finishing School

I’m starting a new decade of my life in a few months. Looking back over the one that’s coming to a close, I see too many worthy projects, both corporate and creative, that got partway done but were then abandoned, thwarted, or otherwise scratched. My focus now is to keep better track of what I’m working on, what I’m finishing, and especially the ratio between the two.

Care to join me? I’ll talk about the results here, and I would love to have your feedback along the way.

I also plan to talk about other transferable skills that apply just as much to the business world as to corporate work. Which ones would you suggest?

Image source.

Career transition: I’m joining Socialware.

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Please share in my good news: this week I’m taking on a great new job as a marketing program manager at Socialware.

Besides moving me from one fast-growing startup to another, this transition will put me back in a multifaceted marketing role that’s heavy on the social media. Going to BreakingPoint as content marketing manager last year was a huge step forward in my career, but the nature of the BreakingPoint product and market means there isn’t a great need for social-media expertise there — especially since both Pam O’Neal and Kyle Flaherty, my BreakingPoint bosses, are plenty social-savvy themselves.

Many thanks to Pam and Kyle for bringing me on board at BreakingPoint and teaching me so much over the past 15 months. I’ve made many friends in the company, and gotten to learn the ins and outs of the network security industry.

Now I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the financial services sector while tackling new challenges alongside Socialware’s marketing director, Christie Campbell, and my old friend and social-media crony Mike Langford. From what I’ve gathered in my visits to Socialware, I’ll have a few dozen more new friends in no time.

Finally, a big thank you to all my friends and family who have taken an active interest in my career. I hope you know how grateful I am for all you do.