A Masterclass in becoming a better networker

As a Director of Product Marketing at Salesforce, Jason Perocho (Kenan-Flager, ‘15) works with numerous cross-functional stakeholders, which has made building relationships and networking even more critical to success. In addition to this role, Jason is a hiring manager, and former MBA student, and has conducted numerous informational interviews and hiring interviews with candidates and alum. He took time to share with us some of his thoughts and learnings on how MBA students can effectively network to further their own personal and professional development.

 

Careerschooled: As a former student and now someone who hires MBA students, what’s something you wish more students paid attention to in their networking pursuits?

Jason: I wish that students focused more time on personal development and less time trying to impress the other person. Pulling out an obscure fact from our recent investor report or news release is not advised because it may be outside of my area of expertise. Focusing on learning about the other person, and creating a genuine 2-way conversation tends to yield better results for both parties.

 

CareerSchooled: What’s a lesson you’ve had to learn in order to be a better networker?

Jason: Learning to read body language and listen for tone & contextual clues was key. I wish there was a secret trick to tell, but it just took experience (and a lot of rejection) to learn. Phone calls were the hardest because it was tough to gauge how strongly I was connecting with the other person. I eventually learned to pick up on verbal cues to determine who would be my advocate to those who would probably not talk to me again.

CareerSchooled: What are some characteristics of a good informational interview?

JasonA good informational interview is focused on personal development. Most alumni would agree that we take informational calls with students to return the favor that was shown to us in business school. Great informational calls start out with a minute of banter on the latest developments (and gossip) of what’s happening at school to establish a rapport.

Next, moving on and making a personal connection to a value or topic about my company. The personal connection should be a short story that compasses your past experience and how it connects with obtaining employment at my company. This helps demonstrate a deeper level of thought went into why you wanted to work here.

The rest of a great conversation is spent learning about the options for MBAs and then trying to determine the skill set they need to develop. The best students ask questions from my perspective, not theirs. This is a subtle nuance, but it makes the person you’re talking to feel appreciated.

 

For example, questions through the student’s lens are:

  • How can I be successful at your company?
  • What skills do I need to get a job at your company?
  • How can I stand out in an interview?

These same questions can be framed from the person you’re networking with by asking:

  • “What makes a Product Marketer successful at your company?”
  • “What didn’t B-School teach you before becoming a Product Marketer and how did you learn those skills?”
  • “As a hiring manager, what has stood out to you from the best candidates you’ve interviewed?”

What are some characteristics of a bad one?

  • Showing up late
  • Not being gracious, humble, or patient
  • Calling my cell phone rather than the dial-in on the calendar invite. (This is my pet peeve because it shows a lack of attention to detail)
  • Dominating the conversation and talking just about yourself
  • Complaining about how hard it is to find a job or internship.
  • Asking for a job.
  • Submitting my name as a referral on the website without asking me first.
  • Not knowing the absolute basic information of what my company does.
  • Referring to “tech” generically. The tech landscape is extremely varied so have a Point of View on where you want to go.
  • Asking a question about an obscure fact you found on an investor report or buried deep on the website.
  • Scripting the entire conversation. Trust me, Interviewers can tell. Instead, build off of what I’m saying with deeper questions on the spot.
  • Asking to talk talk to someone else when the conversation is clearly not going in a positive direction.
  • Trying to fake a shared interest

 

CareerSchooled: Many people know that warm introductions are helpful, but sometimes you just don’t have a connection to someone you want to speak to. Do you have any advice for how to reach out to individuals you don’t know?

Jason: If the person you want to speak to is an alumni, then I recommend using LinkedIn to reach out. Be gracious and offer a wide window of availability. If they’re not an alumni, use LinkedIn and see if you have any connections to that specific person.

If you are from a protected or underrepresented class (African American, Veteran, Woman, Disable, LGBTQ etc) or even an international student, I recommend reaching out to the leaders of affinity or employee resource groups. There are a tremendous amount of diversity initiatives going on at tech companies right now and these may be your best bets.

Careerschooled: While having a great informational interview is a great first step, it’s often not enough to get in the door at a company. What other things can a candidate do in order to build a relationship with someone?

Jason: Get scrappy and get local. To get scrappy, social media is a blessing and a curse. I have often researched interests and the places lived of those I’m networking with to build a personal connection. For example, I chatted with someone recently and we found out we were both Eagles fans. On the Thursday after the Super Bowl, I received a photo of them at the Super Bowl parade with a very short note that said:

“I know you’re stuck in SF, so here’s a glimpse into the parade craziness! Hope to chat again soon!”

I was impressed because it was short, relevant to my personal interest, and didn’t make an ask. I’ll absolutely talk to this person again.

Getting local is a bit harder and takes commitment. I lived on a friend’s couch for a bit as I was job hunting so I could have informational interviews in person and attend professional meet-ups. I recently went to a Product Marketing meet up and at the end, the MC alerted everyone that if you’re looking for a job, to come up to the front of the room and meet some of the recruiters. I would have never known about that if someone I met local didn’t invite me to the group and then had the ability to attend it a couple weeks later.

The Art of Thinking and Doing

As a 20-something and young professional, I go through periods where I get anxious and nervous about my career. Despite having a good job, stable income, and positive future prospects, my mind races through a series of questions and doubts. These questions tend to keep me up at night, as the thought of not having answers can be stressful. These questions include:

  • Will I become successful in pursuing my goals?
  • Am I actually good at what I do, or did I just get lucky?
  • What if my success runs out?

As an analytical and thoughtful person, I tend to mull over this more than I should.

While the mulling over those questions is not always fun, I often come to realizations and insights as a result of thinking through some of those questions. Furthermore, I’ve learned enough about myself to know that I can’t keep things locked inside my head, and during those times I often reach out to others to get their thoughts and perspective on what I’m thinking about. Generally speaking, I usually feel better about where I am after I go through one of those cycles.

 

This cycle has ups and downs, but illustrates what I think is an important dichotomy: the balance of thinking and doing.

 

Thinking means taking the time to reflect and honestly ask yourself tough questions, and to pursue truthfulness and authenticity in finding the answers to those questions. This process helps you become more self-aware, spots trends and reoccurring themes, and helps you make sense of where you are and where you want to go. It can shift you to a course you want to take, and at the very least, reaffirms that you are moving in the right direction. Thinking helps us remove the tunnel vision we often get when we focus too much on doing.

 

Doing is critical because it takes your thoughts and turns them into tangible actions. It takes the theoretical and turns it into the practical, and gets you to make action-oriented steps towards a particular goal. Doing is also where gain experience, make mistakes, and develop muscle memory, which builds not only our abilities, but also our confidence in those abilities. Doing breaks those times when we get too caught up in our thoughts, and helps us take our ideas about where we want to go and makes them a reality.

 

Here’s my three step process for Thinking and Doing

  • First, you need to practice both thinking and doing. Since most of us are “doing” things every day, start asking yourself honest questions about what you are doing, and make an effort to search for those answers.
  • The second step, once you’ve started to identify when you are thinking, and when you are doing, is to know when it’s appropriate to think, and when it’s time to do. Look for triggers in both aspects – when are you starting to anxious or restless after thinking about something? When do you begin to lose sight of the goal you are actually working towards? Finding these triggers or moments will help you understand when you need to hit the pause button and move in the other direction
  • The last step is understanding the right balance of thinking versus doing. Is it 50-50? Is it 60-40? I believe it’s different for everyone, but in general, I do believe that actions speak louder than words, so I tend to err more on the side of doing than thinking. Figuring out what works best for you should be your goal.

 

Practicing and using the thinking versus doing framework will improve your self-awareness and help you understand the how and why behind what you do every day.

At times, it will be uncomfortable, and it may even take you down a path that you did not envision, but I believe it will help improve your self-awareness, define what it is you really want to be doing, and pursue actions that are aligned with what you want. You may even be able to answer those questions that keep you up at night.

3 Ways Young Professionals can Crush it at work

Starting off your career as a young professional can be a challenging experience. Despite your intelligence, college degree and work ethic, getting a handle of your role and making contributions to your team is not as cut and dried as taking a test or reading a textbook. It rarely happens right away. In fact, it takes most people a few months (or up to a year) to really contribute at their peak capacity.

For those that are college graduates and joining the workplace for the first time it can take even longer. While many of us are hired for our intelligence and experience, there are some lessons that cannot be taught.

I’ve gotten the chance to work alongside incredibly talented professionals who are making incredible contributions to their teams despite their lack of experience. Through my conversations with these high-performing individuals along with my own observations, the following things are things you can do to begin to do to stand out amongst your team.

Tackle the tough projects

When I worked at Deloitte, one of my managers used to tell me, “clients don’t pay us to solve their easy problems, they pay us to solve their hard ones.” Similarly, if you raise your hand to tackle the tough assignments, perhaps the ones nobody else wants to do, you’ll gain the respect and awareness from your manager and your colleagues.

Taking on a tough project can be a daunting task. Oftentimes, we may feel unqualified or unsure of how to proceed. However, raising your hand to tackle a tough project signals initiative, a willingness to roll up your sleeves, and problem solving skills. Furthermore, it opens doors for you, as others begin to take notice. If you’re able to deliver on these projects, you’ll often find that others will come back to you with future opportunities.

Tip: Next time there is an open project up for grabs, sign up for it even if you aren’t sure if you are qualified to tackle it. Then, reach out to some others who you trust to set up time to talk with them about how you can best approach this project.

Share knowledge

In our information-based economy, knowledge is power. The expertise we develop and the experiences we gain are valuable assets, not only to our work but also for others. This is why sharing your knowledge is something that can make you stand out from your peers.

When you share knowledge that is useful and helpful, people will see you as a trusted source of expertise on a particular topic. This helps you build credibility, trust, and respect from your peers, and again, opens you up to countless future opportunities.

Tip: Think about something that you’ve worked on lately and create a PowerPoint presentation on the topic. Consider sharing it with others on your team who might be working on a similar topic.

Solve unidentified problems

Solving a problem that your boss or manager has come to you with is always a good thing. However, the forward-thinking employees tend to spot problems that others don’t see and find ways to solve them before they become bigger issues. Your manager has a million things on their plate, which is why they’ve come to you with a particular problem. They can’t spot every issue or concern, so when you can find one and solve it before they notice they tend to appreciate your diligence.

Tip: This is a little bit harder to teach since it relies a bit on instinct and experience. Start by evaluating a project or initiative your team just completed and identifying ways it could have been done better or any weaknesses or pain points it caused to employees or customers.