People Are More Impressed With Who You Are Than What You Do

We’ve all been asked that dreaded question at a networking event.

“So… what do you do?”

I drive myself insane wondering why people lead with that question in social situations. My guess is they are just nervous and it’s the first and easiest thing that comes to mind and then out of their mouths.

Yet, it’s the dumbest and worst question to lead with once you shake hands with someone. It shows the other person you are about to judge them and looking for the lowest hanging fruit to make your snap judgement. So do yourself and the person in front of you a favor and don’t ask it anymore.

So what SHOULD you ask?

Anything. Except for the above question anything is fair game. Ask about their clothes. Ask about their background or where they came from. Inquire about something unrelated to the topic of the evenings event like the weather, local sports team, the coffee shop where you are sitting, a funny off-the-cuff joke about the random people you are watching. Really, anything will work here. Absolving yourself of the “what do you do” question will invariably raise you right to the top of the list of people the other person wants to converse with.

But why is this so?

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The “what do you do” question makes people feel like they are being interrogated. Especially if the person you find yourself talking with has recently made a huge life change and is in between jobs or startups. Take it from me, when in that phase of life this is the last question any of us want to answer. And the thing is you never know who has recently made that decision or is currently in that phase so better to be cautious and not take a salt shaker and dump it on someones fresh wound right out of the gate.

The “what do you do” question also makes people feel uneasy since its origins can be found in us humans trying to compare ourselves to others. Instinctively, our goal is to find someone who we feel superior to so we can make ourselves feel better, even for a brief moment. If I ask you what do you do and you tell me “I’m a lawyer” or “I just sold my startup to Google” I now know where we stand economically and socially. If you respond with a lower status job description I also know where we stand and feel better about myself.

But what about the people who ask the question only so you ask them the same question so then they can pitch you their business? Same result holds here: not a good idea to lead with your elevator pitch to a stranger that didn’t ask for it. I don’t know about you but I don’t want the first interaction with every person I meet to be a pitch session about what they are working on and how I can get involved. This is also a very shallow and quite self-serving interaction and again puts people on the defensive.

What I have found works best is to be genuinely interested in other people, and ask questions about them and what they care about. Becoming interested in others is quite easy if you don’t lead with “what do you do” questions. I try to challenge myself and get creative in how I converse with people, how much I can get them to talk about their ideas and passions. Initiating conversations without asking about profession or job shows the other person you are genuinely interested in their story and them as people, not just about professional comparisons. One or two great questions or comments unrelated to their profession can jump start a quality interaction with pretty much anyone.  I have found this is the best and quickest way to illustrate who I am and my inner character without saying a thing – outside of asking the intriguing questions.  The less I say the more I listen – and thus show who I am – resulting in a strong trusted connection with the other person.

The crazy and counter-intuitive thing about this strategy is once you start a conversation with another person not asking about their profession the other person will inevitably bring it up, but on their own terms. And since you didn’t come across as aggressive or interrogating you will find they are very engaged in the conversation and will walk away thinking you were one of the best conversationalists they have ever encountered even though they did most of the talking.

And in this way you will find each and every conversation is a way to learn something new about the world, something new about another person and a fun way to add to your wisdom of the world.

Seek first to understand, then be understood.

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How To Approach A Startup When Looking For A Job

A friend recently asked me a good question:

What’s your feel on whether or not to contact a company without a clear position opening. There are a few startups I really dig, but they don’t currently have a job opening that fits my role. Is it worth it to shoot them an email to introduce myself and possibly talk about carving out a role if they like me enough? Or should I not waste my time?

My answer:

Best to naturally network and get to know people in real life like you have done with me, rather than reach out cold knowing they aren’t hiring for your skill set and hoping for the best. They’ll probably just think it’s spam and not respond – that’s what I do.  Most companies/startups hire for personality + skillset, and the only way to find that match is to meet them first and get to know them over time, illustrating your value.  So.. find a way to get to know the founders and employees of the startups you like first, then work the angle of getting a job at their company.

Reaching out to startups in an effort to connect and get to know the company is definitely a great idea.  But cold emailing thinking you will be able to land a job is a longshot at best, and shows you have no savvy way to integrate yourself within their operations.  Especially if they display on their website they are only hiring for certain positions- and you don’t see a good role that fits your skill set. (If they DO show they are hiring exactly for what you are great at, by all means reach out to them!)

The secret to getting hired at a startup is to get to know the people within the company by any means necessary. This effort will provide an opportunity to determine if you are a good culture fit – and you might find out there isn’t a good fit after all.  And just like a lot of things, that happens over time. It’s all about learning as much as you can about the founders, the employees, their product and what type of office environment they have. No startup I know of will keep the best engineer in the world on staff if they are also the biggest asshole in the world.  And vis versa, no person will want to work with a company/founders who have no idea how to treat employees with respect.

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.

And that is the root of networking – connecting with people in your industry.  “Networking” has gotten a bad rap and has been misconstrued in today’s fast paced transactional world. It’s not about the one night stand and getting hired as soon as possible.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  It happens over time and over repeated positive interactions with various people within the startup, to the point where numerous people are asking “what does that person do and why don’t they work for us?”

So if you want to get hired by great founders in the industry, get out there and make sure they know who you are and why they should want you to join their team.

Hey – Get. To. The. Point.

It’s harsh, I know.

We have short attentions spans.

And it seems like they are getting shorter by the year with each new brief messaging app that infiltrates our society.

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I am not sure this is a good thing or a bad thing, but one thing I have noticed more and more is people want you to get to the point, like now.  I have noticed this in my own life recently, and although tough to have someone “adjust” you in real-time it’s greatly beneficial to hear it.

Basically, I tend to “pre-empt” a conversation with background information, stats, or things I think the person I am talking to needs to understand as we are discussing a topic.  I sometimes do this because I think ahead – determine what they will probably ask – and then simply provide it to them beforehand so they won’t need to ask it.  And hey, it feels like I am more completely communicating to them what I need to say.

This doesn’t need to happen.  I should just say what I need to say and if the other person has a question or comment, they’ll say it.  And then I can respond the specific question.

There’s no need to ramble on and on when the other person really doesn’t want to know, or doesn’t care to know – even if you feel it’s a better way to communicate.  The lesson here is respecting people’s time is really important.

If you find yourself feeling the need to carry on and give someone every detail, maybe think about how to be more direct with people.  It’ll feel uncomfortable at first, but as you get more used to it you will start to naturally get to the point quicker.

And people will appreciate it.

Image by flickr user yamagatacamille

 

How To Properly Email Intro Two People

I have recently noticed I am introducing more people to each other.  It’s enjoyable and something that falls into my “pay it forward” bucket.

But, through this process I have also learned how to properly execute an introduction so both people get the most out of the experience.  The last thing you want to do is burn a contact by flooding their inbox with unwanted introductions, placing yet another time commitment on their already full plate.

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It takes a bit of social intelligence to best set up the introduction.  Here are a few thoughts as you go about connecting people in your life.

  • If someone you know asks you to introduce them to another contact, first determine what they are looking for so you can determine if it’s actually a good idea, and something you are willing to associate yourself with.
  • If not, graciously decline or let them know it doesn’t seem like a good fit for what they are requesting.  Maybe offer someone else you think might work better.
  • Then, touch base with the requested person first and brief them with the idea of introducing a contact to them.  Answer their inevitable question of “what do I get out of it?”  If they are favorable, ask them if they mind if you email intro them to this other person.
  • Do not just throw an unwanted email into their email box without first checking with them to see if they are willing to respond and follow through with meeting the person.
  • If you get the green light, send an email with both in the TO: field.
  • Give the email a subject such as “Jane <> Joe” so it’s obvious it’s an introduction.
  • Give a short description of each person and why they are looking to meet the other, make it brief but pointed and include why the two people will add value to each other.  The person’s ask should be front and center.
  • Suggest a coffee meeting, phone call or chat over a beer or something that sets the expectations of the interaction.
  • End it by saying “I’ll let you two take it from here” so you can step aside and allow the two people to communicate without them feeling like they need to keep you CC’d or included in future emails.

Although basic stuff, if not executed correctly email intro’s can do more harm than good.  Take note!

Note: I am writing this because I have seen a few intro’s botched in my day, and if not careful, a person can burn social capital by annoying people they are connected with.  Also, when you are on the receiving end of an intro, acknowledge and thank the person doing the introduction and place them in BC, so they are them removed from future communications.

Image by flickr user n_corboy

The Real Killer App For Founders – Connecting With People

During my latest Founders RAW conversation I was talking with Patrick Henley, founder and CEO of Amp Tab when he mentioned something quite profound.

Connecting with people – truly connecting with someone – is the key to business success.

It was a great moment in the conversation (will post the conversation when it goes live) but I want to riff on the concept of connecting with people and why it can have a huge impact on your success.

Some may view networking as cheesy, uncomfortable and a waste of time.  I don’t.  And neither did Patrick.  Networking is not an activity, it’s an purposeful energy.  Patrick says connecting with people has been the difference maker for him and his success in sales and business in general.  He pointed to how connecting with someone on a deeper level, figuring out how he could help them in their pursuits tightens the relationship between him and the other person.  Once tightened, those people will break down walls to help you.

So how do you really connect with people?

Shaking their hand.   Looking them in the eye when they are talking to you.  Remembering their name.  Making them feel like they are the most important person in that room at that specific moment. Asking what you can do to help them.  Asking if you can introduce them to someone they are looking to meet.  Following up with them via email the next day to book a meeting or re-confirm what was talked about. These things show the other person you have their best intentions in mind, rather then trying to get something out of them.

Remember, people care more about themselves than others…  take advantage of that and let them know you too care about what’s important to them.

All too often people go about their days and nights looking to get something out of others.  This is a terrible mistake, just as it is for the guy at the bar who obviously is trying too hard to take any girl home.

Once people feel you have their best intentions in mind, they let their guard down and feel safe to further communicate using all the different means we have available.  They will then be willing to add you on LinkedIn, twitter, Facebook and others.

Do that year in and year out and before you know it you have a large network of people who not only feel comfortable with you but would be there when you need a favor (and you know that time will come sooner than you think) and willing to bust down walls to see you succeed.

This is the killer app for founders, creating a network of people you are truly connected with on a deeper level than just a digital click on a social network.  If more and more people can hear your name in public and think “man, that person is great and I would do whatever I can to see them succeed” you are golden.

It means you are truly wealthy in the relationships you have built.  And since success in business is based on the relationships we have created you will have no other option than to continue on your path towards success.

How Do You Meet Other Cool and Smart People In The Startup Community?

coffeeI was at an event last night and started talking to a person who was younger and newer to the startup community.  During our conversation he asked something that slightly caught me off guard, given his current job at a fairly well known tech resource here in Seattle.

“How do I meet more cool and smart founders and engineers around Seattle?  I mean, what do you do?”

Although he is young – about a year out of college and just getting his feet wet in the professional world – I was still taken aback.  It struck me as odd that someone wouldn’t know where to go and where to look to meet other entrepreneurs.

But then I realized it might not be as obvious to others as it is to me.  I’m a bit more social than most and have had the opportunity to get tied into the Seattle startup community over the course of the last few years.

So if you find yourself asking the same question this person did, here’s a few ideas on how to meet more people doing cool stuff in your community.

Go to a lot of events

It may seem obvious but going to local startup events is one of the best ways to meet new people.  The only drawback is you have to get over the awkwardness of being around a lot of people you really don’t know and looking around to find someone to talk to.  There’s no point in taking the time and energy to go to an event and just sitting on the side by yourself waiting for someone to come talk to you.

Just bite the bullet, find someone in the crowd who is not mid sentence in another conversation, put out your hand, introduce yourself and start the conversation.  BUT remember – only stay in conversation with one person for 5 or 10 minutes before gracefully wrapping it up, grabbing a card if you want and moving on.  No one likes to be cornered by a stranger for an hour.

Go to Hackathons and specific meetups

Hackathons, by their very nature, attract smart and talented people.  If you want to find the people who are hacking away on the newest ideas, you need to start going to local hackathons.  By the end of the first night you will have found a new team to help  build something new and in the process make a handful of new friends.  

Also, seek out a few meetups that fit your interests and just show up.  There are groups meeting in your city on almost anything imaginable.   If you can’t find something that interests you – start one!

Ask your close friends for introductions

Asking the people you already know to introduce you to someone they think is smart and would be a great connection is another way to expand your network.  It’s best if you identify the person you want to meet and specify the reason for meeting them, it makes their intro a lot easier.  One thing to remember on intro’s:  The person doing the introduction is putting their reputation on the line when they introduce you – so make sure you follow through and act professional.   If not, it looks bad on you as well as the  person who connected you.

5o coffee dates

Mark Suster wrote a while back about committing to 50 coffee meetings in a year.  While extreme, the point is clear – committing to having coffee with others in your community will lead to introductions and opportunities you never would have thought were available to you.  So next time you are out at an event or meetup, simply ask the person you are talking to if they can meet for 30 minute coffee next week.  At the end of the coffee meeting, ask the person who they would recommend you meet next.  It works…

Start writing

When I started blogging and guest posting on other media outlets, it opened up another channel for people to reach out and connect with me.  In fact, that is how I founded Seconds (actually, my cofounder read an article I wrote on GeekWire and he cold emailed me to ask if we can meet for coffee – see how it works!)  Putting your thoughts and words on screen and publishing them out into the world allows others to “virtually” get to know you and how you see the world.  On your blog, make it easy for others to connect with you, via Twitter, Facebook or email.  Trust me, it does wonders for your future.

So there you have it.  Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and get noticed.  Go to events.  Put out your hand.  Say something.  Write something.  And for god sakes book some meetings!