(Pictured above, Al Oak and I at an intern breakfast at the very beginning of my internship. Talk about an incredible and unique experience!)
What do a Baby Boomer CEO and a Millennial summer marketing intern have in common? Are you having trouble coming up with anything? So was I, until I sat down with the CEO here at Cripe, Al Oak, and got to talking about networking. After our discussion, we realized we have much more in common than originally thought. I know he taught me a lot and I’m hoping I taught him a thing or two as well.
We sat down and talked about how to supplement each other’s knowledge with what we ourselves know. In Al’s case, he’s a very thoughtful and effective traditional networker. In my case, I know how to use LinkedIn and other social media, hopefully in an unselfish manner. What we decided by the time I left his office was that people who are interested in networking, and that should be everyone, can use both of these tools to be very successful. One is not better than the other, but they are both powerful means to the same end.
We got right down to business about networking in general. “It’s important for young people to know…the importance of networking and growing your career. It’s not something you decide to do when you’re fifty, when you have time. You start at your age,” Al told me. It looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me already.
One of the most important things that Al and I discussed was the impatience and sometimes even selfishness of my generation in their networking dealings. There always has to be something in every conversation for them. There has to be a way to move up and up and up, but effective networking is something much more than that. Al over and over again used the phrase “personal relationships.” While it may seem a bit counterintuitive to business, Al says, “The first priority is developing relationships on a more personal basis before moving to business opportunities. Develop a line of communication and trust by getting to know the person as a priority.” He said that he rarely talks about business when communicating with his connections.
So in a generation that is becoming ever more reliant on social media and interactions of all sorts besides face-to-face, how do we overcome this fear or negligence of the personal? “Good relationship builders and networkers come in many sizes– meaning many different personality types, personal backgrounds, skill sets and styles. The important thing is to embrace the importance of this and make the effort in a way that’s comfortable.” It’s not about cold-calling people in the industry you want to get into. Take advantage of those around you who might know that person or even might know another connection who knows your end goal person. Just ask. Find someone you know that is a good networker and use them. Al says he uses his connections in such a way quite frequently. If he wants to meet a new person he asks someone he already knows who knows that person to set up a lunch. “People who are good at networking are also wanting to help. It’s a support group as much as anything,” Al told me.
But what about my fellow Millennials who are just starting their careers, but who might not have the opportunity to sit down with the CEO or any of the higher-ups in their current company (truly Cripe is exceptional and I have learned there is no hierarchy here)? Quite simply, Al advised to find a new company. “You ought to get in a culture where they support that (networking). Make sure you’re in the right environment for it at a company that supports you.” So when we’re out interviewing for a job, we should be asking about the company’s culture and explaining what we’d like to be a part of. If it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a good fit to help you reach your goals, Al simply suggests moving on to something that does.
Al then reiterated to me what we Millennials need to do in order to get into networking as early as possible and it is quite simple. “Get a mentor, tell them what you want to do, and hold yourself accountable.” Easy enough, right? All we have to do is take a step outside our comfort zone and think more carefully about the impersonal ways we sometimes use our social media. But, remember, both parts of networking, traditional and social, are incredibly important and if managed correctly can lighten your load in maintaining your personal relationships and bringing forth opportunities that might not have been possible otherwise.
To be continued…
Taylor Crenshaw is a rising Senior at DePauw University working towards a double major in English Writing and Spanish.