My colleague Jeff Schreifels wrote a great blog post called "You Need a Friend" on how important it is for development professionals to have mentors. This is great advice. We all need friends and especially peers in our industry we can go to for advice. Mentors inspire us and help us build our expertise. I used to get emails and phone calls from students wanting an interview for a class or advice on moving to a nonprofit career. Most of them were college students and if they had a deadline it was that week. Real agendas were not made clear until I was sitting across from them. After a few years of this I grew wary of these requests until one day I got an email from a graduate student at the Acton MBA program in entrepreneurship.
It was an unforgettable breath of fresh air. She asked for precisely 30 minutes of my time, told me exactly what she wanted to cover, promised she would only ask me questions not answered by my press or blog, and in exchange would donate 10 hours of her time to my favorite charity. Three years later I'm still raving about her!
Susie Hall, Director of Admission at Acton was kind enough to share her technique with me, it's called Naive Networking. It is the most honest and realistic guide to networking I've ever read and a must read for any student or professional wanting to get ahead. Frankly, I wish they taught this in high school! Here are my favorite Naive Networking tips:
1) Do your personal soul searching and industry homework first. 2) Be specific about what you need. Make sure the other person understands how a little effort on their part can make a big difference in your life. 3) Don't pester 4) Show up prepared 5) Send your questions in advance 6) Ask questions. My favorite? "What's your favorite mistake?" 7) Give something unexpected in return. In my case it was 10 hours to my favorite charity. 8) Be nice to the gatekeepers. 9) Follow up. 10) And as my colleague Jeff would resoundingly agree with me: be gracious and be grateful.
Stay classy, Rachel