Career Development—Professional Networking Pro-Tips

Transcript

Narrator

The future of project management is changing fast. On Projectified™ with PMI, we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s really ahead for the profession—and your career. 

For an easy way to stay up to date on Projectified™ with PMI, go to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play music or PMI.org/podcast.

Stephen W. Maye

Hello. I’m Stephen Maye, and this is Projectified™ with PMI. I’m here with my co-host, Tegan Jones, and in this episode we’re discussing how to make the most of your professional network.

Regardless of how large or how small your network might be, you probably already have people in your contact list who can open doors to new opportunities. But identifying those leads can take a lot of legwork. Spending quality time with your professional contacts goes a long way toward building the type of relationships that will help you advance your career. 

Tegan Jones

But it’s not as easy as it sounds. You know, reaching out to someone you don’t know that well can feel really awkward or intimidating for some people—you know, especially if you’re reaching out for a reason that seems a bit self-serving.

Stephen W. Maye

Yeah, I think that’s a natural reaction for many of us. It’s difficult to ask people you don’t already have a relationship with for help or for advice. And that’s why it’s so important to build new relationships within your network over time—so that when it is time to make a career move, you can feel much more confident about reaching out to the right contacts.

Tegan Jones 

And that kind of outreach can definitely go a long way. A recent study by PayScale found that over a third of professionals in the U.S. landed their current job by referral. And while a lot of those referrals came from family members or close friends, 32 percent came from business contacts. So there’s real value in staying engaged with your professional network.

Stephen W. Maye 

And this is something we’ll hear a bit more about from James Brady, who was hired as CIO for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services at the beginning of this year. James is also a past president of the Southern California chapter of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. We talked about how his professional network helped him land the type of leadership position he was looking for. We’ll get to that conversation in just a few minutes.

Tegan Jones 

We’ll also hear some tips on how to strengthen your professional network from Krishna Mohan, who is a division manager for Nexteer Automotive in Bengaluru, India, and Rick Knaggs, who is director of the global IT PMO for ICU Medical in San Clemente, California. Both Krishna and Rick discussed how to get more out of your network by giving back.

Stephen W. Maye

But first we’re going to hear from Nina Scarnici, who is the associate director of project management for Publicis Seattle, a full-service advertising agency in Washington state. Nina says the key to success when you’re reaching out to someone you don’t know well is to be authentic and be direct with your request. 

Tegan Jones 

Yeah, with how busy everyone is, you really need to be clear and concise in your communications. So, let’s hear how she does it.

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Nina Scarnici

I would say leveraging your professional network to learn what skills are in demand, and at what companies, can be incredibly helpful in identifying what steps to take to advance your career. 

It’s great to be connected with people because that will, one, offer you insights on who that person is and how they got to where they are, which might inspire you, or two, it offers the opportunity of communication, and I think that’s a wonderful thing to take advantage of and start building a relationship.

It’s easy to send a request and to connect with somebody online, but what’s difficult is taking that tie and making it something more, which is building the relationship. So I would advise people to reach out to people and say, “Hi, how are you, my name is Nina, and I would love to pick your brain on X, Y and Z.” 

I think when you boil it down, it really has to be authentic to you. So who are you reaching out to, why are you reaching out to them, and what’s the connection? 

Is it, “Hey, I notice you’re a director at this great company, and I’m really interested in learning more about the culture; if I could have five minutes of your time, I would love to hear your thoughts.” Just whatever is more authentic to you versus write four paragraphs or write one only. I would say, just as a general rule, I tend to keep my messages short because I think people are pretty short on time these days.

I would say a great way to highlight specific areas of expertise is to be involved in those environments. So, for example, if you’re an expert in digital project management, find discussions around that topic that you can participate in, or you can share a post that offers information people could find useful. I think this is a good way to showcase your skills and knowledge to all of your connections, and it’s a great way to stay organic to the environment without appearing boastful. It’s just producing content, which is a very fun thing to do on a LinkedIn environment or professional network.

So for me it’s more about creating a diverse network to learn and to see different opportunities that come through because you never know where you’re going to be in five years, so it’s great to open the doors to a lot of opportunities just compared to the one that you might have your eye on now.

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Stephen W. Maye

I really like that tip about writing posts or sharing content that highlights your expertise. So many people are on LinkedIn or other online forums, but not everybody gets as much value as they could from these networks.  

Tegan Jones

I also thought that point she made about diversifying your network was pretty powerful. Harvard Business Review recently ran a pretty interesting piece on a similar topic. That article was about a study that examined how MBA students land executive leadership positions. 

The research found that students who were connected to different hubs—so different specialties or interest groups within their network—were more successful on the job market. 

Stephen W. Maye

That really makes sense to me. And there can be tremendous value in building relationships with people who specialize in your discipline or your area of focus. Especially if you work in a niche sector or if your projects use cutting-edge technology.

Tegan Jones 

That’s definitely something I heard from Krishna Mohan, who works in the automotive software space in Bengaluru. I asked Krishna, a division head for program management, quality and tools for Nexteer Automotive, and Rick Knaggs, the director of the global IT PMO for ICU Medical, how they get more value out of their professional networks. Let’s hear from them now.

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Tegan Jones

Networking doesn’t have to be a self-serving exercise.

In fact, according to Rick Knaggs, the best way to build a powerful network is through the age-old practice of reciprocity.

Rick Knaggs

We’ll find that, because it’s human nature, if you’ve done something for someone else, they’ll be more inclined to assist you with something that you might need later on. It’s always a very difficult thing to walk into a relationship that you may just be building and say, “Oh, by the way, would you do something for me? I know we’re in the process of building this relationship, but I need, I need.”

And if we turn it around to say, you know, “As we build this relationship, is there something I can do for you?” it’s going to help you more in the long term and in the downstream.

Tegan Jones

Your professional experience is one asset you can bring to the table. For instance, sharing how you’ve tackled a tough problem can help others overcome similar issues. Krishna Mohan helps facilitate this type of knowledge sharing as the AVP for special programs for the PMI Bengaluru chapter. 

Krishna is also the co-founder of India SPICE, an organization that brings together software development professionals in India’s automotive sector. 

Krishna Mohan

In India, the automotive domain is very niche-y when I founded this four years back. The mission of India SPICE is to bring the automotive professionals together and share the knowledge, network and learn new things in the automotive world.

Software in the cars is ever increasing, and the complexity of the software is also increasing day by day.

You know, there are so many problems that we face, but we may not have solutions right away. So having this networking well-established will help you take pragmatic approaches to the complex problems you face which would have faced by others already.

Tegan Jones

After you’ve spent some time strengthening your network, it may seem easier to ask for help. But you still need to be considerate of your contacts’ time. So Rick Knaggs recommends finding ways to make your request a lighter lift.  

Rick Knaggs

If you’re going to ask for someone to assist you with an invitation, for example, you want to do everything you can to make that as easy as possible. If that means, “Let me make this first step, let me write an email that you can send on to someone, maybe you’d want to tweak it, but I’ve already prepared this because I know you’re busy, but I don’t want to take up a lot of your time.” 

Tegan Jones

Networking can’t always take top priority. There’s just too much work to be done. But Krishna Mohan says the results are worth the time you have to invest—because getting ahead in your career is all about who you know.

Krishna Mohan

As you grow in your career, you continue to acquire skills and business acumen. But the only thing that will truly make a significant impact will be who you know and who you are connected with. As they say, show me your friends and I will show your future. Everyone needs help, so never be afraid to ask. However, remember that other people need help, too. Invest your time with no expectations of returns.

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Stephen W. Maye

You never really know who in your network is going to come through with a job lead or an introduction that could completely change your career—or really change your life, for that matter. 

So it’s a good idea to build as many strong professional relationships as you possibly can.

Tegan Jones

It does seem like you need to carve out regular time for networking if you want to get as much value from your contacts as you can. But the good news is, simply the act of networking may come with benefits of its own. A recent German study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that people who engaged in daily networking at the office saw a number of positive outcomes, including higher job satisfaction and greater optimism about their careers. 

Stephen W. Maye

Those are fascinating findings, and that definitely echoes what I heard from James Brady. He used LinkedIn to reach out to several of his new colleagues before starting his current role as CIO for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. And he says that that advanced contact helped make his first day on the job a much more positive experience. 

Tegan Jones

I can see how connecting with your new co-workers could make you feel a little more optimistic about starting from scratch at a new organization. But honestly, I’d never thought of doing something like that before.  

It sounds like he had a pretty interesting perspective, so let’s go to that conversation now.

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Stephen W. Maye

James, for most of us, just our basic job responsibilities and personal commitments leave us feeling like there are already so many things competing for our attention. Why should people prioritize building and maintaining their professional networks?

James Brady

Well, that’s a really good question. And one of the things that I think is really important is many jobs and career opportunities really come about or kind of surface through relationship building. And so I can just think of just a quick example of when I was early on in my career working at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, largely doing IT-related work, a lot of stuff in the data center, things that didn’t have me around the clinical folks and, you know, the people that actually were at the point of care delivering that patient care. And so one of the things that I did is I said, Hey, how can I better understand what the purpose of the organization is?

So I looked around and I noticed that there were healthcare IT associations that I could participate in and learn about some of the ways that the individuals that are delivering that patient care were operating in. And so it’s really helped me to transition to being a manager, to understanding kind of how the doctors do what they do and the nurses do what they do by simply going to some of the networking events, some of the professional associations. And that really kind of jump-started my career in management, is really getting that view of what the business is actually doing by taking advantage of something that’s pretty much a free thing.

Stephen W. Maye

You alluded earlier to your involvement early on in your career and professional networks. Share with me a little more about that, if you would. What professional networks do you belong to?

James Brady

Yeah, I’ve been a part of HIMSS, H-I-M-S-S. It’s a national organization—for the most part, the premier healthcare IT organization in the U.S. and globally. You get to meet the people that come, which, you know, they’re not necessarily on the vendor community, but other customers, other people that are working in, in my case, hospitals and clinics, they would attend these meetings. So a lot of managers, a lot of leaders. 

You can work side-by-side with people that are very high up in some of the organizations, and you develop relationships with them. I mean, you’re not working for them, but, you know, you get to know them on a first-name basis. And so if, you know, maybe a job comes up somewhere, I can just say, “Hey, Oscar, you know what, I heard that there was a position there, you know, do you think I might be a good fit? Do you happen to know the hiring manager?” It really opens the door if you get these relationships. And they’re pretty easy to get if you do some volunteering and some collaboration in these groups. So I also belong to a number of other associations, several on the information security side, and then of course I am involved in the PMI organization and a few others.

And there’s quite a bit of passion in these organizations where people are just, you know, they’re … they’re putting it out for a lot more than just, you know, what’s in it for me. So giving back to the community, giving back to young people or new people. Not everybody new is young. Some people are kind of switching, mid-career people switching over. You know, but just giving back, helping people. I mean, there’s definitely a lot of satisfaction one would get when you contribute to the greater good, something bigger than yourself. I think we all have a basic need to want to be accepted and to want to do something that has value. 

Stephen W. Maye

Yeah.

James Brady

So I think professional networking is a place where you can really give back on something you’re passionate about that, as you mentioned at the very onset of the session here, we’re all busy, we don’t have a lot of time. But, you know, if you carve out some time for something meaningful, then, you know, people will be willing to do that. And I think it yields great benefits.

Stephen W. Maye

Yeah, there’s definitely a great feeling that can come with paying it forward and helping someone reach a goal that they’ve set for themselves. And despite that, it can be so intimidating for people to reach out to their networks and ask for that help or ask for that assistance. I think it can be helpful when we remember that, there’s so many philosophical traditions that have kind of turned this on its head and said, wait a minute, if you need that kind of help or you need that kind of assistance, then by not asking or not allowing someone to help you, you’re actually depriving them of an opportunity. I think it’s interesting to think about that as being something that’s not just good for you, but it’s good for the other person as well. And maybe for some of us, that can be liberating. And you have to have some kind of established connection to make that work. Very often, just trying to do that out of the blue is not going to be that successful. So, what’s been your experience in this area? How have you built or strengthened those kinds of connections in your own network?  

James Brady

What I did recently, before I took on my current role, is I used the LinkedIn software. And I had, I traditionally had about a 500- to 800- person network, but I decided, let me go out and see who is working for the County of Los Angeles that I can just say, “Hello, I’m about to come on over and I’m really looking forward to working with you.” And so I sent out about probably like 300 different LinkedIn invites to just people, random people that just showed up that work, that are working for the Department of Health Services or maybe some associated departments within the county. And actually, I got a lot of positive feedback when I did finally come on board. You know, people were really excited, you know, that I was here, that I reached out to them. You know, “Are we going to do some new things.” And so I think leveraging some of the social media tools that are out there, that’s kind of one fantastic way of getting your brand out there. So I think that’s an interesting comment.

Stephen W. Maye

Yeah, it is. And I think you’ve brought up something that people often take different approaches to. You know, some people take a very highly curated approach to LinkedIn, and say, “Ah, you know, I don’t want anybody in my network that isn’t someone I know, that I can endorse, and I have a direct relationship with and so forth,” and they really curate that and maintain that on a much smaller scale. And I hear you advocating something else. So I’d love to hear more about that.

James Brady

Yeah, so like I said, I did have a lot of positive feedback for it. And I think it did create some excitement just in the department that I moved into. 

I’ve always thought, Well, how do I reach out to somebody if I’m interested in a job or what’s the tactful way to do it? So I think if you’re not asking something from somebody, then that’s always the better way to do it. So if you’re in that volunteer committee and that professional association, you know, you’re there to give, you’re there to contribute, so people, I think, they resonate with that. 

So it’s really how do you dance that fine line between asking—you know, ultimately you’re really wanting something from somebody, but you’re kind of approaching them maybe strategically a little differently. You’re coming to say, “Is there something I can do to maybe help with what you’re doing?” Maybe it’s on the committee or maybe you just want to share something, maybe some insights, or you could write a blog article, or you could contribute to a podcast or, you know, do something where you’re not necessarily it’s obvious that you’re really looking out for you. 

Stephen W. Maye

You’ve talked about this in a couple of different ways, but it seems clear that you’re fairly bold when it comes to reaching out and contacting people and making those connections. And I’d be interested to hear what you’ve learned about making those kinds of connections and marketing yourself to those kinds of connections and doing that with confidence but without it seeming pushy. Or … or is that even something we should worry about?

James Brady

No, I think if you’re going to want a position—and we’re talking, you know, like moving on maybe for the next level—then you should ask somebody who’s maybe in that position what’s their perception of you. So I’ve had lots of really interesting feedback from executive search firms throughout the years, and I would call that many … I wouldn’t call it many failures, but I would just say there’s many, many interviews that I’ve gone on and positions that I threw my hat in the ring for that, you know, didn’t work out.

Then over time you can begin to really polish yourself and become more self-aware, which is under the realm of emotional intelligence, where you’re aware of yourself, you’re aware of how others perceive you. 

Stephen W. Maye

That’s a really interesting point, and I’m curious, what are some of the questions you ask when you get the chance to have that type of conversation with someone?

James Brady

You know, people always like to talk about themselves and, you know, give wisdom and like to teach and share their insights and their experience. So one thing I’ve found to be very successful is, if I’m, like for instance, earlier in my career I was wanting to transition to a senior IT leadership role, to ultimately a CIO role, which I’m actually doing at the moment, but I—

Stephen W. Maye

Living the dream, James. You are living the dream.[Laughs.] 

James Brady

Yeah, baby. [Laughs.] Okay, so… But I, you know, I began to … I began to establish relationships with other CIOs and said, “Hey, you know, would you be open to mentoring me,” or, “I’ve got some questions for you.” And so I was asking for a few minutes of their time to pick their brains.

Even for this particular position that I’m in right now, and then the one before that, you know, I definitely went to multiple CIOs and said, Hey, I’m looking to go on some interviews, do you have any tips for me?” I also had conversations about, “Hey, I’m about to start on this particular date, you know, what did you do in your first 60 to 90 days?” I got some really great insight from probably about nine or 10 CIOs.

Stephen W. Maye

One more thing I wanted to ask you before we let you go. If you had to give one piece of advice, what is the number one piece of advice that you would offer to someone who really is interested in simply getting more from their professional network?

James Brady

Yeah, well, I think what …  what I would echo to that question is, have confidence, believe in yourself, and really look to understand what is it that you’re passionate about. 

What is it that’s inside of you that you’re … that you feel like you’re here on this planet for. We have our relationships and families and activities outside of work, but, you know, work is a part of it. So, you know, it’s a … it’s a big part of your day, so what is it that you feel like you’ll be most fulfilled and satisfied for, that you can put your heart into. I think that’s really key. And, you know, definitely narrow that down. If you have a lot of things, you know, you have to make some choices. And then look—I’ll just tack on an appendix here—look for a great organization and a great manager that you can work for that’ll support you. And never take anybody’s assessment that, you know, you can’t do it. Just keep moving forward. 

Stephen W. Maye

And with that, James Brady, CIO of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, has the last word. James, it has been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you for joining us.

James Brady

Thank you.

Narrator

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