Welcome to the second edition of Guest Bloggage featuring Andrew Ramsey. I served alongside Rammer as a fellow Captain of the Air Force Hockey Team and let me tell you he is a world class individual. He has always been a go getter and a hell of a hockey player, but being a year older than him and having the opportunity to watch him develop as a player, teammate, and most importantly as a person, was truly a great experience. Insert tissue or homo-erotic joke here. Without spoiling some of what Rammer is about to go into detail about, I wanted to elaborate on why we used to call him "the Renaissance man" or "Renaissance Rammer." Having gone on endless road trips and having shared tons of different experiences with him I can assure you that he does what he advises. What I mean by that is that this guy is a gifted networker and knows a little about everything! I am going to take credit for coming up with the name the Renaissance man (I am pretty sure I did) because no matter what situation he was in people loved him. As I started watching him it became almost comical how he could relate to anything. We would be at an airport and he would strike up a conversation with a 45 year old cougar who sells insurance and somehow he could relate to everything they said. We would be in Germany and he would be having a conversation, in German no less, with the owner of a photography shop about cameras. We all used to give him a hard time but the older I get the more valuable and appreciative (even envious) I am of this skill. I'm telling you, heed his advice because he lives it. Enjoy.
As business minded professionals we are always attempting to move forward, progress, get better, get ahead, etc. One great way to do that is to draw on help from the people you know. The formal term for this is 'networking,' but it really comes down to interpersonal relationships and having a sincere interest in other people's lives.
Many of my friends know me as Renaissance Rammer. I think this stems from my ability to walk into a room of complete strangers and leave the room an hour later with a few new friends. One of those new friends might be someone you go grab a beer with or catch a game with in the future. Another might be someone who will end up playing a crucial role in you being accepted to a top tier B-school or land you that perfect job you've been waiting for for years. The ability to do this comes natural to some and must be studied and learned by others. Here are a couple tips:
-Knowledge. Often we know a lot about one subject. It's something we've studied and we are engaged in that topic every day. For initiating contacts in a completely unfamiliar place you must know a little about a lot. In large gatherings people will usually section off into groups of two three or four. You have to be able to walk up to a group of strangers, withstand a few odd looks at first, gather info in only a few seconds about their conversation, then either contribute something interesting about that topic, or ask an insightful question to the person who seems to be the expert of the group. Your ability to know a little about a lot can be improved by reading books on all topics and publications as well as drawing on experiences in your life that might apply to the conversation.
-Ask questions, shut your mouth, and listen. Often life is about the questions that are asked, not the answers that are given. If you can ask a meaningful question to someone on a topic they know in depth you are on your way. You will build up their confidence and allow them to elaborate on their expertise. You then listen closely and find a way to tie your expertise into theirs. Then you've made them feel good and they will be more willing to listen to what you have to say. If they are a good communicator they will respect your ability to listen and return the gesture.
-The follow on. Rarely do you accomplish your goal in this first meeting with a new person. You have to find someone with whom you connected well enough to continue the conversation at a later date. It's important you always have a business card or other means to leave your contact information with someone. Also, it's helpful to keep the ball in your court and let them know that you plan on contacting them to grab a coffee/lunch/drink in a week or two. This allows you to be the one who takes control of the future meeting. You don't want to wait around for someone else to get back to you. In the mean time, do your homework on that person. See what their company does. Google them. Read their blog. Read a book they've read. This will allow your conversation to flow naturally on topics which you now have in common.
Now, I've only focused on a narrow part of networking: working an unfamiliar room to find the few key people who you can bring into your network in order to help you achieve your goal and help them achieve their goal. Sometimes it'll be a large group sometimes you will be faced with a one on one situation. Either way, you can't be afraid to jump in, stick your hand out, and meet a new face.
Other areas that you should look into are: managing your network and contacts, helping others develop their network, and making links between different networks you have (for example, alumni network and business networks and extracurricular networks). I have some great stories that I'll have to share on later posts (how I saved myself from being stationed in the middle of nowhere for my first assignment in the AF, how I funded a trip to Switzerland to play hockey in high school, how I got a premier parking spot in downtown Boston for 4 months for free, and how I plan to wheel an MBA from Harvard Business School on someone Else's dime, while getting paid full time).
I want to thank Matt for asking me to say a few words about networking. I hope I can contribute more down the road. He is a charismatic guy who has his hand in many unique and hard to infiltrate networks. I am excited to see where he goes and what he does.