Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of money on coffee and cocktails. All with one purpose: to develop relationships.
It all started when I began a temp job with Viacom in 2001.
I was new to NYC and barely knew anyone. However, somehow I had finagled a 6-month assignment in the purchasing and facilities department. I wasn’t going to miss the amazing opportunity before me. I was fortunate to work in 1515 Broadway.
Everyday In the cafeteria, hallways, elevator banks and even restrooms, I strategically stalked, rather carefully approached, people who could make a difference in my young career. These were executives, assistants, managers, human resources professionals, custodians and anyone who would give me the time of day.
After broaching a subject with these individuals I would always ask if they were game to have a “quick coffee or drink” with me so I could learn more about what they do. Surprisingly, most people agreed. Doing this face-to-face was critical. It’s hard for people to say no in person. Super easy to say no on the phone or via e-mail.
During this time I also learned a very important lesson: people love to talk about themselves. Most people just want someone to listen. And boy did I listen. This is probably a byproduct of my eventually becoming the journalist I am today and the foundation of my coaching work.
In these almost daily quick meet and greets, I would ask about their background, what they do and how they got to where they are. I would ask for advice on the dos and don’ts of beginning my young career. One thing I never specifically asked for was a job.
What I did ask for at the end of every conversation was, “who else do you recommend I should speak with?” This always lead to more meetings and their referral provided an entry to individuals that otherwise would have been challenging to pull off on my own.
Something else I’ve always done, and I still do to this day, was follow-up with everyone that I met with a handwritten thank you card. Hand written notes go super far and are inexpensive. E-mails provide too much to chance and can be deleted too easy. I dare you to try to delete my personal stationary saying thank you for your time.
As my six-month temp job was coming to an end, all of this networking paid off and I ended up getting a staff job as the assistant to a Nickelodeon programming executive. The rest is basically history. Two years later, that job led to my joining Nickelodeon’s hit live show U-Pick Live where I eventually became a co-host, writer and associate producer. One thing that didn’t change as my career blossomed was my consistently having coffee and cocktails with people.
So how has this paid off? Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I got a job based on submitting a resume on-line or through official routes. Due to developing relationships and expanding my network, over the years I regularly have received e-mails or calls about potential jobs that I’d be a great fit for. Or, when I was interested in an industry job, I would just reach out to my massive network to see who knew who.
One thing I’ve learned is that even in NYC or LA, the world is stupid small and people are really just a few degrees separated from one another. I’m fortunate today to have an agent that I book most of my on-camera and producing work through, however, I still receive insider information regularly.
To harness this to your advantage, get in front of people on a regular basis at work, industry events or even cafes and ask them for a few minutes of their time. Odds are someone helped them earlier in their career and they are willing to reciprocate. Also, have a goal in mind of what you’d like to get out of the meeting. And again, do not ever end a meeting without asking, “who else do you recommend I speak with,” and with a handwritten thank you card.
Sure I’ve had some meetings that were busts and I didn’t always have the $2.50 to pay the tab. But I always found a way to make it happen as you will. Funny enough, these days I haven’t received many requests for meet and greets from young people working in the industry and that’s too bad. But, it’s not too late.
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Antonio Neves is a professional question asker and opportunity identifier. He is the founder of THINQACTION where he works with young entrepreneurs and professionals to produce exceptional results in their work. Work with Antonio. Follow Antonio