Today I received an invite to the premiere of a television show.
Because the show is about couples in the NFL, I expect to be able to meet new people from the television, music, and sports business at this event.
Most professionals there will be open to networking. Business cards will be passed, and Blackberrys will be filled with new contacts.
Some people will focus on meeting the most powerful people in the room, hoping to draw a straight line to a new job or a new client.
Others will shy away from the “A-listers” and stick with professionals who are at the same stage of their career. Their hope? To find another talented person who they can partner with on a project, or get a great referral to a gig.
Everyone will ignore the newbies in the room. No one will want to waste their time with the nobodys who are trying to break in to the industry. How did they get into this event anyway?
I’ve had too many career opportunities appear out of nowhere to ignore any connection in this business. Entertainment is not like other industries where an executive stays in place for 20 years, and workers build their job experience in a straight line.
I’ve seen a music writer launch his own successful magazine after three years in the game. And I’ve seen many vice presidents lose their positions and drop into limbo.
Spend a few years on this journey and you learn that your next big break can come from anyone. However, all it takes is one flaky wannabe who wastes your time to turn you off from networking in general.
So, here’s a 3 part networking strategy you can use to get the most out of every professional relationship, without wasting your time.
Part 1: Meet Mentors
My first two mentors found me. After receiving many career changing talks from them, I wizened up, took initiative and actively sought out my next mentor.
I’ve been hired by a mentor. I’ve been co-signed by a mentor when my reputation was in danger. And recently I’ve had a mentor help me tighten up my freelancing process.
I don’t have the space here to go into the best way to find a mentor. I just want to convince you that you need one. Yes, you’re an independent maverick and creative genius. But you still need a mentor.
A good mentor will give you direction in your career. A good mentor will give you perspective about our industry.
A good mentor is hard to find, but worth the search. In your networking, meet mentors.
Part 2: Connect with Colleagues
The most common form of networking is between people in the same position.
I went to a dinner party with an ex-girlfriend who was a costume designer. I was the only non-costume designer in the room that night. The conversation, the jokes, the everything was about costume design. They discussed their favorite movies based solely on which flicks had the best costumes.
This is the typical way we network. Let me suggest an alternative.
My most surprising opportunities have appeared when I networked across job titles.
Get this. I spoke at my church one week and connected with a personal trainer who serves people in our industry. He introduced me to a person I interviewed on this blog, and I set up a meeting for him to work with a great television producer. Now we’re in talks to do a project together.
None of that would have come from connecting with only people who do exactly what I do.
When you network, connect with colleges outside of your job title.
Part 3: Prop Up Proteges
This is the part most readers will skip or not take to heart. But I am sure that you will be one of the few to seriously consider this part of the networking strategy.
Great careers are built through mentoring the next generation. It usually takes us a decade or two in the business to figure this out. But it doesn’t have to.
Some of us don’t believe that we’re qualified to mentor others. Not true. Even with one year of experience, you can help an intern. And if you intern, you can help a student.
Some of us think we don’t have time to help others. Also not true. Lending your support, knowledge, and contacts to a protege is the quickest way for you to move ahead in your own work.
Yes, the quickest.
Take two people with the same experience and talent and turn one of them into a mentor, a teacher of others. Who’s professional brand will grow stronger?
A teaching attitude and ability is the difference between an “unknown creative superstar” or a “noted subject expert”. The difference between working as a “temporary freelancer” or as a “high-paid consultant”.
Get what I’m saying?
Develop the habit of making other people’s dreams come true, and they’ll repay you for the rest of their career. In your networking, prop up proteges.
A Place For Everyone
By using this strategy you’ll find a place for everyone in your network.
No matter where you are in your career, you’ll know how to serve, and be served by the mentors, colleagues, and protoges in your life.
Now off to this party!