No. 50 – Nurture Your Networking Skills

One of the benefits of networking is that it’s a great way of improving your interviewing skills. The logic is simple. If you want to become a better actor, act. To become a better writer, write. And to become better at interviewing, interview. Networking conversations are like low-stress, high-impact, self-initiated interviews. By having lots of these mini-conversations when you aren’t under pressure, you get better at explaining what you want people to know about you. And the more you do it, the more skilled and focused you become.

“But I hate small talk,” people sometimes protest. Then don’t engage in small talk. Talk about things of interest to you and others. One sure-fire way of feeding a conversation is to try to discover what’s of keen interest to the other person, then talk more about that. Offer some helpful ideas. Don’t assume, “Oh, she’s probably already thought of that.” Maybe not. And of course you can steer the course of the conversation by inserting information about your own interests also.

Pay attention to what people say. Care about what they say. Listen hard, and practice reading between the lines. As management guru Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t said.”

Another secret of effective networking is to give at least as much as you take. If you only take, you’ll get a reputation for that, and in time people will avoid you. If you give – especially if you give first, without knowing whether or not you’ll receive – people will be attracted to you. “An offer of reciprocity gets my attention,” says Alan Grafman, CEO of Modelwire. “It’s my personal secret to always ask the person I’m networking with, ‘How can I help you?’”

Why not try this technique right now? Think of a couple of people that you know who might benefit from knowing each other. Call them up, and explain that you think so-and-so would be beneficial for him or her to meet.

I recently wanted to use the professional services of an artist I know. I didn’t feel I could afford his top-drawer price, but I wanted his top-drawer work. So I explained that to him. I added, “I know you’re worth it, I just can’t afford it at this time.” Then I volunteered, “I know someone who could use your services. When we finish talking, I’ll call him and suggest that you two meet.” And I did. The second person then called and made an appointment with the artist to discuss some business. Later, the artist called me and said, “Thanks for the introduction. We’re meeting next week. And don’t worry about the price for your project, I’m going to give you what you need for a price you can afford.”

The more you do to help someone else’s career, the more willing that person will be to help yours. You know the expression, “What goes around comes around.” With technology, what goes around comes around even faster.

By the way, if you’re a “gray” – older than forty – make an extra effort to get to know and network with young people, who tend to be more in tune with new trends. In return, you can make the relationship mutually beneficial by providing insights and advice based on your years of experience in the business world.

What if you find your efforts to network stymied by intense shyness or anxiety? Most of the time, you can reshape your behavior and thought patterns to control and overcome shyness. Everyone has some degree of social phobia; most people feel nervous meeting and talking to strangers. If you are excessively shy, you have to deal with it. The truest and best way is to understand that others experience it, too. Other people feel just as nervous as you do at times, maybe more so. So if you bravely act first and help those around you relax, you’ll get more out of your time together. This doesn’t mean you need to become a social butterfly to network successfully; it does mean that you can’t be lazy about making strong, diverse connections on an ongoing basis.


P.S. If you have comments or questions, please feel free to contact me.

No. 49 – Make Sure You Understand the Company’s Personal Brand

In Post No. 48 I wrote about the questions you will likely get asked in an interview. Now I’m suggesting the questions that you could and should be asking in the interview:

• What kind of person do you want for this position?
• What’s important about the person you hire?
• How many people have held this position in the last two years?
• Would you describe a typical workday and the things I’d be doing?
• How does this job contribute to the company?
• Is this department a profit center for the company?
• Are sales up or down over the last year?
• Where can someone in this job be promoted to?
• How will success be measured in this position?
• How long do you think it will take until you make a decision?

While the interviewer is trying to find that out about you, you are trying to find out:

• Is the company worth joining?
• Do they have good products or services?
• Do they have workable plans for the future?
• Will I have a qualified, competent boss?
• Will they support my growth and development?
• Will they reward my efforts?
• Will I be proud to work for them?
• Will I make the money I want?

Make sure people answer your questions, just like you answer theirs. If they give you a vague, general response, ask, “Can you give me an example?” Concentrate more on listening and grasping what they’re saying than on thinking ahead to what you are going to say next.

When you get home after the interview, debrief yourself on what you learned and what you still need to find out.


P.S. If you have comments or questions, please feel free to contact me.

No. 48 – Communicate Your Personal Brand in the Job Interview

In a job interview, they are looking to learn about your qualifications, of course, but also your “fit.” The questions behind their questions are: Is he lazy? Does she have common sense? Does he have fire in the belly? Is she qualified? Is he lying? Will she fit in? Will he embarrass me?

So in addition to the standard questions asked in an interview:

• Tell me about yourself.
• Why are you interested in joining our company?
• What do you see yourself doing three years from now?
• What sort of money are you looking for?
• What are your strengths and weaknesses?
• Why do you feel you’re qualified for this job?
• Why did you leave XYZ company?

Expect more questions like:

• What do you like to do in your spare time?
• Ever have a disagreement with a boss? Why? Why not? What did you do about it?
• Have you ever been fired?
• If hired, how long would it take for you to make significant contributions to our company?
• What do you expect from a boss?
• How do you affect people?
• If there was something you could change about yourself, what would it be and why?
• How many hours are in your workday?
• What makes you happy? Unhappy?
• Talk about your failures. Tell me more.
• Tell me about your best friend in high school. What would they say about you?
• What should I know about you that we haven’t already discussed?

Your interviewers are trying to learn about the person behind the credentials. Many people look good on paper or online, but face to face don’t meet the “will she fit it/will he embarrass me” criteria.


P.S. If you have comments or questions, please feel free to contact me.

No. 47 – Be Your Own Boss – But Be a Good One

If you’re at the point in your career where you decide, “I don’t want to work for someone else anymore. I want to do my own thing, start my own business, be the boss—the CEO.” Good for you. You know what you want.

But, a wish is nothing; action is everything.

Venture capitalists tell me that they see, on average, 1,000 business plans a year and invest in only 8. The 8 are chosen as much for the idea as the founder and his or her leadership skills.

So whatever job or role or level you are, start today to develop the leadership and generalist skills required in an effective leader.  Although it takes specialist skill/knowledge to get to the top, once there you have to be the generalist running the whole show.

So what are those generalist leadership skills that venture capitalists look for?


-Know a niche where you can produce stellar results.
-Will take the initiative to do whatever it takes (that’s legal, moral, and ethical!)
-Never think you are smart enough or know enough. You crave more information from everyone and anything and soak it up like a sponge.
-Have a fire in the belly to sustain you through rejections and setbacks and mistakes – because there will be many.
-Think, act, and look confident so that people will follow you. You believe in yourself, but back it up with preparation and homework.
-Are utterly trustworthy. (If you don’t have this, you have nothing.)
-Listen more than you talk, but when you do speak you are clear, concise, and contribute something of value.
-Are decisive and fearless to address tough issues. You don’t hesitate to strike out and do what needs to be done.
-Don’t spend/waste time on the wrong issues.
-Seek candid feedback early and often, and then do something about it.
-Cause people to want to be around you by doing all of the above; follow you when they don’t need to.
-Develop people around you. (You can’t move on to bigger things if you don’t have a backfill.)
-Are willing to be a tireless cheerleader and coach 24/7. (Remember the first rule of starting your own enterprise: You are in sales.)
-Keep your personal life in check – it’s what matters at the end of the work day.

Before you become CEO of an organization be sure you are CEO of your Life. Do not let anyone else be in charge of your development; you are in charge.

What’s cool is that you can home school yourself on being a leader instead of waiting for any big organization’s institutional rigor to click in. In fact, you can’t wait. Starting today, take on your own authority to think and act like the owner, the top boss, the CEO; do it regardless of your current job and title. Prepare before you leap, but then have the guts to actually leap.

Do it for yourself, your family, your career, your future, your organization, your team, your life, and your legacy.

You will work harder than you ever have in your life, and it will be worth it.


P.S. If you have comments or questions, please feel free to contact me.

No. 46 – My Latest Book…

The CEO Difference by Debra Benton

To write The CEO Difference: How to Climb, Crawl, and Leap Your Way to the Next Level of Your Career (McGraw-Hill, Feb. 2014), I asked over one hundred CEOs and C-suite executives these three questions:

  • What causes someone to positively stand out in your eyes?
  • What do you look for in people you promote?
  • And, what did you do in your career to get to the top?

The answers from those 100-plus interviews can be summarized into six words:

Learn how to exceed among exceeders.

You see, others are working just as hard as you with goals and dreams of success just like you. If you want to be über-marketable and have a potent impact, while staying ahead of hyper competitive colleagues — not only in your own company but also outside of it — you have to set yourself apart from every other overachiever to whom you compete.

People who excel always do things different and better. Why?

  1. That’s how your boss chooses among comparably talented people to promote.
  2. When all candidates look good on paper, this is what recruiters look for.

Though most people like to believe they are singular, unique, and one-of-a kind in their assignment, few are. Across the world we are more similar than dissimilar. Yet, as fate would have it, that is exactly what your boss is looking for – someone singular who outshines the rest.

You see, right now, in private conversations in secret sessions, behind closed and locked doors with shades drawn (both online and offline), management muckity-mucks sitting in high back leather chairs are thinking hard about you and a smattering of your competition. One person is being enthusiastically singled out with the confirmatory statement of, “He’s different.” Someone asks, “What do you mean?” and the muckity-muck answers, “He fits in but he stands out from the rest, too. He does more, gets more out of others, knows more, cares more, and is more….”

Those few words carry significant ramifications in your work life and they usurp the university you attended, companies you’ve worked for, titles you’ve held, and any other personal or professional pedigree attached to you.

Not everyone is going to be able to move up. They are scrutinizing your skills and talent; performance and results; the continuous competitive advantage you furnish the organization; and your effect on others.

You want to be the one to “echo beyond the room,” meaning keep the conversation going about you after you’ve left.

As one female friend put it, “The often quoted Coco Chanel said it well, ‘In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.’”

There is a lot you can’t control in life, but there is one area you can exert more echo in — and that is what my book The CEO Difference is about. To help you:

  • Find what differentiates you.
  • Do regular things in a different way. (e.g. self-confidence, trustworthiness, optimism, presence, passion, decision making, communication, risk-taking, and influencing others)
  • Do different things than your competitors… all to add value as you compete.

If you take the position that all you want to do is to hang onto your job, you won’t be in the game long. You cannot turn in average, mediocre, lackluster results at any stage or you will be racing to catch up forever. You have to fight extra hard, kick and scratch to more-than-measure up; climb, crawl and leap to move up.


P.S. If you have comments or questions, please feel free to contact me.

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