Welcome to Washington, What Do You Do?

How to Get the Most out of Informational Interviews

By Laura Gross, Principal and Founder of Scott Circle Communications

“What do you do?” From networking events to first dates, that is perhaps the question that begins many conversations here in Washington, D.C. More often than not the underlying question is actually “who do you know?” or “how can you help me?” Unfortunately, people seem to be more interested in leveraging themselves than establishing an authentic human connection. I have seen this over and over again in the infamous informational interview.

With an established career in PR in the same city for over two decades, I have plenty of experience to share which is why I suppose I’ve been frequently called to give advice. I’ve received requests from all sorts of people: recent grads who just moved to D.C. looking for a job, college students debating a career in PR, senior professionals deciding whether to go out on their own as a consultant and job seekers too – especially job seekers.

I know why people contact me and I genuinely want to be helpful (in fact I average one informational meeting each week). So, in the spirit of being helpful, here are some suggestions on how to truly get the most out of an informational interview and make the most of someone’s time.

Whats Your Goal?

The first question I always ask is: What can I help you with? If you asked for the meeting, you should have a good substantive answer. Do you want to learn about my career path? Do you want to know more about how to do PR in DC? Do you want feedback on your resume? Use this informational interview to do exactly that: interview me to gather information.

Be Presentable

If you are looking for career advice or networking for a job, prove that you belong in the workforce. It seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how often people come dressed casually and not prepared. You should arrive on time, if not a few minutes early. And dress professionally too – you don’t know what type of office you are showing up to. The more you can show that you have made an effort to present your best self, the more likely you are to leave the interview having left a good first impression.

Bring a Resume

Yes, you might have sent me an email with your resume when you requested a meeting, but I get hundreds of emails every day. Always bring a copy of your typo-free resume with you to show you are one step ahead. I often take notes on the resume, which then sits on my desk for a while. You will be top of mind if I see a relevant job posting that might come my way.

Come Prepared

With one Google search, you can find out almost anything about anyone. What is my firm all about? What is my background? You already know these answers, so how can I actually be helpful? A better question to ask me is what do I look for in a candidate? What is the interview process like at your firm? Do you mind looking at my resume and giving me feedback?

Write a Thank You Note or Email

I’m not looking for the next best seller – I just want a simple thank you email or handwritten note (bonus points for handwritten!).

Follow-up

Let me know what happened to you. Did you get a job? An internship? Decide not to pursue PR after all? Finding success in Washington and other cities often revolves around who you know. Future jobs and opportunities are all about connections, so it will only benefit you in the long run to keep in touch with someone you met. And maybe, just maybe, one day you’ll be the one paying it forward and I’ll be the one requesting an informational interview with you.

About the Author: Laura Gross (@lgross) is Principal and Founder of Scott Circle Communications (@scottcircle), a full service public relations firm based in Washington, D.C. with a mission to make the world a better place.

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Seven Ways to Form Meaningful Business Relationships

By Susan Matthews Apgood, News Generation

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Susan Apgood (middle) at the 2015 Thoth Awards

No matter your industry, the benefits of knowing how to form meaningful relationships with other professionals are exponential. And while maintaining relationships may be as simple as sending an email once in a while, forming those relationships is a whole other story. All meaningful business relationships have one key factor in common: mutual benefits. Being able to give is just as important as getting, and one cannot happen without the other. Each of these seven ways to form relationships rely heavily on mutual assistance:

 

  1. Find a Mentor and/or Mentee: Early in my career, I viewed asking for help as a sign of weakness. As a young business owner, I feared that not knowing how to do something would turn away potential clients and make employees nervous. It wasn’t until I found myself in a position where people came to me for assistance that I realized the true benefits of asking for help. The mentor-mentee relationship is a great way to build a strong business relationship early in your career, and even decades in. But the most important factor of a meaningful mentor-mentee relationship is mutual benefit. The relationship must go two ways. Don’t overlook how much your mentee can teach you, and don’t ask too much of your mentor. If the relationship becomes too much of a “take” on one side, it will not last.
  2. Consider Joining a Peer Group: Peer groups are an easy way to meet other professionals in different industries, that are in the same position as you, and faced with the same challenges. As a member of Vistage for seven years, I came to realize how much others can help you, and how much you can help them in return. Not only have I gained insightful advice from my peers, I’ve also seen first-hand how giving, but not getting in return, can limit business relationships. Like all networking groups, you get back what you give out. And don’t overlook the benefits of joining industry-specific groups, like PRSA. Getting to know peers within your industry in your community is invaluable. My experience with PRSA-NCC here in the D.C. area has allowed me to build some of the best personal and professional relationships I have.
  3. Understand Who You’re Working With: Everyone differs in how they like to be communicated with, and nothing is more beneficial than understanding what type of person you’re trying to form a relationship with. A simple way to read people is by evaluating their personality based on tests. Some people like quick and to–the-point communication, while others prefer more personal sentiments like starting an email with “Hope you had a nice weekend.” Knowing how people want to be communicated with, and showing them how you want to be communicated with in return makes a balanced, meaningful business relationship. For example, if the person I am working with is a “red,” I don’t have to go through the formalities when asking a question of them, but if they are a “green,” I definitely do.
  4. Help Others Get Valuable Experiences: In the business world, few things are more meaningful than helping others get valuable experiences. Connecting one meaningful business relationship with another that will provide mutual benefits for both will not only help out a peer, it will strengthen your relationships with both parties. Similarly, don’t be afraid to ask someone you know professionally to introduce you to other people. If you think a connection would be great to speak on a panel or serve on a board, speak up and ask them if they would like you to nominate them. Many people are too shy to nominate themselves, and if you do, they will not only be grateful to you, but so will the beneficiaries of their talents at the conference or on the board.
  5. Work with Clients with Similar Office Cultures and Thoughts: As a business owner for 20 years now, I’ve learned how I want to represent myself and my business, and how I don’t. Staying true to your office culture by working with clients that hold those same values is a great way to form relationships with both individuals and companies. Working with and trying to form relationships with those who have very different ways of conducting business may make it difficult to form meaningful relationships. It is important to know when a culture is not a fit, and potentially walking away from a client that is not a good match for you and your time.
  6. Be Persistent: Being persistent is important, but there is a huge caveat. Be persistent, but always have a reason. Emailing prospective clients to just ask for work can quickly read as too sales-y. But, when you have a reason such as “I was recently reading about your work” or “I loved your post on LinkedIn,” can make the difference between a read and unread email. One easy “reason” to connect clients is by sending out a newsletter, which involves minimal work on the receiver’s end, but can keep your business in the back of their mind. My goal is never to convince clients and potential clients to use broadcast services in general, because they can come to that conclusion on their own. But, if a client is in the market to buy products that we offer, we want them to choose us over a competitor. Building and maintaining a strong relationship before it comes to decision time is one way to do that.
  7. Know Your Industry: Being a master of your industry will allow you to fully understand how to give and receive in your business relationships, especially when they are with professionals outside of your industry. Even if that means working with competitors, being able to recognize a mutually beneficial opportunity comes from a deep understanding of your industry. This understanding will also help you identify ways that you can give in a professional relationship, thus making the relationship stronger. Let your hard work speak for itself.

The key to making it in the business world is to know how to interact with other professionals, and form mutually beneficial relationships with them. Having these meaningful professional relationships will allow you to advance your careers and find opportunities that may not have been presented to you otherwise. But always keep in mind, you will only get out of your relationships what you put in.

Stay tuned…

Networking from a Student’s Perspective

By Patrick Fernandez

George Mason University's Public Relations Student Society of America chapter attended the PRSA-NCC happy hour.

George Mason University’s Public Relations Student Society of America chapter attended the PRSA-NCC happy hour.

Last week I attended a PRSA-NCC networking happy hour catered toward students and entry and junior level public relations professionals. Students and professionals from northern Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland attended and were eager to network and share ideas.

A lot of students can find networking to be daunting. I remember when I went to my first networking event, everything was fast-paced and it felt like I had to share every detail of my college experiences in a mere 45 seconds. Networking for the first time reminds me of meeting a significant other’s family for the first time; you have to find a balance between putting your best foot forward while not stepping on someone else’s toes.

When networking, it is important to understand that public relations is a peoples’ business. As intimidating as networking can be, everyone is there to meet others which makes it a little easier. Networking is a great tactic to learn about someone’s job or company they work for, but what makes it even better is when people can create relationships that go beyond professional life. Sure, someone might have an interesting job or might have developed a cool way to measure a brand’s social media sentiment, but what makes networking worthwhile is learning and sharing details about each other’s lives that might not be in their cover letter. Effective networkers share details about themselves but more importantly they are able to listen, comprehend and convey interest in what their peers share with them. To be different is not to change the way you act but simply be yourself at networking events.

PRSA-NCC provides many opportunities for students to network with public relations professionals. After I left this event I realized I truly belong in this industry. I enjoyed being able to network with students at different schools and with professionals who are just beginning their careers.

The success of this event makes me eager to attend future PRSA-NCC functions. As my college career comes to a close I know these experiences are invaluable ways to help boost my brand and make connections in an industry I am passionate about.

Storytelling, Not Networking

By Emily Pasi
Communications and Outreach Associate
American Planning Association

Networking. Never has there been a word that I’ve had a stronger love hate relationship with. Hearing the term conjures images of forced conversations and the occasional clammy palm. It’s the thing I know I should do whenever the opportunity arises, but that often competes with my post-work yoga class. To put it simply, convincing me to network isn’t always easy. That’s why I changed the way I think about it.

Reframing Networking

PRSA-NCC Happy Hour for New Professionals

Members enjoy the PRSA-NCC Happy Hour for New Professionals

Networking is storytelling. It’s my opportunity to tell people who I am and what interests me. It is also an opportunity to hear my colleagues’ stories and learn about who they are as people and PR professionals.

At this month’s PRSA-NCC happy hour for new professionals, I tested out my new approach. Spoiler: I was not disappointed. Not only did I speak with more attendees than ever before, but I also learned more by actively listening and asking the follow up questions that told me more about each person’s story.

Networking is often thought of as a ‘what can people do for me’ kind of social interaction. From experience, I can say with certainty that it’s better to go in with the expectation of simply getting to know someone for the sake of getting to know someone.

The moment I changed the frame for which I view networking, the moment I actually learned what networking was about – building new relationships with people who can teach you something about the profession and maybe even a little something about yourself along the way.

While I’ve taken an important step in the right direction, there’s still much to learn. Fortunately, I have many opportunities to practice with seasoned professionals thanks to PRSA-NCC’s plethora of trainings and socials available in the DC Metro region.

So cheers to the next time I hear someone reference networking. May my palms stay dry, story stay clear and new outlook stand strong.

 

 

 

 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Networking 3.0

by Patty Nicastri, Hager Sharp

Networking 3.0 EventSnapchat, LinkedIn, Email, Twitter—the number of tools you can use to network is constantly growing. So how do you navigate social media to connect with someone in a meaningful way? How do you connect with influencers in the age of Networking 3.0?

That was the topic of discussion at the February 18 professional development workshop “Networking 3.0: Building Communications Relationships, Creating Opportunities, and Balancing Privacy.” Matt Bennett, senior vice president and D.C. practice lead at Racepoint Global; Anthony Shop, chief strategy officer and co-founder of Social Driver; and Paige Lavender, senior political editor at Huffington Post shared tips and tools to help develop strategic and mutually beneficial relationships. As panelists pointed out, it is possible to over-network and cross the line. By understanding some of the “Do’s and Don’ts” of networking, you can ensure that’s not you.

First the “Do’s”

Networking 3.0 event

Left to Right: Mike Fulton, Anthony Shop, Matt Bennett and Paige Lavender

DO develop a relationship. According to Anthony, “Often, we’re so obsessed with telling our client’s story, we forget the people we want to reach are telling their own stories. The question is not, ‘How can I interrupt your story?’ it’s, ‘How can I become a part of it?’” That means you have to bring something to the table when you reach out to reporters or other influencers. Listening and then responding is the key to building a strong relationship—just pushing out content is not. Relationships must be mutually beneficial.

DO understand who you’re talking to. If you pitch a reporter, you should know what they write about. Racepoint Global uses Field Facts, a proprietary technology that helps identify, analyze, and target journalists, bloggers, and other influencers. Using a tool to keep track of influencer information is a way to be strategic about building these relationships. If a reporter wrote one article on a topic several years ago, it does not mean they currently write about that topic. Also, you should know where to reach the person. Sometimes, Twitter is not the most appropriate place to reach out to someone. Instead, an email or phone call may be more appropriate. Do your research first.

DO utilize social networks. There are so many apps and networks to choose from and, according to panelists, no one is really maximizing the potential of these networks. You can use LinkedIn to see who mutual connections are. Anthony uses LinkedIn to identify mutual connections and will then ask those connections to introduce him via email or phone or in person. Tools like Rapportive can be helpful for identifying these connections. If you’re trying to connect on Twitter, Paige suggests adding to the conversation instead of just following and retweeting. Retweets can be lost if there are a lot of them, but if you add commentary, you’re more likely to be noticed by influencers.

Now the “DON’Ts”

DON’T act “creepy.” Paige suggests thinking of someone’s online presence as a hierarchy. Facebook and Instagram are personal, while Twitter, LinkedIn, and email might be more appropriate for reaching out. Additionally, if you come across information about someone’s family online, it’s best not to bring that up. According to Matt, “If you don’t know the person, family is off limits.” Additionally, if you meet someone and instantly follow and connect with them on every platform, it might be off-putting. A good rule of thumb: If you aren’t sure what the etiquette is on a particular social network, ask someone who is.

DON’T cast a wide, impersonal net. According to Paige, personalization is key. Taking time to personalize a pitch makes her more likely to respond or pass it along. This ties in closely with understanding who it is you are talking to.

DON’T reach out on networks you don’t use. If you only use Twitter to pitch reporters, you’ll probably be ignored. It can come off as impersonal and inauthentic. Also, if you only tweet once every few months, there’s probably a better medium for you to use to connect with an influencer.

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Networking Elevated My Career

By: Kate Jones
@KateJonesPR

Katharine JonesNetworking, in our industry and especially in this city is standard. It is just as important as knowing how to write a great press release or pitch the media.

How did I grow my network? At first I didn’t really have one. I wasn’t working in D.C., making it that much more difficult to really commit to building my network. However, I knew that to grow professionally and personally I needed to put myself out there. I attended PRSA events monthly and joined the membership committee to elevate my involvement.

While attending a PRSA Young Professional and New Membership networking social, I met and became great friends with a fellow PRSA member. This connection not only developed into a great friendship but also led me to my current employment position.

By networking with industry professionals you inevitably meet peers or mentors that influence your career journey. PRSA networking events are more than chatting and a good cocktail. They are the spark to creating long-term friendships and professional relationships that elevate your experiences and career.

So when you’re super busy or tired or just not in the mood to socialize, just remember that all PR professionals need a strong network to grow.

 

Learn more about PRSA Membership

American University PRSSA Chapter Combats Networking Nervousness with “Night with PRSA”

by Bridget Bradley

“Networking” is one of our favorite buzzwords. It used to just be one of the ways that a college grad could get a job, but statistics show that in recent years up to 80 percent of jobs have been found through networking.

American University PRSSA's Night with PRSAThat’s a statistic way too big to ignore, especially if you’re on the job hunt. At American University, students are constantly encouraged to get as many internships as they can before they graduate, and students take that encouragement very seriously. With 90 percent of AU undergrads having internship experience by the time they graduate, there’s a lot of pressure to keep up.

This kind of pressure can make networking with professionals intimidating. Students often become awkward, timid and afraid to say the wrong thing. Or worse, students are afraid to say anything at all.

The AU PRSSA chapter wanted its members to be able to practice talking to professionals, so they called in some experts: AU Prof. Gemma Puglisi, and PRSA-NCC members Tony Ruffin and Adara Ney.

American University PRSSA's Night with PRSAThe chapter brought in some sandwiches and salad, and invited its members to sit down for a meal with its guests. Chapter president Jenna Mosely encouraged everyone to use this low-pressure opportunity to build confidence talking to professionals and to do a little networking.

As a member, even a member with past internship experience, I can say these kinds of experiences are invaluable. I got the chance to talk to professionals who really wanted to talk to me, hear about my experiences and get to know me as a student and a future professional, without feeling all the pressures of an interview.

No internship fair tables, no pressure to out-do, out-smart, or out-perform my power-suit-wearing classmates: just a sandwich and a friendly group conversation.

It’s always a thrill to meet professionals in my area, but very rarely do I get time to just talk with them. Especially here in DC, life moves incredibly fast. Minutes are precious, and that’s why this opportunity felt so special. It’s rare that anyone has a few minutes to just “chat.”

Bridget Bradley is a junior at American University, a member of PRSSA, and a board member of the Kogod Marketing Association.