Networking comes in a variety of shapes, forms, and sizes. While it can be equally valuable to build relationships with peers and colleagues, wouldn’t it be amazing to quantum leap to the top and connect directly with industry-shaping juggernauts? Whether you are proposing a bold business plan or seeking simple advice, getting through to these pioneers is no simple task– particularly for those of us that are just starting out.
The first year analyst. The unpaid intern. Even the ambitious college student. We all wrestle with the same daunting question: How does the little guy network with the really, really big guy?
Most people are taken aback when they hear about the people that I have been able to reach, especially when I reveal that at the time I was a recent college graduate with less than one year of work experience. This past year, one of these “unreachables” I had the fortune of connecting with was John Bogle.
An acclaimed member of the 2004 TIME 100 Most Influential Person list, Jack revolutionized investing when he introduced low-cost index funds to the financial market. He is the founder and retired CEO of the Vanguard Group, one of the world’s largest investment companies with over $3.0 Trillion in assets under management.
Might I add, Mr. Bogle is an absolute gentleman. I’ll forever remain grateful for the lending of his time and wisdom that has changed my way of thinking and opened doors I would have never attempted to step through had we not conversed.
So how did I do it? My resume is no more impressive than the next college graduate. At the time of our conversation, I had less than a year of work experience under my belt and not one referral that could put me in touch with the finance guru. So what did it? In short, it was my realization that while we cannot spontaneously create years of work experience, we can certainly create value. By following the “3 B’s principles,” you can find yourself sharing ideas and developing relationships with the “unreachables,” or quite honestly whomever you choose to reach: Be bold. Be visible. Be valuable.
Here are the 4 networking tips that helped me secure a 35-minute phone call with one of the greatest financial investors of the 20th century.
1. Big (Well-Thought-Out!) Ideas Attract Big People
“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” Albert Einstein
Should student-athletes be paid—if so, how would it work?
I had just entered the world of college athletics as a first-year administrator. Conceptualizing a blueprint for a potential multi-billion dollar business solution wasn’t exactly in my job description, nor was it the common thing to do for a twenty-four year old on the weekends. But as a young professional, I knew that in order to network effectively and impressively, I had to makeup in VALUE and innovation what I lacked in experience. When I began to share the concept within my circle of friends, the model was both challenged for its daringness and lauded for the same reason.
The BOLD idea became my talking point. It gave me the confidence to reach out to Mr. Bogle’s office for both strategic advice and possible support in my efforts. He got word of the concept, applauded the innovative thinking, and agreed to schedule a phone call with me. (Please note: When Jack introduced the low-cost index fund to the market, it was an idea challenged for its daringness and lauded for the same reason.)
So what’s the lesson to be learned? Am I an undercover business genius oozing with the solutions to all problems? Not in the least. The truth of the matter is that big, well-thought-out ideas move people. There is a power in thinking big and following through with this line of thinking. Ideas with potential to create seismic value have a knack for attracting big people, regardless of whether it comes from a senior executive or a newly-hired intern.
Truth be told, your big, well-thought-out idea may or may not be accepted. This doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you’ve created potential value that has given you the opportunity to become VISIBLE, and partake in a discussion that you would otherwise have no business being a part of. Put in the work to allow your big ideas to attract to you big people. The worst that could happen? You get no response. The best? You land a one-on-one meeting and an incredible opportunity to connect with someone like Jack Bogle.
Ask yourself these three questions when starting out:
- What is the single most prevalent and potentially devastating issue facing my company and/or industry?
- If I were responsible for solving this issue, what would be my solution?
- Who is one person in my company/industry that would find this information useful?
2. Persistence is Everything
“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.” William Feather
From the day I reached out to Jack’s office to the day I got through, nearly four months had passed. My first cold email was not responded to after a few weeks, to which I replied a gentle reminder asking for a very brief, ten-minute phone call seeking advice about my proposed solution derived from the answers from the three questions above (Always ask for a specific amount of time, preferably less time than you need—I’ll write about this soon). I finally received an email, stating that I should send another email in a month’s time to check in when times were less busy. This continued for some time.
While making repetitive phone calls and sending reminder emails isn’t the most glamorous way to spend your time, you must understand that “unreachables” are incredibly busy, hence the nickname. Your inquiries rank last on their priority list. This is where the personal growth for you happens. Stick with it and remain positive.
As with my case, it may take weeks or even months to reach an unreachable. But with persistence, you will undoubtedly have your sliver of opportunity in which you must present yourself as someone worth the time of day. But not to worry, you’ve prepared for this moment and you were made to impress. You’re more than ready.
3. Know Your Purpose and Stick to It
“Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci
Why am I reaching out? What is my purpose? What is my motive?
Following tip #1 and tip #2 will prepare you to answer these questions. Oftentimes, young professionals who wish to network have no pointed purpose. They don’t know why they wish to connect, believing that brushing shoulders with someone of importance may pay off in some arbitrary way. If you were a CEO or president– or quite frankly anyone who values his or her own time– would you give your time to a stranger who has asked no pointed question and has suggested no clear purpose for conversation? It’s highly doubtful.
Keep your reasons painstakingly simple as well as honest. It will cut down the time an “unreachable” has to spend deciphering what it is they can help you with, giving you a more reasonable chance to make that connection.
4. Humility and Assertiveness: Find the Happy Medium
It’s perfectly fine to be confident in your work. You’ve put in an incredible amount of time outside of your job to prepare yourself for this once-in-a-lifetime networking opportunity. But please keep in mind that the “unreachable” may have as many years in their industry as you’ve had on this earth.
Use the following points to help you find the happy medium between displaying humility and asserting yourself as a worthy networker.
- If the “unreachable” has written a book, read the book. (The Little Book of Common Sense Investing was a great read.)
- If the “unreachable” has any videos or recent interviews or speeches available online, watch the videos. (You get the pattern here?)
Without being prompted, you want to make it clear that you have done your due diligence and that you know a considerable amount about his or her past work and accomplishments. Failing to prepare is truly preparing to fail in these circumstances. Be prepared– it’s not as much flattery as it is following the hidden code of ethics for networking.
My phone call with Mr. Bogle changed the trajectory of my entire year for the better. It opened the doors for amazing opportunities, provided me the chance to meet incredible people, and above all, it has given me the confidence to network with just about anyone. I hope that you, the young professional, decide to follow suit. Use these 4 networking tips to be bold, be visible, and be valuable. Happy networking.