Your Network and You: The Most Important Question

By: Guest | November 1, 2010 | 

Guest post by Justin Goldsborough, who specializes in digital strategy and education at Fleishman-Hillard Kansas City.

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking to a group of communications and journalism students at the University of Missouri. Toward the end of the panel, one of the students asked the following:

“What’s the most important question you’ll ask anyone you work with or interview for a job these days?”

I knew my answer right away. In fact, the way I remember it, I kind of blurted it out:

“What kind of network are you bringing to the table?”

See, for me it’s all about people. The people you’ve worked with, the people you know. If I hire you, I’m getting you. But who else am I getting? That’s what sets you apart in my book.

At BlogWorld last month, opening keynote speaker Scott Stratten called himself a relationship officer, noting: “People do business with people they like, know, and trust. That’s why relationships are so important.”

How does this play out on in an everyday scenario? Well, here are a few:

  • How do the people you know support you and your work? Hopefully like they did when my #pr20chat co-moderator, Heather Whaling, ran a contest to pick the most worthy cause to be her first client after launching her agency, Geben Communication.
  • When a question comes up at work, who can you ask for help? At our office, when we can’t find a solution, I often tweet the question to my network. One example that stands out – I was looking for low-cost measurement tools and asked our #pr20chat community for recommendations. Rex Riepe turned me on to Rowfeeder, and today we use it for a handful of our clients, which has saved those clients money and helped us keep those clients.
  • Who are you learning from on a daily basis? No one person or office has all the answers. Who do you interact with and learn from that can keep us up to date on the latest trends? Sarah Evans is one of our trend watchers. The research she covers in her e-mail newsletter Commentz frequently goes from my inbox to our staff meetings to our client presentations.
  • What communities are you part of? Community service has different meanings. It might mean volunteer work. Or how you help clients listen and engage with consumers. Either way, communities influence perception. To be part of my community, I’d want to see the communities you’re working with. For someone who really understands community – both types – check out Danny Brown. He gets it, for clients and causes.
  • What blogs are you reading? By consistently reading blogs such as Spin Sucks, you’re always learning and building relationships. I want to know that you’re committed to making blogs a part of your routine. That type of commitment shows passion and differentiates you. Here are a few blogs I want to make an effort to read more often:

So how would you have answered that student’s question? If you could only pick one question to define whether or not you want to work with someone, what is it?

Justin Goldsborough specializes in digital strategy and education Fleishman-Hillard Kansas City and is in his fifth year on the Kansas City IABC board, where he is serving as president for the 2010 board year. Justin is a huge Bon Jovi fan and once won third place in a karaoke contest at Chicago’s John Barleycorn’s with a rousing rendition of “Livin’ on a Prayer.” He’s also a diehard Kansas City Royals fan, so go easy when talking baseball.

  • ginidietrich

    So much to say to this!

    First, I remember way back in the old ages, when I worked at FH, Ron Arp was the partner who was charged with business development. He chose a group of us he thought had “rainmaking” skills and had us read “How to Win Friends and Influence Others.” And then he brought in the author to talk to us. This was my first exposure to how your network is not only influential, but how the people you know can you help you grow as a professional and how it can also help your business grow. Back then we weren’t required to bring in a certain amount of new business, but because of that session, I brought in The Catfish Institute because their president at the time is a good friend of mine. I wouldn’t have ever considered it without understanding how to ask my network for business and/or referrals. So I love that question…and it’s even MORE important now with the social web.

    But the first question I always asks is, “What do you read?” This tells me a) what kind of writer they are and b) how much time they spend reading not just industry blogs and publications, but client and business, as well.

  • JGoldsborough

    @GiniDietrich “What do you read?” is a great question, GIni. Definitely one area I’m working on. I am also always looking for what the person has written, which is a great way to differentiate them from the “resume stack.”

    Arik Hanson had a quote in a post a while back that was something like: “Business, projects, speaking opportunities, friends, learning opportunities and just about everything else positive that happens in your professional life can typically be traced back to personal relationships.” It is so true. That’s why I latched on to probably the simplest message from Scott’s Blogworld keynote — “people do business with people they like, know and trust.” Step away from the technology and it makes a ton of sense, right?

  • A few years ago, employers would never worry about what a perspective employee has written. Today, it can be a difference maker. Thanks for the tips and blog suggestions!

  • AndreWillis

    @GiniDietrich Interesting, Gini. I’ve been asked “What do you read” in several interviews recently and always responded with well-known industry blogs & books (e.g. Mashable, Crush It). Now I’m thinking, while that answer didn’t hurt, it probably didn’t help me stand out neither, since virtually everyone else in the industry reads those same publications.

  • consultantlaunc

    I’m a lot older than most of the people who will read this or respond to it…so I will avoid the “What do you do outside of work” question because you guys mostly have lives. I worry about people who look at you blankly b/c it never occurred to them that there was something beyond work.

    I like Gini’s question but cringed because I know my current answer would be business-book and business-blog focused (although I might get brownie points because this blog would be on the list).

    I think every graduating senior needs to prepare to answer, “What makes you remarkable?” These days, recent graduates are up against seasoned executives who have far more experience and are far more desperate (i.e., they have families to feed and growing self-esteem issues depending on their time away from their last job). You need to be able to define what value you bring to that prospective employer. Your answer needs to be very extermally focused — what is that employer’s problem (the thing that keeps them awake at night) and how can you help him or her solve it. This requires preparation and thought.

    What makes you unique? What have you done that will put your resume at the top of the pile. It’s a tough world out there and just getting the chance to swing the bat and interview is huge. You can’t spend so much time building a network that you forget to become someone that others turn to, someone with a unique skill that nobody else offers. It’s not about having 1,000 connections; it’s about what you do to engage with that group and how that group sees you. And that’s all about being remarkable and having a unique voice.


  • ginidietrich

    @AndreWillis I hate to say it, but you definitely would not stand out from your competition with us. We’d be looking for things like Spin Sucks (obviously), Harvard Business Review, non-A list bloggers that are really smart in the industry, even Open Forum would work if you could talk about which bloggers you find the most valuable. And, I’d personally drill you on Crush It because, while the message is decent, it was a horribly written book. So I’d push you on that one to really understand why you read it. Because everyone else did (which is why I did – to see what the big deal was) or because you thought it was great writing. If it were the latter, you wouldn’t get the job. How about that for honesty?!

  • ginidietrich

    @jgoldsborough People will ALWAYS do business with people they like and trust, which is a message I give when I speak. You just now have a better (and more efficient) way of developing those relationships with online tools. So, you’re right, who people have in their networks, offline and online, is pretty valuable.

  • ginidietrich

    @JonHearty Isn’t that the truth! I’ve been stalking you online. What’s I could look it up, but it’s way more fun for you to tell ALL of us here.

  • ginidietrich

    @consultantlaunc It’s so funny you write this today as we have had a plethora of interviews with people who a) don’t read Spin Sucks and b) don’t understand what Arment Dietrich does to make money. They either know me online or have heard about this cool place to work and don’t do ANY homework. After wasting our time with the first couple, we created a line of questioning that an intern completes with candidates, just to see if they know who we are and what we do. You would not believe the number of candidates who don’t know. I mean, it’s shocking.

    This would be a good follow-up guest blog for Spin Sucks. Want to write it??

  • JGoldsborough

    @GiniDietrich @JonHearty Today what an employee has written and who they bring to th table is absolutely a difference maker. Not to generalize, but most people have a college degree, were involved in several community organizations and have won some awards. Give me more :).

    Btw, also interested in hearing about

  • JGoldsborough

    Today what an employee has written and who they bring to the table is absolutely a difference maker. Not to generalize, but most people have a college degree, were involved in several community organizations and have won some awards. Give me more :). I’m looking for a differentiator. Btw, also interested in hearing about

  • AndreWillis

    @GiniDietrich Well, of course I read this wonderful blog. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your point-of-view on that.

  • JGoldsborough

    @consultantlaunc That is a great way to phrase it. “What makes you remarkable?” Professionals young and old need to remember they are “interviewing” every day of their lives in everything they do — internally at work, with clients, through networking. Show me creativity in the way you go about your business and show me why that creativity would improve my work environment and results.

    Sounds so simple and cliche, but it’s all about people. I can tell in one or two questions if a person understands that. Anyone who gets the value smart people and perspectives bring to the table and isn’t intimidated by it has the chance to be remarkable. Give yourself a chance.

  • JGoldsborough

    @GiniDietrich @AndreWillis I need to work on the reading piece. I read a ton of blogs, not enough books. There, I said it. My first step to recovery. Andre, if you tell me you read Mashable and Crush It, well at least you know what they are. But so do 90 percent of your peers. So you’re no better off than if you just sent me your resume cold. And that’s not a place you want to be.

    To contrast, you were smart enough to read Spin Sucks (eh, Gini :)) and you put yourself out there and asked for perspective in order to learn and improve. Next time you interview, tell me that story and why you don’t just read Mashable and Crush It anymore, and I’m listening. You’ve told me you’re willing to learn, open to change and you’ve got my attention.

  • ginidietrich

    @jgoldsborough @AndreWillis I wish I could give this 10 thumbs up!

  • ValerieSimon

    What a great question and an interesting conversation. One of my favorite questions has always been- quite simply- “why do you want to work here?” As Gini pointed out, it is really astounding how many people don’t do their reseach… A well thought out response to that question can convey attitude, work ethic and yes, network. I really like Justin’s point about the value of relationships. Even beyond the particular network the candidate brings to the table, if he/she has a strong, deep, long standing bench of well respected supporters, it certainly helps offer perspective I would not otherwise get in a 30min interview.

  • JGoldsborough

    @ValerieSimon Hi, Valerie. Thanks for stopping by. Not doing research is lazy. And as you and Gini are alluding to, if a candidate is already lazy in the interview phase, what’s the point? I like “Why do you want to work here?” and what I’d be looking for in an answer is 1) something that doesn’t sound rehearsed and 2) something that shows passion or an inquisitive nature. People who are pasionate or eager can make up for what they don’t know and meet people who can help them learn it. People who are lazy are, well, just lazy. I’ll take work ethic over smarts almost every time. Cheers.

  • Wow. That is a great question, and a question that I think will be asked more and more as the world moves more and more online, thus more and more networked. That’s a very insightful post that I definitely benefited from. Thanks for sharing, and thank you @ginidietrich for always having awesome guest posters.

  • In addition to “what kind of network do you bring to the table,” I would add how do you communicate with your extended network, and how did you develop your current network. Many people new to the field don’t hav ea lot of twitter followers and not many connections on LinkedIn. If they understand how to communicate using these channels I think they will be successful. Take Jeremy Hicks for example…he didn’t have a strong network to start, but because he is a skilled communicator he has become part of several online communities. All I had to do was show him the tools!

  • Great post. Thanks for your insight.

  • JGoldsborough

    @jmatthicks @ginidietrich Thanks for the kinds words. Glad it was beneficial for you. Online or offline, you can never meet too many people, build too many relationships or network too much. Not possible.

  • JGoldsborough

    @JennaLanger Jeremy Hicks Solid point, Jenna. And great to see you here btw. Understanding of channels and willingness/passion to learn are two things I would definitely want to hear more about from any candidate. Also, I like where you’re going with “How did you develop your current network?” How about a variation of that: “Explain to me the value of you network.”

    One of my former colleagues at Applebee’s and I used to do Intranet training. We always talked about how the successful community managers were the ones who cared and wanted to learn how the technology works, how it could best benefit their teams. How people go about problem solving, especially in unfamiliar territory, is a very important attribute to consider.

  • @JGoldsborough @ginidietrich is a classifieds, listings, and news website for medical marijuana patients. Unfortunately, these patients comprise a community that has been long-neglected due to prohibition, but change is happening everyday! I am in awe of the amazing things happening at Livefyre and other Bay Area startups and hope to learn enough to transfer even a little of the innovation to the medical marijuana community. I have already changed my perception of community building SO much in the short time I have spent at LiveFyre interacting with the team and amazing community builders such as yourselves. I am extremely excited to continue learning from and interacting with such incredible people!

  • Justin, thanks for the shoutout to my blog!

    When I used to interview folks (and I guess I still do, in a way, when I work with subcontractors), one of the questions I always asked was, “Do you understand what skills this job requires, and do you have them?” It’s one thing to see the job description, but it’s quite another to actually understand and put that in the context of one’s own experience and skill set.

    When I was at the ASPCA, for example, I had a ton – a TON – of people who’d come in to interview for positions in my department (Media & Communications) and try to sell me on their “passion for animals.” Inside, I’d be going, “Really? That’s it?” Because passion for animals is all very well – after all, that was one of the reasons I was there too – but if they din’t have the skills to perform media relations, or do a ton of writing on a regular basis while maintaining high quality (say, for one of our editorial positions), what good would that passion be? It was amazing how many people thought they were qualified simply on the basis of their passion.

    Passion’s wonderful, but skills are more important.

  • ginidietrich

    @shonali HAHAHAHAHAHA! That’s like, “So tell me why you want to work in communications?” “Well, I’m really good with people.”

  • JGoldsborough

    @GiniDietrich @shonali Passion is important, because some people don’t even have that. WIlling to try, ok with failing. All good characteristics. That said, I love football. Love it! But I’ve never played. And if I put on shoulder pads and a helmet and call up the Chicago Bears to say I’m passionate about football and I am willing to try, they’re going to laugh me out of the city. If they pick up the phone.

    One thing I would say…if I had someone answered your question, Shonali, by saying “no, I probably don’t have all the necesary skills, but I am a hard worker and I pick things up fast,” they’d have my attention. If they could give me an example validated by references, well, I just might consider them depending on the competition. At the very least, I’d respect him/her.

  • ginidietrich

    @JGoldsborough @shonali Uh, Justin? Have you seen how the offensive line does NOT protect Cutler? I”m convinced it’s because Cutler slept with one of their wives and they pretty much said, “Screw you.” So, bad example, because I think you COULD play for the Bears right now.

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