SheSays Chicago Event Recap: Harness Your Network

Confession: You have a limp handshake.

Connections are just as important as talent. I am looking at you, Rahm.

While the last networking event addressed confidence in our talent, Jen Lemerand, SheSays Chicago’s organizer, took the conversation to the next level—knowing the right people to show your talent to.

The sun is setting. It encompasses the bright, blue room we are in and stings my eyes as I divert them to the cozy patchwork of pink and orange ottomans before me.

I was just encouraged by the ladies to try a bao from Wow Bao. “A what?” Good-bye pizza and beer, it’s interesting food for interesting people. Accommodated by the worlds largest PR firm, Edelman, I would expect nothing less.

We went mic-less tonight. It was a close group of nearly forty of us. Two of the four panelists had already been hugged by Julie, the girl who created stickers to use as an ice-breaker.

The panel included: Senior Vice President, Health at Edelman, Erin Gardiner (@erinmgardiner), Director of Recruitment at Edelman, Travis Kessel (@traviskessel), Independent Communication Consultant, Barb Lack (@barb_lack), and CEO and Co-founder of Morsel, Kris Petersen (@krispetersen).

Networking: How To

The discussion began with the tacit question, “Where do I start?”

Nix the sales pitch for a moment. “Focus on being interested, not interesting,” Travis implored, “Go to events with the mindset of giving and not taking.”

We all have our reasons for networking. While easier to grow a pile of cards than a handful of solid connections,”there is a lot of value going deeper verses shallow,” Travis advised.

Barb chimed in, “I find people I won’t run into on a typical day to expand my circle of influence.”

Since we tend to congregate in groups based on our fields rather than going to the groups that need our skill sets, Jen noted, “If you are a freelancer, find people who are looking for your skill set.”

Then we got to the heart of the matter:

“Introverts, Extroverts, and The Socially Awkward”

One main goal of networking is to find new clients or land a job.

“How do you transition from one field to the next?”

“Reading articles and keeping current,” offered one audience member, “Techies love to talk about current events or the newest apps.”

Another suggestion was blogging about your passion or having something tangible to represent your aptitude. Side note: I always look back to the scene of “Rebound,” an awful romantic comedy with Catherine Zeta-Jones, where she pulls out binders full of sports statistics and projections she had tracked. She landed the job.

LinkedIn: Do you really know that person?

Then, we got entangled in LinkedIn. When to add someone. If we should add someone. How to grow our network.

Travis, the recruiter mind you, said that LinkedIn professional groups are one of the best places to network and meet people in your field.

Some people have rules including only adding someone if they get coffee first. Others look at the message you send with your request to join one another’s network, imploring, “So, tell me why you want to add me?”

Peronsonal Brand: Social Profile Judgement

People will look at your profile with the question in mind, “Are you someone I want to work with?” After all, we do spend a lot of time working. Are you going to be the person with the jokes, the news updates, or that favorites everyone’s comments? Twitter is telling, isn’t it?

Companies are looking for talent with the “right fit”. Travis added truth to the trend, “More important, you are not the right fit because of how you portrayed yourself on Twitter. How you manage your brand is important.”

“Be careful of the language that you use and how you write, just because you are in a casual environment, you still need to watch your professional image,” noted Barb.

Networking: It’s Not Storage

“Networking is a líveable thing.” You have to continue to grow and nurture your connections. As we all thought about the untouched pile of business cards shoved into some drawer, one guy asked,

“If you haven’t stayed in contact with them in awhile, is it socially awkward when you reach out again?”

The answer is that it doesn’t have to be. Be honest that you haven’t been in touch, but would like to. You can always drop the line, “Has it really been five years?” and add a status update.

One person sets reminders to send one note a LinkedIn contact each week to keep an active relationship.

Recruiter Advice Tangent

Travis was wonderfully candid throughout the night. As he and Erin had playful banter about cover letters. She likes to “weave her story.” He said the ten seconds or less he spends on your resume isn’t getting cover letter time (but sill have them), noting that “a hiring manager might spend more time [looking at it].”

As for your resume, Erin and Travis agreed that verbatim and examples are the best assets. State that you grew sales by x percent.

Note about notes: Handwritten notes still carry value. Travis shared, “I have saved all of the handwritten thank you notes. That’s my art [in his office].”

Networking: Who do I talk to?

“Reach out to the people you want to meet,” said Kris. “Most people give back in some form. At the end of the day, they are just people. Pick who you want to meet and do legwork.”

Kris did research on someone and found out that he wrested. So, he put the title in the email to him. I later received an email from a connection at SheSays about Cinderella moments, for instance, because I was wearing a yellow dress.

When you don’t fit with the big group, you can always make your own clique just like in high school. Erin shared that she was part of an organization where she connected with two other members. They met up and started their own dinner party group.

So you’ve made connections, now what?

This is the part where the label maker type and organizer can truly benefit.

One attendee has a yellow pocketbook with two sides, one for her business cards and one for others. At the end of the night she files the new cards based on industry.

Others write on the back of the card to remember why they liked someone.

For this event, I took the virtual business card route—Twitter. On the Eventbrite page, attendees could list their Twitter handle. So, I went down the list adding all of the attendees into a “SheSays” List. People will generally be intrigued by you or curious enough to check-out your page when you make the first move on social media.

My experiment seemed fruitful when a guy came up to me at the end of the night and asked, “Are you Rationalization?”

Limp Handshake

Ending the evening, Jen played a clip from Jerry Seinfeld’s show, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”. In the episode, “I’m Going to Change Your Life Forever,” with Sarah Silverman, we were all warned about the limp handshake. In true SheSays form, we were encouraged to shake hands with a few people and disclose if, in fact, they had one.

Attendees stayed well into the night practicing their new-found networking tips. Things got a lot less awkward as we all wine downed.


Event Location: Edelman (200 E Randolph St #63, Chicago, IL)

Event Host: SheSays Chicago

Event Date and Time: Wednesday, August 27, 2014, 6-9 pm

Discovered Through: Invite

Bonus:Looking down at Cloudgate (OMG their view), discovering baos from Wow Bao, and meeting The Boy Illinois, who just toured with Lupe Fiasco

Amanda Whitfield
Amanda Whitfield

Amanda Whitfield is a writer and speaker and a relationship builder. She believes that meeting people in person is important. After attending numerous fashion, startup, and creative events, she founded Windy City Cosmo is 2015 to help people make connections in the city as they build their businesses, start and end relationships and see and be seen. Over the past three years, the entrepreneurs she’s interviewed have become the most successful in Chicago and Windy City Cosmo won an award in 2017 for her work for female entrepreneurs.

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