It’s frequently said that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, that paves your career. I’ve found that to be true more often than not. Many times, when you see someone with a truly “dream job,” part of their journey involved an opportunity that became available because of someone in their network.
We all know networking is important, but I’m here to tell you that there’s more than one way to do it. (A.k.a., it doesn’t have to involve attending some big event or scheduling an informational interview that requires you to wear a suit.)
My husband, Dave, tells an amazing story about a plane ride he once had that changed his life. He sat down next to someone and talked with them for hours—and that person turned out to be Senator Frank Lautenberg. The senator later became a powerful and influential member of Dave’s network.
Usually when I travel, I tend to react a bit differently. Whereas Dave had no qualms about approaching Senator Lautenberg and chatting away, I tend to be worried about disturbing someone’s private time.
That was certainly my first instinct when I spotted Meredith Vieira in LaGuardia Airport. I had long idolized Meredith, particularly for how she navigated her career while caring for her husband with multiple sclerosis. The thought of approaching her in an airport seemed way too intimidating—and so I bided my time, staring at her for a good, awkward 20 minutes instead.
When we boarded the same plane, I decided to embrace my inner Dave, but in my own Carrie style. I wrote her a note on a napkin and had the attendant pass it up to first class. In it, I talked about my mom and her own struggles with MS. I told her what a champion I thought she was for those of us caring for people with MS, and included my email in case she decided she did want to strike up a conversation.
Moments later, I received a response via email:
Hi, Carrie! Thank you for your very sweet note…but my husband is the real champion. He sets the tone in our family and is a constant inspiration…when he’s not a pain in the ass! I hope your Mom is doing OK. We all know what a bear of a disease MS can be. I wish you the very best. You sound like a wonderful daughter.
I was in! Without disturbing Meredith too much (and it’s key to note that I was quick, polite, and respectful of her space), I was able to start an email rapport that could benefit me later on down the road.
In fact, she wrote a blurb for my book!
The real lesson to learn from my story, however, is this: You don’t know until you try. And sometimes, that’s what networking is all about—rather than expecting things to happen to you, you have to take the initiative and go after them. They may not feel like textbook “networking,” but even the most mundane interactions—in an elevator, while waiting in line for coffee, or even on an airplane—can turn into career opportunities.
This excerpt was adapted from WORK IT by Carrie Kerpen, published by TarcherPerigee, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018 by Carrie Kerpen. It has been republished here with permission.