Two nights ago, my husband and I were out to dinner with another couple, and we were meeting the husband for the first time. We asked him what he did and he proceeded to answer. Halfway through, his wife interjected, “Oh Jim’s being modest. He is one of the most effective public relations professionals in his industry. He gets tapped to direct PR in some of the most challenging and awkward public relations nightmares. Remember the New York Times story on x? He’s the one who helped the company manage through that.”
Fast forward to today, a podcasting day. I interviewed experts, relaunchers and employers all day for our third season of 3,2,1 iRelaunch!, which we just released. I was on with one of my favorite people – Wendy Sachs, the smart, effusive, grounded, upbeat and practical author of “Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot and Relaunch Careers” (good advice for MEN too!). Wendy has been an author, speaker and commentator on work life topics for over 10 years. I was an early fan of hers, and discovered her, when I read her first book, “How She Really Does It: Secrets of Successful Stay-at-Work Moms.”
Wendy and I were talking about networking, and she was making the point that networking can be better viewed as building relationships. We then started talking about the difficult leap from conducting your relaunch from behind your computer to actually getting out of the house and going to events and activities when you meet people in person. We began discussing how to make it easier to speak about yourself without feeling as if you are bragging.
Remembering my dinner conversation two nights ago, I asked Wendy, “What do you think about the strategy of going to networking events — especially the hard ones, such as an industry conference in your chosen field — with another person, and approaching new people together. When everyone is introducing themselves, this could happen: I might say ‘Hi, I’m Carol Fishman Cohen. I run a company called iRelaunch which helps people to return to work after a career break and employers interested in hiring them.’ At that point, my ‘networking buddy’ could say, ‘Carol is being modest. Her company is the pioneering company in the space, their community has over 50,000 people in it and they work with some of the largest companies in the world to set up formal return to work programs, usually involving internships. Her work is causing an institutional shift in the way employers engage with non-traditional candidates.’”
This is information I would be unlikely to mention on the first pass, and indeed it might come across as awkwardly braggy at any point, but it would be natural and no problem for someone else to deliver this message on my behalf.
Wendy immediately loved it and got it; she said, “If I did that, then I could approach someone with my ‘networking buddy’ and they could say, “Hey Phil, this is Wendy Sachs. You’ve got to read her new book ‘Fearless and Free.’ In fact, your sister in particular would find it really valuable because I know she’s in the middle of a career transition.” Again, Wendy would be unlikely to blurt out comments like these when first meeting someone, but it is perfectly easy and comfortable for someone else to say these words about her. Wendy noted that this is a perfect extension of “amplification,” which is increasingly used in business meetings by pairs of women who work to underscore points made by each other.
Of course, once I thought of this, I did what I usually do when I have an idea: a quick search on the internet to see who has thought of it before. Sure enough, there are a bunch of articles on “networking buddies.” However, most of them focus on the networking buddy as someone who keeps you accountable to show up at a networking event, and who gives moral support once at the event. Cathy Jennings and Mickey Griffith are the two who go further and suggest going with a buddy in order to do the bragging for each other.
So the next time you are going to an important networking event, don’t go alone! Go with a friend and be each other’s networking buddies so you can brag on each other’s behalf in a perfectly acceptable and appropriate way.
Carol Fishman Cohen is the CEO of iRelaunch and host of the 3,2,1 iRelaunch! podcast. iRelaunch works closely with nearly 40 global companies to introduce, implement and expand paid career reentry programs for mid-career returning professionals, and runs conferences and events to connect employers with this high caliber talent pool.