Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Schmooze or Lose?

Schmoozing works. And I can prove it. When my friend Sue, a communication student, was just about to leave university she sent out applications to just about every media house, twenty-five in all. She did everything right, her impressive credentials, recommendation letters were laid out on some very expensive paper. Plus her CV was chock-a-block with student activities demonstrating her star qualities. Yet for nine months after graduation, she heard nothing.

Then an opportunity arose. The local communication association was hosting an event on campus. She volunteered her time to help organise the event and this put her in contact with several senior communicators. She was assigned to one in particular just to make sure their booth was set up and that the representatives from the company were comfortable. At the fair she chatted with the VP of Communication and later kept in contact via email and phone. Two( 2) months after the VP sent her an email. Her company had an opening for an intern. She wanted to know if Sue would join the firm. Sue never had to send her a CV until months after she started her job. Sue landed her job without a formal interview.

Fast forward to Sue's career in TV. She once wrote several letters to a producer showing ways a lifestyle programme could be improved. Sue also sent the producer complimentary emails when she noted that it had. She was hired by the firm six months later. Sue also applied the same technique to acquiring her first home. She sent the developers flowers as a thank-you for taking the time to show her around the area. The result? Sue's name moved to the top of the list, ahead of 300 others.

You would have guessed by now that my friend is well-networked. She has the personality of a schmoozer. A good one at that. She is lively and fun, great with communication and always ready to be at the centre of the action.

Does that win her more business now that she is an entrepreneur? Sure it does, but I often wonder what happens if you're the opposite of Sue? Would it have been easy for her to forge ahead if she wasn't so fun or popular and clued in to other people.

As a contrast, I look at my friend Jenny. Not one for small talk or light conversation, Jenny was not known as a "people person" and even though she was brilliant she often got passed over for promotion in her recruitment based job. Later she started her own business. Again schmoozing wasn't her thing and even though her ideas were fantastic, none of her would-be clients bought into them. She closed business eighteen months after she started.

The cases of my two friends illustrate a challenging mindset. Too much time is spent overlooking the deep thinkers. We are persuaded in interviews and meetings to listen the ones who are the great communicators, who have the gift of gab, but the folks with deep insight and analysis, who perhaps take longer than the rest to say what's on their mind are often looked over.

I see cases of this all the time. You perhaps see it too, there are many schmoozers employed in inappropriate positions in corporations and they stick out like square pegs in ill fitting round holes. They don't add much value with the depth of their thinking.

I think that to be successful, really successful in your career requires you to be a bit of both even if it takes you outside of your comfort zone. I encourage my project assistant La Toya to stop being so reclusive (she prefers the computer to people, although she has a wonderful way with other staff members and clients) I tell her to use all opportunities to form relationships, whether they are deep and meaningful or superficial. All will serve her well in life, no matter how long or short. Ultimately though, a successful business should find a place for both the thinker and the schmoozer. In my PR and communications firm I find that it is the schmoozers who often provide the energy and the referrals, the deep thinkers create the ideas and come up with creative of solutions to some of our more pressing problems. Your best bet is to embrace them both.