What a Cherry Tomato Taught Me About Networking

Antoinette Santos, Boston

I was at a networking event in high school, attending an etiquette dinner. It was a black tie event with multiple courses and an anxiety-inducing amount of plates, silverware, and drinking glasses to utilize. There was a prominent banker seated on my right. We were to network in between bites 3d_social_networking-t2and words of etiquette wisdom from our Etiquette master, a sharply dressed brunette woman commanding attention with her microphone and heels. The first course was served–a fresh garden salad. The large pieces of lettuce looked like formidable opponents. I was instructed by the Etiquette master that the pieces within my salad could not be stabbed then consumed but must be scooped gently to their destination.  I reached for a cherry tomato, balancing it daintily with my fork as instructed by the Etiquette master, and guided it into my mouth. I bit down. And squirted tomato bits all over Mr.Prominent Banker’s clean white napkin next to me.

Since that incident, networking has always been a source of anxiety for me, even when there is no one waltzing in between tables, telling me how to eat.

Entering networking events years later, I’m always acutely aware of my body language, where I’m positioned and who I’m near, that my lips always seem chapped, that my shoes make my feet ache, and unfortunately, I’m often aware of the words spilling out of my mouth that don’t seem to work and wow my audience as I hope they would. Networking isn’t a natural thing for me. My natural disposition when meeting someone new is to be friendly but to listen and to read the situation before I really interact. For someone who is an extrovert, I’m actually kind of shy. My shyness is highlighted at networking events where there is a feeling of frustration as to why I’m even there. The premise of networking feels contrived. The execution can come off as slick car salesman-like and self-servient–how can I impress you? How can you help me?

I’d love to just get to know you, see if we connect, and stay connected if we both grow from our relationship.

Overtime I learned that that’s precisely what meaningful networking is all about. Relationships matter. Getting to know someone, like building a friendship, is a series of interactions. You have to work on building it overtime.The most hilarious, entertaining, enchanting person could impress someone at a networking event for a moment, but if he or she fails to follow up and remain present, then their impression and impact on that person is just momentary.

Where I’ve excelled in networking is rarely at the events themselves but with what happens afterwards: keeping in touch.  People you want as mentors or as “connections” need to know you’re around and that you’re interested in them or else they won’t be interested in you. So I make an effort to stay involved in their lives. At the start of each month, I write a list for myself of people to connect with. The list is a mix of people I’ve worked with, friends who live far away, and extended family members. Over the course of the month, I go on Facebook. I write emails. I’ll send InMail on LinkedIn. Keeping up this habit keeps me “networking” on a regular basis and ensures that the people I do keep in touch with remember me so that when I need advice or assistance, I’m someone they care to help, because they know what’s going on in my life and they know I’m interested in theirs as well. And when we get together later over a fresh garden salad, I’m not worrying about how I’m eating. I’m too engaged in career-oriented conversation with my friend.

Antoinette Santos is a Boston, MA Consulting by Degrees consultant and an alumna of Babson College. She likes pumping herself back to life every morning with black coffee, eating copious amounts of sushi (spicy tuna hand roll, please), and scrapbooking. She likes to go on adventures.


Networking Shmetworking

Joe Mills, Washington DC

Do not be the one “networking”

This day and age everyone tosses out the term networking. I cringe every time sometime mentions they are going to a networking event. After reading a book call “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi my opinion on formalized networking has changed. True business connections are made by either performing great work, knowing a mutual friend, or donating time and effort to someone. Think about it.

I can name a few people I feel that I “owe” because they have done favors for me, helped me solve a problem or spent their time giving great advice to me. This business connection is much more valuable than holding someone’s business card from an awkward event you met them at. Instead of constantly looking for events to “network” at, I challenge you to never eat alone. If you have 15 minutes before a meeting, invite someone to grab a cup of coffee with you. The next time you visit a city for a client meeting, ensure to call up a past colleague and invite them to lunch. If you don’t have anyone in town to share lunch or coffee with, spend that time calling up a true connection that you haven’t spoke with in months. These connections are the ones that will provide the most benefits, and you can rely on them when it is most needed.


What Are Your Thoughts On “Networking”?

The IBM Consulting by Degrees Blog presents the “Big Question” series, where we will source a series of posts from IBMers to learn about a specific area where individuals have formative thoughts and experiences.

The first theme is Networking.

Networking. It’s a word we’ve seen in many forms. For some, it’s a form of casual advice. For others, it’s a method of survival.

Consider any of these questions: What does networking mean to you? What tips do you find useful to be effective at networking? What are some typical myths associated with networking that you have found to be untrue? What pet peeves do you have about networking? What makes someone successful at networking within a Big Firm? What is a personal challenge you have while networking? What is the line between networking and building a true relationship? How is networking different across cultures? Do you have an embarrassing or inspiring story you have about networking? (Try to use these to spur your train of thought but don’t limit yourself!)

The goal is 200 – 500 words and we are looking for contributions from anyone. If you are an IBMer interested in contributing, please email Kushaan C Shah/Washington/IBM (kcshah@us.ibm.com) 

Whether you have a short anecdote or a persuasive essay, feel free to shoot a message. We look forward to hearing from you!

5 Mistakes You Might Make as a New Consultant

Kushaan Shah,Washington DC

Imagine stepping into your first project at IBM. Armed with two weeks of training, hours of online modules, and countless slips of advice from mentors and other consultants, you’re ready to take on the world. You greet your client with a firm handshake and open arms. Still, part of your brain is apprehensive. You’re new to consulting. You’ve heard horror stories. There is so much that can go wrong. How are you expected to be wary of everything?

Here’s the good news: You aren’t. Making mistakes is not only human, it’s expected. It allows us a pulpit to reflect toward improvement and progress in the future. In every mistake, there’s a potential for growth. Most senior consultants and partners you ask will readily admit they have made mistakes early in their career that have taught them a significant lesson. Even Irish novelist James Joyce once said, “Mistakes are the portals to discovery.” By sharing our vulnerabilities and learning from each other’s mistakes, we can all become better consultants. Here are some mistakes I made on my first project that you might be able to avoid on yours:

1. Lack of Expectation Setting

There is nothing more uncomfortable than filling out your project assessment and realizing you never had the “talk” with your project manager regarding your objectives and expectations. Be transparent. Talk to your manager every week and ask what they expect of you. The very first week, write your objectives down and verify them as they change and evolve. This will also help your manager as they will know exactly what they are evaluating you on when it comes time.

2. Using Confidence to Hide Faulty Logic

We’ve all learned that confidence is a key to consulting. Confidence enables us to talk to people, establish our brand, and paint our work with trust and credibility. There’s a big difference, however, between being confident because you are correct and confident hoping that nobody will check that you are correct. Professional consultants can smell rubbish from a mile away. It’s better to admit you don’t fully know and admit your lack of certainty with confidence than to use confidence to obscure faulty logic.

3. Not Knowing Your Role

You’ll meet many people from the client side and within your IBM team that might have no idea who you are. Knowing your role isn’t as simple as two or three words. You might be a “support consultant” or a “business analyst” but this will mean little to others. Know your function within the big picture of the project, know exactly who you’re working with, and recognize your value-add to the team; for extra measure, come up with a quick pitch that will give people the idea right away.

4. Simple Computational Errors

Excel has made doing simple and complicated math a lot easier; it is, at the end of the day however, still a computer program. Don’t just check over your work, question it. Does it make sense? What kind of feedback would I get if I returned these numbers? Sometimes, it can make the difference of your team shelling out hundreds of extra dollars. Don’t let that come down to you making a simple computational error.

5. Making Assumptions on Knowledge

At times, it might seem hard to ask your manager to explain something. You want to create the perception that you can pick things up quickly and don’t need extra instruction. There’s a quote I really like by Confucius, “He who asks a question is a fool for a minute; he who does not remains a fool forever.”  Every time you see something even remotely unfamiliar, write it down. Make a list of questions. Even if it’s as small as a clarification, it’s always better to ask.

It’s never too late to turn your mistakes into opportunities. It’s not so bad when you realize that everyone else is in the same dog house of imperfection. What are some mistakes you’ve made that you have learned from?

Kushaan is an IBM Consultant in the federal practice based out of Washington D.C. His interests are rooted in strategy consulting, social causes, and media marketing. He enjoys blogging about life, empowerment, and hacking the corporate environment. If you liked this post, follow him on twitter: @kushaanshah.

More People, More Problems: The Value of Smarter Cities Solutions Adapted

Mariah Braxton, Washington DC

Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and this number is expected to grow with the expected decline of the rural population.  With more people living in cities than ever before, it is imperative that IBM focuses on sustainable urbanization.  While energy consumption is important, sustainability also encompasses things like economic growth, health, safety and services.

Why does this matter?  The more people that move to the city, the more pressure that puts on a city’s resources and systems.  Cities will face decreasing land availability, hospitals and transit systems will require increased capacity and water and food supplies must keep up with the population influx.  These are just a few concerns that city leaders will grapple with as their constituency grows and this is also where IBM can help!

Smarter Cities is a term we’re probably all familiar with.  In fact, it is the reason I applied to IBM in the first place.  As an urban studies major and walkable cities enthusiast, I was excited to work for a company that was trying to make cities a safer and more desirable place to live.  But as I began us__none__smarter_cities__smarter_cities_icon__300x300to ask around and learn more about Smarter Cities, it seemed to be a quite nebulous term.  What does it mean, really?  Because I still had so many questions, I was really excited to see that even though my project work has nothing to do with Smarter Cities, IBM has extensive learning opportunities for me to connect with the thought leadership and strategies that make Smarter Cities such a revolutionary territory for business.

Smarter Cities solutions use data to give government leaders insight into how cities operate.  To be clear, these solutions can be extended to places such as college campuses and military bases, which act as little cities of their own.  Data gathered from integrated transportation systems, social media, sensors on buildings and other infrastructure as well as meters capturing energy usage and resource availability gives IBM the capacity to identify urban trends and patterns.

The Intelligent Operations Center (IOC) software focuses on city planning and management and is just one example of a Smarter Cities solution.  This platform has a citizen collaboration component allowing citizens to truly communicate with government leaders!  In the event of Snowpocalypse, for example, a city using the IOC would be able use citizen input to understand the severity of the storm in different neighborhoods and which roads are inaccessible due to pile up or ice.  This allows the city to respond by broadcasting a citywide warning to citizens, rerouting traffic and allocating clean up resources more efficiently.  The IOC is one solution that simplifies the complications of urban life.

Connect with Mariah on Linkedin!

Country Bloke to Big Smoke: A Consulting By Degrees Journey

Thom Roberts, London

Hi readers, Thom here!

Like many of my colleagues, I seemed to unexpectedly fall head first into the corporate world of IBM and I thought I’d share my journey with all you lucky readers.

As the title suggests, I grew up in a relatively rural area of Northern Ireland with fields and cows and the likes. From a young age, I developed a passion for music (as there was literally nothing else to do!) and moved from the totally cool cello to the slightly less cool acoustic guitar. I started travelpicwriting songs and playing in bands, pursuing the dream of becoming the next Ed Sheeran. Recording music and posting YouTube videos took up way too much of my time to be socially acceptable and I took a hands on approach to digitally market myself.

So where does the consulting fit in? Well I didn’t give up on music, but the rational side to me knew I needed more realistic job prospects (boo!). Conveniently, I somehow managed to get accepted into the University of Edinburgh to study Innovation with Entrepreneurship. A nice compromise on the creativity side, I thought. I was right. It was great! I ended up incorporating guitar playing into presentations, creating ideas of starting a music café business and experimenting with digital marketing on a business level.

I’m not one to blow my own trumpet, but I’ve always considered myself to be pretty lucky (luck o’ the Irish anyone?). I applied to study abroad in Melbourne and got to go! 36 hours of travel later and I’m on St Kilda beach, studying business in a completely new environment. The travel bug got me. Off I went, all across Oz, Asia, America and Europe; guitar in hand. From this point on I knew I wanted, no, I NEEDED a career that would allow me to travel.

And that’s where IBM comes in. I actually applied while I was visiting friends in North Carolina, one of whom was also studying business and we applied together (she got the job too!). I never expected to get an interview, but now I realize that I’m probably a prime example of one of those “wild ducks” we keep hearing about in IBM.

I’m proud to say that I work for a company who promotes diversity and allows you to express an element of creativity and innovation in every day work. I have joined the Technology and Data team in Southbank, London and I’m looking forward to directing my career towards social media and interactive experience. I still play guitar when I can and I will never lose that, but the opportunities that will continue to present themselves at IBM are limitless. So watch this space, this globetrotting wild duck is ready to bring a bit of crazy and creativity to the mad world of consulting!

Thom Roberts is part of the UKI Consulting by Degrees team based in South Bank London. Born in Northern Ireland, with Italian and Welsh heritage; travelling is in his blood! This was further fuelled by studying abroad in Melbourne whilst at University in Edinburgh. As an aspiring digital marketer, he is hoping to dive into a variety of interactive experience roles with IBM and expand his experience in the field. Outside of work, he can be found at the local open mic nights, jetting off on weekend city breaks, drowning in a vat of coffee or hanging out with cats at home (crazy cat man!).

Twitter: @acousthomatic