In 1968, when William Jefferson Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, he met a graduate student named Jeffrey Stamps at a party. Clinton promptly pulled out a black address book. “What are you doing here at Oxford, Jeff?” he asked.
“I’m at Pembroke on a Fulbright,” Jeff replied. Clinton penned “Pembroke” into his book, then asked about Stamps’s undergraduate school and his major. “Bill, why are you writing this down?” asked Stamps.
“I’m going into politics and plan to run for governor of Arkansas, and I’m keeping track of everyone I meet,” said Clinton.”
…as an undergraduate at Georgetown, the forty-second president made it a nightly habit to record, on index cards, the names and vital information of every person whom he’d met that day.
To the normal person, this behavior seems over the top. For Bill Clinton, it’s said that behaviors like this paved his way to the White House. Throughout his book, Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi makes the point that habits like this make great careers. These habits are the manifestation of the old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
About 10 years ago my college friend, Chris Lesinski, recommended I read Never Eat Alone. I finally got around to reading it. I read the book 10 years too late.
After doing some personal reflection, all of the good things in my own career have come from my connections and not my own merit. Whether it was that introduction that got me my first job out of college or the introduction that paved the path to our seed round for LayerVault, my extended network has always helped me in ways I didn’t expect.
Never Eat Alone straddles that careful line between self-help and a useful playbook for one’s career. Where it particularly shines is in its cultivated anecdotes, like the one of Bill Clinton. The book advocates for a human approach to building an effective personal network: it’s not a zero-sum construction of tit-for-tat favors, it’s a network of great people that depend on each other.
Hello *|FIRST_NAME|*, How is your hiring pipeline?
The fact is that those people who are known beyond the walls of their own cubicle have a greater value. They find jobs more easily. They usually rise up the corporate ladder faster. Their networks begin to grow without much heavy lifting.
It doesn’t take long once you’ve been identified as someone with a modicum of hiring authority for the torrent to begin. Cold calls and cold emails flood in, all with very little personalization. (I still get calls asking how hiring is going for companies I haven’t been a part of for years.)
It’s clear most senders of such emails have not read Never Eat Alone. One of the many things Ferrazzi advocates for is taking the “cold” out of “cold call” by tapping your network for introductions.
The most effective salespeople I’ve worked with in my career have been living proof. They constantly keep their personal network updated and healthy. They seem to always be able to build an opportunity from a cold lead by just sending an email or two.
Outside of sales, raising venture capital is subjected to the same dynamics. The number one “hack” to get into Y Combinator is to be referred by another YC founder.
Warming up a cold introduction must be obvious to those with more storied careers, but it is something I did not identify until many years out of school. I predict many other folks from engineering backgrounds are the same way.
Landing on Your Feet
Mark Granovetter discovered that 56 percent of those surveyed found their current job through a personal connection… Roughly 10 percent applied directly to an employer and obtained the job.
Having a personal network makes securing your next employment that much easier. This is something that many might luck into or do accidentally. Every single job I was hired into has been through a personal connection. I’ve never gotten a job by submitting a résumé to a system or signing up for a hiring service. The research laid out in Never Eat Alone confirms that my personal experience maps to the experiences of all.
We’ve come to realize, again, that success is not contingent on cool technology or venture capital; it’s dependent on whom you know and how you work with them.
If you doubt the value of your personal network, Never Eat Alone will quickly squash such doubt. The research and anecdotes within the book make it clear that if you are looking for a great job, you need a strong personal network.
Reading the book you quickly realize that phrases like “Industry X is a meritocracy” are asinine.
Developing Your Own Network
The important thing is to see connecting with others not just as another manipulative tool used toward achieving a goal but rather as a way of life.
The biggest takeaway from Never Eat Alone is to make a more conscious effort to maintaining one’s own network. This goes beyond blasting out tweets or creating connections on LinkedIn. Creating a strong network is an effort that takes a lifetime. Ferrazzi makes it clear that you must put more value into your network than you extract.
Dr. Will Miller and Glenn Sparks argue that with our increased mobility, American emphasis on individualism, and the overwhelming online distractions available to us, we lead lives of relative isolation.
I find it easy to forget that with no shortage of ways to keep in touch, it becomes harder to have genuine human interactions. It takes real effort to not just like a post, but to reach out and ask how someone is doing. Too often I’ve found myself guilty and anxious to start a conversation with someone I haven’t talked to in years.
While this book appeals to the freshly-minted MBA or B-school grads, this book is a must-read for those in the STEM disciplines.
I began reading Never Eat Alone because I started work on an app to help me keep in touch with my own professional network. What I began building, I now realize, is the app form of the book.
It’s called Personal Network.