Picture the last time you went to a networking event. It was probably some dry, corporate shindig organised by a guy that everybody secretly hates, right? I bet they put out some dry crackers and cheese, red wine that tasted like vinegar, and told everybody to “mingle”. Or maybe it was plastered all over the internet as ‘the networking event of the year’, but only three of you turned up to the event you actually paid for a ticket to.
I’ve been to lots of networking events like this, and they’re excruciating. But luckily there’s a way you can avoid pinned into a corner by a woman called Karen telling you the same story about her annoying kids she’s told you for the last three networking events you’ve both been at, whilst the person you actually want to talk to leaves the room. The secret is LinkedIn, and it’s an absolute goldmine of untapped potential.
This week I have sent a number of LinkedIn messages to high-profile figures in the creative industries as part of my day to day job. I’m talking about people who work at the top levels of companies such as Netflix, SoundCloud, Spotify, Warner Bros, Universal Pictures, and Facebook. I’m reaching out to them asking for career advice, which I intend to pass on to the students at the creative institute I work at. Amazingly, almost every person I have sent a message to has responded positively. Even if they were super busy (or in one person’s case, literally on their honeymoon), they replied telling me they would get back to me soon.
That’s CEOs and Founders of huge international companies, worth millions and billions of dollars, who have taken ten minutes out of their day to give someone at the very start of their career advice. For free.
If I can do this and get positive responses, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from using the platform to launch your career into the stratosphere as well. Reach out to your favourite authors, your favourite film directors, the agency managing your favourite brands. Ask them if they are local to you if they would be willing to meet for a coffee and give you some advice, let you shadow them, or alternatively ask whether they’d be willing to answer a couple of questions via email about their sector and standing out within it. If they say no, so what? You’ll only have lost the five minutes it took to send the message. But you have a lot to gain if they say yes.
It really surprised me that in an industry that is famously cut-throat, people at the top would be so willing to take time out of their busy schedules to think about what they would tell their younger selves to do differently. That they would share some of their mistakes, with a complete stranger, in the hope of helping them reach their goal sooner.
But then it hit me. I realised as much as big business is about being bigger, better, smarter than your competitors, it’s also about building people up. Taking on employees who you believe in, and developing them as an asset you can use in the long term. The people at the top of their careers aren’t going to feel threatened by you asking them for advice and refuse to share information. They’re going to tell you what you need to know, so that one day you’ll be ready to put your feet up on their desks, so they can retire.
If you decide to try reaching out to people on LinkedIn asking for advice, tell me whether you have any luck below.
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