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February 11, 2009

Networking 101: Can I have your business card? And give you mine?

February 11. Day 226.

Just got great news from a reader -- she landed an internship working for a magazine and, intrepid reporter that she is, spent a whole weekend working overtime to nab a hot story. Then, she had a thought: "I realized that since, technically, I was doing work, maybe I should be paid for those hours," she explained to me in an email. She asked her boss if she could get overtime, and the reply was a resounding yes.

"Of course!" the boss said. "Yeah, you should totally get paid for that time. You were on a pretty tight deadline there."

What if this reader hadn't asked, assumed her time wasn't worth it, or that as an intern or new writer she "owed" the company her weekend so she could prove herself?

Now, instead of being diligent but humble, she has been recognized by her boss for coming through on a deadline, she has shown the boss she knows what she's worth, and she can celebrate her extra cash -- and cachet -- with a new pair of I'm-da-bomb shoes!

Nice going. Ask, ask away!!


On the way to Athens, I sat next to: An engineer from San Diego with two adorable little boys, one sitting calmly next to her and one squirming on her lap; a trend setter who decides what Target and Tupperware will be selling next season and travels the world to consult about color schemes; and a Greek cargo ship captain.

I got really lucky, since each of these individuals was fascinating. With the mom-engineer, I chatted about kids, careers, tango, and how arranged marriage is changing in India (she's Indian). The captain told me about Athens -- where to go, what to see -- and about life on the high seas. And the trend setter explained how using her instinct, deep retail experience and market research, she makes decisions that millions of consumers will feel.

The more the trend setter and I talked, the more curious I got about her career and what led her down that path.

And so, motivated by this project (and my looming graduation), I did something I never do with a total stranger on an airplane: I reached out and made an ouverture to stay in touch. (Normally I avoid straight-up, unabashed self-promotion and business card exchanges. I'm kind of shy in this respect, a little scared of seeming like an overtly careerist, bum-kissing missie. Case in point: I used so clueless and careless about networking that a few years ago, I went to a professional conference with a bunch of friends from my undergrad days. At the end, we all reconvened and everyone took out the business cards they'd collected.
"I got Ali G's!"
"Well I got Jerry Fallwell's."
(Not actual conferences goers, but you get the point: big names in our field.)
"I have 18 total!"
"I totally beat you. I have 32."
"Damn... How did you get Beyonce's?" "I just asked for it."
"What are you guys talking about?" I butted in.
"We decided to see who could get the most business cards."
I was so out of the loop I didn't even know there was a contest of sorts. Typical La Roxy, circa 2003.)

This time, it seemed perfectly natural and sincere to turn to the trend setter at the end of the flight and say:

"It was a real pleasure speaking with you. Do you have a card?"

She did, and then I added that if she's ever looking for a hand with writing or marketing materials, I'd love to work with her. And I told her about my credentials. Then and there.

It was direct, it was natural, and I had nothing to lose.

Gained: three delightful conversations, and the email of someone I'd love to keep in touch with.
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