I talked to Ryan Allis, the 28-year-old founder of iContact, which employs over 300 people, to get his advice on how students can prepare themselves for a great and fulfilling work-life.
Ryan’s main advice was that students should connect and form relationships with great people. Think of a job as something that lets you make a difference in the world. The beauty of a job that you’re passionate about is that you can work to change the world through your passions. Find someone who has achieved success in what you want to do and learn from that person’s real-life experience. Isaac Newton, the inventor of calculus, once said, “I have seen so far only through standing on the shoulders of giants.” Only through working with and learning from people more experienced than we can really learn what we need to succeed.
The best thing to do to achieve success in an area is to have the help of mentors who are already doing and succeeding at what ever it is that you want to accomplish. But how do you find those mentors? Successful people have a lot of demands on their time and it can seem difficult or daunting to build relationships with those people. The good news is, you’ve come to the right place.
Ryan, a social media expert, suggests taking advantage of the unprecedented ease of communication and contact afforded by modern social networking tools. Using Facebook and Twitter, you can get in touch with pretty much anyone.
- Find someone you admire and from whom you’d love to learn on Facebook or Twitter.
- Don’t friend them!
- Send them a private message letting them know who you are, that you admire them and why, and that you have a few questions for them.
- Through an exchange of messages, start to develop a relationship with them.
- After you’ve exchanged a few messages, it’s time to try to meet them in person.
- Pretend you’ll be in the place where they live at a particular time and ask if they’ll meet you for lunch.
- If they say yes, go to that place and have lunch with them!
Remember, the best way to get a job is through relationships with successful people.
Ryan told us that when he hires, he’s looking for people who communicate well, know a lot about the company, creative, smart, and hard working. When building relationships with people who’ve done things that you’d like to do, try to showcase these positive qualities. You can do that effectively by managing your communication with the people to whom you reach out.
First, when deciding to whom to reach out, do your homework! Really research people and reach out to between five and ten people that you hugely admire. Put in the time to really get to know their work. And instead of reaching out to people who are already incredibly far along in their careers, try targeting people who are 10-15 years ahead of where you are. They’ll be getting fewer requests for relationships, and they’re closer to the reality of what it’s like to be a young person needing guidance and advice.
Remember that the time you spend networking is absolutely crucial in finding a great job and having a great experience working when you enter the workforce. While in school, you should be spending at least 20% of your time building relationships with companies and organizations you’re passionate about. You will be well served to do internships and build relationships with mentors who can hire you after graduation. That way, when you graduate you can do more interesting and more meaningful work than you otherwise could. And you’ll have the added benefit of knowing some amazing people.
You might worry that spending lots of time developing relationships and gaining work experience may lower your GPA. But a great GPA isn’t going to get you a great job. Ryan said that he’d rather hire someone with a 3.5 who has developed a relationship with him than someone with a 3.8 who has not. Don’t neglect your studies; you can learn a lot in the classroom. But don’t forget that social skills and work experience need to be developed as well.
Now that you’re inspired to start networking and you do some research and know whom you want to contact, what do you say? Below find a template initial message and a template request to meet for lunch when you’re a few messages into the relationship. Remember that these are templates – the key to your success will be personalizing the messages using your own research and passions. And remember to keep initial requests short and to the point, you’re asking for time from very busy people.
My name is  and I am studying  at . I am interested in  and admire that you have . I would like to ask you .
I appreciate you taking the time to advise me.
Request for Lunch:
Thank you for taking the time to correspond with me. I will be in [place where person lives] in two weeks for a week. Can you please schedule lunch or a coffee meeting with me during that time? Thank you very much for your consideration.
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