Talent Acquisition is changing, work is changing, and careers are changing. It has perhaps never been more critical to build and cultivate a professional network. As an industry that spends most of its collective working day on LinkedIn, we like to think that we do this well. But do we really understand how to build, maintain and leverage our networks in these disruptive times?
My guest this week is Michael Melcher, an executive coach, leadership expert and author of a new book called “Your Invisible Network”. In our conversation, we discuss how networks are changing and the networking skills needed to transform careers.
In the interview, we discuss:
• Being more aware of the network around you
• Building deeper, more powerful relationships
• How a whole generation has had no meaningful face-to-face connections at work
• The power of small, consistent action
• Seven types of relationships
• Minute 32 and the unpredictable nature of conversations
• Being more human
• The difference between a specific and a general ask
• How will networking develop in the future, and what skills will we need to learn
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Matt Alder (1m 5s):
Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 514 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. Talent Acquisition is changing, work is changing, careers are changing. It has perhaps never been more critical to build and cultivate a professional network. As an industry that spends most of its collective working day on LinkedIn, we like to think that we do this well. But do we really understand how to build, maintain, and leverage our networks in these disruptive times? My guest this week is Michael Melcher, an executive coach, leadership expert, and author of a new book called Your Invisible Network.
Matt Alder (1m 50s):
In our conversation, we discuss how networks are changing and the networking skills needed to transform careers. Hi, Michael, and welcome to the podcast.
Michael Melcher (2m 1s):
Hey, Matt, thank you for having me.
Matt Alder (2m 3s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please, could you introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?
Michael Melcher (2m 8s):
So I am Michael Urtuzuástegui Melcher. I am an executive coach. I have a company called Michael Melcher Leadership Group slash M2Leaders, and I’m the author of a new book called Your Invisible Network, How to Create, Maintain and Leverage the Relationships That Will Transform Your Career.
Matt Alder (2m 27s):
Fantastic stuff. So let’s dive straight in and talk about the book. Why have you written the book and why is it called Your Invisible Network?
Michael Melcher (2m 36s):
I wrote the book for two reasons. First, relationships and networking, it’s one of those topics that people kind of know about and they have heard it’s important, but it’s unclear exactly what you’re supposed to do. There is a lot of nuance, a lot of art in it. And it tends to get superficial treatment. So it is sort of something that people think about, but in a way keep it arm’s length because it seems a little icky maybe, and they’re just not exactly sure what you’re supposed to do with it. The second reason I wrote a book is that I have always had a strong interest in people who are first. They may be the first to go to college, the first to get an MBA, the first to work in the big city, the first to work in a large professional services organization, what have you.
Michael Melcher (3m 25s):
And when you were the first, you are making decisions of long-term consequence, often with very little information. And probably nobody from your family or community of origin can really help you. And I’ve worked with many, many people in this position and I have some of those aspects in my own life. And so I wanted to write a kind of guide that would be relevant to them. So it is both a general book about relationships and networking for a business audience. And many, many of the stories are from people who started in one way or another as outsiders. And it’s not just about what they did well, it’s also about what held them back and what confusions they had and what things didn’t quite work, and how they eventually managed to work their way through the practices that would help them.
Matt Alder (4m 13s):
So really people who don’t have an existing network, they’ve not kind of inherited one from their family or grown up in a specific environment that gives them, you know, huge amounts of contacts that are useful in working life.
Michael Melcher (4m 27s):
I agree with that to some degree. Everybody has a network. We’re social creatures. Every single society in the world has a way of relationship building. But the fact is, if you went to a junior college far outside of a major hub, or if your parents were working class or if let’s say you’re just a technical or engineering person and you haven’t had the opportunity to meet lots of people, you just may not have developed that network. I called it Your Invisible Network because we all do have these networks around us. It’s just that we’re unaware of them. We can’t quite see them, but they’re out there, they’re waiting to be activated and there’s a secondary meeting, which is that many people’s relationships are underdeveloped or even completely transactional.
Michael Melcher (5m 16s):
So there is a potential for a deeper, more powerful relationship, but only if you take the initiative to try to make it happen.
Matt Alder (5m 26s):
I wanna do a deep dive into that in a second because I think that’s really, really interesting and very keen to kind of get your thoughts on it. Before we do, just a question about how networking as a concept has perhaps changed in the last few years. You know, certainly before the pandemic, you know, there was a sense that you built your network. You built your network face-to-face even though there were some great digital tools out there. Post-pandemic with everyone talking into screens for three years. There is a sense perhaps that maybe that’s changed, but also people, it’s become much easier for people to build networks that are global and not necessarily, you know, bounded by location.
Matt Alder (6m 10s):
I mean, do you think that what’s happened in the last three years has changed the way that people think about networking?
Michael Melcher (6m 16s):
I think it has. I think there was already a general trend toward people thinking that you could just do everything by computer. So anybody in the talent space knows this because there are countless younger people who think that the way you get a job is by applying online into an internet black hole. And we want to think that the world is super efficient and that the best way to apply is to just do your resume and then magically the invisible hand will reach out and find you. And I remember many people over the years saying like, “I was a perfect fit for that job.”
Michael Melcher (6m 57s):
And I would say, “Well, who else was also a perfect fit? Hundreds maybe.” So for a long time, we’ve had this tendency where people will think that technology is actually more efficient than it is so that the best way to look for a job is to apply online to hundreds of places. And then somehow the iInvisible ham will reach out and find you and they get incredibly frustrated and will tally the number of places they’ve applied with no response or no positive response. But in a way they don’t really want to believe that it requires networking and in-person connections and moving person-to-person because that’s hard. You have to be vulnerable, you may have to use skills you don’t really know.
Michael Melcher (7m 40s):
And it’s easier to convince yourself that what you should really be doing is looking at even more sites and applying online. So that was already going on, that there was a feeling that technology had become the dominant force when it wasn’t really. But at the same time, technology has made somethings easier. LinkedIn, for example, it’s a fantastic resource that didn’t really exist 20, 30 years ago. It gives you a huge amount of information about people, it makes it easier to connect with and maintain what we’ll call your weak ties. It should be used to facilitate real-world connections, but it’s definitely better than nothing. What has changed is that during the pandemic there is a whole generation of people who have never had meaningful in-person relationships in the workplace.
Michael Melcher (8m 28s):
There are people who are 25, 26, 27 whose first job was sitting in a desk inside a closet, you know, jury-rigged into an office in their home, sitting in front of their computer for 10 hours a day with their new colleagues. And then it’s no wonder that they were so easily poached during the kind of hiring spree of about a year ago because if, if that’s your life and then somebody offers you $10,000 more to also sit at the same desk all day and stare at the computer, why not take it? So I feel like a lot of younger generation where they’ve not had the ability to form meaningful relationships with colleagues and clients, and their lives are a little bit gray-scale.
Michael Melcher (9m 11s):
They may not even know what they’re missing at this point.
Matt Alder (9m 15s):
So going back to your sort of previous point and diving into, you know, building networks, how should people build their network or uncover their invisible network? What’s the best way to think about doing this?
Michael Melcher (9m 27s):
Number one, it should not be a full-time job. So my book has a concept called 20 minutes a day, which is to break everything down into smaller units that you can do in some little chunk during the day. And that small consistent action is much, much more important than big dramatic gestures. The second is that you have seven times the relationships that are critical for your career. One, weak ties. Two, bosses and senior stakeholders. Three, colleagues. Four, clients. Five, sponsors, mentors. Six, friends and seven, beneficiaries. And so you actually want to take action toward developing all of those, not all at the same time.
Michael Melcher (10m 8s):
You may be quite strong in some areas and weaker in others, but you want to have a kind of mental model of this is what I’m trying to accomplish over a period of months and years. And then the third thing is you need a way to reach out consistently and you can reach out to want to get to know somebody better or you can do what I call a ping, which is a message that doesn’t require a response. “Hey, Matt, heard your last podcast episode, it was pretty great. Hope you’re well.’ That’s nice, you don’t have to respond. But if I send that I am reminding you that I kind of exist, or “Hey, Joe, I heard this coach guy on a podcast sending you the link.
Michael Melcher (10m 49s):
It was pretty good. Hope you’re well.” You’re sending along a resource. So this is tremendously important because we have large networks, they get bigger and bigger as you get older and go through more experiences. And so you don’t want everything to turn into let’s get coffee, let’s have lunch, let’s talk about this or that. You want to maintain a type of drip, drip, drip connection so that you have some ongoing connection with a decent-sized pool of people.
Matt Alder (11m 18s):
And I think the interesting bit there about, you know, pings, about communicating that kind of message always gives me social anxiety because I’m not sure whether to respond to it or not. You know, I suppose that’s what emojis are for, just terms of acknowledging.
Michael Melcher (11m 33s):
Thumbs up. Thumbs up emoji has really improved networking.
Matt Alder (11m 35s):
Exactly. I’ve read it, but, yeah, I’m not gonna set up a, you know, a whole chain of communication. In terms of communication, in your book, you mentioned this really interesting concept about minute 32 of a conversation. Talk us through that and it give us your kind of a best advice on ways that you can kind of build more meaningful connections by deeper communication.
Michael Melcher (11m 59s):
Well, one of the basic frameworks of the book or the overarching ideas is that you can’t really predict who is going to be really valuable to you and vice versa. And you also can’t predict what will happen in any one conversation. So what we don’t wanna do is over qualify, decide ahead of time who’s worth it, what’s gonna come outta this conversation because you simply can’t know. Minute 32 is a moment in a conversation when the good stuff starts coming out. When things you haven’t anticipated emerge, when you discover something about the other person or they discover something about you, or they remember somebody that they knew 10 years ago.
Michael Melcher (12m 43s):
And it may not be exactly minute 32. It’s a sort of metaphor for the moment that you’ve gone past your agendas, you’ve warmed up, you’ve settled in, then you’re really just kind of co-creating something and you’re not even sure what it is. And it happens all the time. I was talking to a client a couple days ago who is looking in some different positions and after about 50 minutes, I remembered another woman I knew in New York who I thought would be a fantastic and wonderful person to talk to, who I knew would actually agree to talk to her and find it interesting. And I’ve known this woman for several years and we’ve talked many times and until that minute it never occurred to me that I could introduce her to this other woman in New York.
Michael Melcher (13m 25s):
That’s how conversations emerge. And so what you wanna do is both have some intention about trying to create conversations and connect with people and also be open to the serendipity of what might happen. And think about it more as a bit of a volume play over a certain number of conversations. Some of them will be really good rather than obsessing how any individual conversation will come out.
Matt Alder (13m 56s):
I think one of the big challenges of modern life, it’s very easy to connect to people to create these weak ties, to sort of build these big networks via things like LinkedIn or whatever it might be. How do you manage that though? How do you manage a network effectively with, you know, so much communication, so many things going on, you know, so much information about people fully available? You know, what are the best tools or sort of techniques for really making the most out of your network and, you know, managing that sort of communication and information effectively?
Michael Melcher (14m 34s):
Well, I think we can look at it in two different ways. The first is managing your communications overall. And we talked about that a little bit earlier, like you need to think about what type of habit is gonna work for you, perhaps you like LinkedIn, and you spend 10 minutes a day just kind of tooling around and seeing what people are up to and writing short notes and reposting things that they’ve sent which people love by the way. Or perhaps you like to get lunch or drinks and so once a week you decide you’re gonna meet somebody or perhaps once a quarter you have a group dinner that you arrange with different people, or perhaps you make a habit when you go to a conference of looking people up ahead of time and letting them know you’re there and sitting next to them and so forth.
Michael Melcher (15m 23s):
So there are a lot of examples in the book, but you can figure out the types of activities that tend to be more meaningful and doable for you. And then you want to build a habit so that you’re not just wondering on any given day, you know, what should I do here? But the other thing you can do is to be more human in any given conversation. That can include being a bit more vulnerable, sharing more about yourself, being more personal. One of the ideas of my book is that people can get more out of their existing relationships and existing interactions than they are already without necessarily spending more time.
Michael Melcher (16m 8s):
As an example, I have a colleague named Hannah and we have a standing call every Friday to talk about a client we work with. Once a few weeks ago she said, “You know, Michael, I’d like you to ask me about my family sometimes because I ask you about your family and I enjoy hearing about it and I would like you to do that for me.” I thought, “Oh, okay.” So I did and I didn’t not wanna ask her about her family or what she was up to, it’s just that I was sort of down to business. And once I started doing this, I really enjoyed it. And it didn’t impinge on our ability to get business done in our little half hour, but it allowed both of us to get more richness.
Michael Melcher (16m 50s):
So I think a lot of the information flow, it’s not clear that it all adds up to anything, right? So how can we make things deeper and more human?
Matt Alder (16m 59s):
There are a few things around all of this that people will find very awkward or not necessarily do very well. One of those is reaching out to people in the first place because obviously, the value of a network comes from the people that you don’t necessarily know very well, the people that you know and who they know. How do people reach out to people in an effective way that doesn’t seem creepy, that doesn’t seem like spamming, but is gonna help them get a response and start a conversation?
Michael Melcher (17m 35s):
Well, first this is uncomfortable because you are connecting with people that you don’t have day-to-day exchange with. You’re trying to interrupt homeostasis, you’re trying to get something that wouldn’t come just by itself. So, yeah, most of the time it’ll be a little uncomfortable and that’s okay, like sit in the discomfort. It doesn’t have to stop you. I think trying to be happy about it all the time is actually a little bit of a barrier. Like it is a little bit tiring and can be hard, but that means you’re doing something good. Second thing is, for the reasons you said, I do have a lot of scripts in my book, you know, here’s an example of this type of reach out. Here’s an example of this one. Here’s what you do if no one’s responded.
Michael Melcher (18m 16s):
It’s funny because as your audience probably knows, coaching, modern coaching is very much question-based. It’s the belief that the client best knows answers and the coach kind of helps lead them there. But I have discovered in things like this type of communications, it’s great to see some models for it. I would say a third thing is be clear to yourself what you really want. Do you want to just learn more about the person? Do you wanna warm up the connection? Are you really seeking a particular thing? You may not put all that out there the first time, but you actually need to know what you’re really trying to get and not fool yourself.
Michael Melcher (18m 56s):
So if you really want a connection to somebody or an opportunity to sell something, know that, don’t pretend you’re just trying to be nice because people sort of feel it when you’re kind of mixed in your motives. And then a final trick you can try is if you’re feeling a little bit insecure, you can try the phrase I do have an ulterior motive. Like, “Hey, Matt, let’s listen to your podcast. I’d love to just chat with you sometime about how you built up your podcast.” You know, I do have an ulterior motive. I’d love to be a guest one day, or I have a similar idea in the similar lane. And then they can decide for themselves what they want. And you don’t have that feeling that you’re like holding back or being insincere.
Matt Alder (19m 38s):
And I think that’s also, you know, that’s great advice for someone receiving the message as well. Because I think very often you can look at, you know, a piece of communication coming in from someone you don’t necessarily know and you are wondering what the ulterior motive is. So if someone’s upfront with it, then, you know, that makes things a lot easier. Moving on to the other bit that people will find, people will find very awkward, which is, or some people will find awkward is actually leveraging these relationships. So knowing when and how to ask for something or ask for help. What are your thoughts on that?
Michael Melcher (20m 14s):
Well, it’s very fraught for all of us, right? I was raised by a very independent, self-reliant single mother who never hesitated to go out and do what she needed to do for her own career or to raise her children. But I was also always taught don’t impose. Don’t linger around people’s houses at dinner. Don’t make people uncomfortable. Don’t ask for stuff. Like, I think we have a lot of those messages, right? So in terms of asking, there are different ways you can ask. So you can ask directly, “Hey, Matt, can you introduce me to so-and-so?”
Michael Melcher (20m 57s):
Or you can ask indirectly by just stating your needs. “Hey, Matt, great to talk to. What are you up to? Well, I’m actually reaching out and talking to different podcast hosts who have built up good audiences and trying to understand what they did well.” So in a way, I’m telling you what I want, but I’m not actually deliberately asking you And, it’s a little bit face-saving. You could decide whether or not to reply. Another thing that is helpful is to think about the difference between asking for something very specific versus something more general. So I want to know how you monetize a successful podcast.
Michael Melcher (21m 37s):
That’s something very specific or I’m really interested in learning what you’ve learned in your 500-plus episodes about how to do this well, right? You can choose what you want to go to and there’s no one solution. You can play around with how you’re asking for things. And then the other thing is, when you do ask for something, don’t fudge it. Like don’t add tons of qualifying language. And if you’re doing it out loud, don’t keep talking, just shut up. Let the person process and decide how to answer.
Matt Alder (22m 9s):
So as a final question, how do you think that the way we network is gonna develop sort of further over the next few years? What do we need to be keeping an eye on? What are the skills that we’re gonna have to learn?
Michael Melcher (22m 26s):
That is a fantastic question. First, I do think there is a hunger for real in-person interactions of different forms. So not just a cocktail party, but just connecting with other human beings. It is variable. So not everybody has the same desire, but there is a kind of pent-up desire to find ways to connect in person, both because of the pandemic and its aftermath, but because technology has so overtaken us that I do think there’s this underlying hunger to just be a real human being. But the second thing is, I also think technology is facilitating things.
Michael Melcher (23m 12s):
So for example, I believe that people who are introverts find it quite liberating to have Zoom conversations because it’s safer, it’s more personal, it’s more predictable. And so I feel like technology can also facilitate certain types of conversations that might have been difficult. I am just speculating here, but I think with the emergence of things like ChatGPT, we’re all gonna have an eye out for what does it really mean to be human and connect and create in a human way versus what can be like a tool to facilitate those types of communications.
Michael Melcher (23m 54s):
And then the final thing I think is very relevant is that how do people connect across perceived power differentials? So that’s kind of a big topic in the US now. I firmly believe that everyone has the ability to connect with others, even people who are much more senior or wealthy, or powerful. But I also think from the other side is when you are in a more senior position, how can you be more accessible and create a kind of win-win connection so that the other person doesn’t have to do kind of all the heavy lifting to connect with you.
Michael Melcher (24m 36s):
Those are some ideas.
Matt Alder (24m 39s):
And so lastly, where can people find you and where can they find your book?
Michael Melcher (24m 43s):
You can find me MichaelMelcher.com. That is my company website. It also shows more about me. You can find my book on any book-selling platform of your preference. Your Invisible Network, you should be able to find it. And I’m also on LinkedIn and easy to find there.
Matt Alder (25m 2s):
Michael, thank you very much for talking to me.
Michael Melcher (25m 3s):
It has been a pleasure, Matt. Thank you.
Matt Alder (25m 6s):
My thanks to Michael. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at RecruitingFuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast, and get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.