Personal and Professional Benefits of Networking

Dillon Zwick MeadowLark Advisors

Networking has its challenges; it’s not comfortable at first, you are not always going to be good at it, and you are certainly not always going to enjoy it. It is important to keep in mind that you are not always going to be the perfect fit for every room you go into, but if you don’t go out and do it you are never going to get better at it. When it comes down to it, you have to learn to develop your soft skills to help your career advance. Today’s guest is Dillon Zwick, from MeadowLark Advisors, out of Austin, TX. Dillon has a background in heavy industrial design and manufacturing. His primary team role at MeadowLark Advisors is finding opportunities, solving difficult problems, and figuring out whatever needs to get done. He has helped numerous client companies successfully work through the corporate restructuring process, and worked closely with company CEOs, CFOs, and accounting staff to support cash-constrained situations, prove transparency, and strategic analytic support to the process. During our conversation, Dillon and I discuss the personal and professional benefits of networking.

Key Points From This Episode

  • Why are you networking and what are some of the great values in doing so.
  • Dillon shares how networking can help with career advancement.
  • How networking has opened up opportunities for Dillon to practice his soft skills.
  • The importance of practice: Working through discomfort, unpleasant rooms, and more.
  • Dillon shares some past networking experience mishaps.
  • Job security and how networking leads to success in this area.
  • How networking plays a role in securing you a job amongst hundreds of resumes.
  • Dillon shares the personal benefits of networking.
  • The difficulty with letting past relationships go and looking for new relationships.
  • How networking helps with lifelong learning and access to information.
  • Dillon shares his most recent challenges: COVID-19 and networking online.

[INTRODUCTION]

[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.

[00:00:22] AD: Hey everyone, welcome to Branch Out. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today’s guest is Dillon Zwick of MeadowLark Advisors out of Austin, Texas. Dillon and I discuss the personal and professional benefits of networking hope you all enjoy.

[00:00:37] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.

[INTERVIEW]

[00:00:45] AD: Dillon, welcome to Branch Out. Are you ready to talk about networking today?

[00:00:48] DZ: Yeah, I’m excited.

[00:00:49] AD: For our listeners for a moment here, Dillon and I met through virtual networking and spent time talking and really around the idea of networking. And where Dillon and I really have some similar perspectives it’s around what networking is and where the value comes from. And Dillon’s actually written a great article on this. We’ll make sure to link it in the show notes here. He writes it through his ideas around why you should be networking.

And first and foremost, we all know that the value of networking from business development standpoint, and as much as that is important and that is obviously a fundamental aspect, what we really want to dive into in our conversation today is around why else you’re networking. What are some of the other really kind of great values that happen when you go and spend time networking? So maybe the first topic we’ll dive into here, Dillon, is career advancement. Can you share some thoughts with our listeners around how networking can help with your career advancement?

[00:01:46] DZ: Yeah. I think when people get started in their careers, you’re doing the base level things, the lowest on the totem pole things, and it might seem like you’re going to do that for a very long period of time. But within two to three years, you’ve kind of maxed out that skillset, whatever it may be, accounting, financial modeling, whatever it is in one’s profession. And then that technical ability caps out. And the only way to advance after that point is learning interpersonal skills. It’s learning management skills. It’s recruiting other people to assist you with a particular problem and bearing down on any particular issue.

And so in order to advance you actually need to start networking with other people, figuring out who you want to be working with in the future. Can you get other people on your team? Are you thinking about the people who are going to come after you, right? When you leave your current position, somebody has to fill that hole. Meeting with people who are above you, at the same level as you, and people below you. And moving throughout one’s career, I think that’s becomes the necessity and creating the teams you want to work with.

[00:02:56] AD: Well you said a couple really important things there. First off, let’s talk on the technical skill side. So we all, especially as a professional, you start your career generally in a heavily technical function. And I think we can all agree, there is a huge learning curve especially in those first couple of years. But at some point that plateaus out and the technical abilities that you learn become marginal at best and they are absolutely not the skillsets that drive you to being at the top of your career path, right? Nobody steps back and says, “Well, this is our managing partner because he is so technically sound that he became the managing partner,” right? And so it does come back to those skillsets. But something else – The soft skillsets I should say.

Something else you said that I think is really important there is networking with people above and below you in terms of career level, right? Because to your exact point, at some point you’re going to advance, whether you’re leaving that firm or you’re going to the next level in the firm, if you can’t plug that hole behind you, that becomes a barrier. Or if you don’t know and have those relationships with people above you, it’s going to be difficult to have that advancement. But most importantly – And Dillon, I’d love to get some of your thoughts around this. It really comes down to practice, right? We all know you have to have those soft skills, right? We’ve talked about it on the show a lot. We clearly talked about it here. But we’re not just born naturally good at soft skills, right? That’s something you have to take time to go and develop. Can you share some thoughts of where networking for you has opened up the opportunity for you to go out and practice and develop those skillsets?

[00:04:42] DZ: Yeah. So I actually come from a way more introverted backgrounds. I love that those years of being behind the computer screen and just grinding away and then coming upon this realization that I needed to be working at a necessity to be able to advance. That’s when I started forcing myself out to go into these realms. And when you first get started, it’s very uncomfortable, right? Especially when you end up in the wrong room, right? And you’re meeting people who you don’t like, whatsoever. And that’s going to happen several times before you finally find the right rooms that it’s like, “Oh, this is actually somebody I like. This is somebody I would hang out with on a Saturday afternoon together. They’re just a really good person.” That takes time, right? And it’s going to take six months to a year of just kind of grinding away at that. And now at this point, having conversations with strangers that, doesn’t hurt me at all or make me uncomfortable, but you got to put in the time. You got to have a lot of mistakes, a lot of bad conversations before you start getting the really good ones.

[00:05:47] AD: So important what you said there. And especially for our listeners who are earlier in your career, it’s not going to be comfortable at first. You are not always going to be good at it and you’re certainly not always going to enjoy it. But if you don’t do it, you’re never going to get better. You also said something else that’s really important there. You’re not going to be a perfect fit for every room you go into. And I want to be clear, if you have to go in and find the network that makes sense for you, you’re going to feel uncomfortable from probably more of a social anxiety level than anything. And listen, I get my own level of social anxiety despite the fact that I do a ton of networking. So that level of discomfort you have to work through. But you’re also going to find yourself in organizations or within groups and with people that you just simply don’t click with, right? That’s going to happen.

[00:06:37] DZ: Yeah.

[00:06:38] AD: If you don’t step back and, one, find those situations to recognize that. But then more importantly, realize that, “Okay, I just culturally don’t fit with this organization or this group.” And you try something else. And I think I’ve talked about this before, but do you have any experiences where you showed up at a place and kind of you thought, “Hey, I’ll go network here,” and then you get in and you’re like, “This isn’t for me,” and you had to kind of start over and go try something different.

[00:07:03] DZ: Yeah, lots of times. When I got started, I just went on an Eventbrite and went to every networking event that they had listed on there. In any sort of industry via technology, especially heavy here in Austin, or business, or a gambit of things, from coffees to after-hour drinks, it took me at least four or five months to find you know ACG , which was the right room for me, where I felt that was a room filled with people who had the opposite orientation who are really generally looking for people to connect with, develop relationships, get to know each other and see what business could be done afterwards.

[00:07:43] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast.

[00:07:52] AD: Let’s jump on to another benefit of networking. And you think you call it job security. And that can be taken a lot of different ways. But can you share your thoughts around how networking has led to job security for you?

[00:08:06] DZ: Yeah. So early on in my career, one of my very first professional jobs, I had a mentor there who was towards the end of his career who had been kind of through the gambit and seen everything and would tell stories of like, “Look, been at companies who record profits one year and out of business the next year.” And he defined job security as always knowing you have another job. It used to might mean loyalty to one particular company for decades at a time. But in a network world of today, that’s no longer the case. And so meeting other people in the field you like to work with and then finding ways to work with them has been super effective. Like at the moment right now, if someone got hit by a bus or things went belly up, I could call several people and have interviews the very next day. I think that’s what job security means.

[00:08:57] AD: For our listeners, I think that is such a fundamental aspect, is saying, “Listen, having option value built into your life is one of the best things you can do for yourself. And having that network and those relationships really does build in some of that option value.” And whether that’s because you’re leaving a job because either, A, you’re not happy, or it’s not the right fit, or something happens within the organization and it no longer exists. And recognizing that jobs are typically, especially in professional services, they’re largely filled by people who know the right people, right?

I reflect back to my days in investment banking. We would put a job posting out and we would get a lot of resumes in and get 100 resumes for a single job. I’m not looking through 100 resumes. Rather it’s probably the one guy that I met at a networking event or that has continually reached out and stayed in touch. I’m like, “Let’s talk to him. Let’s bring him in,” right? And that’s how those things happen. Or to your point where you could make a phone call and say, “Hey, I’m out of a job, or X, Y, Z happened,” whatever it might be and say, “I’m looking. Is there any room for me?” And if you have those established relationships, that goes a long ways.

[00:10:09] DZ: Yeah. I think a lot of people don’t understand when they’re job hunting what it’s like for hiring managers who are receiving hundreds of resumes almost every day that look nearly identical to each other, right? It’s this large amount of information. They become overwhelmed, and then they need to apply some sort of filter to narrow down candidates. And then you get all these artificial barriers, right? Like there’s a simple spelling mistake because they just need any mechanism possible to narrow down that list even you might be a great candidate. And what usually happens is you’re going to go with the people you already know in your own network or/and somebody one degree removed, right? Because those are the people you tend to want to work with anyways. Because if you get somebody who’s very technically talented but doesn’t have the right attitude, that’s a really bad situation and it’s not going to end up working out. So if people have the same amount of technical ability or nearly the same, you’re always going to go with the person you either know or like to work with them.

[00:11:10] AD: Well. Two things there, one, if you are from what I’ll call non-traditional pathway to your career, or you went to a non-target school. I certainly did not have a traditional path. When you are trying to find someone, as you said, that’s a quick way to filter out that resume. You’re just not going to boil to the top. But if you have a relationship with somebody, that’s how you get your foot in the door and that’s how you get to sit in front of that person and get the interview. And really it can come down to how you perform and how you actually present when you sit across the table from someone. But you may not even get that interview if you don’t have those relationships to begin with.

And then let’s step back and also talk about this. Our listeners, where we really focus in here is the middle market professional. Most firms in this space are small. They are – I mean how many people work in your organization?

[00:12:06] DZ: About eight to ten.

[00:12:08] AD: So do you have a hiring manager? Do you have a full-time HR person, right? When they want to hire someone they say, “Hey, Dillon. You got anyone you think that might be a good fit for this?” Right? I mean that’s how hiring is done in smaller firms, because there isn’t a dedicated person that is reviewing all the resumes or is putting that time in, which makes it that much more important to have those established relationships in firms like that.

[00:12:33] DZ: Yeah. So person like me, I went to school for biochemistry and history. Got into heavy industrial design and worked at a manufacturing firm for several years. And now I’m doing management consulting at a firm I absolutely love. But I would have never been able to get through the front door on my resume algorithm. It was purely based on knowing the people, wanting to work with them and then wanting to work with me and willing to train me along the way to get me up to speed.

[00:12:59] AD: And I’m sure you can relate to this. It wasn’t knowing the people in the sense of, “Well, I called them once, or I had coffee with someone one time. And, oh, that’s how the relationship happened.” It’s something where you had to be intentional to build those relationships and to foster them. And again, you don’t know which relationship is going to be the one that really helps you. So that’s where you need to have that broad network and spend that time building those out from day one, because you never know where that’s going to come back to be extremely beneficial to you.

[00:13:32] DZ: Yeah. The person who brought me on, I known him for about four to five years before I got brought in. I had been looking for new work at the old firm for at least a year, a year and a half before even talking to him. I didn’t even know the field even existed of this subset of management consulting until we had the first discussion and then, “What is this I want in? What do I need to do?” And six months later they hired me.

[00:14:03] AD: Love it. No. Again, it goes back to the value of why you need to be out there networking and building those relationships. So now, Dillon, you also say that there are personal reasons to network. Can you share some of your thoughts about where there are personal reasons and personal benefits in networking as a professional?

[00:14:23] DZ: Yeah. I think people my generation, millennials, we’re known as the loneliest generation as it were because of a lack of meaningful social connections. Our great-grandparents had on average four very close friends, and our generation has close to one, if that. And I think that has a lot to do with this apprehension of going out and meeting people especially in a business context, right? Networking gets a lot of bad connotations with it or somewhat deserves somewhat, not deserved, depending on where you’ve been and what your experiences are.

And so I think there’s a great deal to be benefited of going out and meeting people where business is kind of the mutual concern or the mutual connection on the reason why you’re meeting to begin with. And there was this study done by the MIT Media Lab that’s discussing how people acquire new skills. There’s hanging out. There’s messing around and then there’s geeking out on a subject. So those hanging out with your friends about, say, playing chess. There’s messing around, which mean you’re studying it intensely, going to tournaments. And then geeking out would be like, “All right, I want to meet the best in the best of the field. I want to meet all the star players.” The only way to do that is to leave your social circle and talking to them and developing relationships with them. And then those people end up becoming your friends over the long term. And I think that’s highly personally beneficial and also professionally beneficial.

[00:15:59] AD: A few things I want to unpack there. One, recognize that especially if you are a professional who moved to a new city or you’re in a different area where you don’t necessarily have that social circle and that friend circle there, and I was one of them, right? When I moved into the Metro Detroit area, I knew literally no one. And I’ve built a friend base here in my network purely from a professional standpoint that those people have become genuine friends to me.

Now the second side of that where you brought up the MIT study, and again we’ll link that in the show notes here for our listeners. But if you want to really excel in your career as a professional, there is absolutely a value in building relationships with other people who also want to excel in their career. Other people who are top of their game, and your existing social circle might not allow for that. And this is really hard to say. And listen, there’s no right answer to this and there’s no one cookie cutter approach. But there are times in our lives where you have to let go of past relationships to make room for new relationships that are going to be much more beneficial to you in the long run. And if you don’t spend that time trying to go and find those new relationships and build and foster them and make room for it, then how is that ever going to happen?

[00:17:22] DZ: Yeah, precisely. I think most friendships kind of have a natural life cycle of their own, right? People’s lives change. Some have children. Some move away. Professional obligations can become overbearing. And so most friendships only last a handful of years. And so constantly developing new ones and meeting other people who are growing along with you is going to be necessary for your personal satisfaction. If you’re only losing friends and not getting new ones, then you very quickly don’t have any friends.

[00:17:55] AD: And that’s a really good point there, right? In talking about this purely on a social friendship level, friendships and relationships, not all, but some have a life cycle behind them. I would say all do have a life cycle. Some have a much longer life cycle than others because of different dynamics. But when you don’t intentionally go out and continue to foster and build relationships, you can wake up one day and all of a sudden realize, “Well, I don’t really have any friends around me.”

And it actually reminds me of there’s a podcast by NPR, Hidden Brain, one of my favorite podcasts. Again, we’ll link that in the show notes here. And there’s one called The Lonely American Man, and it does talk about men in their 40s and 50s how lonely in America they can tend to become because career and home life take over everything and there isn’t necessarily a personal social friendship level built in there. Networking can give that to you if you go out and build that, right?  You start in a professional setting because we’re professionals. So it’s easy to talk in that business context and build that, but that’s how you build those relationships. And then you find time to go spend with those people where you’re not necessarily talking about business, where you’re just genuinely friends with them. If, again, you do that early in your career and keep a focus on that, that’s how you get later in your career and in life and have a social circle and have friends so you aren’t ultimately that lonely individual out there.

[00:19:21] DZ: Yeah. I think another aspect to it is the more connected people are, the happier they tend to be. And the study of their unhappiness about that is it’s actually more impactful to somebody’s happiness than earning more money.

[00:19:35] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle market professionals.

[00:19:43] AD: Let’s jump on to the last part here; lifelong learning and access to information. How does networking help you with that?

[00:19:51] DZ: Yeah. So think about the way you’re getting new information these days. So let’s say it’s Twitter, right? All those messages are highly curated. And so let’s say you’re reading the news. That’s a bit more in-depth. But yet, again, it’s getting filtered through a medium or any marry source of the reporter and you’re not getting a direct access to the person themselves. And what people are willing to say publicly versus what they’re saying privately are going to be vastly worlds apart. So the only way to really get a true access to information is by talking to people themselves, and the only way to do that is if you actually know those people to talk to.

In networking on a daily basis and running into other professionals in the field, I get to have conversation after conversation of what’s going on. What are you up to? What are you seeing? Getting all that real-time market feedback that you just can’t get anywhere else.

[00:20:46] AD: couple important points here. One, I don’t want to discount the value of reading books and of other content sources, because there are certainly some great ones out there. But it’s not the same as talking in a feedback loop with another human where it’s you say something, they say something, right? And there’s a level of conversation, as you said, knowledge and information that will come out of that. And whether that’d be a deep intellectual conversation or something like even what we’re doing here in the podcast where we’re peeling things back and getting to kind of a deeper level of thought, or if that is as simple as, “Hey, what are you seeing in the marketplace? Or how do you think about this?”

If you don’t get other people’s thoughts and perspectives and really have that ability to cycle through that kind of feedback loop from one person to another, how are you going to develop those thoughts? Where are they going to come from to begin with, right? And that’s how you ultimately accumulate the knowledge.

[00:21:40] DZ: Yeah. The way I think about it is it’s a 90/10 split. And I don’t have any backing of this. This is just my thought process, is that all recorded information is only going to comprise about 10% of all knowledge. And the reason I think that is, the only people – There are thousands upon thousands of people in a particular field, but how many of them are writing their thoughts down? One or two people that are the main people in the field? How many people are public speaking yet again? It’s only a person or two. So that’s the total amount of information that’s actually being recorded. The other 90% is in people’s minds that don’t want to talk, public speak, or write books, or tweet, or write articles, or talk to reporters, and they are the ones closest to the problems usually. They have the most up-to-date information. And as the market changes, as conditions change, they’re changing with it. And so you have to know those people and talk to them to get that sort of information.

[00:22:41] AD: You make such a good point there, and I’ll share even just a little my own experience around this. So I spend my days and a good chunk of my weeks doing virtual coffees in some level of networking, right? Obviously in the COVID world, we’re mostly behind a camera at this point. But for myself personally, when I’m going out and having these conversations and talking to person after person, and not talking about direct business, but just, “How are you? Or what do you think about this?” Number of takeaways I get every week, the number of new thoughts that come to mind, the level of insight and perspective that I am able to bring is unbelievably better.

Now what I would also challenge or recommend our listeners to go do, go create a kind of circle of professionals that you talk to maybe on a monthly basis, whether that’d be in a group or in a one-to-one, and just talk about what’s going on in your career. What’s going on in the world, right? Because that’s how you help get and build those thoughts. And then ultimately synthesize them into more valuable knowledge information that you can use in your career to serve your clients or for yourself personally just to be a more educated person.

[00:23:50] DZ: Yeah, for sure. I mean keep up with the people you’ve already met. Don’t just meet people and then have the relationship end there. Constantly follow up and see how they’re doing. Develop that from a business relationship into a personal relationship.

[00:24:06] AD: So right there. So last question for you here, Dillon, if you step back and say, “Okay, you’ve been doing this for a handful of years, and I’m sure there’re some challenges that you’ve had to overcome in recent memory. What would those challenges be and how would you recommend somebody overcome those same challenges now that you look back at it in retrospect?

[00:24:28] DZ: Biggest thing that comes to mind most recently is no longer being able to network in a physical space, right? Having to move networking online, meeting people online and having that being the primary means of developing relationships. And when the crisis hit, I just stepped back from networking completely for at least two to three weeks and it was just like, “Okay, what’s going to happen now?” And then realizing everyone else is in the same boat with me. Let’s see what happens if I just start calling people or cold contacting people through email, which is something I was doing a little bit beforehand, but now just did it as the primary thing, and a lot of it, right? So sending out 30+ emails a week, turning that into phone calls, and people were really responsive to that, and I highly recommend other people do that or reach out to me for a phone call.

[00:25:25] AD: Well, one, we’ll make sure your LinkedIn will be linked within the show notes here. So everybody listening, make sure reach out to Dillon, build a relationship there, expand your network. But what I really like that you said there, and COVID has taught me this as much as anybody else right now, we obviously are in a world where we can’t be doing face-to-face networking and we’re not able to have the large gatherings. That doesn’t mean that you can’t still be networking and growing your network and making new connections and fostering and building the ones that you currently have. Networking is something that should be done continuously and as a fundamental aspect of your career and of your life in building those relationships. You should not look at it as I only am networking when I’m going to networking events. That’s not how networking runs. That may be a great venue or a great platform to meet new people, and I love those as much as anybody else, but that is not the only way to be out there networking.

Dillon, I really appreciate having you here today. This has been a great conversation. Really hope that our listeners walk away thinking a little bit differently about networking and learning how to make that a core fundamental of what they do as a professional. Thank you again.

[00:26:35] DZ: Yeah, this is fantastic. Thanks for the time.

[00:26:38] AD: Awesome, thanks Dillon.

[00:26:40] ANNOUNCER: Thank you for tuning in this week. Share this podcast with your professional network to help others connect, grow and excel. Like what you hear? Leave us a review and don’t forget to subscribe now.

[END]