The best career move high school seniors should make right now.

Most high school seniors will graduate within the next 30 days. High school commencement is one of the most exciting events in a human’s life. And with good reason. The best, most interesting chapters of your story start after high school. Unless, of course, you were in an epic high school-based movie. In which case, it’s all down hill from here.  (You can check the 50 Greatest High School Movies of all time here to make sure you weren’t in one).

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An Open Letter to High School Seniors.

Dear Seniors,

Four to ten years from now, when you graduate from college, finish your military obligations, or give up on your Hollywood/Nashville/Lottery dream, you will start focusing on your real career. When you do, everyone will tell you that you need to start building your network.

But they are wrong. You need to start building your network now. So before you throw your binders in the trash, your graduation cap in the air, and carve your initials into he wood paneling of the senior lounge, you should start building your professional network.

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WTF Is A Professional Network?

Your professional network is a collection of the people you know that may be able to positively impact your professional career. The people in your network, or community, will be able to help with career advice, finding a job, and connecting you to other people and businesses that are important to your career advancement. You will also be expected to provide the same sort of help for others in your network. Because it takes a village to keep a child from moving back into their parents’ basement.

So Who Are My Connections?

Your connections are your friends, your family members and your teachers. Your connections are your friends’ parents. They are the adults you know from church, and the extra curricular activities you’ve participated in. They are the kids you competed both with, and against, in sports. They are the kids you know from camp (like that one quirky girl who played the flute).

Starting A Connection Collection.

The best career move high school seniors should make right now is to create a profile on  LinkedIn, and start collecting your connections. LinkedIn is an online social networking site for the business community. And right now, before you graduate, is the best time to start collecting your network. By starting now, you will collect the most connections. And the more connections you properly maintain, the stronger your network will be. It’s kinda like being popular in high school. Only this type of popularity can dramatically impact your salary (your salary is the adult version of an allowance).

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Grow As You Go

You will want to continue collecting your friends and acquaintances throughout college, trade school, military service, or your creative exploratory period. Every time you meet someone new, don’t just think about adding them to Snap or Insta.  Sure, do that too. But definitely add them to LinkedIn. Granted, the filters on LinkedIn aren’t as good as Snapchat. But having a good job makes you look better than any photographic editing or augmented reality can.

It’s All About The Network, (and the Benjamins)

Eventually everyone is going to tell you to network and build your network, and that it is all about your network. That’s just an adult way of saying:

Stay in touch with the people you know, because it will connect you to opportunities, advice and endorsements that will prove highly beneficial down the road.

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Why Start As A High School Senior?

You know a lot of people now that you are going to forget. Those kids you go to school with are going to do amazing things with remarkable organizations. And they are going to have opportunities for you, if you stay in touch. You are also going to have opportunities for them. Even better, in the real world, there are things called referral bonuses. Which means you can make extra money for helping your organization find good talent. #chaching

Monitoring Your Classmates

Adding your friends to LinkedIn is like putting a tracking device on them. It will allow you to collect intel on each person, like where they went to school, what they majored in, and where they worked after college.

It also puts a tracking device on you, so that others will remember your educational track, your career path and your special interests and activities. That way your connections will know when their opportunities cross paths with your skills, interests and abilities.

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The Adult Rock Stars Around You

Your neighbors, teachers and friends’ parents are more successful and connected than you know. Four or five years from now you could end up in a job interview with them. Or with their friends or relatives. When that happens, you will want every advantage you can get. Like a good endorsement from someone who knew you were always such a good kid. You were always such a good kid, right?

Trust Me. I Know.

I started my career in advertising as a copywriter. But I always envisioned becoming an entrepreneur and someday starting my own ad agency. Twenty years later, that’s exactly what I did. In 2016 I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry.

You know who my very first client was? My friend Dan Richards, whom I have known since 7th grade. Dan is the Founder and  CEO of a badass company called Global Rescue.  Which means that Dan and I went from high school classmates, and football and track teammates, to trusted business partners. We have helped each other launch companies, and have exchanged hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of services.

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Key Takeaway

They say the best day to plant a tree is 20 years ago. And the second best day is today. The  same holds true for building your network. Start now by collecting your connections before you leave high school. But if you are already in college, serving your country, or in the workforce, and you haven’t been building your network, start today.

There are amazingly talented people all around you. So start collecting them today. It’s the very best way to assure an abundance of everything you will need later in your career. By doing so may help one of your high school classmates find their dream job. Or launch their own business. I know. Because it happened to me.

-Adam Albrecht

Founder & CEO of The Weaponry


*If you know a high school senior who is about to leave the nest, please share this post with them. If you are a teacher wondering how to keep your students’ attention over the last few days, consider sharing this with your class. And if you want to connect with me, I’d love that. But you might want to read this post I wrote about connecting on LinkedIn first.

 

 

 

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You are NEVER going to be in my network unless you do this first.

LinkedIn is an amazing professional resource. It’s offers a great way to further your professional development through education and association. Thank you Reid Hoffman for creating LinkedIn. But I’m sorry to say that I wouldn’t accept a LinkedIn request from you. I get requests from people wanting to join my network almost every day. But I have a clear philosophy that guides my networking on the platform. It goes like this:

I only Link In with you if I know you.

I can’t tell if this is a really simple and obvious philosophy, or if it is a radical departure from the norm. But I am always surprised by how many requests I get with absolutely no introduction or context as to why we should be LinkedIn. I find this very odd. Which is only surpassed in oddness by people who send me an introductory note trying to sell me something. I hate that. It’s like be approached by a stranger whose opening line to you is, ‘Hey! Let’s have sex.’ It tells me everything I need to know about you. And your sex.

My Network As A Garden

I think of my LinkedIn network as a garden. Everyone in my LinkedIn garden is there because I planted them. So if anyone in my garden says, ‘Hey Adam, (yes, these are talking plants) I see there is a Bob Smith growing in this garden. Tell me about Bob.’ I say, ‘Ah, Bobby is one of my college track & field teammates. He grew up in little Marshall, Wisconsin, near Madison. He used to raise ferrets, and he could put the shot farther than most people can throw a fit. He is an art teacher. And he makes amazing pottery. I own two of his pieces.’ Suddenly Bob Smith goes from the most generic name in America to a specific human with colorful details.

What strangers need to do first.

I want to be able to vouch for everyone in my network. Including you. It’s how my network becomes valuable. This doesn’t mean that we can’t meet and develop a relationship on LinkedIn. But if you want to join my collection of professional contacts, we must have contact first.

Here’s how it works.

  1. You send me a LinkedIn request.
  2. You add a note about why you think it would be good to connect.
  3. We set up a call or a chocolate milk meeting (I don’t drink coffee).
  4. We talk, and you don’t try to sell me anything or exhibit psychologically deviant behavior.
  5. I accept your LinkedIn request.

This process works because I make connections quickly. I can learn a lot about you in an initial conversation. Then, when someone in my network asks me about you I can share your story.

The Right Way.

Here is a request I received recently. It is a great example of the right way to introduce yourself to a stranger on LinkedIn:

Adam -We don’t know each other, yet. I moved here from Minneapolis and I am hoping to connect with a few fun people. My sister-in-law sent me your blog. You seem fun. -Jennifer

This stared a dialog. I discovered that Jennifer is related to one of my former coworkers (that’s co-worker, not cow orker). I have invited her to stop by The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, for an introduction. After that, we can be LinkedIn.

Key Takeaway

Don’t let just anyone into your professional network on LinkedIn. It devalues your network because there is nothing that distinguishes those inside your group from those outside your group. When you are sending LinkedIn request don’t be lazy. Don’t be random. Be purposeful and personal with your introductions. And for Reid’s sake, please don’t try to sell anything in your intro. It’s a turnoff.

Do you have a LinkedIn philosophy? Please share it in the comments section. If you want to know my other philosophies consider subscribing to this blog. If you want to know about my philosophy that Vanilla Ice tweeted about, click here.

A creative ice breaker to get people talking.

It’s always interesting to observe the social dynamics at play when a group of strangers gather. When I am in business meetings, at parties, on planes and at the gym, I like to convert strangers into friends. Simple conversation is the key to this social alchemy. As the founder of the advertsing agency The Weaponry, I know how conversation and rappoire enhance creative ideation, customer service and networking. But getting strangers to talk (without waterboarding) isn’t always easy. But there’s a simple technique that works like magic. And I have been using it since college.

Gotta Go Back In Time.

When I was in school at the University of Wisconsin I lived with a really fun group of Badgers. Slosh, Boo, Hammer and Jacquer. We had a lot of great parties at 1117 Mound Street.  In fact, at our very first party we had the police come to our house at 4 o’clock in the norning (somewhere between night and morning). At another party we had to turn the music off for fear that the massive dance party in our living room was about to crash through the under-equipped floor, and become a deposit-erasing dance party in our basement. We knew how to have a great time.

One of our favorite party games involved name tags. We would hand out tags to all party-goers as they arrived, with just one simple rule:

Write anything you want on your name tag, except your name.

There is simply nothing better at getting people to talk to each other than an interesting, non-named name tag. It’s a fascinating study in psychology, sociology and creativity. The more fun you have with it the better it works. Be sure to tailor your non-name to the type of event you are attending. An interesting nickname, pick-up line, icon in pop culture, or the start of a joke can all work. Names like Knock Knock, Mime, My Little Friend (people always Say Hello to you) are proven, G-Rated winners. My great friend Betty Garrot, often reminds me that when we first met my name tag said, Person of Interest. 

I forgot to mention, I play this game at gatherings now, even when I am the only one playing. Because it works that well. In fact, if I was to open a new bar, I  would call the place, “Hello, My name is…” and implement this time-tested, conversation-sparking technique.

So buy a stack of name tags, have more fun and get more people talking at your next work party, social gathering, mixer, professional event, or wedding (I’m not encouraging you to have more than one wedding).  If you have a great ice breaker that I should know about, please share it in the comment section below. Or is it comments section? Or does it depend on how many comments there are? I don’t really know.

The simple way to make anyone feel like an insider.

I want you to try an experiment. Over the next 24 hours note how many people you encounter that you don’t know. I warn you, it may freak you out. Most of us live anonymously in a sea of strangers. They are everywhere. Like minivans. Yet we have become immune to these strangers that surround us. It’s as if they disappear when we ignore them. Like reality TV stars.

I was reminded of my own anonimity recently at my gym. After I scanned my membership card, the guy who routinely works at the reception desk said, “Have a good day, man”. A normal person would have just done what they were told, and had a nice day. But instead, I had a flashback to college…

It was my freshman year at the University of Wisconsin. I was on the track team, and was lifting weights in the weight room (research indicates that’s the best place for such activities). One of the football players who I saw regularly walked through the room. When he passed by he said, “Hey! What’s up man?”  I replied with something like, “Hey, Man. What’s up?’ I thought nothing of it.

But then he stopped and asked, ‘What your name?’

I said, ‘Adam’ (that’s my go-to answer).

We shook hands.

He said “My name’s Aaron. Enough of this bullshit, saying, “Hey man.” or “What’s up bro?” F-that! I see you in here every day.  We should know each other’s names!’

Aaron ‘Scrappy’ Norvell was right. It was bullshit that we would repeatedly see each other, even greet each other, and not know each other’s names. After this introduction he was no longer a guy I saw. He was a guy I knew. The difference is profound.

I expect I wasn’t the only person Scrappy made an effort to get to know by name (he currently has 4,912 friends on Facebook).  He is  funny, outgoing and entertaining. We would see a lot of each other over the next few years in Madison. Today, he is an actor in Hollywood.  If you ever need to cast a police officer, Obama look-a-like, former college linebacker, or someone who can deliver the line, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’ he is your guy.

Now, back to the story…

With this random flashback playing in my head, I asked the guy working the counter at Elite Sports Club, “What’s your name?’  He replied, ‘Andrew’. I said, ‘My name is Adam’ (that’s my go to).  We shook hands. Now, every time I walk into the gym we greet each other by name. We have real conversations. Instead of an awkward, “Hey-Man” relationship.

Insiders vs Outsiders

Everyone we encounter in business, at social gatherings and at the grocery store are either Insiders or Outsiders.  The difference is whether or not we know each other by name.  That sense of familiarity and friendship that can only develop once you know a person’s name makes an enormous difference on this planet, where we are so often surrounded by John and Jane Does (that was supposed to be Doe-plural. But it looks like does, doesn’t it?).

I think about names at work. At the advertising agency, The Weaponry, we encounter people when we visit our clients that we don’t have to know by name. The receptionists. The people who sit next to the conference rooms where we make too much noise.  The IT person who inevitably saves every presentation. But I want to meet them too. So I make a habit of introducing myself, by name. Suddenly we are not just people who see each other regularly. We become people who know each other, by name.

I encourage you to convert more of those people you see or say hello to regularly into people you really know by name. It’s easy. Introduce yourself, by name and ask for their name in return. Write the names down. Start a list with a description of who they are on your phone or in a notebook. Refer back to the list as neccesary. The rewards are profound.  Just ask Andrew from Elite. Or Norm from Cheers.

The one thing you need to know to effectively work a room.

We’ve all been told not to talk to strangers. But I love strangers. The stranger the better. This may be because I have moved a lot. Which means I’ve often found myself amongst people I don’t know. But most people are less comfortable with total strangers than I am. This is probably a good human survival mechanism. A mechanism I lack.

As the Founder of The Weaponry, I know that the ability to talk to strangers is critical for entrepreneurs. If you don’t talk to strangers you are not growing your business. Or helping  anyone else grow theirs. When I meet a potential new client, it is our ability to connect as humans first that leads to us working together.

I believe in building on my strengths. So recently I listened to the audio book How To Work A Room by Susan RoAne.  I figured I would find a valuable new nugget or two.  And I did.

The most important thing I learned from the book is this:

When people find themselves with other people they don’t know, they adopt one of two behaviors:  1. A guest mindset. or 2. A host mindset.

The guest mindset adopts the attitude of the outsider, of the person who waits for others to make the first move. They wait to be introduced, or welcomed or fed. They wait to join or participate until they receive an invitation. If you have a party full of guest-mindsets, you don’t have a party.

The host mindset means you initiate. You welcome others, introduce them, offer them food or drink or a crack at catching the greased pig (depending on what kind of event you typically attend).  You activate the party. If you want to feel at home and enjoy any group of strangers, take on a host mindset.

This is what I do. I just didn’t have a name for it. I don’t wait for someone else to decide whether or not I am worthy to talk to (I probably am not).  I make the first move. I create the introduction. I act as if it were my job to make people feel welcomed.

I’ve found that when you don’t worry about rejection you don’t get rejected. Think of it like a Junior High dance. You just have to walk up to someone and say, ‘Stairway to Heaven is a sweet tune. Let’s dance. And let’s not worry about the fact that this song will gradually speed up, and we’re going to go from a slow dance into a full-on rock song, and we won’t know when we should stop holding on to each other.’ Remember the Stairway analogy. Because holding on to one person too long at a social gathering also becomes awkward.

If you want to enjoy a room full of strangers more, lose the Stranger Danger, and act like it’s your party, your wedding, your conference or luncheon.  Start by introducing yourself to others. Ask people about themselves. So, where are you from? What do you do for work? Where did you go to school?  How do you know the homeowner?  Why are your palms so sweaty?  Why the neck tatttoo?

There are people at every gathering who are just dying for someone else to make the first move. They don’t know they should be doing it. Because they never read this blog. Or How To Work A Room. Or danced with me in Junior High. Help them out. Be a host. They may be extremely interesting or valuable to you. They’re just not comfortable initiating. So you have to be. And you’ll enjoy the rewards.  You never know when that total stranger may have the kindness, connection or kidney you need.

An easy way to make a memorable impression in the next hour.

 

I’m starting a new series called, “What are you doing with your blank?” I will pick a different blank for each post. You’re probably wondering, ‘What the blank is a blank?’ Blanks are the thousands of things in our lives that we could each make more interesting and distinct with a tiny bit of effort. Just ask athletes Ocho Cinco and Metta World Peace.

Today’s blank is: voicemail message. (So the question is ‘What are you doing with your voicemail message?’) Your voicemail message impacts your personal brand or your business (and probably both) whether you make an effort or not. Yet most people completely ignore these valuable messages. If you have chosen the default setting on your phone, you are hanging up on the opportunity to make a strong, favorable brand impression.

I’ve been having fun with my voicemail messages since they were called answering machine messages. Maybe too much fun. When I was in college, my roommates and I were recording an enthusiastic voicemail message at 4:00am, when Police Officer Buzzkill banged on our door to tell us they had received noise complaints ‘down at the Cop Shop.’

At The Perfect Agency Project we believe there is great value in unique, memorable or funny voicemail messages. Partially because they are so surprising. Our voicemail expectation are so low that it is easier to jump over the voicemail message bar than to limbo under it.

Last night I got a text from Monica Baer, a former coworker of mine from Cramer Krasselt.  The text read:

Hey, I’m going to call your vm so my kids can hear it :). Don’t pick up.

Does that happen to you?  Probably not. Could it?  Absolutely. Offer a message that will put a smile on your caller’s face. Make them feel important, give them a great quote, a piece of trivia or useful information. If you do, they’ll be happy they called.  Maybe they will even be a little disappointed when they get you instead of your interesting recording.

A memorable voicemail message is also free. It costs no more to create a great, value-adding, entertaining message than to leave no message at all. You can also update messages to match the weather, holidays or major events. You can tout business awards and successes. You could even use your voicemail message to tell callers about an interesting blog post you read about voicemail messages.

I often offer a voicemail promotion, offering a faster call back if the caller performers a specific request, like yodeling. I’ve asked callers to sing their voicemail messages. Think,  The Voice: Voicemail Edition.

Don’t be afraid to try. The great thing about unique voicemail messages is that they can be changed at any point. So try different messages and learn what works well for you and your brand. Just keep it relatively brief.

If you would like to hear my voicemail message give me a call. You can always text me first to tell me you want to hear my VM, so I know not to pick up. My number is 614-256-2850. Don’t be afraid to say hi. I look forward to your message.

How Mark Zuckerberg helped me put my life back together.

Some people live their entire lives in one nest. You know the type. You can see the hospital where they were born, their high school, their first job, their bowling alley and their nursing home all from the highest point in town. That’s not me. Life has been an exciting adventure of change from the jump. I lived in five states by the time I started 7th grade. I went to college 1000 miles from home. And I have traded license plates many times since graduation. #WitnessProtectionProgram.

I love my nomadic lifestyle. I have been exposed to traditions, foods, history, religion, weather and sports from a wide variety of angles. This has been a blessing for a creative professional. The one oddity, is that for a very long time, when I changed chapters, I would never see or hear from people in the previous chapter again.

But in 2007 that all changed. Because of Facebook. That thing that we so often take for granted as a silly time waster, quite literally changed my life. It allowed me to reconnect with childhood friends and neighbors from New Jersey, Wisconsin, Missouri, Vermont and New Hampshire.  Then I was able to find classmates from The University of Wisconsin. And coworkers from Cramer Krasselt, and Engauge. (Ohio, Georgia and Moxie/Publicis Groupe were added later).

I reconnected with clients and vendors. Neighbors and distant relatives. And people I’ve met at parties and on planes (I’ve met a lot of people on planes). Suddenly, I stopped losing track of people. As a people collector and connector I no longer have to box friends up and store them on a shelf every time I move or change jobs. Now I can play with them whenever I want.

Of course there is LinkedIn too. Which I love. The great Link-A-Roo has allowed me to reconnect and collect people in another, more quasi professional way. (The quasi is all me LinkedIn. You have been nothing but professional). I recently discovered that my friend Nissa Kubly (UW Track) and Cher Fesenmaier (cousin) both work at the same high school in Phoenix.  One of the craziest connections that I discovered through LinkedIn is that three of my friends, Neil Miklusak (college buddy from Wisconsin), Audrey Lowder (former co-worker at Engauge in Atlanta) and Erika O’Toole (we met on a flight to NYC) all work together, in the Empire State Building, at LinkedIn!

The simple fact is that if it were not for Facebook and other social platforms I would likely never see, or have any interactions with the majority of my friends and Linkys ever again. (I don’t know what you actually call a person on LinkedIn. Linkletters? Linkins? Linklings?

As I have started The Perfect Agency Project, my connections have become even more important. I am always looking for ideas, support and people to join the project.  Over the past few months, thanks to my online network, I have reconnected in person with dozens of people I hadn’t seen in 10 to 30 years. That’s cray.

So thank you to Mark Zuckerberg for allowing me to have my personal “This is your life’ moments every day. It is absolutely mind-blowing to think I may never lose a friend again. Except maybe Alex ‘Big Drawz’ Mautz, my college track teammate who moved to San Diego and must enjoy such perfect weather that he never needs to connect to the rest of us.

As a fun demonstration of the topic of this post, and to see who, if any of my people read this all the way to the end, I would love for you to share a word or a sentence about how we know each other. Thanks for playing.