Putting Work Relationships to Work

Yesterday I interviewed another amazing 40-something woman, a divorced mom of 3 and business owner who has taken charge of her life and is happy in her skin. So many people say comfortable in your skin but some women go beyond that to be happy in their skin. But before I diverge, today I’m focusing on some career advice she imparted.


As we were ending lunch she told me the story of some 20-somethings she teaches. She runs her own event planning company and teaches a class on Special Events Management. She commented towards the end of our lunch that many young people still don’t get the importance of relationships. She stresses the importance of building relationships in her class, having spent 20 successful years in the business learning just how important they are. But surprisingly, even these aspiring event planners don’t always get it. One student asked her for all of her contacts and resources, expecting to start up her own business immediately. The prof was a bit dumbfounded. She thought, “You can have the contacts but you have to earn the relationships. Better off to have built an on-going relationship with me than asking to take my contacts and go.”


She tested her theory. She had an important speaker to the class…clearly a great connection for someone seeking a job in this sector. The following class she asked her students how many had emailed and thanked the speaker. No one had. A missed opportunity to develop a relationship. Were they just not that into it? Did they think they didn’t need it…or did they think this “important” person wouldn’t want to hear from them? Not sure. The lesson. Never underestimate the importance of relationships. No matter how well you do in school, or how good you are at what you do, they matter. So many 40 year old women recognize this.


In today”s tough job market don’t hesitate to tell anyone you meet that you are looking for a job. It’s an open market these days. You don’t need to be secretive about the fact you’re looking. You don’t have to be obvious but you can drop it naturally into the conversation and show yourself in a good light. I’ve heard stories of jobs found from an elevator conversation with a stranger, over playing pool at a bar while passing time on a wedding weekend to an airplane ride or barbecue. You just never know.

Of course the same works for leaving a job. Never leave a job without taking some relationships with you. This 40-something marketing exec has some great perspective on the value of keeping relationships beyond your current job:

“I think I put more importance on relationships now. And I don’t mean the quick email thing. I think it’s super important in your twenties to think through what relationships really matter to you and cultivate enough of those relationships. At the end of the day, quality of work is somewhat subjective and will only get you so far. I don’t mean from a politics perspective but from a growth perspective. Cultivate those relationships. People that you can help or who can help you. Seek the types of relationships that will last after either of you leave. You can still keep in touch and help each other. Make as much time or more time to do that as you do your “work”  That’s work. Value that as work as much as like delivering the thing on time.

That’s something I’ve learned overtime. The important relationships both inside and outside your company will help you become more successful and make you happier than any single project.  So I can talk about my careers achievements and I can talk about other things. At the end of the day… that’s all important but it’s not enough. You need to be able to do those things but also cultivate these relationships some time.

Maybe people would say people in their twenties today would naturally put a value on that but I’m not sure because I also see a lot of superficialness too. Cultivate real relationships at work. I think it’s important.” — 40-something, marketing executive, San Francisco, CA

This 40-something woman in PR learned networking goes both way:

“Don’t forget to cultivate great relationships and friendships with recruiters. Because then anytime they have something they will think of you first. I got a series of jobs through a recruiter who became a friend. I would treat her like a friend and not just like a business like “I want this from you” and it’s transactional. And don’t just develop relationships that help you. Help others. I helped some younger women I worked with find other jobs. I think if you’re looking out for other people, then the karma tends to come back to you. I’m a big believer in Karma.” — 40-something, PR exec, New York, NY


Never be afraid to thank someone or ask someone for help. Don’t just rely on mentor programs at work. Develop your own mentors. Earn the respect of someone you respect and form a natural connection and they will want to help. Most women say it’s as easy as asking a few questions.  How did you start out in the business? What did you do? Tell me your experiences? Almost anyone will want to answer you I have found. From there it will grow.

In the end, think about your career karma. The relationships you develop now will go a lot farther than you think.


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