I felt golden.
I’d got a fully paid graduate job while doing my thesis at a major marketing company – a job many of my peers would kill for.
Then it happened.
Just a few weeks before I was supposed to start working, suddenly the HR person I’d been in contact with told me that due to the major restructuring going on in the company there was no longer any spot there for me.
Ouch. That came like a punch to the stomach. I’d spent months on getting that job and I’d fixed it far ahead of time for my thesis.
I figured I was safe, but I was wrong – big time.
This whole thing made me rather upset and disappointed at first…
But instead of crying about it I asked myself:
What can I learn from this experience?
I learned that nothing is ever safe. Nothing is for certain until it has actually gone down.
I then got mad as hell and took massive action for two days straight.
After these two days I’d got myself on speaking terms with four other companies and I ended up getting several new offers.
How did I do this?
I did it by getting on the radar of successful people.
I did it by leveraging the interactions I’d had with guest lecturers at my school and other successful people outside of school.
I did it by turning cold approaches into warm approaches.
How many times have you been in the same room as some very successful person, but not had the guts to go and speak to that person?
Probably a couple of times.
I see a lot of people who would like to speak to successful people, but I see very few people who actually do it.
Over the past couple of months I’ve approached and contacted a lot of “successful” people – I.e. managers, CEOs, or just generally cool and competent people.
By analyzing the things I’ve done I’ve now come up with a strategy for how you can do it too.
Contacting and getting in touch with people is an invaluable skill– so I figured I would share my strategy here and explain the reasoning behind it.
Prerequisites for Getting on the Radar of Successful People
The first thing you need to know is that my strategy is very situational-based. To use it you’ll first have to place yourself in an environment where you have some sort of access to successful people.
This means that my strategy works better in person than it does over the phone or via email.
For me to get into this kind of environment, I’ve attended many guest lectures in university as well as a variety of other social events – such as trade fairs, parties, or company visits.
Also, know this:
You can’t sit at home and wonder why no one is reaching out to you. You need to be very proactive about this whole process or it’s not going to work.
Successful people don’t exactly go out of their way to do nice things for people for no reason.
This means that you’ll have to give them one by getting them to invest in you.
Some Brief Advice to People in University/College
Since I know that a fair amount of young people read this blog I decided to write this just for you guys.
As a student, you should choose your classes based on what kind of guest speakers who will come and give lectures.
This is often more important than the content of the course itself.
This is coming from me retrospectively.
I didn’t follow this advice, I didn’t think about it at all.
But I was fortunate in that one of my final courses was jam-packed with influential guest speakers.
If I had to do it over I would have changed the two other final courses I had and chosen courses that had more guest lecturers or company visits.
If you know what’s good for you, make it your goal to talk to each guest lecturer and make it a consistent practice.
Getting to know the right people is a lot more important than getting good grades as a student. Rich people don’t send their kids off to Ivy League colleges for the education primarily, but for the network it provides.
Learning how to learn things is really important, but grades are irrelevant.
Diplomas are bogus. What matters at the end of the day is your ability to produce value, not that you have a piece of paper with a title.
However, as a student you are fortunate to be in this setting of having access to successful people. Dare to defy the status quo of cowardice and actually make the most out of this opportunity.
My 4-Step Strategy for Approaching Successful People
This whole strategy is based on talking.
It really helps if the successful person in question has given a speech or if he/she has done something remarkable.
When I say remarkable I mean just that – something worth remarking on.
The main things that you’re going do is to pay close attention¸ ask questions, and always follow-up on the initial approach. Just don’t follow-up like this.
This isn’t rocket science, but it works like clockwork when you do it consistently.
Here’s how it works:
Listen intently; show clearly that you’re interested in the person. Avoid the #1 deadly mistake of sitting with a laptop or a smartphone. Seriously, don’t do it. If you look at your Facebook you will come across as rude, and disinterested.
2. During the Talk
Ask at least one question to show your interest. This has the added effect of making you stand out from the crowd and building the crucial first step of rapport. You must get the speaker’s attention as early as you can.
You must bridge the gap of audience/speaker, master/student or player/spectator.
A good sign that you’ve succeeded in doing this is if the speaker holds eye contact with you disproportionately more compared to the other people in the crowd.
You might feel compelled to chicken out at this point and not ask questions due to the discomfort of speaking up in front of people.
Your brain might tell you to shut up; it might tell you that your question is stupid and that others will think you’re wasting their time. (But are you trying to look good or are you trying to accomplish the goal?)
In most cases the question is not stupid at all.
You just think so because you’re afraid, and when you’re afraid your brain comes up with excuses in order to feel safe and comfortable – to maintain homeostasis.
At this point there is either a break or the speech is over. It’s now time to approach the successful person and ask questions. Remember to introduce yourself. A lot of people don’t do this, and it’s stupid.
The first question should be a situational-based question to get the other person’s interest and build rapport. For example, it could be about some remarkable thing that the person said in his/her speech.
The point is that you need to spark a conversation about something that they will enjoy talking about, and people enjoy talking about the things that they feel they are the authority on.
So, first things first –get the other person to feel good before doing anything else.
The second question you ask can be a canned question.
I often ask successful people something along the lines of:
- “What are the 3 books that have made the biggest impact on you?”
- “How do you structure your daily routine to keep up this busy lifestyle of yours?”
Usually I ask something related to self-development, because that’s one of my major interests. This way I can use canned questions without coming across as inauthentic.
The third question you’re going to ask should be a self-centered question to benefit yourself.
For example, I would find out if this person can put me in contact with someone I’d like to reach – in this case for my thesis job. I might also ask for the other person’s opinion about some goal I have and see if this person can help me somehow.
Successful people will usually be very helpful to you at this point. They will acknowledge your initiative, because it takes balls to walk up to someone and ask for help.
And it takes skills to ask someone for help without coming across as a beggar. Asking for help is a sign of strength – but only when done correctly.
And you’re going to do it correctly if you follow this strategy. You’ll come across as humble and friendly.
To round things up, ask for their card or contact info. Be sure to follow up by sending a good “thank you” email showing your appreciation for them taking time out of their busy schedule to help you.
Break the 4-Step Strategy at Your Own Peril
You can skip the first part of asking questions and listening intently at your own peril.
It could still work.
But the reason why I recommend doing this is because it will increase the likelihood that you get a response on the follow-up email.
Everything hinges on that email – and why the fuck should they answer it if they didn’t like you?
I’ve seen many people approach “shamefully” by speaking out-of-order and cutting directly to the chase of asking for way too large favors – but it rarely works well.
They usually get a cold answer like:
– Uh yeah.. Get in contact with our HR department and they’ll help you.
Actually they won’t.
I on the other hand usually get the massive advantage of the social proof that comes with a warm approach from having this successful person recommend me to their HR department.
Or – optimally – I might get put in contact with someone else through this person. That’s infinitely more powerful than doing it on your own.
Bottom line: – you can cold approach, but it rarely works as well.
The Reason Why Most People Don’t Do this
So, why doesn’t everybody do this?
That’s a fair question to ask.
First off, most people are afraid of step #2 – asking the first question needed to establish rapport.
Secondly, most people don’t feel entitled to speak to a successful person. They don’t feel that they’re worthy of taking up this person’s time.
They’re stuck in fear, thinking to themselves:
– But I have nothing cool to say!
After reading this post I hope you do.
If you’ve listened intently you should be able to ask interesting and relevant questions that relate well to what the successful person has said or done.
Conclusion: Final Advice on Execution
To finish off I’m going to give you some helpful tips to avoid making common mistakes.
- Dare to approach. You won’t get bitten. Successful people are usually friendly and helpful.
- Don’t put yourself down. Successful people want you be successful as well.
- Don’t let your brain bullshit you into not asking questions by thinking that the questions are stupid. Ask your questions anyway. If you are interested it will show through despite your nervousness.
Avoid falling in the trap of putting the successful person on a pedestal.
Speak as if you were speaking to a peer.
This last one could be hard to do at first because it’s human nature to cower to authoritative people. What you need to do instead is to acknowledge them as equals and have a normal conversation.
If you follow this advice I’m sure you’ll do well.
Try it out for yourself and stick to the strategy.
Or maybe you have a strategy of your own?
Do you have any tips of your own for contacting, approaching, and getting on the radar of successful people?
[Note: I wrote an article on a similar topic for my buddy Chris over at Good Looking Loser. In that article I expand on the strategy I explained in this article. If you liked this one, you’ll love the one over at GLL!]
We live in a world where nearly anyone can be contacted.
With some elegance and effort you can learn from the best people in your areas of interest.
This is a luxury people would easily have killed for in past times. You should make the most of it.