Secret Coffee

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 2015 it’s the importance of networking. The very mention of this word used to make me shudder. It seemed alien to me – something aggressive, maybe imported from the US along with ‘reaching out’. I saw networking as a situation that forced you into small talk with people you didn’t want to get to know but felt you had to (I still think it is to some extent). No, that isn’t for me, I thought. I’d rather just make friends with people I like and stick with them.

Until I realised that your entire career can be affected by the doing of it or the not doing of it. How people who have reached the peak of their careers are pretty much all skilled networkers who have made it their business to get to know everyone and the information that they can provide. And I’d been oblivious to it until earlier this year. In case you’re like me, and totally unaware of this underbelly of activity in publishing, or indeed in any industry, then this is my gift to you. The gift of knowing about Secret Coffee.

Here’s the thing. I thought I *was* networking when I turned up to industry events like publishing conferences or debate evenings. I’d meet up with colleagues, ex-colleagues and the faces behind the Twitter accounts I’d befriended and socialise with them, maybe adding one or two faces to the group each time I attended one.

There would always be one or two people who would suggest meeting up for a coffee after the conference, and I’d always think, “Why? When we’re standing right here talking now?” It’s because I didn’t know that the thing to do was Secret Coffee. I thought that just by standing there talking to someone in public, that my networking job was done. It wasn’t.

When I was freelancing over the summer I discovered the world of Secret Coffee and how people at all ranks in the publishing industry are more than happy to do it. I had Secret Coffees almost every day, in fact, and listened to people tell me all about the people they’d had Secret Coffee with over the years.

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it – it’d been going on all around me for years. Nobody talks about it so I’m just putting it out there in case there are other people like me who would benefit from it. I’m naturally an open, shary person who doesn’t enjoy secret behaviour but if I’d known about it years ago, perhaps I’d’ve made myself do it more. It does seem to have fuelled a number of high-rise careers all around me, when I thought that just being good at your job, friendly, sociable and professionally visible would be enough. It’s not. Quite.

I have baulked when a friend has told me that they’re only friendly with a person because of how useful they can be to them, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop baulking at that, but it does seem that successful people don’t have an issue with it – perhaps because they believe their coffee pals feel the same way.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been really grateful to my Secret Coffee drinkers over the past months, as they’ve been incredibly generous with their time and contacts lists. But I’m passing on that generosity by telling you now – if you want to get on in your careers, then start by doing Secret Coffee. It may be the best move you ever make in your career.

You’re welcome.

 

 

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Drive Forward

I spent yesterday evening mock-interviewing young care-leavers to help them practice their interview skills. It’s part of an initiative by the Drive Forward Foundation, a charity that supports 16-26-year-old people who are leaving care, and gives them the right tools to move forward in their lives.

I was staggered by the self-motivation shown by these young people. All of yesterday’s group had completed degrees on subjects such as Business Law. One was doing an MA on how being a looked-after child impacts on their education. The statistics, she said, painted a picture that was overwhelmingly negative, and depended largely on a social worker or teacher who ‘cared’ about that particular young person. And there she was, sitting in front of me, talking about her MA.

I asked another delegate to give me three words to describe himself and he said, ‘self-motivated, confident and forward-thinking’. I asked him about the latter and why he chose it. He told me he’d had to push himself really hard to get where he now was, and I could see it glittering in the eyes of this young man sitting opposite me. We talked about the ways his experience as a looked-after child could be discussed in an interview situation and he said he would always raise it, as an example of how self-motivated he is, that he has managed to get this far in life against challenging odds.

In a previous group I met young people that were very different to these ones. One, a young Romanian man who wanted to work as a carpenter. The thing that glittered in his eyes was a defiance and a determination to get work and work hard.  He’d found work on a building site in London and I daren’t ask what remuneration or treatment he might have received. I could see it written on his face.

Helping young people move forward is something I feel passionate about and Drive Forward is giving me the opportunity to give something back. They’re always looking for motivational, professional speakers or fundraisers so get involved if you feel the same as me. If you are a business that would like to become a partner of the charity or donate to it, then get more details here.