As a Director of Product Marketing at Salesforce, Jason Perocho (Kenan-Flager, ‘15) works with numerous cross-functional stakeholders, which has made building relationships and networking even more critical to success. In addition to this role, Jason is a hiring manager, and former MBA student, and has conducted numerous informational interviews and hiring interviews with candidates and alum. He took time to share with us some of his thoughts and learnings on how MBA students can effectively network to further their own personal and professional development.
MBASchooled: As a former student and now someone who hires MBA students, what’s something you wish more students paid attention to in their networking pursuits?
Jason: I wish that students focused more time on personal development and less time trying to impress the other person. Pulling out an obscure fact from our recent investor report or news release is not advised because it may be outside of my area of expertise. Focusing on learning about the other person, and creating a genuine 2-way conversation tends to yield better results for both parties.
MBASchooled: What’s a lesson you’ve had to learn in order to be a better networker?
Jason: Learning to read body language and listen for tone & contextual clues was key. I wish there was a secret trick to tell, but it just took experience (and a lot of rejection) to learn. Phone calls were the hardest because it was tough to gauge how strongly I was connecting with the other person. I eventually learned to pick up on verbal cues to determine who would be my advocate to those who would probably not talk to me again.
MBASchooled: What are some characteristics of a good informational interview?
Jason: A good informational interview is focused on personal development. Most alumni would agree that we take informational calls with students to return the favor that was shown to us in business school. Great informational calls start out with a minute of banter on the latest developments (and gossip) of what’s happening at school to establish a rapport.
Next, moving on and making a personal connection to a value or topic about my company. The personal connection should be a short story that compasses your past experience and how it connects with obtaining employment at my company. This helps demonstrate a deeper level of thought went into why you wanted to work here.
The rest of a great conversation is spent learning about the options for MBAs and then trying to determine the skill set they need to develop. The best students ask questions from my perspective, not theirs. This is a subtle nuance, but it makes the person you’re talking to feel appreciated.
For example, questions through the student’s lens are:
- How can I be successful at your company?
- What skills do I need to get a job at your company?
- How can I stand out in an interview?
These same questions can be framed from the person you’re networking with by asking:
- “What makes a Product Marketer successful at your company?”
- “What didn’t B-School teach you before becoming a Product Marketer and how did you learn those skills?”
- “As a hiring manager, what has stood out to you from the best candidates you’ve interviewed?”
What are some characteristics of a bad one?
- Showing up late
- Not being gracious, humble, or patient
- Calling my cell phone rather than the dial-in on the calendar invite. (This is my pet peeve because it shows a lack of attention to detail)
- Dominating the conversation and talking just about yourself
- Complaining about how hard it is to find a job or internship.
- Asking for a job.
- Submitting my name as a referral on the website without asking me first.
- Not knowing the absolute basic information of what my company does.
- Referring to “tech” generically. The tech landscape is extremely varied so have a Point of View on where you want to go.
- Asking a question about an obscure fact you found on an investor report or buried deep on the website.
- Scripting the entire conversation. Trust me, Interviewers can tell. Instead, build off of what I’m saying with deeper questions on the spot.
- Asking to talk talk to someone else when the conversation is clearly not going in a positive direction.
- Trying to fake a shared interest
MBASchooled: Many people know that warm introductions are helpful, but sometimes you just don’t have a connection to someone you want to speak to. Do you have any advice for how to reach out to individuals you don’t know?
Jason: If the person you want to speak to is an alumni, then I recommend using LinkedIn to reach out. Be gracious and offer a wide window of availability. If they’re not an alumni, use LinkedIn and see if you have any connections to that specific person.
If you are from a protected or underrepresented class (African American, Veteran, Woman, Disable, LGBTQ etc) or even an international student, I recommend reaching out to the leaders of affinity or employee resource groups. There are a tremendous amount of diversity initiatives going on at tech companies right now and these may be your best bets.
MBASchooled: While having a great informational interview is a great first step, it’s often not enough to get in the door at a company. What other things can a candidate do in order to build a relationship with someone?
Jason: Get scrappy and get local. To get scrappy, social media is a blessing and a curse. I have often researched interests and the places lived of those I’m networking with to build a personal connection. For example, I chatted with someone recently and we found out we were both Eagles fans. On the Thursday after the Super Bowl, I received a photo of them at the Super Bowl parade with a very short note that said:
“I know you’re stuck in SF, so here’s a glimpse into the parade craziness! Hope to chat again soon!”
I was impressed because it was short, relevant to my personal interest, and didn’t make an ask. I’ll absolutely talk to this person again.
Getting local is a bit harder and takes commitment. I lived on a friend’s couch for a bit as I was job hunting so I could have informational interviews in person and attend professional meet-ups. I recently went to a Product Marketing meet up and at the end, the MC alerted everyone that if you’re looking for a job, to come up to the front of the room and meet some of the recruiters. I would have never known about that if someone I met local didn’t invite me to the group and then had the ability to attend it a couple weeks later.