Friday, June 5, 2009

Take a Page From Stephen Colbert's Newsweek

For the first time in the magazine's history, Newsweek will have a guest-editor - and his name is Stephen Colbert. The host of the popular faux news magazine show, The Colbert Report, lunched with editor, Jon Meacham, and impressed the hell out of him with his "encyclopedic feel for anything that came up."

Obviously, Stephen Colbert is a celebrity with a lot of clout (well, at least a little), but this story just goes to show how quickly, even easily, one could find one's self in a similar position. People are people, no matter what they do, and if you manage to hit it off with someone, there's always the chance that something professionally beneficial could come of it - no matter how much of a stretch it may seem.

Always act professionally when dealing with other professionals, no matter their profession. Do not "kiss ass" or pander, but remember that every interaction is a chance to impress others with your knowledge, skills, charisma, and personality - not to mention your work (should it come up - and you shouldn't be the one who brings it up) - as well as an opportunity to further your career! Again, it doesn't matter what the person does; your carpenter or plumber could offer you a job, if they happen to need your services. Don't make a nuisance of yourself - no one likes a braggart or know-it-all - but do see every social interaction as a possible career opportunity.

I do not suggest researching anything solely to impress someone, but you might read-up on someone's job beforehand if you know you will be spending time with them - you want to be able to hold your end of a conversation, should such a thing come up. Regardless, don't try to converse on subjects about which you know little, as you will be quickly found-out. In writing, such incorrect information damages your authority and shatters the reader's suspension of disbelief; in real life situations, it makes you an asshole.

It is a thin line, to be sure: if you come on too strong, you can blow the whole thing - possibly even make yourself the very last person with whom the other party would ever want to work - but if you don't even try, you can't expect anything to come of it and the opportunity could be lost. If you do not know something, keep your mouth shut or open it only to ask questions. Most people will be more impressed by your desire to learn than by hearing what you already know. This is not your audition, just an opportunity to connect with a peer who might or might not have work for you one day.

Going back to our example, the plumber you impress may one day be asked to speak professionally or even write an article regarding his occupation - and you may well be the guy he calls for information and/or input! From there, it's simply a matter of turning on the charm and really impressing him - this is your audition, one you never would have gotten, had you acted anything less than professionally when the two of you met. Offer free advice and guidance to a point, but if you see the chance, be sure to offer your full services for a fee. Your new connection may be interested in having you ghostwrite the entire thing for him, or including you as a co-author or contributor. As we all know, there are plenty of non-financial professional advances - like getting another clip for your portfolio.

In fact, a situation like this is one of the very few where I would suggest doing work for free. You will be expanding your potential audience amongst people who might otherwise never see it. You will also be establishing yourself as a professional amongst these people; if your plumbing article is good enough, you may be able to recruit more professionals from within that industry who need your services. It's also a great clip if it has nothing to do with the subject matter you usually cover, as it shows your flexibility. Here is your chance to reach an entire industry of professionals who might otherwise never read you, so make sure it's good!

It swings both ways, too: your professional contact may well be the guy you call when you need to know something in his sphere(s) of expertise for a piece on which you are working. Y'all might hit it off so well that you are the one who offers him a co-author credit! And why not? A multitude of works involve characters with otherwise "mundane" occupations - jobs about which you know only what you have read. And in some cases, such as the mortician's trade, a lot of the information is passed along by word of mouth. Think about all the intricacies of writing about which your general layman knows nothing; all jobs are similar in this regard.

Always act professionally when dealing with other professionals, regardless of their line of work. Do not pander to them or intentionally strive to impress them by regurgitating what you know about what they do (or any other subject, for that matter), but do be attentive and inquisitive, especially when it comes to topics about which he is an authority (such as his work). When a subject about which you really do know a thing or two comes up, be sure to give your input and strive to make it worthwhile, but don't actively try to impress others with your knowledge.

More than anything else, simply acting professionally - treating all professionals as your peers - can land you a job! Writing is a lonely profession and we writers have a (well-deserved, IMO) reputation as being less than... social - generally speaking. Spend a little time brushing-up your social and conversational skills and let that transitory knowledge of all things - the stuff you learn while researching - serve you IRL.

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

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