Jenn Hyman is the CEO and co-founder of Rent the Runway. Before that she went to Harvard Business School (and Harvard for undergrad too, NBD). She’s writing a column for us that we’re calling Fashionpreneur. In it she’ll dole out advice and lessons learned on everything from raising funds, branding yourself, sales and generally managing a business. She’s also taking your questions.
To schmooze is to network–to ooze around the room, making pithy, ridiculously insightful and sometimes funny (but always appropriate) remarks and inspire an immediate love fest. A great schmoozer gets the job, the money, the guy and likely makes a few new friends while she’s at it.
Let’s be real, I am a terrible schmoozer. Seriously, terrible! I’ve been known to ask complete strangers who I am supposed to be networking with and whether I can set them up with my sister. I’m not great at small talk and I break uncomfortable silences by telling embarrassing stories about my childhood (and this all is without alcohol). I often stare in awe at those rare ducklings who can ‘join the sorority’ before they’ve even received a bid.
So what’s a non-schmoozer to do in a super schmoozy world? I’ve seen the most success with playing to my strengths and being myself. Some examples:
• I always find one person in the room to connect with and build a real bond. I know I’m not going to be witty enough to command the floor in a dreaded ‘circle around the important person’ conversation so I don’t even try. I befriend one person, get to know them and hope that they become an advocate for me.
• As Patti Stanger advocates, I always stick to a two drink maximum. Otherwise, who knows what stories I’ll start to tell!
• I don’t expect that schmoozing leads to a desired outcome right away – in other words, I don’t come on too strong. Often passionate people come on too strong (take note: this advice is as important for first dates as for schmoozing sessions). For example, when I’m talking to the head of a new brand about partnering with Rent the Runway, I do not expect that they’ll say yes overnight and start selling us inventory. They need to get comfortable with me, with how we’ll respect their brand and with how we’ll introduce a new demographic to their business.
• I don’t flirt with the people I am supposed to be schmoozing with. This is never attractive. The schmoozee might flirt back but they will never hire you.
• I change the setting. I’m not into ‘networking events’, so I’ll often ask desired mentors or partners out for coffee. I’ll create an environment where I can be more ‘me’. If I have to be at a networking event, I’ll try to walk to a quieter corner of the room and have a conversation there.
• I adhere to ‘the grass is NOT always greener’ philosophy. Many professional schmoozers try to attack the biggest fish in the room: The boss. Instead, I try to find the person who I will have an organic connection with or better yet, the person I actually have real questions for. Often, a regular employee has lots more influence than you know and the boss wants to see that you can have great relationships with your future colleagues.
My most important rule of schmoozing is that it’s not all about business. Ever. Even at work. Whether I’m schmoozing or in the office, I talk about lots of non-mission critical topics because this is who I really am. I do love watching Homeland and do think that blush pink is not the color celebs should have been flaunting at the Globes and do wish that I went to Physique as much as I talk about going. You get the point–be yourself and the schmoozing will be less intimidating.