Today, I’m talking about The Office, one of the most popular television comedies of all time and one of the most streamed shows of the past 2 years. As the boss of the Scranton branch of paper company Dunder Mifflin, Steve Carell’s Michael Scott is hardly a great role model. While often amusing, he’s also rude and offensive at his worst and still distracting at his best. If he were my boss in real life, I would be job hunting my way out of there.
That said, one of the running plotlines of the show is that despite his faults, Michael is a great salesman. And one of the reasons for that success is that he’s a pretty good networker—he excels at making connections (at least in his business life).
There are two episodes that really highlight what I mean. (Caution: spoilers ahead!)
First, let’s start with “The Client,” episode 7 of season 2.
As illustrated in the clip at the top of this post, Michael and his boss Jan are pitching a potential client who makes paper purchasing decisions for the government of a nearby county. Dunder Mifflin is desperate for this business, as it could save the Scranton branch from being downsized.
They meet at Chili’s and while Jan immediately wants to get down to business, Michael is more focused on building a personal connection with their potential client. Several drinks, jokes, and a meal later, they close the deal.
What can we learn from this interaction about networking?
Michael’s conduct demonstrates that networking is all about making connections. And it’s about establishing those connections before you make a big ask.
Now, let’s jump to episode 24 of season 5, titled “Heavy Competition.” Michael has left Dunder Mifflin to start the Michael Scott Paper Company and he’s going after DM’s biggest clients.
To thwart Michael, Dwight— his friend and former colleague at Dunder Mifflin— steals Michael’s Rolodex of client information. They meet up at one client’s office, jockeying for his business in person. Michael stays calm and collected and Dwight, in a fit of desperation and an attempt to demonstrate how well he knows his prospect, asks the client some personal information he obtained from the Rolodex. It’s….not successful.
It turns out that not only does Michael include personal details about his contacts in his Rolodex, but he also color codes the information. As he points out in this clip, “most of the colors mean don’t say it.”
What does this scene teach us about networking?
We can learn a lot about networking from this scene. First, always display professional conduct in front of your colleagues and professional contacts. Second, getting to know your contacts and keeping track of that information is super helpful to maintaining your business relationships. Third, you also need to know yourself. Michael puts his foot in his mouth constantly, but he is self-aware enough to realize it! As a result, he knows he needs to make notes about conversation topics to avoid, so he can continue to build positive relationships.
So…how is your networking going?
How would you rate your networking skills? Are you even doing it? If not, you’re not alone. Networking is something many of us shift to the back burner, especially when we already have a job, because it’s a long-term strategy. But the truth is that it takes time to build the network you both want and need to help support your career and build your reputation. If you’re reading this as a junior associate looking to make partner one day, the time to start building your professional network with an eye toward business development is now. If you’re reading this and thinking about changing your job a year or two from now, the time to focus on building and maintaining your existing network is also now. And if you’re reading this as a law student, you should absolutely start networking in law school as a way to learn about the profession in addition to getting summer and full-time jobs.
If you’re looking to step up your networking game, whether because you hate it, don’t do it, or don’t know how to do it, I’ve got a plan to help.
I am thrilled to introduce Networking Made Easy, an online course designed to get you networking efficiently and effectively in just an hour or so per week. By the end of the course, you’ll have put together a personalized networking plan you can implement to reach your career goals, whatever they may be.
You can complete the course is less than a week, in about 20 minutes per day. But the course is online and ready for you to dive in at your convenience and finish at your own pace, returning to modules and lessons whenever you want.
To learn more and enroll, click here.
Read on for more career advice for lawyers and law students here.