Use career-minded networking to become an insider.

Author Linda Hewitt

Linda Hewitt, a native of Alabama, attended Birmingham-Southern College, the University of Alabama, and Georgia State University. She holds a B.A. and M.A. in History. She began writing when she was three--her first work was a notebook of observations about her grandparents’ home. She edited various school papers, and wrote her graduate thesis on the political and economic implications of German Reparations stipulated in treaties following the First World War. With her husband Robert, she was partner in Hewitt & Hewitt, Inc., an Atlanta public relations boutique serving major corporations. Her books deal with a wide range of topics, mostly cultural and economic. Several were book club selections and have been used as supplemental reading in undergraduate cultural history courses. She is currently working on an account of German emigration to colonial America in the early eighteenth century. She consults on communications strategy. Her professional memberships include the Authors Guild and the American Historical Association.

How this book came to be written...

We'll let Linda Hewitt tell you in her own words.

For years, my husband Robert and I operated a PR boutique that specialized in communications strategy and campaigns at the corporate-officer level. We dealt with some of the most powerful people in American business. These were men and women who had mastered the skills necessary to become and remain eminently successful. They were smart, shrewd, and saavy in the ways of the world in several key industries. They were, in essence, operators in the very best sense of the word.

They were also, by and large, quite nice people who cared about their families, their friends, and their neighbors. After a while, comparing notes, we realized that they shared another characteristic - they networked with consummate skill. This networking extended beyond their specific professional situations. In fact, on quite a few occasions both of us (and several of our employees) were approached by clients and asked to talk to a young person close to them, usually a child or the child of a friend or relative in his or her teens or early twenties.

Most of the time, the request had to do with a young person about to enter college, trying to decide on coursework that would best prepare her or him to enter PR, advertising, graphic design, illustration or video production.

Sometimes the request was general: "My neighbor's daughter has an idea she'd like to get into some kind of creative work. Can someone in your shop sit down with her and give her a chance to ask questions about different creative fields?"

Sometimes the request was specific: "My boy thinks he wants to be an artist. I know you employ artists. Can you have one of them talk to him about what the job involves in the real world? If that's what he wants to do, I'm all in favor of his going to art school, but I suspect he may not have exactly the right idea about what the work is like."

Occasionally the request was extremely specific: "My stepdaughter, who's about to enter graduate school to get her teaching certificate, has decided out of the blue that she wants to go into public relations. Will you please see if she has any idea what that entails? I'm concerned she's got some romantic notion about its being glamorous and I've seen how hard you and your people work. I doubt that hard work is what she thinks PR is about."

I fielded several of those requests myself, always feeling like something of a fraud. I had no training or experience in vocational guidance. My own educational background was not exactly the most-direct route to what I ended up doing. Nonetheless, I had the conversations and provided whatever information or other assistance was in my power if I felt the young person were serious (not all of them were). I was very busy. It was sometimes difficult to find the time, but I did - in part because of the client connection but in part because I remembered my own flailings at that stage in my life and knew how much some well-timed adult input and assistance had helped me. By attempting to help these young people I was, in effect, showing my appreciation for my mentors and what they'd done for me.

A few times I had the satisfaction of seeing the result of what I did. I'd shown a young man applying to med school to become an orthopedic surgeon how to organize the personal essay he had to send with his application - and he got in (I think I was even more pleased than he was). A teenager I'd taken along as a fly on the wall on a studio shoot I was directing decided she wanted to train to be an actor. Perhaps best of all, the officer's stepdaughter, who thought PR would be glamorous, turned out to be so obviously ideal for the business that I offered her a summer internship if she'd do radio interviews and press releases on a vocational video series we were producing for sale to the school market. She was conscientious, and I was delighted with her work. Even so, at the end of July, she announced that she'd changed her mind about PR and was sticking with her original plan to go into teaching. Somewhat to my surprise - because she'd done well - her stepfather was right. She'd found the hours too long and the focus too intense. I was disappointed, but even so felt that I had made a positive contribution to her process, just as she had to mine.

It was after the last experience that I realized these highly successful clients knew how to use not only their knowledge but the knowledge of everyone they knew to launch young people in whom they were interested. This was a simple idea, but a powerful one. All of us know people who know more than we do about certain things, and we don't have to be corporate superstars to use our networks to help others.

So, I wrote the book I wished someone had written for me when I was a teenager. I hope that there's something in it for many young men and women who've begun to think about what the future holds for them. If they employ even one or two of the ideas, they'll have an advantage, whatever the job market turns out to be at different stages of their career paths. If they employ all of them, my guess is that one of these days they'll be the ones most successfully navigating their way to what they want from work.

Seize today's opportunities to get a head start on tomorrow's possibilities.