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Building Your Network: Transforming Associates Into Trusted Allies, an original SWAN Skills Session

By Rachel Dunsmoor

On October 10, 2018, the SAIS Women’s Alumni Network (SWAN), Washington, DC Hub, held its first skills session of the fiscal year on networking. Approximately 30 alumnae gathered to learn how to build their network by transforming their associates into trusted allies.

The evening began with a networking reception over a dinner of Asian noodles and seasonal hors d’oeuvres. Following the reception, attendees had the opportunity to learn how networking had helped three distinguished SAIS alumnae make career transitions, advance in their careers, and grow their own business. Moderator Carmen Suro-Bredie, ’72, helped draw out the panelists’ experiences with networking, as well as brought the audience in to the discussion after each experience had been shared.

Joanna Pineda, ’91, CEO and Chief Troublemaker at the Matrix Group International, began by describing how she had built her business through customer referrals. She explained that when trying to get to know a contact, she always asks three questions: 1) Where are you from originally? 2) How did you get to the DC area? and 3) Tell me about your family. She encouraged attendees to make sure that they take care of those in their network. For example, she advised having a group of people whose calls you always answer, such as those from SAIS alumni, as they are a part of your network.

Jeanne Balcom, ’86, Vice President of Regulatory Policy at Options Clearing Corporation, told her story about how networking had helped her transition into a new career. She noted that even when you aren’t networking, you have a network, including with your co-workers and friends. However, reaching out to a target contact to make them a part of your network can make a key difference in helping you transition into a new position.

Krystle Kaul, ’09, Director of Communications and Public Affairs at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, recounted how, as an intern, she was able to make a connection with a General who later became her mentor, by approaching him after a talk that he gave on counter-terrorism to let him know that she found his remarks to be inspirational. She also informed the audience that even SAIS professors are a part of your network, as several had been contacted to vouch for her when she was applying for a new position. Krystle stated that to stand out, you need to be genuine and authentic. She also recommended wearing a brightly-colored blazer to stand out in a crowd at an event.

After a brief break, Marshall Millsap, ’76, Managing Partner at Sprezzatura Advisors, and Dara Iserson, ’09, Director of Bactrian Global Strategies, led a workshop that taught participants to think of their network in terms of the opportunities and connections that they could offer to a target contact. They noted that you’ll have better success in maintaining a relationship with a contact if you can demonstrate that you can offer something to them, such as telling them about the latest news in your field or at SAIS or talking about a shared personal or professional interest. Dara and Marshall also discussed the importance of demonstrating character and competence to your target contacts, as well as the differences between sponsors and mentors.

The evening concluded with participants looking forward to practicing the networking skills they had learned at future events. SWAN DC hopes that the connections made that evening will serve as a spring board for members to build their networks with each other, as well as their target contacts.

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