Jim Hopkinson is an author, writer, and speaker living in New York City. His focus is on career development for the new economy, showing how new media, technology and branding are changing how people look at their career and lifestyle. Read more...
There is nothing more John Muscarello loves than bringing people together and having great conversation -- with or without food.
As the founder of the website EndlessJobOffers.com, the 27-year old marketing manager from New York enjoys learning new ways to effectively create strong business relationships to enhance your career, and sharing those tips with others.
But when he wrote his first post as a LinkedIn Influencer on a seemingly innocuous topic, he never imagined the way the conversation would turn.
Growing up in Glen Head, NY, John’s dad was a French Pastry Chef and owner of a restaurant/bakery. “What set my dad apart from the competition was that he never skimped on ingredients and everything was fresh. When I worked for him, I remember waking up at 2am to bake French croissants, danishes, pastries and artisan breads, so customers could pick them up before work. Everything was fresh with no exceptions. If something didn’t sell we gave it away to customers later in the day and then went through the same process again the next morning.”
One of the specialties at the restaurant was desserts, and once John was working a full time office job in New York City, he would occasionally bring in treats for his co-workers. These weren’t run-of-the-mill bake off brownies or something bought from a store, but brownies made from the best ingredients.
Even the process to make the brownies was special. John explained, “The batter churned on the mixing machine for an hour… it took another hour to bake the brownie in the oven at a very low temperature… then you had to wait until the next day until they completely cooled to cut them. It sounds ridiculous, but I have never had a better brownie. They were moist, almost like they were under baked, and had a rich flavor.”
If your mouth is starting to water, you’re not alone.
Each time he brought the treats to the office, he noticed something interesting. As his co-workers happily devoured the delicious treats, it led to engaging conversations. About work, about projects, about weekend plans. The more he interacted with his co-workers, the deeper the connections he formed.
“Networking is all about creating conversations and building relationships with individuals. I received ten emails from people I don’t talk to on a daily basis thanking me for the snacks. It gave me a chance to interact with co-workers with whom I normally don’t get to interact.”
Muscarello then used the opportunity to get to know those people even better. “People were stopping me in the hallway and asking where the restaurant was located. This created an opportunity to ask what part of town the person lived in. I would say, ‘Are you familiar with the area?’ If they were, it allowed me to keep the conversation going by talking about other things related to the area.”
Here’s where this type of networking can be critical to your career, and how it can even affect your salary.
When you’re searching for a new job, studies show up to 80% of positions are found through networking. While scanning job board sites can give you an idea of companies that are hiring and what positions are available, by far the best use of your time is networking to find out about positions that might not be listed.
Furthermore, landing an interview through a networking connection can pay off when it comes to salary negotiation, as they can often “fast track” you directly to the hiring manager for an interview. Conversely, if you’re applying online, you might be forced to fill out online applications that require you to reveal your past or current salary. Doing so could lead you to be screened out or hurt your leverage when aiming for the highest salary range.
When you’re going for a raise at your current job, connections matter.
All of the above is made easier when you’re great at networking. Knowing this, John was intrigued when he saw an article that claimed: “Ninety percent of people who keep a candy bowl on their desks for people who visit their office or drop by are promoted.”
While he was unable to find the source of the original study, based on his experience he knew there was at least some merit to the idea. Since people were always asking him for networking tips, he thought he would write about it on LinkedIn. At minimum, he figured it might make for a good discussion – and he was right. More than 50,000 people read the article, and thousands more shared it with friends.
Fortunately, the vast majority of the readers understood the goal of John’s article: Do something that fosters networking and it can lead to better connections, a possible promotion, and maybe even bring a little happiness to the workplace each day.
Dozens of people wrote to say that they’ve done this to much success for years.
One HR manager said, “I've always done this. Little things make employees feel appreciated.”
A digital marketing specialist commented, “I can be a little shy when it comes to people I don't know, but warm up once I have an icebreaker.”
Another reader put his own fun spin on it. “I have mint Life Savers on my desk with the jar labeled, 'Leadership Mints.' It’s done more to spur great leadership conversations in the past two years in my office than any other outreach effort.”
One concern was that while a steady parade of visitors might be great for networking, it could be a killer for productivity. It’s tough to get work done when everyone is stopping by to say hi. In that case, offer your snacks just once a week, leave them in a nearby common area, or surprise people in meetings.
That’s when the conversation took a hard left turn toward the company kitchen, with more than 400 responses.
Comments suggesting fruit like bananas and strawberries as an alternative spiraled into debates over natural sugars, carbs, blood glucose levels, glycemic index numbers, and phytonutrients. With all due respect to health concerns – not sure how practical or popular daily offerings of celery and hummus would be – they’re all missing the point.
It’s not about what you use to start the conversation, it’s that you’re having one. As Muscarello learned, “People might say that they want fruits and veggies, but I’m not so sure. The key to networking is being open to new conversations, no matter how they come about.”
The top-rated response was from Joelle Pauley-Fine, who wrote: “Each morning as my husband gets ready for work, our 4-year-old gives him an animal figure or stuffed animal or another toy to keep with him. He proudly displays them on his desk for the day and then returns them to her each night, making room for the next day's offering. Coworkers look forward to seeing the new 'friend' each day and hearing the story behind it. Because he is in management, I'm sure this display of fatherly love also humanizes him.”
So, will having candy on your desk get you a raise, lead to a promotion, make your more likable, or spike your sugar levels? It’s hard to say for sure, but it will certainly start a good conversation.