If we had lunch, this is what I would tell you.

Originally published via LinkedIn July 25, 2016

I think lunch meetings are sorely underrated. I don’t mean ‘lunch and learns’, or fancy, butt-kissing lunches with a customer to close a deal, or painful interview lunches where you can hardly eat because the last thing you need is a mouthful of salad when someone asks you how you would deal with some stupid, hypothetical situation that would actually never happen.

I mean casual, safe-zone, venting, advice-swapping lunches between friends.

Every other week or so, I have a standing lunch with a friend and former colleague. I find these meetings valuable for a variety of reasons. One, he is senior to me in terms of professional experience and title. His work advice and executive insight is extremely helpful. Second, he is very complimentary of my skills and ability, which is a nice ego boost and that, too can be invaluable especially when I’m wavering on a big decision. The fact is, we are all more successful when we have support.

In between these regularly scheduled lunches, I have one-off lunches with other former colleagues, current coworkers, and friends. The topics of discussion during these lunches are almost always the same: how are you and what we can talk about to make your situation better?

I almost always walk away feeling like a champ and if I don’t… then you’re removed from my lunch circuit and life goes on.

In recent weeks, I have had some folks reach out to me for a lunch meeting and, frankly, I feel privileged that someone thinks enough of me to put me on their calendar. Unfortunately, between travel and meetings and the daily grind, it can be hard to schedule a get-together at Smokey Bones (one of my favs).

While everyone’s situation is unique, I have found that some of the questions I get are the same. So until we meet in person, here is what I would probably tell you if we had lunch.

Stay current. In the IT world, things change by the minute and it is crucial to stay on top of industry trends, new marketing tactics, product launches, and up and coming manufacturers to remain relevant and valuable to your current employer and prospective employers. Follow industry news outlets like CRNCNETThe VAR GuyMSPmentorChannlenomicsGartnerWPP, and blogs by leading vendors like CiscoMicrosoft, and Veeam (of course!) just to name a few. Or make your life way easier and just sign up for Owler. They filter out the news and then send you an email each day with abstracts and links to top stories in your industry based on pre-set filters. Don’t forget to follow mainstream news outlets like CNN and Forbes, and niche, under the radar sites like Reddit. Understanding what is going on in the world is crucial as IT both impacts and is influenced by everything.

Find the advantage in every situation. Many of the lunches I have are triggered because one person feels stuck in their current situation or there has been a change in their situation that makes them feel uncomfortable. I believe there is always an advantage to capitalize on. Seeing the positive in every set of circumstances is key for survival, but take it one step further: how can this situation benefit me? Let’s say you get a new boss. He totally sucks and trashes the marketing plan you spent weeks building. Use the opportunity to meet with him and get his insight on creating a new plan that meets his expectations. Then use that plan to create a case for more marketing budget, another headcount, or leverage for him to put a boot in your collective sales team’s ass to follow up on those leads. Speaking of leverage, never discount what you can use to get what you want. Been at a company for 10+ years? Holy bananas, you should be running it or at least a department within it. Not highly technical? Your creativity and social ability are crucial aspects needed in the role you want. Don’t have enough experience? Leverage your incredible work ethic, quick learning ability, and the fact that you will not be influenced by legacy ways of doing something. Just got laid off? You have been given a great gift: a fresh start.

Stay educated. Getting your MBA is great, but for the love of Pete who has the time? Nearly every vendor in IT offers some type of certification. If you work at a distributor, you have access to like 1,000 certifications! Every chance you get, get certified in something. Doesn’t have to be technical. Sales and marketing certifications are also ideal. Don’t overlook seemingly obscure or less popular certifications. I worked at Home Depot when I was in college. I got my forklift license, because why the hell not? A few years later while interviewing for a marketing role, I noted that on my application. It was a conversation starter at the very least and demonstrated a piece of me not immediately evident as I sat there in my formal dress suit.  Also, get your company to send you to marketing and sales conferences. Sirius Decisions and MarketingProfs put on some great workshop-style events. Attending events like VMworld,  WPC and Cisco Live are also fantastic ways to stay educated on current trends and what your competitors are up to, as well as staying in touch with your partners. Don’t think your boss will let you go? Leverage the experience you will gain by attending and how that will impact the business you drive.

Don’t pass up an opportunity. Opportunities aren’t always obvious. Sometimes an opportunity might look like a step down. It might look like something you think you’re not 100% qualified for. It might look like a lot of work and a bunch of unknowns. Opportunities do not always look like the ideal situation at first glance but always remember, no matter the situation, you remain in control of the course of your journey. Every new situation offers the ability for you to leverage (I like leveraging, people) your skills, abilities, unique talents and gifts to influence the situation you are in for your best benefit. Change can be hard. It can be frightening and give you heart burn because you’re just not that young anymore and you ate that spicy coconut curry thing because it was so freaking good….but the difficult period will be worth it in the end.

Invite someone to lunch. Just do it!

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