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Networking: More Tangible, Less Daunting with Nikki MacCallum and Stellar Women

Mary Rechtoris

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Love it or hate it, networking is a crucial aspect of navigating and advancing your career. We all need to do it, so why not be a pro at it? For this episode of Stellar Women, we’re providing a preview of what’s to come in our next workshop. On December 8, Nikki MacCallum from Lighthouse will share insights on successful networking and provide tangible next actions for you to try.

Until then, in this week’s podcast, Nikki talks about a time networking propelled her comedy career forward, and how networking has changed since the pandemic unfolded. Be sure to give it a listen and join us in a couple of weeks to learn from Nikki and engage with your fellow Stellar Women community members!

Heena Bhambhlani

Nikki MacCallum

Senior Manager Talent Acquisition


Mary Rechtoris: Hey Stellar Women fans. I'm your host, Mary Rechtoris.

Blair Heidenreich: And I'm your guest co-host Blair Heidenreich. Stellar Women shines a light on female leaders making their mark in tech. Today we're joined by the fabulous Nikki McCallum. Hey, Nikki!

Nikki MacCallum: Hello!

MR: Nikki, thanks so much for joining us; and listeners, this is a special episode because Nikki is giving us a sneak preview of what she is going to be diving into at our next Stellar Women workshop in December. It’s titled “Networking Your Way to the Top.” [Register here]. We’re so excited to talk about that today and dive into more detail come December. So, listeners, save the date for December 8th from 12-1:30 p.m. CST. We'll share more information and the registration page in our LinkedIn group, so go join us there. Now, every episode, we do our “Highlights of the Week.” I’ll kick us off so I can go first and share a highlight of the week or weekend. This one's kind of fitting because Blair and I were just talking about healthcare woes. I got a much-anticipated package of medical supplies. I'm a type one diabetic and it was delivered on time. I only had to call them twice to make sure it was coming, and it was [a release of] a lot of stress over things I can't control. I don't have to worry about going to plan B for checking my blood sugars manually. When everything goes right, it’s just a good feeling.

NM: That’s a pretty good win.

MR: I know. With healthcare, you always assume it's not going to go as planned, right? So, when it does, it's just crazy.

BH: Shocking.

MR: Anyway, Blair, what about you? What's been your highlight this week or this weekend?

BH: My highlight this week was I got to go to California. I got to see the ocean and beautiful things. I hugged a redwood tree. I also did two pretty strenuous hikes that I don't know that I could have done about a year ago, so it was a proud moment to do it. I don’t want to say it was a summit, because it wasn't Everest by any means, but it was cool to get to the get to the top and just feel like I had accomplished stuff. I also tried uni for the first time in San Francisco, so that was cool. But Nikki, what about you? What's your highlight from the week or weekend?

NM: We just had Halloween and I won my building's Halloween costume contest.

BH: Oh, what was the costume?

NM: I went as Weird Al.

BH: Amazing.

MR: Congrats on that. I always commend people that get into Halloween every year. It's like the last-minute thing where I want to go big, and then I just wear a flannel and say I'm a cowgirl or something.

NM: You get candy either way.

MR: For sure. Well, why don't we jump into Qs? Nikki, your session that you're doing is titled “Networking Your Way to the Top.” I just want to set a baseline understanding. What is the “top?” Is there a universal understanding of the word? Is that contingent on someone's goals? Can you set the stage for us here?

NM: It's twofold. There is a universal understanding of top, but top is also where you want to get and it’s about getting what you want through leveraging relationships.

BH: Why is networking such a passion of yours, Nikki? Why is it a must?

NM: In my career, I've had to network my way across many different industries. I've been in e-discovery and litigation support coming up on 20 years, which is terrifying. But outside of e-discovery, I'm also an author and a stand-up comedian, so I do a lot of different things. I've had to network my way across many different industries. Networking is one of those things that a lot of people are afraid of. And it can be scary, right? Especially those of us who might be more introverted or just don't feel like being on all the time to have to go and talk to strangers. It’s not only talking to strangers but building relationships with them and then asking them for things. That's daunting when you break it down like that. And for me, there wasn't ever really a good networking course anywhere in my education, and it's something I really would have loved. Based on my life experience, I've learned by doing. I wanted to create a workshop that is something I would have loved earlier in my career to make networking more tangible, more quantifiable, and just less daunting.

MR I have a Q. You said you love networking and I know someone like my sister, she is an extroverted extrovert. She thrives in crowds and that builds her up. Whereas when I have to network, I’m like “yikes.” I'd rather do anything else. It’s not that I don't love people, but it can be overwhelming, right? What would you say to someone that might be a little bit more introverted about networking? How do you get them excited or where can they start to make it a less stress-inducing experience?

NM: A former boss of mine once said “You start with the known and use that to help you find the unknown.” With networking, people have this idea in their heads that it must be at an event, or you have to go out and approach people. But we already have a lot of the relationships we need within our network. What's cool is it can change over the years. [For example], someone who has been a connection of mine since 20 years ago when I started out in e-discovery, may have a totally different position and serve a totally different purpose in my career and life now. For people who are less inclined to really go out there and meet strangers, I always say start with who you already know, and you'd be surprised what connections will pop up.

MR: It’s like a party where you don't know a lot of people, but you know one person you can cling to.  

NM: I always say, “Find the person in the room who intimidates you the least and befriend them.”

MR: Yes. You can pick up vibes that people put out.

BH: My husband is like … I'm outgoing and he's not. It's always funny to see who he gravitates to at a party, whereas I find myself picking the person who has their arms crossed. I'm like, “You. I'm going to make you laugh, and you're going to be my new best friend.” Can you share a time that networking has changed the trajectory of your career or even your life? I know you said you did some stand-up [in addition to] e-discovery.

NM: Absolutely. The comedy club that I work at in New York is a very, very hard club to get into. In comedy, it's called getting passed, which is you [saying that] you have the seal of approval to perform there. Starting out in comedy is like starting out in e-discovery. It’s hard to get your foot in the door because you can't get to a certain level if you don't have experience. But no one's going to give you the opportunities to get experience if you're not credentialed or don't have some sort of track record to back yourself up. So, there was a club I really, really wanted to get into, and it took a friend of mine from the acting world [to help me get in]. I happened to be childhood friends with someone who was this comedian and they happened to know the producer of this club. It was like someone who knew someone who knew someone who was able to introduce me. I started selling tickets for stage time. It’s what they call—barking. It's what Pete Holmes does on “Crashing” if any of you have seen that. It’s very, very taxing, and somewhat humiliating, but you do get stage time. I met the right person and was able to do that. I worked my way through the club. So that's where I perform and that's my home club in New York now.

BH: That's amazing. What's the club's name? Is it Cellar?

NM: It’s next to Cellar. It's the Grizzly Bear.

BH: Oh, nice.

MR: Awesome. Blair is also a stand-up comedian. I feel very inadequate on this call.

BH: Oh no, no, no.

MR I'm more like an off-the-cuff, sarcastic kind of girl.

BH: Mary is funny without even trying.

MR: Oh, I'm trying, I'm trying.

BH: Nikki, as you said, networking can really open a door. Is there a formula that you came up with for networking?

NM: So, I will say this—there is a formula. Without giving too much away with the workshop, what I will say is never underestimate the power and value of networking, especially in today's job market. We've got what's being called the “Great Resignation.” There are so many people vying for jobs, right? You have so much competition. From being on the other side of the table, I can tell you it's so much less work for me as a recruiter when someone just hands me a recommendation or hands me a referral. From a hiring perspective, candidates are getting more looks if they know someone. You know someone from a relationship that you've networked. It’s that old saying, and I hate cliches, but here I go with one: it's all about who you know. It really is, because it creates less work for the person who is tasked with finding a new employee or finding a subject matter expert or finding a comedian—whatever that thing is. Never underestimate the power of relationships and being able to leverage them and ask your relationships to help you, which can be very challenging.

BH: Thanks for the little teaser. It's exciting.

MR: One more Q to wrap us up because the workshop is going to be fantastic. We encourage everyone to go and we don't want to give too much away. Looking at the pandemic, and this is just a personal Q … Blair and I have joked; how do you hug people? Do you wave? Have you seen people getting more awkward in networking? How have people's networking skills fared over the last year and a half?

NM: That is a good question. I have seen some in-person, but I see a lot of networking is still done virtually. It's much easier for someone to hop on Zoom for 15 minutes than it is to meet you for coffee. I have noticed a lot of people acknowledging how awkward in-person networking is. I can't remember who it was, but it was last week … There was a reunion in May. It was our CEO at Lighthouse who hosted a happy hour in our office. It was the first time most of us had been back. I remember saying to people, “Should we high five?” What do we do, right? People are really awkward. What's cool about it is that we're all really awkward and it oddly gives you another weird conversation starter and disarms people a little bit.

MR: It makes us interact more like humans. We can be more just like ourselves. That gives us a lot further.

BH: I love what you said about 15 minutes on a Zoom call. You don't have to find a place to meet for coffee. I can meet with someone who’s in Seattle.

NM: I feel like if you would have asked someone for a 15-minute Zoom meeting three years ago, they would have looked at you like you had 12 heads.

MR: The accessibility is huge. Before the pandemic, we interviewed Ellen Blanchard from T-Mobile, who's part of this Mother Attorney Mentoring Association. We were talking about a challenge that female attorneys, whether they’re partners or on the partnership track, face in getting the same access to opportunities because they might not be able to network like a lot of their peers. Maybe the event is at six o'clock and that's the train they have to take to get home to be with their kids. It may be male and female, but I think networking isn’t always feasible for everybody to do it in the way that they could before. So, that accessibility [is important], whether it's hybrid or just being a little craftier in how we do it. That will open a lot of doors for many different people.

NM: For sure.

MR: Nikki, this is really, really fun. Thanks for joining Blair and me, and we cannot wait for December.

NM: So excited for December. Here we come.

MR: Here we come. Snow is coming,

BH: And with that, for Stellar Women, I'm Blair Heidenreich.

MR: I'm Mary Rechtoris.

Both: Signing off.

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Mary Rechtoris is a senior producer on the brand team at Relativity, where she's always collaborating and looking for new ways to develop and socialize stories.

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