Without an Ivy-league degree or insider connections, how does a 23-year-old land a job at the White House?

By having talent and good relationships with the right people.

That is how John Corcoran, now a lawyer and online entrepreneur, explains getting a position in President Bill Clinton's speech office.

Later, Corcoran became a speechwriter for the governor of California. But when Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected into office in 2003, Corcoran literally got terminated by The Terminator.

Unlike many who get laid off, however, Corcoran walked out of the governor's office and right into a new job. Once again, it was because of the network he had built.

When I interviewed Corcoran recently, he said, "Business success is an outgrowth of the relationships you build."

Here are some of the relationship building tips Corcoran shared with me:

Create Your Relationship Roadmap

Build relationships with direction and purpose by creating a relationship roadmap. Define your goals and make a list of people who can help you get there. These are people who inspire you and share your values and vision.

Next, identify the conferences, events, Facebook or LinkedIn groups, mastermind groups, and other opportunities you have to connect with the people on your list.

Review the list at least every year, to see if your goals have changed and if you need to add or remove people from the list.

Be flexible. People will come into your life unexpectedly, who may turn out to be critical in your career or business. On the other hand, other people will naturally drift away.

Build Relationships By Giving

The next step is to follow-up on those connections by thinking of various ways to serve them. "It's about creating value for others so you build relationships where you have that network of people who want to support you," Corcoran says.

Set small, reasonable goals, like:

  • Every morning: email one person on my list
  • Every week: make three introductions
  • Two times a month: have coffee with someone on my list

There are many different ways to give without spending a lot of money or taking up too much of your time. You can introduce people to each other, who you think might hit it off (it takes under one minute to make an introduction by email). You could send them a clipping or link to an article they might find interesting. Share their content on your social media accounts. Have a 20-minute chat with someone, without any agenda other than to find out what's going on in their business.

The important thing is to do all this without expecting anything in return. And don't take it personally if they don't reciprocate.

Overcoming Intimidation

When you want to connect with someone who's more successful than you, someone you look up to, it's normal to feel intimidated and think, "What can I possibly have to offer to someone like that?"

The simplest way, Corcoran says, is to give them a sincere compliment. Everybody appreciates it when someone comes up to them and says, "I really like the work that you do. I'm inspired by it. I enjoyed it, and I like supporting you."

It also helps to be attuned to what's going on in their life and look for opportunities to be helpful. Corcoran tells the story of when he and his family had the chance to have a photo taken with President Clinton. He had heard that the President was building his DVD collection and that he was interested in old Western movies. So Corcoran bought some old Western DVDs and presented them to the President during the photo opp. The result? "He ends up stopping and talking to us for five or six minutes," Corcoran recalled.

In short, just relax and connect. Have a normal human conversation. That's the only way to build relationships.

If you think this approach is too calculating and deliberate, remember that we all make choices about the people we hang out with all the time. So why not align more of those choices with your long-term goals?

Published on: Nov 18, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.