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The story below by Amy Dunn Williams was first published in US Black Engineer magazine’s 2006 Homeland Security, Government and Defense Edition. It featured women in the Senior Executive Service (SES). The SES operates and oversees government activity in approxi- mately 75 agencies.


sk anyone who has achieved career success for his or her advice on climbing the ladder and you’re sure to hear, “Network, network, network!” Without a doubt, learning how and with whom to mingle can set you on the path to advancement, giving you the contacts, conversation skills and technical know how to get the job done right. No one knows this better than Tracey Pinson, director of small and disadvantaged business utilization for the U.S. Army. A civilian employee (her position is equal to that of a two-star general), Pinson is responsible for helping small businesses, including those owned by minorities, women, and those living in disadvantaged areas, work with the federal government to obtain contracts. Pinson is a graduate of Georgetown University, and maintains membership with the Maryland Bar Association. A mother, wife, exercise enthusiast and avid golfer. In addition to being one of the Army’s top female acquisition profes- sionals. All of this means that she leads a busy life, one that networking has helped to make infinitely more efficient.

Networking and the ‘Big Picture’ Pinson says that being knowledgeable is the number one most important aspect of success. Technical savvy, hard work and dedication to continuous improvement will get you far. “But you also need to have people skills,” she explains.

“You need to have the ability to manage, the ability to lead, and the ability to seek out those who can help you achieve your goals. That’s where networking comes in.” She says that any time you have an opportunity to dem- onstrate your knowledge and skills to others, you should take it. No one will know what you’re capable of, unless you take it upon yourself to show them. Meet with and talk to as many people as you can.

“When I was just out of law school, my mother would

tell me, ‘You should go and talk with so-and-so,’” she recalls. “She was always trying to get me to go meet with people. And my response would be, ‘does so and so have a job for me?’ I didn’t understand the value of talking to people who were successful, people from whose knowledge and experi- ence I could benefit. I get that now.”

Look for a friendly face Approaching someone you’ve never met can be easier

said than done, and Pinson acknowledges that learning how to network can be a daunting effort for the shy or inexperienced. “You have to work within your comfort zone,” she explains. “It takes a certain amount of courage to walk up to someone you don’t know, and start talking to them.”

The solution? Look for a welcoming face. “When you walk into a room, and you don’t know any- one there, you have two choices. You can either hang out by yourself, or you can seek out a friendly face.” Pinson says that in no time at all, a casual exchange with that one friendly face can lead you into a host of conversa- tions with interesting and potentially influential people from a variety of backgrounds.

“Someone has to start the conversation,” she says. “Why shouldn’t it be you?”

Pinson recommends professional association events as a great forum for networking. She remains a member of her college sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, and is very active in the African American Federal Executive Association, of which she is a co-founder. She also stresses the importance of read- ing the Sunday sports page.

“Learn how to talk about sports, even if you hate them,” she insists. “This is especially true for women. If you can talk about sports, you can talk to anyone. It’s a universal subject, and gives you a jumping-off point from which to start a conversation that has nothing to do with work.” She says that getting yourself into the habit of checking sports scores, or tuning into a game or two on the weekends, will help you to develop a wealth of potential conversation starters for your next meeting or event.

Love what you do

Networking and career advancement in general becomes vastly easier when you’re working in a field that you love. Pinson recommends pursuing a career that you feel genuinely passionate about, one that makes you look forward to coming to work every day.

“I know I’m part of a program that is making a differ- ence,” she says. “We give small business owners and entre- preneurs an opportunity to get lucrative government contracts they would otherwise never have gotten. I see the difference we make first hand; people are constantly coming back and thanking me for what we’ve done for them.” Giving a voice to those who are too often unheard and helping them to navigate through the confusing bureaucratic process gives Pinson a sense of pride and accomplishment. So does working for the Army, which she says is like being a part of a large extended family. “I love the Army,” she says. “It’s a great place to be.”


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