Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How to Hang on to a New Job

I know many people hate networking. Hate. It. They feel uncomfortable promoting themselves to others, and many won't even do it when they're desperate for a job. But if these tough times have taught us one thing, it's that if you don't network, someone else will. And, they'll be the ones to get promotions, new jobs and opportunities you'll miss because you're still whining how you don't like to network.

Networking is here to stay. Get used to it. Do it when you're unemployed, do it when you're employed and do it at your kid's soccer game. Just do it.

As you can tell, I feel pretty strongly about the subject. It was the focus on my latest column for Gannett...

You may think that once you land a job you don’t have to sell yourself to others anymore, that your days of trying to establish connections with strangers is over and you can finally just settle down to doing a job and earning a paycheck.

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

The truth is that in this job market, no one should give up the skills they developed while searching for work. Instead, you should keep those abilities honed and ready for use in your new position.

“You’ve got to realize that networking inside a company is just as important as when you were networking on the outside trying to get in,” says Thom Singer, a professional speaker and business consultant who often advises others on networking and communication skills.

While your focus when landing a job was on proving you had the necessary experience and could hit the ground running, you need a different game plan in your first days and weeks in a new job. A recent OfficeTeam survey found that 32 percent of workers said that becoming used to a different corporate culture and colleagues would “pose the greatest challenge” when re-entering the workforce after unemployment.

“You want to reach out to people, and ask them for their help. Make them an ally – show that you want to collaborate and you’re not a threat to them,” Singer says. “This is where you make it about other people. You ask them to show you the ropes.”

And never – never – he says, tell others: “This is how we did it at my last company.” You should not, he says, have the attitude that you’re going to jump in and fix all the problems.

Some may consider this confusing advice. After all, doesn’t the new boss need to see that you’re hot stuff and he made the right decision in giving you the job?

Singer says it’s equally important to a manager that a new employee mesh with the existing team.

“Most bosses are very aware of what’s going on. They know who is helping who,” Singer says. “So, you show you’re inclusive by saying that you worked on something with Mary. They’re going to know who did the work and who was willing to share the credit.”

At the same time, taking such steps may help protect your job in the long run. “When companies make cuts, it’s a lot harder to let go of someone who is popular and well-liked as opposed to the loner,” Singer says.

How else can a new worker forge strong in-house ties? Some ideas:

· Recognize the power brokers. Of course you need to impress managers, but don’t forget that many employees without important titles hold key positions. Be friendly to office managers, receptionists, mail room clerks and IT personnel who can help you navigate office politics, provide insight into the company culture and smooth your way in everything from getting office supplies to having a computer glitch fixed.

· Say “yes.” “If you get invited to lunch or out after work, don’t say you have too much work, but find a way to go,” Singer says. “It’s important to your career that you become part of the group, and if you turn them down, they may just stop asking. Then you’re always going to be seen as an outsider.”

· Walk the halls. Don’t confine yourself to becoming friendly with only those in your department. Be friendly and introduce yourself to others in the organization, even if you’re only passing them in the hallway. “It’s very smart to have ties that run throughout a company. That way, if your department has cuts, you could always try and make a lateral move,” Singer says. “That’s going to be much easier if you know other people in those departments.”

Finally, for those who think they can slack off on their networking now that they have a job, Singer has some advice. "Don’t make the mistake of letting your network disappear. In this economy, there are no guarantees,” he says.


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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

5 Ways to Avoid Freaking Out About Networking

Hear that? That growling noise? That's the sound of dozens of career experts venting their frustrations over how many job seekers still refuse to accept they must network if they want to find a job. Career bloggers are ranting about how the unemployed still spend most of their time looking at job boards instead of making contacts, and it's not getting any better. That's what prompted my interest in this story on networking -- the fact that so many job seekers seem to keep ignoring the advice. Here's the story I did for Gannett:

If you’re looking for work, it may be time to step away from the computer.

That’s because like many job seekers, you’re probably spending way too much time poring over job boards and sending resumes to cyber black holes that offer you little chance of finding a job.

Instead, it’s time to get on the phone or go out to lunch. In other words, it’s time to network, still the best way to land a job.

However, chances are good you’re going to balk at the suggestion. Networking for many people has the appeal of doing taxes or having an especially painful medical procedure.

“I think part of the problem is because people don’t feel at the top of their game when they’re looking for work. They’re afraid of looking needy and helpless to other people. And, they feel like it’s begging – especially if they haven’t been networking until now,” says
Liz Lynch, founder of the Center for Networking Excellence and author of “Smart Networking.”

According to research by
Upwardly Mobile Inc., an online career management service in Palo Alto, Calif., job seekers only talk, or e-mail, an average of eight people outside of their current organization on a monthly basis. Only 38 percent say they have asked for an introduction in the last month, and job seekers on average only have a network of 29 colleagues, which they define as peers they’ve interacted with in the last 18-24 months.

Such statistics, Lynch says, prove it’s time that those hunting for work must move past their doubts and inhibitions about networking if they want to find a job.

“I think the first thing these people need to realize is that others really do want to help them,” she says. “The second thing they need to realize is that they’ve got to be much more targeted and strategic about their networking.”

She suggests job seekers should:

• Attend events attended by others in your industry or field of interest. “If you attend a networking event with random people, it won’t help you. Then, you’ll just say that networking doesn’t work and you won’t do it again,” Lynch says.

• Be prepared. Always dress professionally when networking, refine your pitch on your capabilities and be ready to ask pertinent questions. “I think some people have this idea that they’re’ gong to network with someone and the person will say, ‘Oh, my gosh! I’ve been looking for you all my life!’ People don’t really have a job in their back pocket, but they can give you information that will help you in your search, such as what the hot-button issues are in the industry, or who might be hiring in the future.”

• Give back. It can be uncomfortable and awkward to just call and ask someone for a job lead, so instead ask a question like: “I’ve been thinking of going in this direction with my job search, and I’d like to get your thoughts.” Lynch says it also can help ease your discomfort by then offering something in return, such as saying, “Is there anything I can do for you?” To maintain the connection, send the person articles or information you think they might find of value.

• Avoid over-using social networking. Sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are great for keeping tabs on your contacts, but nothing beats a face-to-face conversation for making strong connections. “Use your social networks to do advance research when you’re going to meet someone, but remember you can make a much better impression in person,” she says.

• Keep the networking muscle in use. It’s estimated college graduates will change jobs nearly a dozen times in their careers, and networks will remain critical. “Often, your discomfort with networking goes away when you’ve got a job, so that’s a great time to work on your connections,” Lynch says. “Take the time once a week or even once a month to ask someone from your company or another connection to go to lunch. By the end of the year, you will really have expanded your network.”

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