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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Monday, January 4, 2010

Eat your salad first, and other career strategies


Every year I get loads of candy over the holidays, and every year I feel compelled to eat it as fast as possible. This is because I always make a New Year's resolution to lose weight and eat healthier, so I figure the faster I consume the candy, the faster I can get on the road to being skinny and fit.

Guess what? It never works. Because before you know it, Valentine's Day is rolling around and that means more candy. Which means I need to get busy scarfing it down so I can get back to losing weight and exercising.

New Year's resolutions are tough. But unlike other people who think they're a waste of time, I sort of like them. It gives me hope every year to think that I want to do better, to be better.

I also have found that it pays to be more realistic when setting goals for myself. So, while I might not always eat healthy stuff, I've promised myself to eat the salad BEFORE the M&Ms.

Here's the story I did on resolutions for your career for my Gannett column:


The problem with making resolutions regarding your career is that you become so busy with your job, or so stressed by everyday work events that you quickly lose sight of the things you want to improve.

For example, maybe you decide that you want to begin the new year by being more organized. But a quick look at the hundreds of e-mails awaiting your attention, the foot-high stack of reports leaning against the wall and the constantly ringing telephone makes you quickly scrap the plan. Who’s got time to get organized?

The key is not being too ambitious. After all, most people are doing more work than ever, and you don’t need to add to the pressure. Don’t make such sweeping plans that you would have to clone yourself a dozen times in order to accomplish a goal. At the same time, don’t try to tackle too many things at one time. Think about putting a new idea into play for each month of 2010. Who cares if you make a resolution for January or September? The point is that you’re trying to make life better for yourself, and that timetable belongs to no one but you.

Here are some ideas to get your started:

1. Get more organized. That’s a resolution that can be pretty ambitious, so instead plan to spend 10 minutes at the end of every day noting your top three most critical tasks for the next day. Take everything else off your desk except for those materials and write the list on piece of paper or your calendar so it’s the first thing you see when arriving for work.
2. Improve skills. Most people have figured out that to survive in today’s business climate they must make themselves more valuable by learning new skills. But deciding to go back to school can be a daunting challenge, especially if you’re working full time. Find a seminar at a nearby college or through a professional group, and attend. Maybe it’s an evening session on how to use social media or how to speak publicly. The point is to find one event that is an investment in yourself professionally.
3. Network. Instead of casting a wide net at an event and passing out business cards randomly or adding 500 people to your list of Twitter follows, target five people a month to add to your network. You can decide whether to call them, connect with them via LinkedIn or even ask them to lunch. Just adding five people a month means you won’t feel overwhelmed and end up doing nothing, and ensures you make a more meaningful connection because you won’t be rushed.
4. Focus on quality. A lot of companies like to say they’re focused on quality, and deluge employees with memos and reports on the subject. But there are ways to focus on the quality of your daily tasks that can make a real difference in how you are viewed at work. Try proofing every single e-mail before you send it, making sure you use proper grammar and spelling. When you leave your personal message for callers, stand up and smile while speaking. Your message will make you sound energetic and approachable.
5. Take the high road. Deciding to be a nicer person is a wonderful goal, and one many people like to put on their resolution list. But the guy in the cubicle next to yours drives you crazy by eating chili cheese dogs – with extra onions – at his desk. The receptionist puts your mail in the wrong box. Lots of little aggravations can challenge your “be nice” resolve at work, and before you know it, you’re upset with yourself after making a snide comment or getting in to an argument with a co-worker. Instead, make a commitment to pay a sincere compliment to one co-worker a day, especially to someone who is getting on your last nerve. Prompting yourself to see the good in someone can help put petty annoyances to rest.

What are some resolutions we should make for our careers this year?





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Thursday, February 5, 2009

When "What Do You Do?" Makes You Want to Punch Something


"So, what do you do?"

While this seems like a fairly harmless question, if you're unemployed, it can have the impact of a freight train.

"Well, right now," you respond, "I'm laid off."

"Oh."

(Sound of crickets chirping.)

It's tough to lose a job. Your work has probably been a big part of who you are and may even color how you see the world. When you don't have that any more, you may begin to question where you fit in. You're confused, angry and depressed. You may begin to withdraw into yourself at the very time you need to be out there at every opportunity.

You don't want people giving you those pitying looks, those guilty glances that you're unemployed and they're not. You're sick to death of people asking you "what you do" and have begun to reply with some rather, er, forthright answers.

"Well, I sit home all day sending out resumes to evil trolls who won't even return a phone call, and then I watch Ellen and Oprah, to make sure I'm up on all the celebrity news before settling in to surf the Internet for endless hours while eating an entire bag of out-of-date Cheetos I bought at the dollar store. And you?"

OK. It's time to get a handle on how to interact with people now that your circumstances have changed. No one expects you to wear a big "J" (for jobless) on your forehead, so stop expecting it of yourself . Remember: Even without a job, you're still you. You're still valuable. You're still worth getting to know.

It's time to:

1. Gird your loins. People can't help but ask "What do you do?" when meeting for the first time. It's human nature, so get used to it. But you don't have to be snarky, or pitiful or embarrassed. They're also going to ask you how your job search is going once they know you're looking for work. Be honest, be positive and be confident. Remember: Most jobs are still achieved through personal contacts. The guy at the cocktail party or the woman you meet at your son's pre-school may be just the key person you need to know to get an interview or promising lead on a job.

2. Seize the day. When you tell someone you just got laid off, an awkward silence can follow. Once you make the statement, someone will feel compelled to say, "Oh, sorry," and then the pity party starts. Jump in before that happens and say something instead like: "I'm a financial adviser but unfortunately just got laid off because of deteriorating market conditions. I'm taking the time to think about what I want to do next. What is it you do?" The key here is that you show you've got talents and you're carefully deciding what to do with them -- and the person is immediately reassured you're not going to start bawling into your martini.

3. Keep your antenna up. When you're depressed and angry, you're not really thinking straight. You're more focused on your emotions rather than on information that might be helpful. So, once you've got your story down pat about your circumstances, then turn the focus back on the other person. Find out not only what they do, but how they do it. There might just be a nugget of information that you can use to help you find a job or land a useful contact. Being seen as professional and able to handle adversity with aplomb will make a lasting impression on those you meet -- and that can also be very helpful to your job search.

4. Get people talking. It's ridiculous in these tough times to try and hide the fact you're unemployed and looking for work. Tell everyone. Network like crazy: "I'm looking for work and I'd like to send you my resume and give you my contact information, and please feel free to forward it to anyone you think might be interested." Give a brief rundown of your top skills, some "highlights" they can use to promote you to others.

5. Send yourself to "me" school. Instead of visiting gossip sites and playing games online all day, figure out what skills you'd like to improve. Teach yourself more about building a website, or start a blog that shows off your skills. Volunteer at a charity that can teach you about community outreach and help you network with others. Check out books at the library that teach you how to be better organized, how to give a better presentation or how to improve your writing skills. These are all positive steps that will not only help you feel better about yourself, but help you when that job does come along.

What are some other coping strategies when you're unemployed?


Lijit Search

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Is Your Knuckle-Cracking Killing Your Job Chances?


I've spent a lot of time lately interviewing people who no longer have jobs. One thing I hear over and over is that they really need to feel they're doing something positive every day. Whether it's writing a blog, teaching themselves a new skill, or making phone calls to network with former colleagues, they manage to keep their sanity by keeping busy and not giving in to panic or despair.

I'm impressed by how many of them want to turn this time in their lives into a self-improvement exercise, focusing on ways they can make themselves more appealing to employers.

As part of that effort, I want to focus on an issue that will not only help the unemployed present themselves to potential employers in a better light, but also aid them once they get a job.

The first thing needed is a video camera. The second is Jay Leno. (If Jay Leno isn't available, a friend or family member will do.)

If you're game for this exercise, the first thing you do is put on clothes that you would wear to an important interview. This gives you a chance to make sure your clothes are not only appropriate and look professional, but comfortable enough you're able to think of more than how you're about to choke in a too-tight collar.

Ask your friend to come up with a list of standard interview questions, but make sure you tell them to add some "zingers" to catch you unprepared. ("Is this your photo on Facebook where you appear to be using a beer bong?")

Now, begin your "interview" with the camera pointed directly at you. The interview should be at least 15 minutes long, with your entire body visible to the camera.

When you're done, get a paper and pen and review your video. Mark down any mannerism you do more than one time, such as fiddling with your hair, clicking a pen, licking your lips, slouching, picking at your face, biting your nails, chewing your lips, playing with your clothing, cracking your knuckles, jiggling your legs, crossing your arms or avoiding eye contact.

Next, listen to your voice. Try and determine if you're talking too loudly or softly, and whether you're easily understood. Do you interrupt the interviewer, use profanity or use "slang" words? Do you say "like" or "you know" too much? (This is a big pet peeve of many interviewers, as in "I, like, was head of my department. I, like, you know, did most of the work.")

If you're not sure what may constitute a bad or annoying habit, consider the things other people may have pointed out to you in the past. For example, if you've ever been told you talk too softly, then you need to work at projecting your voice. Or, if you've ever been told you have poor grammar, dress like a slob, have an annoying habit of jingling change in your pocket, then you've got a place to start looking for improvement.

Further, you can always ask someone who doesn't know you well to review your video, perhaps a neighbor or someone you respect from your industry. Do they notice any habits that are distracting? (Don't put them on the spot by asking for "bad" habits -- they may not want to hurt your feelings.)

You may think that you speak just fine, that you don't have any mannerisms that need correcting. But in this tough job market, you want to stand out because of your qualifications, not because you're the woman who kept flipping her hair over her shoulder or the guy who couldn't stop fiddling with his tie.

It's important to build rapport quickly with an interviewer because you're given only a limited amount of time. While our family members may think it's endearing that we say "for intensive purposes" instead of "for all intents and purposes," an interviewer or business contact is just going to think you're not too bright. Or, while a friend is willing to overlook your habit of constantly petting your beard as if it's a beloved pet, it is just distracting and annoying to people who don't know you well.

No one is perfect. Everyone has bad habits, personal tics and mannerisms that are unique to them. I'm not suggesting you become a robot with no personality. What I am saying is that anything that gets in the way of establishing a better rapport with an interviewer is something that you can improve -- and that's a habit that will serve you well in your career.

What are some ways we can break bad habits that may adversely impact rapport with others?


Lijit Search

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Five Ways to Network With the Boss


Want to know a key player many people forget to network with these days? The boss.

Yep, the head honcho. The big kahuna. The top dog.

You may wonder why you need to network with the boss when a) you see him every day; and b) you see him every day, dammit.

But networking involves much more than just trying to get new business or find a new job. It's about understanding what the other person needs, what will help make him or her successful and how you can develop a quality relationship with the person that is mutually beneficial.

In these stressful economic times, it makes more sense than ever that you establish a stronger connection with your boss. Not only could it help you save your job now, but most bosses have gotten into that position because of their connections -- and you are in a terrific position to tap into that network and help your career in the future.

So, let's look at some ways to network with the boss:

1. Listen. This may sound stupid, as you feel like all you do is listen to the boss. But I'm talking about listening to the subtle or offhand things he may say that can help you make a stronger connection. Maybe his kid is having trouble in math, so you recommend a terrific tutor your own child used. Or perhaps he has developed a love for arena football, so you clip a great article and leave it in his mailbox with a brief note. What you want to do is pay attention to the whole person -- not just the one who happens to sign your paychecks.

2. Volunteer. OK, I know you're working so much right now you're lucky to find time to brush your teeth every day. But if you put your efforts into activities that help the boss with his boss, then it's going to pay off. For example, you can volunteer to spearhead a community fund-raising project, or put together a panel for an industry conference where your boss will be a speaker. The boss gets involved in these activities because he knows it makes his boss happy and raises his profile -- and it can have the same benefit for you.

3. Mentor. Whether you have a lot of experience or maybe very little, you have a skill that can be used to help someone else.The point is to show the boss that you are not only a team player ready to help out another person, but you're taking an active hand in developing leadership qualities.

4. Promote. Some employees believe that it's the job of head brass to go out and promote a company, to get new business in the door and to project a positive image. Excuse me, but that's just baloney. Worldwide competition is so tough right now that employees who promote their company will garner notice from the boss. That means that you talk about the positive aspects of your company and what it can do for customers whether you're at your kid's soccer game or working out at the gym. Show the boss that you understand the business demands and are stepping forward to contribute to the company's success.

5. Respect. Bosses are just like anyone else -- they want to feel appreciated and acknowledged for what they do. So, if the boss does something really great for you (pays for you to attend a great seminar), helps you out (pitches in to help you make a customer happy) or tries his best to be fair and upbeat, then it doesn't hurt to say "thanks." Send an e-mail, or even drop him a personal note if it's something really special. Don't gossip about him with other workers, don't undermine his authority by making snide comments or criticizing his efforts and always understand that until you've walked in his shoes, you should not make judgments about what he does or does not do.

What other ways can an employee effectively network with the boss?

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