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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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I’ve Stared Into the Abyss…and Seen a Lot of My Friends

If you’re not worried, you’re not paying attention.

Bad times are here, folks. Those people who make the numbers 4 and 5 are busy printing them up as fast as they can for gas stations. As in: $4.00 a gallon. $5 a gallon.

The front page of AJR (American Journalism Review) reads:"Maybe It Is Time to Panic."

And here's a press release from JobFox: "While the value of the dollar is shrinking, many job seekers - including in-demand technology specialists - must accept new positions at lower salaries than they did just a month ago."

OK, you don't have to beat me over the head with it. I get it. It's bad and it's time to take action and not just sit around and wring my hands.

So, in the last two weeks, I have:

*Networked with dozens of new people and established contact with them online and via phone.
* Done detailed research about where new opportunities are being predicted and how I can move into those areas.
* Checked in with all my bosses and clients to make sure they still find my product of value.
* Began adding "extras" to my work -- and letting my bosses and clients know about it.
* Checked into new technology and researched where it can help me do my job better. I'm ready to make an investment in voice recognition because my bad elbow is seriously hampering my productivity.

So, what are you doing about your current career situation? Are you hunkered down and praying the next business or economic downturn will pass you by?

I want to know: What are you doing to UP YOUR GAME?


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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Recommendations Play Key Role in Job Search

Human resource people tell me a good reference can make or break a job applicant, but many of those vying for jobs seem to give their references little or no consideration.

With that in mind, here are some tips for getting the most out of your references:

1. Contact the reference. Make sure you have current addresses, phone numbers and e-mails for each person you give as a reference. Ask them how they would like to be contacted and if it's OK to give his or her name to companies. (You'd be surprised how many people don't do this.) If possible, meet with the reference in person. This also gives you a chance to strengthen the connection.
2. Provide the best reference. You don’t have to just give the names of people who worked with you. Perhaps you volunteer at an organization that allows you to be creative – and you would like a new employer to see this side of you. Or perhaps a client saw your ability to handle difficult customers well while providing top-notch service. Consider the job requirements and what skills you want highlighted and use a reference that best plays up those aspects.
3. Know what will be said. Don’t be shy about finding out what each reference will say about you. This should be done diplomatically – remind the reference of projects you worked on, your contribution and how that would be important to the new employer. Prospective employers might ask about your ability to work in teams, how dependable you were, if you were liked and respected by co-workers, if you were self-directed and if you completed projects. Ask the reference what they consider your strengths and your weaknesses for these kinds of issues. Then gently try to put a positive spin on any deficits. Avoid taking anything personally.
4. Keep references informed. Once you think you’ve got a good shot at a job, let the reference know a call may be coming. Let them know the position, the company, and what skills are needed. That way, the reference can couch responses to fit the criteria. It’s also a good idea to supply the reference with a current copy of your resume. Make sure you stress how their reference is critical to you getting the job.

One thing to keep in mind: You're much more likely to get a favorable review from a reference if you've networked effectively with them. That means you've let them know how your career has progressed, and stayed in contact with former employees, bosses and co-workers several times a year through e-mail or phone calls.

At the same time, make sure you've offered to serve as a reference for them if you feel comfortable with it. (A good reference is more likely when it is mutually beneficial.) Finally, whether you land the offer or not, be sure and let the reference know the outcome of your job search. And if a sterling recommendation helps you land the job of your dreams, take that person out to celebrate.


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Friday, November 30, 2007

Attend a Job Fair Like You Mean It

Be honest: The last time you went to a job fair, did you do more than fill out a couple of applications or toss your resume at a recruiter? Did you rehearse your qualifications while standing in line to meet employers or did you work the Sudoku puzzle in the local newspaper? Did you use the event as a chance to network with everyone, or stand alone and drink free coffee?

The sad truth is that many of those attending job fairs blow it. Instead of using it as a chance to make themselves stand out from the pack, these job seekers often blend in with hundreds of others attending the event because they haven’t prepared.

The key is remembering that job fairs involve more that just wandering aimlessly among the job booths. It’s a chance to meet and impress employers, network with the business community and hone your job search skills.

If you’re planning on attending a job fair, some important points to remember include:

· Doing a test run. If you’ve never attended a job fair before, consider attending one where you simply observe how it’s run. Ask organizers what is the best way to move through the fair, and who are key employers attending. Learn from attendees what works and what doesn’t – look for those candidates who seem to really capture the attention of the recruiters and stand out. What are some things you can learn from their behavior?

· Do your homework. Once you decide on the job fair, research the employers who will be attending. What does the company do? How many employees do they have? What is the mission statement? How could your skills fit into that environment? Use the Internet or call the company for an information packet before the event so that you’re prepared to ask questions of the recruiter. The candidate who can move beyond, “What does your company do?” will be noticed.

· Be organized. Once you’ve researched the employers, keep your information in files to be reviewed before each conversation. Don’t be worried if the recruiter sees your notes – it will show that you cared enough to do the research and are approaching the fair professionally. Don’t juggle a coat, papers, umbrella, coffee cup, etc. Carry your things in a professional tote or briefcase, and keep your coat hung up or neatly folded over your arm. Eat or drink away from the recruiter tables – keep at least one hand free to shake hands and accept business cards. If there is free merchandise, don’t try to keep track of that as well. If you don’t have a bag to store it, leave it. It’s much more important that you look professional, not like a kid at the carnival.

· Hone your message. You won’t have much time to meet with recruiters, and they will want to hear your qualifications clearly and concisely so they can move on to other candidates. Practice your promotional message that outlines your strengths and how you could be of value to the company. Look for specific strengths. Saying you’re a “people person” doesn’t say much, but saying that you are detail-oriented and thrive on helping solve problems tells the recruiter more.

· Look and sound the part. Dress professionally and neatly and make sure your breath is fresh and hair neatly combed. (Don’t chew gum.) Make eye contact and always offer a firm handshake. When you speak, make sure you keep your head up and pointed toward the interviewer. Job fairs can get noisy – don’t shout, but project your voice clearly.

· Take notes and get names. Have a pad and pen ready so that you can take notes from your interview. Keep the recruiter’s business card with your notes, and make sure you get an address so that you can send a thank-you note after the job fair. Your notes should keep track of particular interests of the employer, the qualifications being sought and where and when you can do further interviewing.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Job Loss: You Could Be Next

If you’re feeling a little uptight about your job these days, you’re not alone. And if you’re not feeling a little uptight, you should be.

That’s because the employment figures released last week weren’t so hot. Those lost jobs – the first time that’s happened in four years – comes on the heels of a lousy housing market and continuing costly overseas military actions.

Of course, the more optimistic among you will cite the good retail sales figures and the strong corporate profits as signs that things will again be good, and that you’ve got no reason to be worried.

Are you absolutely sure about that? Well, if so, then continue on your merry way and don’t worry about tomorrow. But for those of you who are concerned that your job may be threatened (remember, companies keep those profits high by using employees as commodities), then it’s time to take stock and prepare.

While I’ve covered some of these in my “What To Do When You Lose a Job” posting, I’d like to beef it up a bit. Even if you feel like your job is safe, you’d be foolish to turn your nose up at these opportunities that will not only benefit your job now, but help you should the pink slip be in the next paycheck:

1. Attend the next professional event. You’ve been putting this off because, frankly, you’re so exhausted after work the last thing you want to do is talk business and eat stale pretzels while trying to remember some guy’s name you met a year ago. Go to the next event and not only should you learn everyone’s name, but come away with at least three new contacts. Is your industry vulnerable to the ripples going on now in the economy? Are other companies already making noises about layoffs? What are other professionals in your industry seeing at their companies?
2. Do some snooping. Get to know the boss’s executive assistant if you don’t already. Get friendly enough to take him or her to lunch or meet for a drink after work. Is this assistant hearing anything about the boss being told to tighten the budget? Is the boss – or the boss’s boss – thinking of jumping ship? What departments are scheduled for new training, and who is being cut off from decision-making?
3. Start blogging. Make sure it’s OK with your company policy first, but this is a good chance to set yourself up as an expert in your area. Post important information from other sites, and refer readers to other places for information. Even if you aren’t allowed to blog about your job, find other bloggers in your industry and post comments. This is a good way to become known for your knowledge and expertise.
4. Know what’s being said about you online. You want to make sure that what is being presented about you online does not give a company the excuse it’s looking for to get rid of you. Remove anything questionable, and ask friends to remove photos or descriptions that make you look or sound like a total moron or dangerous human being.
5. Know where the jobs are. Make sure you understand not only what you’re worth, but what areas of the country (or world) are hiring people with your skills and abilities. Constantly assess your network and how up-to-date you are on current trends, how fast you could hit the ground running for a new employer. If you’re lacking in an area, don’t wait – get the training either through your company or on your own.

Remember, you want to make sure you’ve got a game plan in place before you see someone from security standing by your desk with a cardboard box. Waiting until you and everyone else from your company is filing out the door with those boxes could mean that you should have heeded this warning in the first place.

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Thursday, August 2, 2007

How the Heck to Use LinkedIn

Several months ago when I got caught up in the frenzy of thinking I needed to get involved in anything that came into my line of sight (see previous post), I was told about LinkedIn.

Immediately I visited the Web site and realized that a) it wasn’t a porn site and b) it was in English – so I signed up. If you had asked me at the time what LinkedInwas exactly, I could not have told you.

Several weeks after that, someone sent me an e-mail and said they had seen my name on LinkedIn. “How,” the person asked, “are you using this?”

Huh, I thought, I kinda wonder that myself. “Not sure,” I quickly responded. “How about you?”

The reply: “I’m still trying to figure that out.”

Welcome to the evolving world of LinkedIn, where everyone seems to sign up but is still learning how – or if – it has value for them. It’s been called everything from the “digital equivalent of chain mail” to “a dorky service” for the "never weres" while others say it has netted them millions of dollars worth of business in a matter of months.

I spent some time talking with Kay Luo, LinkedIn’s director of corporate communications, whose job it is to answer pesky questions from journalists who want to know the answer to this burning question: So, how the heck do you use LinkedIn?

Luo says that LinkedIn is trying to make it clearer how to use the networking site for professionals, providing guidelines online. Luo’s criteria seems pretty straightforward: “I connect with who I would give my cell phone number to,” she says.

In other words, connect with those people you trust, believe in, or know to have qualities you admire. No serial killers, no bullies and no spammers need apply.

There are some great ideas from others who have learned to use LinkedIn effectively, and I’ll post some of those thoughts, as well as my own. If you have anything to add, please let me know in the comments section. We can all learn together.

Using LinkedIn:

1. Add connections. This means more people will see your profileand want to work with you because you know some of the same folks they do.
2. Customize your public profile. Luo told me to select “full view” instead of using the default URL and customize my public profile’s URL to be my name.
3. Check your messages. Try to do this at least once a week. I’ve sent messages to some people and they haven’t responded for weeks simply because they didn’t know to look for e-mail on their site.
4. Be clear about your intentions. Be direct about why you’re approaching someone, and they’re generally happy to help out. Don’t lie or puff up your credentials. The truth will come out and you’ll look like an idiot – and get lumped in with those serial killers, spammers and bullies.

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