Fear

Recommended Reading – Networking

There are a number of books that I find myself regularly recommending to clients, friends, acquaintances and so on…I just find them so universally of value that I end up mentioning them quite frequently.  As such, I realized that I really should share them with you. In this post, I’ll start with my top two on networking:

 
The Fine Art of Small Talk by Debra Fine

This book is a must for people who are terrified of networking.  In addition to the play on words in its title, the content is quite engaging.  I love this book for two reasons: first, because it is practical – full of specific, tangible examples of what one might say in various situations; and second, because it is written from the point of view of someone who is not a natural at all of this networking stuff but learned.  Because she had to learn it step-by-step, she can, and does, explain it clearly.  Not all the examples will fit for all people, but there are so many, you are sure to find some that work for you.  This book, I have actually mentioned in a previous blog but it bears repeating.

Click to see this book on Amazon:
The Fine Art of Small Talk: How To Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills — and Leave a Positive Impression!

Make Your Contacts Count by Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon

Looking at networking from a different angle, this book illustrates the strategy around networking. With no strategy behind it, your networking may be enjoyable but could result in many wasted opportunities. That was my situation several years back, before this book was recommended to me by a colleague whose networking skills I admire. Now, I love being in a position to help others and I love it when they ask me. In return, I don’t hesitate to ask for what I need because I know we are in it together. Don’t look back with regret at what you “could have” done – apply these concepts and enjoy the effects of building long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.

Click to see this book on Amazon:
Make Your Contacts Count: Networking Know-how for Business And Career Success

Both of these books are relatively short, easy reads. If you add at least one business book to your summer reading list, consider these.  What are some of your most recommended business books?  Comment on this post to share your recommendations with other readers!

From hobby to career

Many people are considering a major career change these days. Some by necessity, others driven by factors such as wanting a “retirement” career, wanting to balance child or parent care, or just a desperate wanting to get out of a career that is sucking the life out of them. Fearful souls will ask them “Why would you do this now? Look at the economy! Look at the job market!”

If you have a hobby that you would like to potentially make a career, do not let these nervous nellies dissuade you. Now, that does not mean leap before you look! There are many factors you must consider objectively to determine whether you are ready. But let me tell you about a woman I know — we’ll call her “Sue”:

Sue had worked for many years in a technical field, in a large corporation. Overall, she enjoyed her work. But she also enjoyed creative projects – primarily sewing and jewelry making. She did it for fun, but she worked hard at learning, constantly growing her skills because she enjoyed it so much. She sewed for friends and family and even did a few projects for pay over the years and recently began selling her jewelry at craft shows.  She really wanted to pursue her passion, and find a job using her creative skills but because she didn’t have any “real” experience in it, she thought no one would hire her. What she did have is creative skill and knowledge, people skills, passion, a steady work history and strong work ethic. After focusing on these key selling points, we re-packaged her resume and verbal messages. She began realizing it was possible. She got energized and began presenting herself to target companies. Four days later, she called me to say she had already received interview opportunities!  

Would she start at the top? Could she walk in at the same salary she had before? No.  But she had arranged things in her life so that she was able to take this step back to do what she loved. These may not be the “right” opportunities ultimately; that will depend on many factors.  But it proved to her that the experience she gained in her hobby is worth something in the employment market. 

If you are considering making a career of your hobby, you have to ask yourself a number of questions including:

  • whether your skills in this area are sufficient (sometimes we love doing something but we’re not very good at it)
  • if you have a financial situation or can adjust it so that you can take a step back in pay in the short term (or longer, depending on where you are coming from and going to)
  • if this is really something you want to do as a career (or will it lose it’s luster when it is no longer a ‘choice’?)

If the answers to these questions are “Yes”, go ahead and at least explore.  It seems ironic, but now can be a good time to change careers even though there is a glut of “talent” in the market.  Yes, some companies are looking for only people with deep experience in the particular field or industry, but many companies are frustrated with the same, tired talent they’ve been seeing – with great experience but no passion.  And that is regardless of age.  They don’t want a bored 25 year old any more than they do a bored 52 year old. 

I talk with hiring managers in companies regularly who understand there are a lot  of people looking for new directions, who have some related skills and knowledge if not the formal experience,  who are open and flexible.   They are interested in these people if they have the most important factor – an authentic interest that they can articulate and which is backed up by their actions.  More than ever, companies are not just looking for a body.  They are  looking for someone who will make a difference.

Introverts’ natural strengths in networking – part I

I talk with a LOT of people about their career. Getting promoted, finding new jobs, developing their executive presence and so on. A success factor in all of these areas is the ability to network. Already some of you are recoiling. Specifically, those of you who label yourself introverts. I know, truly I do – the idea of walking into a room of people you don’t know and finding someone to talk with makes you very, very uncomfortable. You may even wear this as a badge of honor, as in: “Eww, I hate networking!” *emphasis on networking as if it’s a dirty word*

But what if I asked you – do you like people? Most of you would say “yes”. However, if you are an introvert you can most likely be described as selectively social, in that you like to develop deeper relationships with fewer number of people than an extrovert would.

Consider this: there are attributes common to introverts that can actually help them network effectively.

1. Introverts are often very observant

2. Introverts often like to listen

3. Introverts value connecting with people on a deeper level and need to feel there is a shared purpose to value the relationship

4. Introverts often are sensitive to/don’t like to make others uncomfortable

If these things are true for you, you may actually enjoy networking a bit, once you’ve learned the basic mechanics and how to leverage your strengths. The most important mechanics (and which may trip you up and/or terrify you) are entering a leaving a conversation. But first, getting your attitude right is important. It is imperative that you approach networking from the perspective that:

1. It may be mutually beneficial. You are not just asking or taking, you are giving too. You have more to offer than you think.

2. It is your responsibility to carry your share of the load. This means initiating conversation. If you make the other person do all the initiating, you are making them do the lion’s share of the work. And that’s not very gracious, is it?

3. Being nervous is about you, not them. I don’t remember where I heard this gem, but I absolutely love it and it has helped me tremendously over the years. Focusing on being nervous puts the emphasis on how you are feeling, not on how they are feeling. Magically, if you focus on them and putting them at ease, you will find yourself more at ease.

Okay, back to the mechanics. To enter a conversation:

1. Identify someone who is standing or sitting alone (here is where you’re using your power of observation)

2. Approach them (remember – by taking the initiative, you are taking the burden off them, and making them more comfortable which they will likely appreciate)

3. Introduce yourself – “Hi, I’m Susan” or “Is this seat taken? (Pause and sit) Hi, I’m Susan.” (smile)

4. Always shake hands if it is a business setting

5. Select one of a few questions you have identified in advance as conversation starters – “Are you new to this group?” or “Have you been a member of this group long?” or “I believe Daniel Pope invited a number of new people to this event. Did he invite you?”, etc.

6. Be prepared to make a follow up statement and ask a question that is more open ended and likely to result in a longer/deeper answer – “You’ve been a member for ten years? Wow! You must value the group. What have you found the most valuable?” or “What advice would you have for a new member like me, in order to get the most out of my membership?” or “You’re a new member too? What interested you in joining?” (Now you are leveraging your strength in listening and your interest in other people.)

Everyone at an event has chosen to be there for some reason. Focus on finding out why those you meet are there. This alone can lead to some very fruitful discussions. It will help you uncover common interests and perhaps even ways you can help them (here’s the mutually beneficial part).

Now, a word about distance. If you are selectively social, you don’t want to become best friends with everyone you meet. And the good news is – you don’t have to. But you don’t have to ignore them either. There is an in-between ground. If you follow the steps above you will get there, more easily than you might have imagined.

As a good networking conversation is brief, it will soon be time to exit the conversation (perhaps to your relief). We have already bitten off quite a bit today, so I’ll give you a chance to digest the above and I will address exiting in my next post.

Is Fear Driving You?

What is driving your career choices right now? I know a lot of people for whom fear is the driving factor. It’s understandable, given the current headlines. Record unemployment rates since the Great Depression! Recession proof your job!  they scream.  These headlines are designed to excite our interest and they do.  But at what cost?

I talk to a lot of people about their careers, and I’ve seen an interesting dichotomy crop up over the past year or so.  On one hand, I see people staying in jobs they are unhappy with, their commitment and their skills getting duller and duller with each passing day, because they are too afraid to raise their head above the ground.  Hunkering down in their cubicle like the proverbial foxhole, they stay out of the line of fire.  They also stay out of the line of opportunity.  They don’t learn; they don’t grow. 

I once worked with someone who had done this for several years only later to realize how much he had stunted his career.

“I don’t have six years of experience,” he exclaimed bitterly. “I have one year of experience six times.”

On the other hand, I frequently see people intentionally running in the opposite direction from an industry they love because they want “something more stable”.   Unfortunately, their definition of stable often means “anything other that what I already know.”  They leave so much accumulated knowledge at the door, and end up in a situation that can offer them no more security than they had to begin with.  It’s sad.

Both of these situations describe overreactions based on fear.

Sometimes, however, fear is a rational reaction.  If you are in a rapidly declining industry, in a role that relies on growth (sales, for example), with no room built into your personal financial situation for a down quarter-or year-you may have reason to fear.   For those who have lost their jobs, the effects of the current unemployment picture in the U.S. are very real.  The length of time on average that it takes to land a new role has risen to around six months.   For some, this can be devastating, financially and otherwise.  

The fact is, though, that even in this time of economic crisis-turned-ennui, most of us will not lose our jobs.  We will continue getting paid to use our talents, whatever they may be.  Just like making smart financial investments, we need to make smart professional investments.  We need to have long-term goals and constantly be taking small steps toward those goals.  Will we have mis-steps sometimes?  Sure.  But we won’t be too far off track, if we have been mindful.

If fear can help you in one way, let it be this: to motivate you to ask yourself “Where do I want to go in my career and what am I doing to get myself there?” 

Define that future, then lay a brick each day.  Build your own path.