networking

The referral engine

In my last post, I mentioned that some job seekers are quite successful in getting referrals to job opportunities or potential hiring managers.  For consultants, it’s even more important.

In addition to traditional job seekers, I often talk with those who are considering or who have decided to make the leap into consulting. One of the biggest questions is: how do you market? More directly, what have you found to be effective?

I sometimes wish I had an “easy and quick” answer for them, like build a website and they will come but it just doesn’t seem to work that way.

What I’ve found is – it’s not about the “marketing”, it’s about the relationships. Not that people buy your services just because they like you. If they don’t have a need, they don’t buy.  But when they do have a need, they want to buy from someone they know and trust or at least has been referred by someone they know and trust (and thus by extension is credible.)

I facilitated a roundtable earlier this year on starting and growing a consulting business and every consultant there said that almost all their business came from referrals. Granted, these were all consultants with individual or very small group practices.  But, I’ve also worked in one of the world’s largest human capital consulting companies, and I’ve found it to be mostly true even there.  Most of the business comes through relationships that have been built, sometimes long ago, sometimes only recently. I have one contact to whom I can now track back at least eight different clients.  Talk about a powerful engine!

This is not to say that you don’t need any marketing collateral or web presence, at the very least on social media.  You do. But it is not what will get you to the dance.

If you are launching your own endeavor, go out, get involved.  In the professional community or in the civic community.  Make sure you are interacting with people who may be most likely to contract your services, or know people who will contract your services.  This will depend greatly on what kind of consulting you do, whether it is more B2C or B2B, if you are targeting clients in a particular industry and other factors.  Find opportunities to speak at events and let your expertise shine.  It may lead to work immediately, or it may lead simply to a new contact. But that new contact may be in a position to refer you business down the road.  Build that relationship, help them achieve their goals, and in return, someday they may help you achieve yours.

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Let your Skills do the talking on LinkedIn

Last year, I wrote a post about creating a robust profile on LinkedIn.  It’s time to update that because of the  new(ish) LinkedIn feature called Skills.  It has been in beta testing for a long time, and technically still is, but I believe it’s here to stay.  LinkedIn has incorporated it into the initial profile building process.  For those of you who joined LinkedIn a year ago or more, you didn’t get pushed through this process automatically, but it is easy to remedy that now.

The Skills feature has great functionality which benefits recruiters, job seekers and passive candidates alike.  Recruiters in particular, who have access to special features as part of upgraded/focused account types, can and do “power search” in the Skills feature.   This will only work to your advantage if you have skills listed!

Here’s one quick way to identify relevant skills and add them to your profile:

  • Under the More menu, click on Skills
  • In the search box, enter a primary skill that you use in your work (or otherwise possess) and search…
  • On the resulting page, read the description of that skill in the center column and look at the people listed below to see whether this skill is a good “match” for your profile — consider your professional brand.
  • If so, click on the blue Add Skill button.  This skill will now show on your profile.
  • Check out the list of related skills in the column on the left.  Click any which may be a fit, and repeat the process above.  You will soon have a robust set of skills on your profile.

How to mine the Companies feature on LinkedIn

I promised this post a long time ago, and have not tackled it until now because there is simply too much good stuff there and it’s hard to whittle down!  However, to be readable, I really must make it short and sweet.  So, here are my top five tips on using the Companies information on LinkedIn:

1. Find your target companies and “follow” them

Why: Updates about the company will show up on your home page.  You can keep up-to-date with what is happening in their business, including posted jobs, and be attuned to changes that may be to your benefit, for example, if someone was promoted, perhaps their position will need to be backfilled. 

How: On the company page, click on the yellow Follow button.

2. Review the company statistics.

Why: You can get a general sense of tenure, what functions may have a significant presence on LinkedIn, where the company has employees and more.  

How: Click on the link that says “Check out insightful statistics about…”

3. Review the list of employees.

Why: You won’t be able to see all employees generally, but can review enough to see what titles they use, where people in various functions are located, get a sense for company specific lingo and more.

How: Click on the blue (hyperlinked) number next to the phrase Employees on LinkedIn.

4. Find a contact.

Why: Well, why are you looking?  Is it because you are seeking information or an introduction? In either of these cases, your best bet is going to be someone who is already in your extended network.

How: Click on the lists of folks at the company who are in your network or are fellow alumni. Consider how close of a connection they are, what function or geography they work in, what level they are and so on to determine who best to reach out to.

5. Prepare for interviews (or networking meetings.) 

Why: This one’s obvious. There is a bounty of information at your fingertips.  Shame on you if you go in unprepared.  Doing your research shows you have genuine interest (as well as good research skills).  

How: Review everything possible on the company page including the things mentioned above.  Review the profile, if available, of the people you will meet with as well as others in the department by searching for their name in the main Search box or in the employee list.

I have just scratched the surface with these five tips, but if you use these, it will provide leverage to expand and enhance your networking and job search activities.This is the kind of insight that people in the past would give their right arm for.  Don’t waste the knowledge you can gain through a few clicks.  Knowledge is power.   

 

Find your tribe: LinkedIn groups

After a nice little summer break, I’m back.  In my last post, I said I would next begin covering intermediate LinkedIn functions, so here goes!

Would you like to connect with other like-minded professionals?  No matter where they are located? 

Looking for contacts in a particular company?

Hate networking a room? 

Looking to expand your knowledge? 

Would you like to become better known in your “niche”?

There are many reasons to join LinkedIn groups.  To a great extent, they mirror the reasons to join any group: to share or gather information, to meet people with common interests, to be part of something larger than yourself, to help others.  The reasons go on and on.   But there are over 900,000 groups on LinkedIn!  How do you find the right ones?

Here are some quick tips that can help you find and use LinkedIn groups to achieve your goals:

Find relevant groups

  • Look at what groups your connections belong to
  • Go to the Groups Directory and use the search function to find groups within your industry or profession
  • Find the LinkedIn group for any professional associations you already belong to
  • Find the Alumni group for your alma mater

 

Assess and join

  • Determine whether a group is a fit for you by reading the group description, looking at highlighted members and, if it’s an open group, reading some of the discussion 
  • Look for both quality (in terms of the content) and quantity (in terms of the members and activity).  The bigger the group, the more access you will have to information and contacts; however, small niche groups with whom you will have a lot of interaction can be very valuable as well
  • You can join up to 50 groups, though you don’ t need nearly that many to get the value you seek.  Find 2-4 that you will be very active with and approximately 10 more which give you some variety, but are still relevant  

Engage in meaningful activity

  • Now that you’ve found the right groups, jump right in! One of the beauties of online groups is that people get down to business without much small talk, or long introductions 
  • Add value.  Share your expertise or raise relevant issues through the discussions and comments. This will drive more meaningful conversation
  • Post, share (or apply for) related jobs
  • If you are seeking a new position, find contacts within your target companies and even target location using the search function
  • Encourage others!  Everybody likes to be encouraged and it builds relationships
  • Once meaningful contact is established, consider taking a network contact “offline”.  If it makes sense, you may want to deepen the professional relationship by meeting for coffee, talking by phone, or connecting at a conference

Groups are a great shortcut for networking and building your professional brand.  Use the tips above to get started today!

LinkedIn recommendations: recommended

To have or not to have?  That is the question (apologies to Shakespeare.)  

In my book, there is absolutely no doubt.  Have. 

There are people who argue against LinkedIn recommendations and their argument goes something like this: “Who would include bad recommendations?  Of course they are all going to be good.  Therefore, they cannot be trusted and are of no value.”

These cynics are partially correct.  It’s true that you won’t find a negative recommendation about someone on their own LinkedIn profile.  Why would they include such a thing?  And, are there many recruiters and hiring managers who don’t put much value on recommendations, or even read them?  Yes, there are. 

However, the points in favor of including recommendations on your profile outweigh the points against.  As I mentioned in my post Power of the profile, they can be beneficial if done right.  I’ll outline below some reasons to include recommendations, as well as provide a few pointers in making your recommendations work for you. 

Why you should include recommendations on your LinkedIn profile:

  • Without at least 3 recommendations, your profile will not reach 100% completeness.  This negatively affects where you show up in search results.  Say, for example, that a recruiter does a search for profiles which match certain criteria. Do you want to give yourself the best odds you can? Of course you do.  Consider this quote from the LinkedIn Help Center:                                                                                          

 “Users with Recommendations in their profiles are three times more likely to receive relevant offers and inquiries through searches on LinkedIn. Recommendations written about you are visible to members within your network and also to Fortune 500 companies that use the LinkedIn Recruiter corporate tool.”

  • Many recruiters actually do read those recommendations.  And, they look at who wrote them.  If you have a recommendation from a former manager talking about your amazing Java skills and you are branding yourself as a web-based software developer, do you think this will help or hurt the recruiter’s impression of you? 
  • A recommendation of you shows up on the profile of the person who made it.  This gives you additional exposure and the chance to be found by someone who may be looking for someone just like you. 

Here’s how to make the most of your recommendations:

  • Ask for recommendations from people with strong professional reputations who know your work first-hand.  Having a variety of current or former managers, clients, colleagues and employees is a good idea.  Also, recommendations on your most recent work experience is usually best, but it is advisable to have at least one from each job or company in the last several years.
  • Ask them to be specific about some of your skills or achievements.  Saying “he’s a great guy; really enjoyed working with him” is not nearly as helpful as “he was my go-to guy for creating impactful marketing plans under tight deadlines.”  You may even tell them you are trying to highlight your skills in a certain area, and ask them to write about those.
  • Obtain a minimum of 3 recommendations.  You don’t need to go overboard – 30 recommendations is not necessarily better than 10.  Think quality vs. quantity, but at least have 3.

It’s that simple!

To get some recommendations from your preferred connections, simply ask.  Also, consider proactively providing one for them.  You never know when it might help them, and perhaps they will return the favor.  Be professionally generous and it will come back to you.

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!

So you’re ready to get LinkedIn

It’s finally time to jump in with both feet.  Here’s the process, plain and simple, with a few important cautions:

  1. Go to www.linkedin.com
  2. In the box with the blue banner which reads “Join LinkedIn Today” add your First Name, Last Name, Email address and whatever password you want to use for LinkedIn.  This is not for entering your email password. If you want to use the same password as your email account, that is fine.  Or, you can create a different one.
  3. For your email, do not use your work email.  If your employment status suddenly changes, you may end up having problems accessing LinkedIn or updating your account.  Use your personal email or create a separate email for this specific use (I suggest one of the free hosts like Gmail.)  You can always add your work email later as a secondary email, so that you can receive notifications there if you like.
  4. Click “Join Now”

You are now a member!  LinkedIn will now lead you through some initial processes to help you get your profile set up and begin making connections.   Here are some important considerations:

  • You will have the opportunity to include a profile photo.  In most cases, this is a good idea.  LinkedIn was created for the purpose of helping people connect.  The reality is, people feel more connected when they can “see” each other.  If you want people that you meet or that you’ve worked with to accept your invitation to connect, you have a better chance if your photo is on your profile.
  • Profile photos can be a detriment, however, in some circumstances.  Never use a photo that appears unprofessional.  For example, you are in your bathing suit, or at a party with a drink in your hand, or are posing with your dog (unless you are in a profession that deals with animals).   Also, if you are worried about discrimination of some sort, you have to make the decision about whether your photo will hurt you more than it will help you. 
  • LinkedIn will offer to automatically “find contacts” using your email address book.   Unless you want most or all of the people in your address book to receive invitations to connect, I suggest bypassing this feature.  There are other methods to add connections which offer you more control.   You really need to populate your profile first anyway.

More on populating your profile with powerful content in the next post…

LinkedIn to career success

Even though LinkedIn is growing by leaps and bounds, I am still finding many professionals out there who are not on it, or are on it, but don’t really know how to use it.   This has inspired me to write a series on LinkedIn – some tips and techniques you can use to make use of it professionally.   LinkedIn won’t be my exclusive writing focus but I’ll sprinkle posts in throughout the remainder of the year that you may find helpful. 

In future posts, I’ll get to more of the how-to.  Today, I’ll address the why-to.  Let me ask you a few questions:

  • have you ever left a job and later realized you can’t find the contact information of co-worker, vendor or client you’d like to get in contact with?
  • have you ever wanted to get in contact with a co-worker, vendor or client who has left their company?
  • would you like to stay up-to-date with your professional contacts, but aren’t the best at taking time for lunch or coffee with them?
  • would you like to be able to reach out, on a moment’s notice, to a large number of professionals in your field to get information on new developments in your field, or get recommendations on resources?
  • would you like to be able to find in-depth information on job titles, job descriptions and job locations within companies, not just what is posted on the job boards?
  • would you like to be able to identify contacts within companies for networking, job search or marketing purposes?
  • would you like to do more to control or enhance your professional brand?

Okay, that’s more than a few questions.  I think you get the idea.  Not only is LinkedIn a great way to maintain control of your ‘Rolodex’ and maintain connections to your professional contacts, it is a gold mine of market intelligence.  In the coming weeks, I’ll walk you through methods for achieving all of the above.  

Subscribe today to be notified by email of future posts, so you don’t miss these timely and practical tips.  I look forward to helping you get LinkedIn!

Introverts’ natural strengths in networking – part II

Okay, you’ve successfully entered a networking conversation. It’s going well. Hooray! Now it’s time to leave.
“What??” you say, “But I’m just starting to get comfortable.”

Exactly. Networking conversations are meant to be short. If you are starting to get really comfortable, the conversation may be starting to run long. You really shouldn’t need more than about 5 minutes, tops. Remember, you are making a business contact, not reconnecting with a long lost friend. As a gracious networker, you must allow the other person to connect with other people and achieve their aims for the evening. So, you need to leave the conversation. Here’s how:

1. After the other person makes a statement or observation, resist the urge to say “Really?”, or just mumble “Mmhhh”. This is an inadvertent prod, and will cause them to continue talking. If you say anything like that, immediately jump into step 2.

2. Instead, let them know you have enjoyed the conversation and, if you have been listening well, you have probably identified an opportunity to follow up with them. Let them know you’d like to follow up, and get their assent.

3. Offer your business card and ask for theirs

4. Thank them and reference the next touchpoint you expect to have with them. Perhaps you have an article you are going to send them, or you will likely see them at the next meeting, or they have offered to connect with someone on your behalf.

It doesn’t have to go in exactly this order, but should include these elements. The conversation might look something like this:

Them: “We’ve had fairly good success so far this year increasing our brand awareness in the local market.”

You: “That’s fantastic. It’s been such a pleasure to meet you. (Extend your hand to shake theirs). I’d like to catch up with a former colleague of mine who’s here, but I’d love to continue our discussion another time. May I send you the link to that article we discussed, and perhaps we can arrange to meet for coffee early next week?”

Them: “Sure, that would be great.”

You: “Do you have a business card? Here’s mine. (Exchange cards) Thanks. Enjoy the speaker tognight.” (Walk away).

As someone who used to be paralyzed at the thought of walking into a group of strangers, but now loves it, believe me when I say “you can do this”. Heck, you might even enjoy it someday.

Finally, I will leave you with a book recommendation:

    The Fine Art of Small Talk

by Debra Fine. It is a short, extremely practical, how-to guide and the best bang for your buck out there.

Now, get out there and put these tips and your natural strengths to work. Happy networking!

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.