The Power of Networking

A successful job search requires a strong foundation in networking for success.  Through your networking informational interviews you learn about companies of interest, you discover the skills required for success in your chosen field, you gain insights into the hiring process at the companies and you can identify advocates within the company to support your search.  Networking is critical to a successful search but it can be overwhelming for many people.

At the D’Amore-McKim School of Business MBA Career Center, we support our students and alumni in making these valuable connections.  This month we hosted our summer networking event.  Current students, alumni and employers all joined us for an evening of networking.  Rather than leaving the evening’s success to chance, we begin our networking events with a round robin series of networking.  Employers are assigned a specific table.  Students have a starting table identified.  After the students and employers at the table introduce themselves and chat briefly, the students rotate to the next table.  With several structured rounds of networking, everyone in the room has an opportunity to meet a significant number of people in a short period of time.  Once everyone is warmed up and the room is buzzing, we open it up to more informal networking.

With the informal networking period, students and employers alike have the option to follow up with someone they met earlier but want to spend more time getting to know then.  It is also an opportunity to seek out the attendees you haven’t met yet.  With Career Center staff available to facilitate introductions where needed, all attendees maximize their networking connections.

While the energy level is still high from a successful networking event, it is appropriate to follow up.  Send a thank you note to people you met, comment on something specific you discussed and identify next steps if appropriate.  Help employers remember you by standing out from the crowd with timely, customized feedback.

After a successful networking event, we find students more energized to continue their networking efforts because they see the value of a good conversation.

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Starting a New Job – Perfect Time for a Good Impression

Starting a new job is the perfect time to make a good impression.  You want the employer to be confident that they made the right decision in hiring you for the position.  Here are some recommendations based on feedback from our employers.

  • Be Punctual – This is a way to show you are serious about the job. You can worry about flexibility later after you have proven yourself.  Always arrive a few minutes before starting time so you are ready and eager to begin your day.  Managers notice when employees are not punctual.  If something comes up and need to ask for some time off, give as much advance notice as possible.   Try to minimize the negative impact on your work deadlines and offer to make up the time if appropriate.  Always be mindful of critical work deadlines.
  • Show Respect – Honor the culture of the organization you have joined and respect those in authority as well as your peers. Put your cell phone on vibrate and avoid taking personal calls except in an emergency.  Do not use company property for personal reasons – this includes the internet.  Follow the company’s dress code.  Take the lead from your manager.  Don’t gossip or participate in the office rumor mill.
  • Open Communications – Identify your supervisor’s communications style and preferences and work to accommodate that style. Also identify the style and preferences for your colleagues.  Discuss any concerns you have with your manager.  Provide your supervisor with progress reports.  Avoid surprises – such as a project not completed on deadline.  Let them know in advance if there are issues.  Keep your manager advised of any concerns that could impact results and deadlines.
  • Ask Questions – Do not make assumptions. You are learning the company and the role.  Ask questions to be sure you understand.  Clarify requests to be sure you understand what you are being asked to do.  Inquire how your work supports the department’s goals and the company’s objectives.
  • Take Notes – Take notes so you don’t ask the same question again. Review your notes and apply what you have learned when faced with similar tasks or issues.  Keep a record of your accomplishments – details of projects competed and impact on the organization, skills you developed or enhanced, knowledge you gained.
  • Be Fully Engaged – If possible ask what you can do prior to your start date to learn more about the company, the team and the position.  Do your homework researching the company, competitors, industry etc.  Demonstrate your energy and enthusiasm.  Remain positive.  Show you are hungry for a challenge.   Pay attention to both quality and timeliness of your work.  Look for ways to exceed expectations.
  • Identify Solutions not Problems – When you encounter problems, try to find possible solutions  Identify unmet business needs and ways you can help meet them.  When identifying a problem, always offer at least one reasonable solution.
  • Listen – Learn as much as you can by listening to others as they talk about the industry, the company and the department. Listen carefully to instructions for assignments and clarify as needed.  Pay attention to deadlines, guidelines, and procedures.  Always ask for feedback and think about how you can apply what you learned going forward.  Seek continuous improvement.
  • Earn the Challenging Assignments – Employers don’t give the most challenging project to the rookie in most cases. Demonstrate with your early assignments that they can count on you to deliver high quality and timely work and you will begin to earn more challenging assignments.
  • Show initiative – Look for ways to exceed expectations. Identify unmet business needs and determine ways you can help.  Offer to assist a busy colleague with a big project.  Volunteer for a project that needs a home.
  • Be Flexible and Adaptable – Accept all assignments cheerfully and give every assignment your best effort  Be open minded about new ideas, new procedures and different work.  Anticipate change and embrace it.
  • Curiosity – Ask open ended questions to demonstrate your interest. Offer ideas and suggestions for possible improvements.  Seek opportunities to learn more about the company and the industry.

The manager hired you instead of all the other candidates because he/she believed you could make a difference on their team.  Show them from day one that they made the right decision.

 

Daily Job Search

Looking for a job is indeed a full-time job.  You need to define a plan and hold yourself accountable to following the plan to ensure your success.  Resist the temptation to put it off for another day.  Do something every day to support your search.  Working full time on your search does not mean sitting behind your computer all day searching job boards and submitting online applications.  What can a job seeker do to increase their success?

Define a Plan – You can’t get there if you don’t know where you are going.  Identify the type of work you wish to do, the types of jobs you are interested in and qualified for, the types of companies you want to work for, define your geographic parameters, etc.  Be honest and realistic about your skills and qualifications.  If you are considering a career change, carefully identify your transferrable skills.

Identify and Research a Target List – Identify companies that are likely to offer the types of positions you are interested in.  Brainstorm based on your industry preferences and geographic limitations to identify all possible companies.  Then do some research on the companies.  Who has been hiring in the field that interests you?  Which company has been having success vs major problems?  Which companies employ people you know or alums of your school?  Once you have done more research, prioritize your list based on where you are likely to be most successful.

Prepare Your Tools –  Ensure that you have a professional resume ready to go.  Have several people proofread it to be sure there are no errors.  Practice writing cover letters focused on specific positions and ask for feedback.  Think about who you can identify as references and ask them their willingness to be a reference and confirm their current contact information.  Update your profile on Linked In.  Be sure to include key words relevant to the positions you seek.

Network Like Crazy – Identify networking contacts at each of your target companies.  Ask family and friends who they know in those companies.  Check out Linked In to see where you can ask for introductions.  Review your alumni database to identify alums in those companies.  Request informational interviews to learn more about the company, the functional areas of interest and their general hiring practices.  You are not asking for a job.  Capture your learnings.  Keep your network updated on your progress. Always ask each contact for additional connections you can talk to.  Set weekly goals for the number of networking meetings.  Always research the company and the person in advance so you can make the most of your time together and ask insightful questions.

Say Thank You – Always say thank you to anyone who meets with you or conducts an interview with you.  It helps them remember you positively.

Prepare for Every Meeting – Whether an interview or an informational meeting, preparation will set you apart.  Research the company and the person in advance.  Have questions prepared.  Anticipate questions they will ask you and think about how you will answer.  Be clear about what you want them to remember about you and be sure to convey that message.  Listen attentively – you can learn a great deal.  Have stories ready to address behavioral questions.  Be prepared to articulate what you are seeking when having informational sessions.  They will remember someone who was well prepared.

 

Daily Task List – Once the Initial Research and Target List Have Been Completed

Preparing for Upcoming Meetings

  • Prepare for meetings schedule the next day, do all your research on company and individual, prepare your questions
  • Be sure your suit is clean and ready and shoes are polished
  • Consider questions you will asked and mentally review your answers

Follow-up from Prior Meetings

  • Send handwritten thank you notes for meetings the day before
  • Reach out to new contacts identified in your meetings, try to schedule meetings with the new contacts

Schedule New Networking Meetings

  • Using your target list, reach out to contacts to schedule networking meetings for next week

Tracking

  • Keep notes of your networking meetings, what did you learn about the company, the functional area, the type of role, etc.
  • Keep track of your outreach and meetings and who referred you to each contact
  • Based on what you learn, update your target list as needed.  You may need to take off a company with a hiring freeze and find a new company to add to your list

Review New Opportunities

  • If you have 30 companies on your target list, identify six per each day of the week.  On that day each week, check the company website to see if any jobs have posted in your area of interest
  • If you see an appropriate position, prepare a customized cover letter and have someone review it for you.  Apply to the position online with your resume and cover letter
  • Reach out to your contact within the company, let them know you applied for the specific position, share your resume and cover letter and ask them to share it with the appropriate contact

Diligently working this process will significantly increase your likelihood of success

 

Energizing Your Job Search in the Dog Days of Summer

As you anticipate the lazy, hazy days of summer, that usual discipline and focus with which you approach your job search may begin to wax and wane.  But despite the mellower mood, resist the urge to play hooky from your job search this season.  Take a prolonged vacation from it, and you’ll miss out on what could be one of the most productive times of the year to take the next step in your career.

Just because business slows down and people go on vacation doesn’t mean that all will be quiet on the job front over the summer.  In reality, these next few months can be an extremely busy time for successful job searchers, so here are a few tips for making the most of this time.

Networking

The single most important thing any job searcher can do is networking.  This can be easier to do in the summer when people have a bit more flexibility in their schedules or a least a more relaxed attitude.  Identify the target companies on your list.  Use your alumni database, Linked In, former colleagues, etc. to identify contacts in those target companies.  Request an informational interview to learn more about the company, but do not ask for a job.  Rather, ask how the company hires, what skills are required for success, and how the function you are interested in fits in that organization.

Set specific networking goals for the summer and hold yourself accountable.  Meet people for coffee, lunch, a quick meeting or even a walk outside.  Take advantage of this time of year to make as many connections as possible.  Always ask your networking contact who else they think you should be talking to, given your career interests.  Ask what professional association meetings you should be attending.  Many professional associations continue to meet over the summer but often have less formal meetings.  Take advantage of these opportunities to meet others in your chosen field.

Have a Plan

You wouldn’t plan your vacation without a destination in mind and at least a rough plan of how you are going to get there.  Your job search deserves at least that much attention – if not more.  It is hard to get where you want to be without a clear sense of where you are going, so create and follow a specific job search plan.

Identify the type of position you seek and the target companies where you most want to work.  Develop a networking strategy and list of contacts for each company.  Have a plan to make new networking contacts every week.  Always thank your networking contacts for their time, preferably in person and follow it up with a written note.  Thank them again if they refer you to a valuable connection.  Keep your network posted on your progress.

Stay Positive

No one wants to hire a complainer or a “Negative Nellie.”  Stay positive and stay focused.  Enjoy the networking along the way; you may just surprise yourself with how rewarding it is to make new connections, learn new things and expand your personal and professional networks!

Reflect on the interesting people you meet and draw inspiration from their career journeys.  Be positive about yourself and the skills you bring to the table.  Demonstrate that you have a vision for what you want to do in your career.  Show appreciation for their time and enthusiasm for additional contacts or activities they recommend.

Also, be open and accepting of feedback.  You may not want to hear it but, you need to hear it in order to grow and get to the next level.  Learn from others who have more experience.  At least seriously consider the advice they offer.  Be willing to learn and to try new things.  Remember, you can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broken.

It may be summer, but companies definitely don’t take a “school’s out” attitude, and neither should you. They still have business needs to be met, positions to be filled and some hiring managers have more time to focus on hiring at this time of year, so take advantage of it. Don’t take a vacation from your job search – instead, step up your efforts and set a goal of getting your network in good shape for fall.

Identifying a Professional Mentor

Mentors can provide valuable advice, counsel, advocacy and networking assistance.  They can be a valuable career resource.  Family and friends may want to help but they often lack experience in the field we are targeting and more importantly, they are not objective.  They can’t always provide the constructive and objective perspective that is needed.  Professional mentors can provide support, encouragement and career-related guidance while identifying and maximizing networking and career exploration opportunities.

Most business professionals seek a mentor with more experience so they can learn from their experience or a mentor in a field they aspire to work in.  Open, honest communication is critical to a successful networking partnership.  Being clear about goals of the relationship and agreeing up front on the frequency and mode of communication builds a strong foundation for the relationship.

It is not your mentor’s responsibility to find you a job.  You can explore career goals, seek networking contacts and request advice but do not ask your mentor for a job.  If they offer, it’s fine but the goal of the relationship is to gain advice and insight

Guidelines we share with students to maximize their mentor relationship include the following:

  • Be considerate of your mentor’s time.  Return phone calls promptly and arrive on time for meetings.
  • Seriously consider all advice you receive.
  • Show evidence that you have utilized the assistance they offer.
  • Show appreciation for any and all assistance provided.
  • Be open to constructive feedback and seek it whenever possible.  Do not be defensive.  Be open to all feedback and learn from it.  Seek feedback often.
  • Assume the relationship will be strictly professional.  Let the mentor take the lead in making it more personal if desired.
  • Say thank you often.  Let your mentor know how they are making a difference for you.
  • Look for opportunities to give back -share a relevant article, offer to assist with a new technology, refer a qualified candidate, etc.

Possible goals for a mentoring partnership may include:

  • Expanding my professional network
  • Clarifying my development focus
  • Enhancing knowledge of key functions and industries of interest
  • Understanding organizational politics
  • Receiving feedback on critical skills for development
  • Testing ideas in a safe environment

Just found some other thoughts that might be helpful on knowing when it is time to make a change.

How do you know it is time to change careers?

  • You don’t want to get out of bed
  • you dread going to work
  • you get depressed on Sunday night knowing you have to go back to work in the morning
  • you are constantly thinking that this isn’t what you want to do when you grow up
  • the thought of doing this for the rest of your working career depresses you
  • you are frustrated that you are not using certain talents and abilities or not pursuing key interests or passions
  • you have that nagging feeling in your gut that just won’t go away

Is it real or a passing phase?

  • Do some self-assessment exercises to clarify your interests and abilities
  • Get input from colleagues and friends about your strengths and your possible fit in your desired role
  • Critical to do informational interviews with people who are doing the job you think you want, find out what it is really like
  • Is there any opportunity to test what you think you want to do by doing it part time or in a volunteer situation while you keep your day job?
  • Identify what education or certification may be required and determine what you need to do to meet those criteria
  • If you aren’t qualified to take your dream job now, identify what you need to do to quality, what job now would lead to the job you desire?
  • What companies offer the type of job you desire?  Who do you know at those companies for networking?

Follow your heart.  We all spend too much time working to be miserable doing it.

 

 

Putting Your Interview Skills to the Test

While it is important to do your research on the company as you prepare for your interviews, it is also critical that you prepare yourself.  There is nothing like practice sitting across the desk from someone you have never met before, answering their questions and selling yourself for the job to truly prepare you for success in your interviews.

At the D’Amore-McKim MBA Career Center we utilize mock interviews to give students this valuable live experience and feedback.  Students arrive in the Career Center at the appointed time in their business suits and are called into the interview room by one of our guest mock interviewers.  We utilize experience business professionals to conduct our mock interviews so students experience the wide range of interview styles while gaining experience in selling themselves to a stranger.  An interview with a staff member would just not be the same since we see them every day.

Mock interviews ask a series of informational and behavioral questions to assess the students’ readiness for success in their interviews.  Our guest interviewers provide feedback to the students to help them improve their interviews.  We also record the sessions so students can view their interview and the feedback to help them address specific issues identified for improvement.

We also utilize guest interviewers to conduct telephone mock interviews with students as well.  While students initially consider phone interviews much easier, they quickly realize how much of communication is not verbal.  Without seeing the interviewers’ body language and facial expressions it is much harder to gauge how they are reacting to your responses.  Again, the interviewers provide valuable feedback to the students.

With the benefit of in-person and telephone mock interviews and feedback, our students are better prepared to successfully interview for the positions they desire and to land the job.  At any stage of your career, practicing your interview skills prior to a critical interview can significantly increase your likelihood of success.