‘Tis the Season: Tips for Networking Over the Holidays

Networking is the single most important thing you to do to support your job search, and the holidays were made for networking.  Take advantage of the holiday season to expand your network and to reconnect with contacts. Below are a few tips for how you can mix a bit of business into the season’s festivities.

Make Networking a Priority – Many managers have a bit of breathing room around the holidays if their job doesn’t require significant year-end activity.  Their phones ring less often, they receive fewer emails, and they are in fewer meetings since many colleagues and customers take time off.  Take advantage of this opportunity to significantly ramp up your networking.  Identify contacts in your target companies.  Reach out to them and ask to meet over a cup of coffee.  They are more likely to take the meeting when things are quiet.  This is an outstanding opportunity to make more connections in a short period of time.  Use the opportunity to make key connections in the companies you are most interested in as a future employer, as well.  Set networking goals for yourself each week and hold yourself accountable.  Find alumni or LinkedIn connections at your target companies and schedule yourself a series of networking discussions over the holiday months.

Consider Low-Hanging Fruit – No everyone enjoys networking, but it critical to career success.  Take advantage of the many social events during the holidays to network in a friendly and safe environment.  The holidays bring low-hanging fruit – family gatherings, celebrations with friends, social events with professional associations and even the office holiday party.  With little effort, you can meet a large number of interesting people over the holidays.  Be very clear with family and friends about what you are looking for and what companies you are most interested in.  Your family and friends may have valuable connections they can introduce you to.  Simply ask new contacts what they do, and it will often spark an interesting conversation.  You can always ask to follow-up for more details.

Prepare for Opportunities – The key advantage of all this year-end networking is that employers have new positions approved with the start of the New Year.  Perhaps the person you met with will have a need and will remember the positive impression you made.  Maybe the position is in another part of the organization but your contact can forward your resume with a note of recommendation.  Or there’s a chance that you will even be given a heads up about a position that will be opening soon.  While the formal hiring process may slow down a bit with key players on vacation, it is a critical time to move your search forward with some strategic networking.

So what are some do’s and don’ts for networking during the holiday season?

  • What you should do:
    • Be focused and strategic – target the companies you are most interested in and seek contacts in those organizations, particularly people in positions that you can learn from
    • Set goals – identify a target and monitor your progress for number of networking meetings each week or month
    • Be well prepared – research the company and the individual in advance, have questions prepared
    • Keep the conversation going – ask open-ended questions to gather more information
    • Be an active, engaged listener – listen carefully to the advice and information they share, and take notes as appropriate
    • Prepare to share – think about your personal elevator pitch
    • Follow up is key – ask who else they think you should speak to and would they refer you, along with professional associations they recommend
    • Add value for them – find a way to assist them with information or a connection to keep the connection mutual
    • Always send a thank you note – it can make a lasting impression
    • Stay in touch periodically – holiday card with a personal note or even a New Year’s card would be a nice touch
  • What you should not to do:
    • Do not ask for a job – this is about building a relationship, not asking a favor
    • Do not do all the talking –do more listening than speaking, you want to learn about the company and the functional area of interest
    • Do not be arrogant or disrespectful – that goes without saying!
    • Do not stalk the person – if they do not respond after three attempts, take them off your list
    • Do not monopolize their time – steer clear of taking more time than the specified without asking if they can spare a few more minutes
    • Don’t waste their time – if it’s something you could have learned on their website, don’t ask
    • Don’t over-imbibe at events – stay focused on the networking. Eat prior to attending the event so you won’t be starving.  Don’t try to balance both food and drink, always have your right hand available to shake hands.  Never indulge in more than one drink.  Keep your wits about you and put you best foot forward.

You’ve stepped out of your comfort zone and made some great connections over the holidays. But how can you capitalize on these new relationships and keep them going once the holidays are over? Here are a few final tips for keeping your momentum with the job search as you enter the New Year:

  • When you see a position of interest at a target company after the first of the year, reach out to your contact
  • Use your contacts to gather insider information about the position and the team
  • Ask your contact to share your resume with the hiring manager – get in the short pile the manager will review instead of the mountain of online resumes
  • Follow-up with relevant information or a new contact for your networking contact to continue to add value
  • Keep your contact posted on your progress

With a little common sense and a bit of perseverance, you can make this holiday season a memorable one when it comes to advancing your career. Network the right way, and you just may set yourself up for success come January 1!

Giving Thanks Never Goes Out of Style

In this season of giving thanks it is important to stop for a moment and think about giving thanks in relation to your job search , career and life.  Regardless of the time of year, giving thanks is always in style and people like feeling appreciated.

In Your Job Search

Throughout your job search, it is important to thank everyone who assists you and shares time and insights with you.  For an interview always send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours.  It differentiates you from the competition and helps the hiring managers remember you.  Differentiate yourself from the crowd by sending a personalized note that refers to something specific you discussion with that individual.  Do not send all contacts the same note – they will compare.

If you are networking, you will be conducting informational interviews.  In each case, someone has taken valuable time to share their experience and insights with you so a handwritten thank you note is appropriate.  Thank them for their time and their insights and refer to something specific that was particularly helpful to you from the conversation.  Taking the time to say thank you differentiates you from other networkers and helps the contact remember you as an individual.  Often they are more likely to want to help someone who is appreciative of their time and assistance.  Simply saying thank you can encourage people to help you in your search.

Thank you isn’t only for face to face meetings.  If someone provides a reference, send a note.  If someone refers you to a valuable contact, send a note.  Let people know that you appreciate and value their support.   Always personalize the note to refer to something specific you discussed.  It helps people remember you and it makes them more willing to help going forward.  Also, remember to keep them posted on your progress.

Networking is about building a relationship and showing appreciation is a critical aspect of relationship building.  Show your network respect by keeping them posted on your progress and demonstrate your appreciation for their support.

In Your Career

Many people have helped you at different stages of your career.  Think how delighted they would be to hear from you.  If you do something that makes you think of the person who trained you or offered valuable advice, send a quick note.  Let them know you are still influenced by what you learned from them.  Offer a quick update on what is happening in your career and ask about them.  Show genuine appreciation and interest.  For the couple minutes it takes to write a note or send a message, you will brighten someone’s day and be remembered positively.

If someone mentors you in your career, be sure to thank them often for their support and encouragement and let them know how they are making a difference for you.

Did someone help you take the next step within your current company or assist you in your latest career change?  Thank them again and let them know how well things are going in the new role and how often you reflect on valuable advice they provided.  Let them know they made a difference in your career.

Be sure to maintain contact with past managers, you may need them one day as a reference.  Keep them posted on your career progress and remember to thank them for the learning experiences they provided for you.  Offer to assist them as needed as well.  Often managers are asked for references from employees they managed.  You could assist them in their job search by sharing your experience of working with that person as your manager.

In Your Life

Did you ever thank a teacher who had a significant impact on your life or on your child?  Did you ever thank a caring adult that was there at a critical point in your life or a friend who made a difference?  Those unexpected thank you’s will be treasured.  Let someone know that you are thinking about them.  Send a card with a note and you will brighten someone’s day.  People love to think that what they do matters to someone else.

Do you know someone who is facing a serious illness, is caring for an aging parent, going through a difficult personal crisis, etc?  Send a card to let them know that you are thinking of them.  If there are things you are willing and able to do to assist, offer specific assistance.  People dealing with a crisis often feel alone and it can make a huge different for them to know that they are not forgotten.

These days, people are quick to complain and social media makes it easy to do so very publicly.  Stop being negative and thank someone who made a difference in your life.  Hopefully they will pay it forward and thank someone in their lives as well.

Giving Back

While the holidays often spur thoughts of volunteering, there are many non-profit organizations in need of year round support.  In fact, many of these organizations need business skills and experience.  Talk to your network or do some online research to identify local non-profits and reach out to see where you can make a difference.

Choose a non-profit with a mission that resonates with you.  When you care about the mission it makes the actual work easier and more meaningful.  Organizations may need help with marketing, finance or fundraising.  This is an opportunity to leverage your business skills and expertise in a different way.  You will also learn from the experience and expand your network.

Consider the skills you offer and the mission you are passionate about to identify the best opportunity.  Giving back feels good and offers additional experience for your resume.  Use the giving spirit of the season to make a commitment to giving back in the year ahead.

At This Time of Year

Avoid the entire debate about sending holiday cards, which holiday to recognize or how generic to make the wishes.  Instead, send Thanksgiving cards.  Warm wishes of thanks are appropriate to all populations and are not expected so the surprise factor is an added bonus.  Think about who you want to thank this season.  Take a few minutes to add a brief personal note to each card to maximize the impact it will have on the recipient.

If you miss the opportunity to send Thanksgiving cards, consider New Year’s.  Thank them for something in the past year that made a difference for you and wish them all the best in the year ahead.

One of the best opportunities to differentiate yourself in a job search, your career or in life is to be known as someone with an attitude of gratitude – always saying thank you.  Appreciation will help you maintain valuable relationships and will make people want to assist you along the way.

Connect the Dots with Customized Cover Letter

A customized cover letter is the only tool available for the hiring manager reviewing applicants to specifically link the requirements in the job description to the experience in the resume.  Overlooking the cover letter in the job search process is a risky move since it is your best sales tool.  If the job is worth applying to, it is worth writing a customized cover letter.

At Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business MBA Career Center, we work closely with our students to help them learn to write effective, customized cover letters.  An effective cover letter identifies your transferable skills and addresses how you will meet the needs of the employer.  Don’t assume that they can connect the dots between their needs and your experience.  Clearly show them what you bring to the table for this position.

Students prepare practice cover letters and receive feedback from their advisors.  They also prepare cover letters for their mock interviews and receive additional feedback from their mock interviewers.  A generic or template cover letter will not effectively address the specific needs of the employer and should never be used.  Highlighting the key requirements in the job description and the relevant skills on your resume can visually identify the areas of focus for your customized cover letter.

For the hiring manager, the cover letter also acts as a writing sample.  Be sure you have no grammatical or spelling errors.  Be sure you have the name of the company and the position listed correctly.  Demonstrate your professional communication skills by delivering a targeted, customized, professional cover letter.

A cover letter will not likely land you the job but it can definitely get you an interview which is the goal.  Get the interview so you have an opportunity to sell yourself.

Sharing Traditions

For many of us the holidays bring many traditions.  This week we celebrated one of my favorite traditions with our graduate business students.  We hosted the annual Harvest Festival.  For many it was their first traditional American Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy and more.  We invite students and staff to bring food to share that represents part of their harvest tradition.

While it is a marvelous feast, it is really not about the food!  Gathering together to share traditions is a valuable networking opportunity.  Take the time to learn about the traditions of others.  Talking with students about our Thanksgiving traditions is helpful to them as they adjust to being in the US but learning about their various harvest celebrations is quite fascinating.  It is also fun to see them experience turkey for the first time.

As you gather with friends and family over the next few weeks, be sure to maximize your networking time.  Be interested and interesting.  Be a good listener and you’ll be amazed at what you can learn.  Maybe this is the year to talk with aunts and uncles as an adult instead of focusing on the crazy things you did as a kid.  Ask more about their work – where do they work?  What type of work do they do?  What do they like most about their job?  Do they have colleagues who work in an area of interest to you and could they possibly make an introduction.  In addition to enjoying family time, you may gain valuable insights for your career and your future networking.

If you consider every holiday gathering in the next two months a networking opportunity, you will make some valuable connections and gain insights to support your career.

Maintaining Your Network-With Thanks

Networking is the single most important thing you can do for your career success.  The focus is often on building the networking but you also need to work intentionally to maintain your network.

Keep Your Network Up to Date

While it is important to make the initial connection, the true value of your network comes from strengthening those connections over time.  It is difficult for your network to help you if that don’t know what you are up to at a given point in time.  If you initiated your networking when you were searching for job, be sure to send an update when you have landed.  If you decide to go  back to school to pursue an advanced degree, let your network know.  Don’t make a nuisance of yourself but share significant and relevant updates.

Look for Opportunities to Add Value

The most effective networking is when you build a mutually beneficial relationship.  Look for opportunities to add value for key members of your network.  If you see an article that makes you think of them, share it with a note.  If you do a case in class that might be of interest to them, send a quick update.  If you know someone who may fit a unique need at their organization, make the connection.  Find ways to help those in your network.  It makes them want to help you.

Remember to Say Thank You

If a contact meets with you to share their experience and advice, send a thank you note.  If they refer you to another contact, send a note to thank them for the connection and tell them how helpful it was.  When people share their time and experience with you, it is critical to let them know you appreciate their support.

Use the Holidays to Express Appreciation

Holiday cards are often a valuable tool for staying connection but the question then becomes “which holidays does your contact celebrate?”  To ensure that you do not offend anyone in your desire to stay in touch, why not send Thanksgiving cards?  Everyone in the US celebrates Thanksgiving and it is the perfect opportunity to share thanks and gratitude for assistance and advice you have received.

 

This year, in addition to planning your turkey dinner, why not send a few Thanksgiving cards with a brief note to thank those in your network who made a significant difference for you in the past year?  I’m confident that they will be delighted to hear from you.

Why I won’t accept your LinkedIn request?

LinkedIn is a powerful professional networking tool that can be invaluable in your job search and networking activities.  Unfortunately, it is often not used effectively or appropriately.

Do you ever receive the “I’d like to join your professional network” messages and have no clue who is inviting you?  I receive those all the time too.  Clearly the person doesn’t feel it important enough to connect to invest the time in crafting a customized message.  If I don’t know the person and see no obvious connection I am not going to accept the request.  My network is too valuable to me to allow strangers to join.  Protect your network and maintain the value of your connections by accepting selectively.

When you do reach out to ask someone to connect, take a few moments to customize the message.  How do you know each other, what do you have common, who do you both know and why are you seeking the connection?  Give the person enough context to make an informed decision about whether or not to connect with you.

If your profile only contains you name and the name of your current employer, I’m also not going to accept your request.  If you are not utilizing the system for yourself, you certainly don’t bring any value to my network.  I don’t expect your profile to be perfect but I expect that you would invest the time and energy to appropriately represent your personal brand.

I also appreciate the endorsements that appear on LinkedIn but if I don’t know who you are and there is no way you know anything about my skills in a particular area, your endorsement is meaningless to me.

Just because it is easy to connect to a broad range of people or to endorse others for their skills, doesn’t mean you should do it randomly.  Build a profile that professionally represents your personal brand and build a network of connections that are meaningful and helpful to you.

Just because you can invite me to join your network, doesn’t mean I’ll say yes.  Think before you send those generic requests.