Fight Your Fears and Network

For some job seekers, networking can be a very scary prospect.  The thought of speaking to strangers to learn about their companies and their careers can cause some to grow faint.  Networking is so critical to job search and career success that it is important to face those fears.

Start with the Low Hanging Fruit.  Reaching out to a stranger can be very intimidating.  Review your target list companies and identify friends, family members, neighbors, and former colleagues who work there.  Start your networking with people you know and build your confidence with the process.  As you gain confidence with the process, it becomes easier to reach out beyond your comfort zone.  Most job seekers are surprised how many contacts they can identify to provide a safe starting point.

Leverage Your Alumni Network.  Before reaching out randomly to a variety of ghosts and goblins, review your alumni network for contacts in your target companies.  Most alumni are willing to share a few minutes with a fellow alum.  Most alumni networks are a challenge to maintain so look for alumni on LinkedIn.  Use your shared connection to your alma mater to establish a connection.  When you start with something in common, it is easier to have a conversation.

 More Listening Than Talking.  Be well prepared with thoughtful, insightful questions to keep your contact talking so you can spend most of the meeting listening and taking notes.  Being well prepared based on your research, makes the meeting much easier and demonstrates your interest.

Reframe Your Thinking.  This is not “trick or treat” networking where you knock on a random door to see what surprise you receive.  Do not think of networking as asking for a job or selling yourself – it is not.  Focus on gathering information about industries, companies and roles that interest you.

Be Prepared to Share Information About Yourself.    Anticipate that you will be asked a bit about yourself and be prepared.  Decide in advance what you are comfortable sharing.  Practice your value proposition.

Take Deep Breaths.  Don’t hyperventilate but do take a few deep breaths will help you relax.  It is ok to breathe as you prepare to ask the next question.  A few deep breaths will help you relax and focus on the conversation.

Be Yourself.  Forget the masks and costumes.  You do not have to pretend to be extroverted in your networking meetings to succeed.  Be yourself but strive to be a well-prepared self.  Preparation helps to increase your confidence.

Celebrate Your Success.  After your meeting, review your notes and consider what you have learned.  Congratulate yourself on the information you gathered and the connection you established. Approach your networking one meeting at a time.  Don’t paralyze yourself with a long list of contacts.  Plan one meeting a time to keep the process manageable and to build your confidence.

Always Say Thank You.  Remember to follow up with a handwritten thank you note to your contact to show your appreciate for their time and their insights.  Make it easy for them to remember you but providing timely and professional feedback.

Leave the haunting to Halloween night.  Put your fears aside and enjoy your fall networking.  It will enhance your success.  Don’t be surprised if you come to enjoy the process.  It can be so interesting to learn about industries, companies and roles that you start to worry less about the process.  You may find yourself energized by the interesting people you meet.

Volunteer to build your skills

Anytime you are unemployed or underemployed, volunteering is a great way to add value to your resume and to show your work ethic by keeping busy and adding value.  Volunteering can also be a great opportunity to build critical skills and gain relevant experience.  Rather than volunteering for the sake of volunteering, consider the following:

Non-Profit Boards

  • Many non-profits are looking for experienced business people on their boards.
  • Find a board that would benefit from your experience
  • Seek opportunities to gain experience and make connections that could be valuable in your job search
  • Board membership shows leadership on your resume

Focus on Mission

  • If you are not able to identify a board position, volunteer with an organization whose mission is important to you
  • Try to find a relevant mission but avoid missions that would be considered highly controversial or politically charged, don’t give someone a reason not to review your resume further
  • Try to identify volunteer opportunities that utilize your marketable skills

Skills Development

  • If you are seeking to make a career change and are having trouble getting attention of hiring managers for the new field, consider building your skills by volunteering.
  • Seek opportunities that help you build experience in your new field, fundraising if you seek sales experience or maybe marketing or PR experience for example
  • Track your accomplishments and build references

For all volunteer opportunities, you want to be sure to cultivate references for your future job search, you can also identify great networking contacts through your nonprofit work.

Critical Skills for Success

Employers identified five critical skills for success on the job and these apply to positions in all departments and functions.

  • Ability to Communicate – To succeed in most jobs the employee must be able to communicate effectively both orally and in writing.  You can be very smart, you can have great ideas but if you can’t communicate you risk being passed over for the next exciting project.
  • Work Effectively on a Team – The ability to effectively work as part of a team is critical to success in most organizations.   That means sometimes being a leader, sometimes being a good follower, monitoring the progress, meeting deadlines and working with other across the organization to achieve a common goal.  Employers want employees who can effectively work as part of a team, not as a lone contributor.
  • Ability and Willingness to Learn – The world is changing, business is changing and the pace of change continues to accelerate.  To succeed in most organizations you need to have a passion for learning and the ability to continue to grow and stretch your skills to adapt to the changing needs of the organization.  Little demand for dinosaurs these days.
  • Ability to Influence, Persuade and Negotiate  – There are few jobs you can do in a vacuum.  In most roles you need other people to do things so you can do your job.  There are steps in the process before your area of responsibility and often steps after you do your part.  Usually you do not have authority over those people.  You need to have the skill to develop mutually beneficial relationships in the organization so you can influence and persuade people to do what you need them to do in turn ensuring you are delivering what they need.  You need to be able to negotiate win-win solutions to serve the best interests of the company and the individuals involved.
  • Ability to Analyze the Data – With increased computer skills, many employees can build spreadsheets and manipulate the data in various ways.  What elevates an employee above the crowd is the ability to analyze the data.  Don’t just total the columns, calculate an average and sort the data.  What story does the data tell?  What questions does it raise?  Are there different ways to interpret the data?  Instead of handing your boss a spreadsheet, give them a business summary and highlight the key areas for attention.  Suggest possible next steps.  Using the data to manage business decisions is a critical differentiator.

While many candidates may offer the technical skills to do the job, these are the skills that often differentiate candidates for the job and make employees successful.

Suits on Campus

As I crossed campus this morning I was struck by how many of the students I passed were in business suits.  I must admit they look so professional and smart in their suits.  Our students are in suits when they have interviews, employer panels in class, employer information sessions on campus, executive luncheons and other activities with our employer partners.  They certainly look like the business professionals they aspire to be.

Dressing professionally demonstrates to the employers that the students know how to present themselves in a professional manner and that they are taking their interaction with the employers very seriously.  Whether the employer works at a company where suits are required every day is not relevant.  Demonstrating their ability to dress appropriately when needed is an important trait to employers.

Dressing for success is an opportunity to promote your personal brand with the employers and demonstrate your interest in the employer.  Making a positive first impression often goes a long way towards being remembered by the employer.

While I still see students in their jeans and tee shirts, it is exciting to be part of an MBA program where suits are such a regular sight on campus.  We are preparing students to be successful in their careers not just in the classes they take but in the employer interactions they experience as well.  While they are taking classes, they are also building a strong foundation for their professional network.

Leveraging the Power of Networking Lunch

All the data supports the fact that the best path to a successful job search is networking.  Meeting people at companies on your target list helps you learn more about the company, their products and services, their hiring process and career paths in the organization.  While most students will at least reluctantly agree that networking is important, taking the next step to make a connection and book an informational interview can be a daunting task for many.

At the D’Amore-McKim School of Business Graduate Career Center, we make it easy for students to make these valuable connections.  Our full-time MBA students are currently participating in our fall series of executive luncheons.  Up to six students meet with our guests to learn more about the company, the industry and the guests’ personal career paths.  Students come to the session with questions prepared as well.  The result is an informal yet informative conversation over lunch.  Guests include both employers and alumni.

Students leave these sessions with valuable insights into a company on their target lists and a contact within the organization.  While these sessions are conducted for networking purposes, we often see connections made that lead to corporate residency and full-time opportunities.  For students, the comfort of being in a small group makes it easier to talk about themselves and to ask questions of the guest.  They also do not have to do the outreach – we bring the sessions and the guests to them on campus.

Never underestimate the power of a good conversation over lunch.

Fall Back into Focused Search

Summer is behind us, and the kids are back in school. As life settles into the fall routine, this is the time to get serious about ramping up your job search if you hope to be in a new job in 2015. Don’t waste time focusing on what you should have done over the summer, give your search a fresh start with renewed focus and energy.  Finding a job takes some time, effort, and focus so it’s critical to define a plan and get started sooner rather than later. Here are some suggestions for “falling” into some good job search habits this season:

  • Create a plan – Define specific goals and an actionable plan of how you will go about achieving them.  It’s the old, “You can’t get there if you don’t know where you are going.” First, start by assessing your skills, strengths and interests.  Then, think about the type of work you enjoyed in current and prior roles, as well as internships, part-time jobs or even on-campus work or volunteering.  Next, think honestly about your core competencies and in what industries and roles those skills will bring value. Document your plan and measure your progress against it. Set weekly goals and hold yourself accountable – and reward yourself by doing something you enjoy once you’ve accomplished your goals for the week.
  • Prepare your tools – If you are planning a trip, you pack your bags, right? Well, as you embark on your job search journey you also need to make sure you have the appropriate tools. Do you have your resume up to date and ready to go? Have someone else proof it for you, just to be sure there are no typos or errors. Practice writing customized cover letters and ask for feedback. Consider developing a networking profile to share during networking meetings. Think about whom you could use for references and collect their current contact information. Of course, remember to ask their permission to use them as references, and tell them you will notify them when you share their information with a hiring manager so you can brief them on the job. Having the right tools won’t get you a job, but it can get your foot in the door so you have the opportunity to sell yourself for the job.
  • Develop a target list –What companies and industries are of greatest interest to you? Start your wish list with current preferences, then so some research to identify other companies or industries that are similar and require your same skill sets. Consider company size, location, corporate culture, etc. while building your list of approximately 40 – 50 companies. Prioritize them by first ranking on a scale of 1 – 5, based on your interest. Next, check job boards to see if those companies have posted positions in your field within the last six months, and rank accordingly. Finally, search your alumni database and LinkedIn to identify where you have possible connections, and do another round of ranking based on connections. Start your research with the companies ranked the highest across all categories, and work your way down the list. This will not only help guide your job search efforts, but as you learn more about these companies, you can continue to refine your list.
  • Network, network, networkThis is the single most important thing you can do to be successful in your job search.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics nearly 80 percent of all jobs are filled through networking. Online postings often receive hundreds of resumes in response, so to stand out and be noticed, you need an internal contact to pass your resume to the hiring manager. Networking helps you build and identify those internal contacts. Networking is NOT asking for a job, however; it is meeting someone at the company to learn about the company, the industry, the types of roles they offer, the skills they value, etc. This involves a significant amount of listening. Wondering how to begin? Start with friends and family and explore who they know at target companies.  Do your neighbors or your friends’ parents have any connections to those companies? What about former co-workers or classmates? Sign up for the alumni network at your school, and leverage the alumni database to identify contacts. Most people will give fellow alums a few minutes, if asked. Sign up for LinkedIn, and identify contacts there, as well.  Consider preparing a networking profile to help contacts see what you have to offer and the companies that interest you. Ask each networking contact for at least three other contacts. Always thank the contact and keep track so you can follow up when you see an opportunity at that company. Challenge yourself to make at least five networking connections each week. It does make a difference: It is the single most important thing you can do to find your next opportunity. I tell students they should spend 10 times more time networking than they spend reviewing online job boards.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare – When you are invited in for an interview, be sure you thoroughly prepare. Practice, and ask for feedback. Use your career services office at your alma mater or rely on trusted friends and colleagues. Think about how you would respond to frequently asked questions. Research the company thoroughly, and prepare questions in advance to ask your interviewers. Demonstrate your interest and passion for the job by coming in well-prepared.
  • Always say ‘thank you’ – Interviewers remember which candidates sent a hand-written thank you note, so stand out from the crowd. If the timeframe is quick, send an email thank you, but follow it up with a hand-written note. I‘ve seen a handwritten thank you note break the tie between two finalists.
  • Protect your social media presence – Some potential employers will check applicants out online before making an offer. Use good judgment on questionable photos or descriptions of activities you might not want an employer to know about. Put your best foot forward on all fronts to maximize your chances of success.

Your job search is a journey, and with a little advance planning, you can make it a smoother, more successful ride. Get out from behind the computer, and start networking your way to a more effective job search. Being competitive in this job market is NOT about how many online applications you can submit; it’s about building relationships in your target companies so you have advocates there when the right job opens up. Use this fall season to invest in your future career success.

Refocus on Resolutions for Job in the New Year

The ball has dropped, you made New Year’s resolutions to find a new job in 2015 but it is now October, you are still in the same job and you have done little to move the process forward.  If you dust off those resolutions and commit to the process with a new focus, you could find yourself with a new job by early in the new year, but you must start now.  Talking about a job search and wishing for a new job are not enough; you need to define and execute a plan to ensure your success.

Finding a new job is both an art and a science, and there are a few tried-and-true guidelines for helping job seekers prepare to land that coveted job in the New Year.  So if you want to start 2016 off on the right foot, career-wise , consider updating and refreshing your list of resolutions:

  • Create a plan – You can’t get there if you don’t know where you are going.  Define your goals and a specific plan to achieve them, along with actionable steps.  Assess your skills, strengths and interests.  Think about the type of work you enjoyed even if it was in internships, part-time jobs or even volunteer experiences.  Document your plan and measure your progress against it.  Set weekly goals, and hold yourself accountable.  Reward yourself by doing something you enjoy once you’ve accomplished your weekly goals. Most people spend more time planning a vacation than they do planning their careers.  Define a plan and execute it.
  • Prepare your tools – If you are planning a trip, you pack your bags and make the appropriate reservations.  As you embark on your job search journey, you also need to have the appropriate tools.  Is your resume up-to-date and ready to go?  Have someone else proof it for you to ensure that it has no typos or grammatical errors.  Practice writing customized cover letters, and ask for feedback.  Consider developing a networking profile to share during networking. Think about who you can use for references and ensure that you have their current contact information.  Ask their permission first and let them know what you are seeking and what you hope they will emphasize to support your candidacy.  Having the right tools won’t get you the job, but it can get your foot in the door so you have an opportunity to sell yourself for the job.
  • Develop a target list – What companies are you most interested in working for?  What industries interest you the most?  What companies hire for the roles you are considering?  What companies are in your geographic target area?  Where do you have connections or at least alumni connections? Start your list and then expand your research.  Use online tools to create a robust target list.  Research those companies to learn more about them.  Use your target list to direct your job search efforts.  Prioritize your list based on where you have contacts, alumni connections or LinkedIn connections.  Look at recent posting history to further prioritize your list.  Rather than taking a machine gun approach to networking where you will network with anyone who will talk with you, focus like a rifle on the organizations that interest you most.
  • Network, network, network – This is the single most important thing you can do in your job search.  More positions are filled through networking than all other approaches combined.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 80 percent of all jobs are filled through networking.  Online postings often receive hundreds of responses.  To stand out and be noticed, you need an internal contact to pass your resume to the hiring manager.  Networking helps you build and identify those internal contacts.  Networking is NOT asking for a job, however.  It is meeting with someone at the company to learn more about the company, the industry, the types of roles they offer, they skills they value, the corporate culture and their hiring process.  Networking involves a significant amount of listening.  The holiday season can be the perfect time for networking – some businesses are less busy so managers are more likely to have flexibility for meetings, you will see family and friends at holiday gatherings and you can ask who they might know in your target companies, as well. Don’t wait until to see a posting to find a contact, identify and meet with contacts in your target organizations in advance so that when you do see a posting, you have a connection who can forward your resume.
  • Identify networking contacts – Identify all your contacts (family, friends), and see who they know at your target companies.  Think about former work colleagues, former student colleagues, etc. and see who they know.  Utilize your alumni database.  Search LinkedIn.  The true power of LinkedIn can be found in the groups, so identify relevant groups to expand your network. Work to identify contacts in all your target companies.  Do your neighbors or your parents’ friends have contacts in those companies?  Ask for 15 – 20 minutes for an informational interview.  Come to the discussion well prepared and learn as much as you can.  Ask each contact for at least three other people you should contact.  Always thank the contact and keep track so you can follow-up when you see an opportunity at that company.  Challenge yourself to make at least five networking connections each week.  It makes a difference.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare – For each informational interview, prepare as if it were a real interview.  Research the company.  Prepare your questions.  Make a positive impression.  Do not ask questions that can be easily answered by looking at their website. Ask insightful questions so you can learn more about the organization.  Demonstrate your interest and passion by coming well prepared. Practice with friends and family if you are not comfortable.
  • Always say “thank you” – Interviewers remember when candidates send a hand-written thank you note.  Stand out from the crowd.  Time is a precious commodity so say thank you when someone is willing to share time with you.
  • Add value to your resume – If you know you are missing critical skills on your resume, can you volunteer a few hours per week? Most non-profits need the help and would give you an opportunity to develop and enhance your skills.  Maybe an unpaid internship is a good investment to add critical skills to your resume. In addition to adding valuable skills, it also shows your initiative and creativity.
  • Protect your social media presence – Many potential employers check applicants online before making an offer.  Be careful what you post knowing that it may be seen by a potential employer.  Put your best foot forward.
  • Sweat the details – They really do matter! Many cover letters and resumes are not moved to the “interview pile” because of lack of attention to detail.  There should be absolutely no typos or grammatical errors in the cover letter or resume.  Do not cut and paste your cover letters – it is too easy to send with the wrong company name or wrong job title.  Be careful not to brag about your attention to detail when the letter has obvious errors.  Don’t exaggerate your experience – two years is not extensive experience in anything.  Be sure to be well prepared.  Arrive on time.  Know who you are meeting with.  Don’t ask the interviewer what the company does, instead have some well-thought out questions already prepared.
  • Remember, it isn’t all about you – A hiring manager has business needs to address.  That is why they received approval to fill the position.  There is a specific job to be done, and they want to find the best qualified person to fill that job and the best fit for the organization.  Don’t focus your cover letter and/or interview on what this position can do for your career or how much you need particular benefits.  The employer really doesn’t care.  Focus instead on how you can help the company meet their business needs.  What valuable skills do you bring to the table?  How can you make a difference?
  • Be responsive – When employers do start calling you for interviews, be responsive and professional every step of the way.  Make a positive impression with every interaction.  Dress professionally, arrive a few minutes early, answer your phone professionally and come well prepared.
  • Differentiate yourself – There are many candidates for each open position.  Use every opportunity throughout the process to differentiate yourself positively.  Again, the focus should be on how you can meet the employer’s needs, not what they can do for you.

Don’t leave your career path up to chance; now’s the perfect time to revamp your approach as you resolve to pursue new opportunities for 2016. Develop a plan and execute it flawlessly, and there’s a good chance you’ll be celebrating a new job in the New Year.