Fight Your Fears This Fall

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.

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Suit Sightings on Campus This Fall

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.

The Power of Networking Luncheons

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 and 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.

Focus Your Job Search This Fall

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 2017. 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.

 

Be Interested to be Interesting

 Students often ask how they can be memorable when they are networking.  They want the employers to remember them as individuals with unique skills and experience.  I find I often rely on advice given to me early in my career – you need to be interested to be interesting.

It is so easy in a networking to put the focus on yourself.  Students are eager to share their experience, their career goals and why they are pursuing an MBA.  While all these things are important if this is how you start you are not likely to be remembered.

Focus your preparation prior to the event or meeting on the person you will be meeting.  Learn something about their company, their current role and their experience to date.  Prepare relevant questions to get the conversation started.  Asking about them and their career is a great way to start the conversation.  Practice good active listening skills to demonstrate your interest.  Ask relevant follow up questions.  When it is your turn to talk about yourself, keep what you have just learned in perspective.

Once you have demonstrated your interest in the person, their company and their career, it is much easier to make yourself interesting and remembered.  Don’t follow the herd and put yourself first.  Be sincerely interested in the other person.  It will significantly increase the odds that you will be remembered as an interesting individual.

Making the Most of a Career Fair

As we are preparing in the Graduate Career Center for our fall Career Expo, it is important for students and alumni planning to attend our expo or any career fair to prepare in advance to maximize their time at the end.  Career fairs can be a valuable source of contacts but to be successful, the job seeker must prepare thoroughly in advance.

 

Research the Companies

Do your homework in advance.  Identify the companies participating and see if they align with your target companies, industries or positions.   If yes, research each company you plan to visit.  Learn what they do, who their competitors are, what recent press coverage they have had, etc.  Check their online postings to see if there are specific jobs which may interest you.  Know something about the companies you hope to meet and have specific, thoughtful questions prepared for each one.   Obviously if there are no companies of interest, don’t waste your time but do some research before jumping to that conclusion.  You should never ask a company “what do you do” at a career fair.  They expect that you have done your homework in advance.

Prepare Your Materials

Have multiple clean copies of your resume with you.   Also have business cards available.   Be prepared to share them when asked.  You also want to be sure to have a notepad so you can jot down appropriate notes after each conversation.  Have a calendar available in case you are asked to schedule a follow-up interview.  Use one pocket for your own business cards and a separate pocket for those you collect.  You certainly don’t want to share the wrong cards!

Put your Best Foot Forward

Dress as if it were an interview because it could be.  You are certainly making a first impression on the company representative so you want to appear professional.  Some companies have the flexibility to do on the spot interviews if they are impressed so you want to be ready.   When it is your turn to meet the representative, make eye contact, shake hands confidently and introduce yourself briefly.

It’s about the Relationships

This is about making connections.  You can apply online all day and there is no guarantee that a human ever actually looks at your resume.  At the career expo, you are meeting a representative from the company.  They have committed their time and resources because they want to meet our students and alumni.  Let them know you are interested.   Demonstrate your interest by being well prepared and asking insightful questions.  Even if they don’t immediately have the right job for you, if you make a positive impression they could bring your resume back to the office and share it with an appropriate hiring manager.  Make a strong connection.  Do not ignore contacts who may work in a different functional area that what you are interested in.  They can and will share resumes and their feedback with their colleagues when they return to the office.

Follow-up Matters

For the people you had conversations with at the expo, send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours thanking them for their time and reinforcing your interest.  Few people will do this so it helps you stand out in a very positive way.  If they don’t have a card, jot down their name and company before moving on to the next table.  Saying thank you makes a very positive impression.

 

If you are going to take the time to attend a career event, invest the time in your preparation so you can maximize the benefits.

Finish Your Interview on a Positive Note

Interviewing can take a lot of energy both for the interviewer and the candidate.  As the candidate, you want to ensure that you wrap up the interview on a positive note so that you are remembered positively and that you differentiate yourself from the other candidates.

After asking a few of the questions you have prepared for your interview, I suggest ending the interview by setting the interviewer up to talk positively about the company and/or department.  Ask questions such as:

  • What do you enjoy most about working for XYZ Company?
  • What gets you out of bed on Monday morning eager to come to work?
  • What accomplishment are you most proud of in your work at XYZ Company?

Listen and demonstrate genuine interest in the response.  Thank for interviewer for sharing and leverage that in your wrap up statement to state why you so interested and excited about this opportunity.

Always ask about next steps and timing and be sure to leave with the knowing you are interested if you really are.  Often the interview goes fine but the interviewer loses interest because the candidate does not act interested at the end of the interview.  Keep your energy up and let your interest and enthusiasm shine.