How to Network Like a Pro

Go to any job fair, career event, mixer, or gathering and you’ll hear people murmuring about networking. Any headline offering advice about finding a job in a tough economy mentions networking as the best way to find a job. Career coaches, speakers, consultants and other experts all tout the value of networking.  Here are three tips for learning how to network like a pro.

Realize Its Value

Networking is the only credible way to find a job in this economy. Employers are inundated with resumes. Most will take a referral from a network over an unsolicited resume any time. People trust the word of a trusted source.

Use the Right Tools

Use Modern Tools

  • Social networks. Social media a must if you want to be an effective networker. Make the most of it by keeping your your profile current, use appropriate photos and participate in discussions. Networking is something you do all the time, not just when you need something. Part of building rapport with your network is to feed it with information. Troll the web daily for relevant articles on major sites that some of your contacts will find interesting. Make things easier by using a tool like HootSuite to queue up articles to ping your social media connections.
  • Blogs. Blogs are a great way to establish yourself as a thought leader in your field. The key is to blog on meaningful topics and develop relevant content to your area of expertise. Opinions are fine, just be sure to back them up with data and facts.

Use Old-School Tools

  • Face to face. When attending meetings and events, introduce yourself and rather than talk about yourself, ask “How can I help you?” Ditch the “elevator speech” and replace with dialog. Make it all about them, not about you. If you have business cards, then master the art of the card exchange. Don’t shove yours in their face, but ask permission to have their card.
  • Phone. Yes, most smartphones contain a feature that enables you to actually make a phone call to someone. Try it rather than a text or email and see what happens. E-mail, letters, and postcards work well too. Find an excuse to reach out reach out to people by recognizing major events and accomplishments.

Make It a Priority

Adopt the 10/15 program which means sending 10 pieces of correspondence and making 15 phone calls to “ping” your network.

Networking is difficult which is why so few people do it consistently or well.  Try out some of these tips and let me know how it works for you!

Want to learn more? Watch my video on this topic. Or check out these books, which are some of my favorites for learning how to network:

 

By at Monster.com

Want That Promotion? Practice Your Job.

By Cal Newport

As the new year approaches – and with it the inevitable wave of self-improvement plans–we’ve identified 10 strategies for advancing your career in 2013. (Read them all here.)

From recovering from an office blunder to learning why it doesn’t pay to be Mr. (or Ms.) Nice Guy, this ten-point plan offers daily tips on what to do and how to do it.

Mike J. is a venture capitalist who works on Silicon Valley’s famed Sand Hill Road. He’s good at his job–rising from intern to principal in only two years. His secret? An Excel spreadsheet he uses to track how he spends every hour of his workday.

To understand the importance of this spreadsheet, you should first understand the difference between working hard and actually getting better at your job.

Most knowledge workers—a group that, I suspect, includes just about anybody reading these words—don’t differentiate among their activities; any time spent at the office counts as “work.” Mike, by contrast, embraces a conclusion that’s well supported in the field of performance psychology, the discipline that studies how people become great at what they do: Not all work is equal.

Simply put, there’s a difference between doing things you already know how to do and doing things that force you to stretch and improve your skills. Psychology professor K. Anders Ericsson, a leader in this field, explains that a person in a new job usually spends some time training or shadowing someone else to get up to speed, but after that, his or her abilities tend to plateau. Beyond this point, they don’t get much better at their job, though they grow more experienced.

To get better—and win the promotions and opportunities most of us dream about—we must set out to intentionally improve our performance. In studying why some people develop remarkable careers, this is a key unheralded distinction between the average knowledge worker and the stars at most companies: the former work hard while the latter systematically train hard skills. Ericsson called this type of structured activity deliberate practice, and in his decades of research on the topic he’s found it to be the key for expert performance in every field he has studied—from elite scientists to elite jugglers.

This brings us back to Mike. His spreadsheet tracking forces him to spend a certain number of hours each week not just working but instead deliberately improving his skills. In the spreadsheet he shared with me, he spent around 60% of his time pushing himself, performing difficult, and ultimately crucial training tasks such as calling potential investors or polishing due diligence reports.

Here’s how to integrate this strategy into your workday:

Deliberate practice requires clarity. Set a clear goal slightly beyond your current abilities, but not too far beyond, and list specific actions that advance you toward your goal. In Mike’s example, a specific goal might include increasing the rate at which potential investor calls prompt follow-up conversations. The specific actions might include making a certain number of these calls each week (regardless of whether he feels like it) and giving his full focus in each call toward deploying his best pitch.

Deliberate practice requires feedback. Assuming you don’t reach your goal on the first try, you need a source of objective feedback so that you can improve on your next iteration. Without frank, even harsh, feedback, your progress will likely stall. Returning to Mike’s example of investor calls, he could keep careful notes on what differentiated the successful and non-successful interactions, or he could ask a partner at the firm to listen in and then offer thoughts.

Deliberate practice is unpleasant. You have to stretch yourself beyond where you’re currently comfortable—not a pleasant feeling. Most knowledge workers inadvertently end up avoiding deliberate practice-style activities because they retreat to checking email the moment a task gets too difficult. To make deliberate practice work, you must not only tolerate unpleasantness (and stick with the task, regardless of your urge for relieving distraction), but learn to seek it, like a bodybuilder seeks muscle burn. Mike recognized that, if left unchecked, his instinct would be to reply to e-mails all day, so he used his time-tracking spreadsheet to force himself to engage in unpleasant, though ultimately rewarding work. If you don’t have a similar strategy in your schedule, it’s unlikely to happen.

Success in knowledge work requires more than simply showing up early, staying late, and responding quickly to every email. True standouts systematically develop rare and valuable skills. Building these skills requires practice, and it is not something that you gravitate toward naturally. Like Mike, you must take a rigorous approach to improve your workday.

Cal Newport is an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University and the author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

Related: Allison Lichter has more details.

Published On The Wall Street Journal

5 Time Management Tips for Better Networking in 2013

“Coffee Shopping” is how I describe loosely defined, networking meetings and business introductions — which mostly seem to take place in the neighborhood coffee shop. I like meeting new people, learning about their work and determining if we can support one another. Most of my business comes from referrals so the open approach to networking makes sense to me. I want a full calendar of possibilities.

A couple years ago, I was walking out of Starbucks following a particularly long session of “Coffee Shopping” when my phone buzzed. My brother was reaching out for our weekly call. After some small talk and explaining how I spent the bulk of my morning, he hit me with this observation: “Dude, if you could figure out a way to get paid from having networking and brainstorming meetings at Starbucks everyday, you’d be crazy rich.”

Translation: Maybe you should take a few minutes and audit the ROI of the 47 networking meetings you’ve had at Starbucks this year and determine if that is the most productive use of your time given your business objectives.

I doubt he even remembers the conversation. I’ve never forgotten it because the truth is I was “coffee shopping” to avoid some of the hard, isolating kitchen table effort required of anyone starting something new. Those meetings and big idea brainstorming conversations with other people on their own creation journey felt good. I still believe they can prove useful. But the truth is, my predisposition to “coffee shopping” wasn’t entirely productive and I needed to learn how to better manage my time.

As my business has grown, this has continued to be a difficult and delicate balance. I decided to ask for help. Over the last couple weeks, I have asked some of the most successful people I know for their time management tips. How do successful people thrive in business while making sure personal obligations don’t suffer?

One common characteristic: developing a system for managing their time and exercising the discipline to maintain it. While they varied slightly in strategy, they all advocated for a specific, structured and strategic approach to time management. Here are a few of my favorite time management tips and technique based on what they shared with me.

The Breakfast Meeting. The early-riser crowd was in favor of meeting to start the day. A 7:00 am breakfast meeting usually includes a hard stop and doesn’t interfere with the morning business agenda. In contrast, mid-morning “coffee shopping” can easily kill a half day of productivity.

The Networking Agenda. An agenda helps make sure you’re making the most productive use of your time. If both people understand the context of the meeting and show up prepared to contribute, you are likely to accomplish a whole lot more.

The ABC’s of Networking. Categorizing networking in terms of opportunity and value is critical. An A meeting is one you want to have with clear reciprocity in terms of value. A C might be an investment of time you make to give back. Interestingly, everyone I spoke with was willing to guide, coach, counsel and mentor others, but they still recognized the need to manage their time devoted to such efforts. How many A, B and C meetings have you had in the past 30 days?

The Email Q&A: I heard this one a couple times. Can you trade correspondence to accomplish the business objective? Worth considering. This allows you to manage your response in a way that fits you priorities and schedule.

The No Alcohol Rule: A few people I spoke with subscribed to this one, particularly around new networking meetings. A happy hour or dinner meeting had to earn A status to justify cutting into personal time. I had one person tell me he banned it altogether. “If there is alcohol involved I no longer consider it business.”

I have long been an advocate of turning customers into friends and friends into people I work with. My work life is actually a big blend of business and friendship. My take away around time management is about prioritizing, protecting my calendar and putting more structure and a better system in place for the New Year.

We all receive the same gift of 24 hours in a day. Wishing you a very productive 2013!

Ryan Estis is a business performance expert that helps companies, leaders and sellers more effectively connect to their two most important audiences: employees and customers. This post originally ran on his blog.

 

Networking article from Monster.com

Are You Making the Most of Your Job References?

This guest post is by Jeff Shane of AllisonTaylor, which specializes in checking references for corporations and individuals.

As the 2013 begins, many people have kicked off the year with the resolution to change or improve their employment status. It’s not surprising; according to polls, one of the top 10 most popular New Year’s resolutions is job-related.

We know that job seekers are constantly searching for tips and guidance on the best ways to stand out in a competitive job market. The traditional methods used in job-hunting are changing, and the principals at Allison & Taylor have recently identified several new trends related to job references through discussions with over 1,500 employers that you should know about.

  • References have become more valuable. Many people treat their reference list as an afterthought, but it’s actually a critical part of the process.  A resume will get an interview, but it’s the report that former references provide that will win the job in a close race with another qualified candidate. Although the job market is poised to grow, hiring managers generally have a surplus of eligible candidates and will take the time to carefully examine candidate’s credentials. It has become vital to create a well-thought-out reference list, with full contact information, and presented as a matching and professional addendum to a resume.
  • The format of references have changed. Whereas the standard approach was to offer a simple list of references and their contact information, savvy job seekers are now modernizing their reference lists to make a powerful statement of their qualifications for the new position. An effective reference list will identify those attributes the references can attest to, an approach that offers several benefits to the job seeker. It allows them to further showcase their abilities and achievements with former employers, and to tie those qualifications in with the key job elements sought by prospective new employers. When offered to a potential employer — e.g., at the close of an interview — a well-crafted reference document will make a powerful and proactive statement on the job seeker’s behalf.
  • Employers will use peers and subordinates as references. Many job seekers assume that an employer will only check with human resources or a former supervisor for references. It’s a potentially disastrous assumption; especially in this challenging economy, employers feel they have the luxury of checking less-traditional references such as peers and co-workers. This can work to a candidate’s advantage if they strive for successful work relationships. Associates like a supportive second-level supervisor or a matrix managers can be key advocates on a job seeker’s behalf, and might be more supportive than traditional references like immediate supervisors. (Note: A prospective employer does not require permission to check any reference.)
  • Employers are using technology to evaluate candidates. Many employers are using electronic reference systems, which rank an employee’s performance on a scale. While it is comprehensive and factual, it has the downside of limiting the opportunity employers have to favorably assess a candidate. A smart job seeker will have negotiated the terms of their reference upon departure from any company. They also need to review social media sites to ensure a prospective employer is not viewing any inappropriate or private commentary about them.
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