12 ways to get outside our comfort zone when attending a networking event

networking aloneMost of us have a comfort zone. Mine’s walking into a workshop and talking about various job search topics. I guess I’ve been leading workshops on the job search for so long–thousands over the course of eight years–that engaging with people (the more the better) is second nature to me. I’m comfortable and in my zone.

There are times when I’m not comfortable, like when I have to order a meal—I’m indecisive and usually defer to Kung Pao Chicken—or talking to complete strangers at a networking event. While I attend networking events on occasion, I still experience a bit of discomfort.

If you’re like me, and feel uncomfortable entering a large room full of strangers, you’re experiencing what it’s like to leave your comfort zone. You shouldn’t feel that it’s unusual to feel this way, but you must continue attending networking events. They are necessary in your job search.

This means you must get outside your comfort zone. So how do you get outside your comfort zone? Follow these steps:

  1. Like Nike says, “Just do it.” That’s right, tell yourself that meeting new contacts is necessary in order to shorten your job search.
  2. Think of what it really is, connecting with people who are at a networking event to help each other in the hopes of developing relationships. The emphasis is on getting to know each other and not entirely on creating business or gathering leads. You’ll meet again.
  3. Set a goal of how many people you’ll talk with. If you’re an extravert, you may prefer to work the room—the more the better. Introverts prefer fewer but deeper conversations, so set a goal of meeting two or three quality contacts.
  4. Get emotionally prepared. One way to get prepared is by choosing a nice outfit to wear, but nothing too fancy. The ones who have been attending for a while are usually nicely dressed, although not necessarily wearing a three-piece suit. Ask about the dress code if you’re not sure.
  5. Have your personal business cards ready. There’s nothing more embarrassing than being asked for your card and not having one. I personally leave a stack of business cards in the glove compartment of my car just in case.
  6. Bring a friend along or plan to meet someone at the event. I tell my workshop attendees there’s no reason why they need to do it alone. Driving together will give them time to strategize as to when it will be best to separate at the event.
  7. Approach people who are standing alone. They’re waiting for someone like you to start the conversation. They’re out of their comfort zone, too, so be humane and help someone get acclimated. It will make you feel good.
  8. Speaking of conversation, you should have your talking points ready. Current events are fine as long as you stay away from religion and politics. No sense in starting an argument. If conversation isn’t going well, break away very politely. No hard feelings.
  9. Don’t come on too strong. I still remember a public relations coordinator who approached me at a trade show; hand outstretched, he launched into his memorized 30-second commercial. Although his commercial was excellent, he sounded stiff an unnatural.
  10. Speaking to #9, you’ll need an elevator speech, but ease into it with a little small talk, or wait until you’re asked about yourself.
  11. Listen to others. This will help you get outside your comfort zone because it will allow you time to think about what you want to say–especially helpful for those who dislike making small talk.
  12. Take a breather if you need to. Walk outside and take in some fresh air. Just remember to return.

Bonus. Once you’ve accomplished getting outside your comfort zone and feel great about “Just doing it,” you will need to followup with the people you’ve met. Take the attitude that if you don’t initiate the follow-up it won’t happen, even if this means getting outside your comfort zone.

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The single best advice for the job search and 9 steps to follow in one day

Sitting on a benchYou’re probably thinking this post is about networking. Nah, I’m actually tired of talking about networking. Or you might think this is about writing a résumé recruiters are dying to read. Nope. Maybe you think this post is about the 10 essential elements of your LinkedIn profile. Done topic.

So what is this advice for the job search?

In my career center orientation I tell my attendees that if they leave with any bit of advice from me, it’s to get out of the house. That’s it. Get out of the house. This isn’t earth shattering advice, but it’s probably the advice many people need to heed.

I hear all too often that some jobseekers sleep in until 10:00 a.m. I haven’t done that since adolescence. I also hear they know every episode of General Hospital and have learned from Dr. Phil the 14 traits of a serial killer. Some tell me they’ve scoured the Internet for jobs and spend six hours a day blasting out their résumés, resulting in very few interviews.

So, you ask, where should I go? I wouldn’t be a giver of advice without providing some plan detailing what to do once you’re out of the house. Here is an example of one day, the start of your official job search.

1. Get up at 6:00 a.m. and drink your two cups of coffee. Take care of nature calling. Don your shorts, holey tee-shirt, and new sneakers. (You bought them as a condition of landing your next job.) Leave the house for your 30-minute walk, or jog. Start with baby steps.

2. Clean the dishes when  you get back from your walk, which you found invigorating both physically and mentally. Breakfast is optional. Leave the house at 8:00 a.m. But don’t forget the PB&J sandwich you made for lunch.

3. Arrive at your local library and set the timer on your watch for one hour. Sit in a comfortable chair and write your to-do list for the day. It will include the activities starting with step four.

After you’ve finished your list, grab the nearest computer and sign in to LinkedIn. Write the following update: “Today is the first day of my job search. I’m looking forward to achieving success. If you are with me, ‘Like’ this update.” You’ll receive “Likes” from your true connections and perhaps some, “I’ll let you know if I hear of anything.”

4. Drive to your nearest career center to attend a workshop on Résumé Writing. While listening to someone like me talk about writing a résumé even recruiters will love, quietly ask the person next to you what her occupation is.

“Accountant,”  you say. “I’m a marketing specialist from the financial industry. Would you like to grab coffee afterward and compare notes?” (I lied about not mentioning résumés and networking.)

5. After your brief chat at a coffee house around the corner, walk to a nearby park where you can score a bench. Eat the PB&J sandwich you made at home. Take in the scenery while you eat your sandwich slowly. Make yourself to sit for a complete half an hour before you’re off to your next location.

You are acutely aware that feelings of anxiety are not present, because you are being productive. Productivity, you find, is a good thing.

Oh, text your wife with the following message: “(Insert salutation. Honey works well.) My first day on the search is going very well. Feeling productive. I’ll cook tonight.”

6. At 1:30 p.m. drive to a church 20 minutes away where a networking group meets. (You learned about this group from your new connection from the workshop.) Because it’s your first session, you’ll be required to deliver your value statement. Apologize for not preparing one; but don’t worry, the kind folks will give you guidance.

Listen to the guest speaker speak on his Candidate Pet Peeves. Note that he dislikes it when people don’t look him in his eyes, among other irritants the speaker mentions. Most of what he says if obvious, but it’s good to be reminded of the obvious.

7. At 4:00 p.m. drive to your local Starbucks, purchase a Tall ice coffee with light ice and cream only, and grab a comfy chair next to an outlet. Plug in your computer and dial into a job board you prefer.

Note that there are 10 job posts for marketing specialist, three in the financial industry. Also note that there are 15 job posts for Accountants. This is great labor market information for you and your new connection for when you meet her at the career center for an interview workshop.

8. At 5:00 p.m. refer to your to-do list and congratulate yourself for meeting 80% of today’s objectives. You were a bit optimistic about what you could do. That’s okay, you can pick up where you left off tomorrow.

Text your wife and tell her you’re on your way home to cook pork tenderloin on the grill. Ask if you should pick up vegetables and perhaps a bottle of wine–it was a good day.

9. After dinner you can settle in for the night. When your wife asks you if tomorrow you will cut the lawn and paint the garage, apologize and tell her now that you’re in the job search you won’t have time to do chores like that. However, during the weekend you’ll do as many chores as she’d like.

Tomorrow is another day to get out of the house. Which activities you choose to do is up to you. Perhaps following up with people you’ve met at the career center, creating your company target list, spending a couple hours revising your résumé, attending another networking group….The possibilities are endless. The important thing is that you’re getting out of the house.

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The job search one-percent rule

BikingOften times I’ll read a blog post and see a relationship between its message and the job search. Or I’ll take a moment in my life and turn it into a job-search lesson. If you’ve read my posts, you’ll notice I do this with my family or customers.

A post from Paul Drury called Be a Little Better for a Little Longer, in which he writes about the 2012 British Olympic cycling team, got me to thinking about how the team’s quest for gold medals applies to the job search. The job search one percent rule, more specifically.

In his article Paul writes, “The successful British cycling coach Dave Brailsford described it as making a ‘1% improvement in everything that you do.’”

Another line in Paul’s post resonates with me when I think of what makes a job search successful: “Most of the significant things in your life aren’t stand-alone events, but rather the sum of all the times when we chose to do things 1% better or 1% worse.”

When I talk with jobseekers, as well as my kids, they want immediate gratification. (Do you blame them?) But the job search doesn’t work that way.

Rather the way to look at your job search is to determine if you’re going to strive for one percent more or settle for one percent less. The job search is the sum of one percent more or less.

For instance, if there’s a networking event the night after a long day of job seeking, are you going to “suck it up” and go, or are you going to settle for that one inch less and blow it off? We know what the correct answer is; you go.

After you meet someone who can be of mutual assistance your next step is to follow up with a phone call or an email, at the very least. If you fail to follow up, you lose that opportunity; or as I tell my workshop attendees, “You don’t close the deal.” That’s one percent less.

Baby steps, as we call them, are necessary to take in the job search. Failure is something that shouldn’t destroy your resolve. Paul writes in regards to the British Olympic cycling team, “That is where the British success lay. They had a worthy goal (to win the Olympics) and believed in the potential of their system to achieve it.”

In achieving their goal, they experienced letdown and often times failure; but they didn’t give up. This is one encouraging attitude I see in some of my jobseekers; they experience letdown (don’t land the job) but bounce back. I’ll see them a few days later and they’ll have a smile on their face. “Onward,” we’ll say. Onward.

The one percent rule also applies to the interview, where it’s essential you’re prepared with not only your research but also emotionally. Interviewers want people who are enthusiastic about the job and company. It can be hard to pull off this enthusiasm when you’re in a hard place (unemployed).

First impressions play a huge part in the job search. Not only at interviews, but preceding the interviews, as well. I tell my workshop attendees that how they appear in their job search makes a huge difference in the help you’ll receive from others. “Are you more likely to help those who appear positive?” I ask, “Or those who appear negative?” Those abiding by one percent more will appear positive.

Although it’s only one percent we’re talking about, it can be huge. I tell my soccer players that they may be just one step behind the opponent…one inch from winning the ball and then making a play.

Often times we as career advisors talk about the proper job-search techniques, but do we talk enough about effort? Do we venture into that difficult area and address our customers’ attitudes? The answer should be yes, because they’re trying to win a race, just as the 2012 British Olympic bicycling team was.

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4 ways to break down your time in the job search

There’s been speculation as to how jobseekers should segment their time for the job search. Some embrace the idea of dedicating a certain amount of time to their job search methods; They have a well-devised plan.

Others don’t give much thought to how they’ll spend their time and energy on the search. This can be a mistake.

Having guidelines, whether you adhere to them or occasionally drop the ball, provide objectives which are necessary to achieve your goals. The job search is not an exact science, however you need a guideline to give yourself direction. Consider the following way of segmenting your job search into job-search methods.

60% Networking related activities

The Department of Labor has stated that at least 60% of jobs are gained through networking, and most pundits would agree that networking is the best use of your time. However, some people have the misconception that attending networking events only constitutes connecting with people who can be of mutual help.

Networking should be a daily event that comes about naturally, such as during family gatherings, on the sidelines of a soccer game, while getting your hair colored, in the grocery store, etc. You must prepared to present yourself in a favorable manner at all times; first impressions count. Read this article to learn about networking naturally.

Note: Awhile back, Lou Adler, expert recruiter and author of The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired, wrote an article for LinkedIn in which he states networking should constitute 60% of your job search. 

20% LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the best way to network online, period. Facebook and Twitter are great media for communicating real-time, but serious business people and jobseekers use LinkedIn on a regular basis with great success.

I only suggest 20% percent because putting more effort into LinkedIn can make you complacent, believing that it’s a replacement for personal networking. It isn’t! LinkedIn is a great supplement for personal networking.

Once you’ve developed connections on LinkedIn, it’s time to reach out to them and touch them in a personal way: meet with them in person, talk on the phone (if they’re long distance), and at the very least communicate via e-mail. Read this article to find out how.

10% Job Postings/Researching Companies

Estimates for success using this method to search for work only range from 4-10%, according to the well-known Richard Bolles, *What Color is Your Parachute.  The image of jobseekers hunched over their computer mechanically zipping résumés into the clouds depresses me.

Why not develop a list of companies for which you’d like to work, follow their progress (or lack thereof), and send a nicely crafted approach letter (which indicates your interest in a possible positions) to the companies that show movement? Or better yet, call them.

Let’s adjust this figure. Spend 5 percent of your time playing the lottery by sending out your generic résumé that most likely will be lost in companies’ huge databases; spend the other 5 percent doing your research and composing introductory letters or making phone calls that will garner greater success.

10% Agency/3rd Party Recruiters

This figure assumes you use agencies or 3rd party recruiters. Some of us stiffs, perhaps more than one would think, don’t use recruiters due to the industry in which we work. So this 10 percent can be thrown out the window for people who haven’t even run across a recruiter.

On the other hand, if you are in an industry where working with recruiters is the norm and you demand a high salary, this figure seems a bit low. Richard Bolles gives this method of job search a 5 to 28 percent chance of success if used alone, taking into consideration the salary requirements of the jobseekers.

Put it in action

I’ve heard pundits claim that creating a weekly schedule to follow is fruitless. I disagree. Having a schedule to follow on a consistent basis gives you structure and objectives toward an attainable goal.

Let’ say you’ll spend 30 hours a week to conduct your job search—a good number, I think, as you’ll want time for other important things in your life. Of those 30 hours you’ll spend 18 combined hours on networking activities, only 3 or 4 of those hours attending networking groups; 6 hours on LinkedIn; and 3 hours online and recruiters.

Of course your plan may be derailed for one reason or another–Uncle Al blows into town. You don’t have time to attend the third networking event of the week. No sweat, get back on track the next week and stick to the theoretical schedule. The most important thing is that you are proactive in your job search, not spending 30 hours a week sending your résumé into the dark void.

*Bolles wrote this way back in 2011, but I think it still holds true.

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4 reasons why your LinkedIn profile needs a strong Media section

recruiters (1)This article marks the third of making your LinkedIn profile stronger. The previous two talked about your Summary and Experience sections.

Before you read any further, I’d like you to take a moment to read one of the most comprehensive articles on LinkedIn’s Media feature. It’s an article written by my colleague and valued LinkedIn connection, Sabrina Woods, in which she describes 18 different ways to use this feature. Eighteen different ways! Boy, did she do her homework.

With at least 18 ways to use LinkedIn’s Media section, this gives you plenty of options to show off your goods. So why not take advantage of it? You can use it in your Summary, each in your Employment section, and in your Education. Here are four major reasons why you should utilize Media on your LinkedIn profile.

It’s your online portfolio. This is what I tell my LinkedIn workshop attendees when I describe Media. Similar to when you bring examples of your work to an interview, you have the opportunity to show the world your best work. As Sabrina writes, there are at least 18 ways to use this feature.

Everyone can find a reason to use it. And they should. For example, I lead workshops where I use PowerPoint presentations—please no heckling from the true presentation purists out there. I use Media to show off three of my PowerPoint presentations.

An engineer may use this feature to illustrate his work on wind turbines by using YouTube. One of my customers who’s a graphic artist highlights her graphics in Media. Neal Schaffer, an expert on social media for business and author of Maximize Your Social, uses YouTube to share with the world his interview by Kooger in London. Check it out.

It fits your communication style. Some people are visual communicators as opposed to written communicators. They have the knack for making people see the value in their graphic design or photos or architecture…but can’t express it as eloquently in words. One of my customers expressed it nicely when she said some people express their thoughts with words, while she expresses her thoughts through images.

The options are numerous. While you’re given the option of adding a link or downloading a file, the number of providers is mind boggling.

  • Image providers: 12, including Twitter and ow.ly
  • Video providers: Approximately 70, including ABC News, CBS News, YouTube
  • Audio providers: 13, including Mixcloud, Spotify
  • Presentation and document providers: 3, including PowerPoint and Prezi
  • Other: 4, including Behance and Kickstarter

Two of the more common documents displayed in Media are Word and PDF documents, which would be ideal for posting your résumé for employers to see, or a whitepaper you’re particularly proud of.

To see some of the media used by LinkedIn members go to Sabrina’s article where there are samples of various types of media. I think you’ll be impressed. I was.

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The ideal car drive for two introverts

Teenage driverRecently I was teaching my daughter to drive. She was doing quite well but was extremely nervous. I knew she was nervous because she was talking nonstop; whereas I was speaking only to tell her to: watch for cars pulling out and entering our lane, be alert to errant balls followed by children, make sure she comes to a complete stop at stop signs, advice like that.

As I was saying, she was constantly talking. “Am I far enough away from the car in front, Dad?” she would ask. “How’s my distance from the side of the road. Oh my god, there are so many cars on this street. Why are there so many cars? Do you think I’m ready for the highway, yet?”

You might think I was annoyed with this barrage of chatter. Well I wasn’t. You see, my daughter doesn’t talk a lot; she’s sort of like me. So when I get to hear her talkative side I grab it like a greedy child grabbing candy. I will say that I often asked her to cut down the excessive talking so she could focus more on the road. But suddenly she became calm and started talking about substantial stuff.

“I talk a lot when I’m nervous, Dad.” I knew this about my daughter. “But I don’t talk a lot around my friends. And sometimes I feel stupid. I’m not like Sidney who can talk about anything. I’m not good at making small talk. And this makes me feel stupid. But I don’t want to talk about just anything; I like to talk about things that interest me. I think I’m a ‘big’ introvert.”

Whoa, where did this come from? Doesn’t like small talk? Prefers to talk about things of interest? Thinks she’s an extreme introvert? So I played along because anyone who knows me knows that one of my favorite topics is introversion.

Introverts prefer depth over breadth when conversing. 

“You know, honey,” I begin. “There’s nothing wrong with preferring to have deeper conversations—like what we’re having now. This is how introverts prefer to converse; they like that one-on-one dialog. Is that how you feel?”

“Yeah, that’s like totally it. I like deep conversations. I’m not interested in some of the topics my friends talk about. Sometimes I feel stupid because I don’t jump in on the conversation. It’s like a competition with my friends. That’s why I think I have more friends who are boys.”

I had to jump in. “Girls can be catty right? Are you saying boys don’t talk as much?”

“Totally. With my guy friends it’s not like a competition to see who can talk the most or say the coolest things. I don’t know how they do it, the ones who can talk forever. Like Steph. Everyone loves her because she makes everyone feel special. Britt too.” Moment of silence, which I didn’t want to lose. “Do you think I’m a freak, Dad?” Oh no my dear, I thought, you’re an introvert, a very special person.

I didn’t want to go into that small talk is sometimes difficult for introverts because our time to process our thoughts is more delayed.

“I like to listen,” she continued. Sometimes I just listen to some of the stupid things they talk about. And I think, ‘how stupid that is.’ I don’t want to judge, but…like really? I’m a real ‘big’ introvert, right? If I think what my friends are saying is stupid, is it wrong not to join the conversation?”

I told my daughter, “You see, how you’re describing your friends makes me think that they are more extraverted than you. Extraverts are energized by being with people and talking to them in order to re-charge their batteries.”

“That’s right,” she said. “I get tired sometimes when I’m with a group of people. It’s like I need a break. It all seems like a competition. Who can say the most. With guys it’s not like that. Sure there are some that talk more than others. But for the most part, they listen to what each other say.”

I wondered if the willingness to give and take is a gender thing.

“You, on the other hand,” I interrupted, “like deeper conversations that mean more to you. They don’t happen often, maybe rarely for some, but when they do, they’re great. Like the one we’re having now, right?”

“Yeah,” she continued, “This is good. This talk we’re having. It’s like we can drive in the car and not say much but at other times we talk a real lot. I like our conversations…..So, do you think I’m ready for the highway?”

Before I knew it we were approaching the highway. I had never taken her on the highway, but she seemed lucid and was driving like a pro. So we took the highway home and survived. Why would I have thought differently.

When we got home, I administered an MBTI assessment to her. It turns out that my daughter is a moderate introvert, slight sensor and thinker, and clear perceiver.

“Congratulations, honey, you’re an introvert like your ole man,” I told her. I’m afraid she’s worried about being an introvert, but she’ll realize how special she is.

Note: this post was enjoyable to write. I wrote one on an introverts idea of a great vacation. Check it out.

Photo: Flickr, Michael Jimmy Ellas

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Self-promotion is necessary in childhood and adulthood

kidz playing basketballI’m not worried about my son.

My son is in his second year of playing basketball. He’s quite good, for someone who just started playing, and talks a lot of trash. He’s usually the shortest kid on the court, but he’s fast and dives on the ground like Larry Bird used to.

All the parents get a kick out of watching him play. (One parent once asked me before a game how many times I thought he’d fall to the floor.)

The thing that makes going to his games fun for me is the conversations he and I have driving to and from the games. “Dad,” he’ll say, “how many buckets do you think I’ll get?”

“Four,” I’ll pick a number out of the air.

“How many steals and assists?”

“Four each.”

Wouldn’t you know it, he scores 10 points; steals a ton of balls from the slower, less interested kids; and passes the ball to four of his teammates who don’t know what to do with the a basketball.

I’m worried about my daughter.

My daughter is an excellent soccer player. She plays in the backfield and loves stripping the soccer ball from oncoming forwards. And she’ll take out anyone who comes near her, despite her rail-thin body type. I’ve witnessed her lay a tackle on girls twice her size, the collisions reminiscent of a train wreck.

The conversation she and I will have before a game is quiet like two hummingbirds. Occasionally she’ll ask me after a game what I thought of her performance, and I’ll use the old sandwich technique—compliment her on a crushing tackle, criticize her for letting a girl slip behind her, and finish by telling her she passed the ball well. These are great conversations between a dad and his daughter.

My daughter has been reserved and humble since she first started playing soccer. When she first stepped on the field, she was about the age my son is now, so I can gauge the differences between the two fairly accurately. It’s fair to say that my son promotes his skills more than my daughter does. Now, I didn’t say better. I said more.

It would be shallow of me to worry about who is the better athlete, my son or my daughter—and I’d be a fool to declare whom I think holds the title. No, I’m worried about my daughter’s ability to promote her accomplishments, particularly later in life when it really matters.

I also worry about my customers.

In the job search it’s all about marketing yourself—on your résumé and in your cover letter, while you’re networking, on the phone, and at the interview. It’s all about accomplishments and it’s all about using them in context. The written and verbal communications skills have to be in place—one is not exclusive of the other.

Recently a customer related a story at one of my Personal Commercial workshops about how she had mobilized nearly a whole city to promote the arrival of a professional wrestler. She had no budget with which to work, yet she was able to barter with a marble sign company to create a welcome sign for Cold Stone Austin; and she persuaded the city to rename a street for “Cold Stone.”

The event, as she described it, was a smashing success. Her enthusiasm in describing the event was similar to how my son talks about his basketball prowess; not how my daughter reluctantly talks about her soccer game.

My customer succeeded on the verbal front but not in her written campaign. Following the workshop, she asked me to review her revised résumé. I expected to read about her coordination, management, persuasion, creativity, and a whole slew of other skills that made the Steve Austin event an outstanding accomplishment.

While the story she told at my workshop was captivating and her enthusiasm was contagious, her résumé didn’t hint to any of her strong skills. She was unable to tie her strong verbal and written communications skills into the full package necessary to market herself effectively.

I would tell you about the time my customer had to coordinate the flushing of an entire sports center’s toilets, but that would be too long a story.

Will my daughter be able to promote herself in her written and verbal communications, or will she wait for someone to drag all of her strong accomplishments out of her? Will she express her accomplishments, or fail to express her accomplishments, in the whole package? Perhaps I worry too much.

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