The day I messed up; my networking mistake

Screwed upThe day I messed up; it was a day you remember like when you forget your kid’s birthday. You can’t believe you made such a blunder and it stuck with you the whole day.

I had planned to meet with a fellow who is considered the premier networker in the area. He runs a business networking group called Friends of Kevin. I wanted to talk to him about expanding my LinkedIn Strategy business because I believed he could promote my business among his “Friends.”

We were supposed to meet for lunch and I was going to pay. Nothing fancy, just Mexican food from across the street. I was sitting at my desk eating a bowl of New England Clam Chowda (that’s how it’s pronounced in northeast Massachusetts). There I was enjoying my chowda, my bobbleheads on my desk looking on. I was totally oblivious to the fact that I had forgotten our lunch date.

Bobbleheads

From over my shoulder I heard something akin to, “I see you’ve already got some food.” Right then I knew I had seriously messed up. I also realized I didn’t have a viable excuse for forgetting our lunch date. There was no sense trying to hide my mistake. There was only fessin’ up.

“Dude, I’m sorry. I messed up,” I said to him.

“It’s cool,” he said. “I was going to meet someone later on. No worries.”

Over time I forgot this momentous blunder until this person shared on YouTube a similar mistake. He broadcasted to the world that he (too) had forgotten a networking meeting, hadn’t put it on his calendar. What a guy, I thought. How bold of him to admit his error and turn it into a lesson on how to follow up in the most obvious way.

Following up has always been a priority for me. I preach it in my workshops as one of the most important aspects of the job search; whether it’s calling someone after a networking event, meeting someone for coffee, making the informational meeting you asked for. Like in work, following up is essential for success. Your word is your bond. And I mean it.

Recently my friend did me a great favor by speaking to our career center on the topic of (can you guess?) networking. I’m sure during the guest speaking event he mentioned the importance of following up, and I’m pretty sure he spoke of my faux pas. I would’ve. He’s a good friend who easily forgives.

Someday I’ll make this networking mistake of mine up to him.

Start writing your family holiday networking newsletter

ThanksgivingLike me, you may receive holiday newsletters from friends and relatives who you see infrequently. You may look forward to receiving these yearly letters or dread them because they carry on for pages about personal information best saved for a therapist.

For jobseekers these newsletters can serve as a great way to network if written properly. You’re sending these holiday networking newsletters to people who care about your welfare and would like to help in any way they could.

Maybe your uncle Jake once worked at Raytheon and still has connections there, past or present; or your former roommate from college is doing well for himself in marketing in NYC. Your brother is active on LinkedIn and probably has connections living in your area. He’ll sing your praises for sure. The list of possibilities are great.

What to include in your personal holiday newsletter. Keep in mind that you’re not contacting employers or fellow job seeking networkers who understand the lingo and nuances of networking for work. (These networking letters speak a different language and are targeted to a specific audience.)

You’re reaching out to friends and relatives who know little to nothing about your situation or experience and goals, and who probably haven’t heard from you in awhile. Thus, the content should be light and unobtrusive.

The opening. First wish your recipients a happy holiday. You’ll start light and stay light during the entire letter. This is, after all, the holidays. “Hello loved ones. It’s been a busy year for the Jones, and we have a lot to tell you,” you might begin. “First let me start be telling you that we have a new puppy; I think that sums up ‘busy’.”

The middle. News about the family is always appreciated. “I’m proud to say that Tommy Jr. graduated from college and is interning at Dunn and Brad Street. Claire is enjoying her senior year in high school and much to the chagrin of Ellen and me (did I say that?) is dating a wonderful boy who dotes on her. She’ll be heading off to USC and he’ll be going to Boston College (Joy). Little Jason is entering high school with intentions of wrestling and playing soccer.”

Continue writing about what’s happening on the family front, but don’t brag too much. How many times have we read holiday newsletters that sound like a commercial for the all American family? Keep it real. However, don’t write negative content.

The conclusion. Be upbeat and positive as you tell your recipients about your current situation. You want your friends and relatives to think about how they may help; you don’t want to drive them away with demands or sound needy or despondent. “I think you may recall that I’m in transition from my position as director of marketing at my former software company. I’m in high spirits seeing my family and friends and relatives doing so well. This is a tough economy, and I know of many people out of work. Please keep me and others affected by the layoffs in your thoughts.”

Sign off with your telephone number and LinkedIn URL, if it feels appropriate. Also ask your recipients to write back with news about what’s going on in their lives. Good networking is not only about you, it’s also about those with whom you communicate no matter who the audience is. Show your interest as well.

Some important things to note: don’t ask if anyone knows of a job. You don’t want to put undue pressure on your friends and relatives who are not consumed with the labor market. The best delivery method for your letter will be a typed or hand-written letter delivered by snail mail, as it has a more personal touch and is more likely not to be forgotten.

10 first impressions for job-search success

Game of thronesWhen I watched the first episode of Game of Thrones, I was not impressed. I’d heard it was a great show, but the gratuitous violence did more to turn me off than draw me into the most important episode of the series. I haven’t returned to the show since.

I know you’re thinking this is a post about first impressions jobseekers make at interviews, but it’s not. It’s about how important it is to make great first impressions in every aspect of your job search, not just how you shake the interviewer/s hands, maintain eye contact, etc.

Making a positive first impression can come into play before the interview phase, perhaps when you least expect it. I’m imaging a scenario where you’re at your local Starbucks, scoping out a comfortable chair to sit in for a couple of hours, and see the only one available among eight.

As you approach coveted chair, a woman dressed in a tee-shirt, yoga pants, and Asics also has her eyes on the prize. You have two choices; you can beat her to it, or you can offer her the chair, knowing there are plenty of stools at the table along the window, albeit uncomfortable ones. You take the high road and offer her the chair and retreat to one of the stools.

A week later you’re at an interview for a job that’s perfect for you. As you’re making the rounds shaking hands with the interviewers, you notice the woman to whom you offered the chair when you were at Starbucks; and she notices you as the kind woman who gave up that chair.

She’s the VP of marketing and a key decision maker in the hiring process. A couple of traits she desires in the next hire is integrity and selflessness. The interview is off to a great start because you made a great first impression by relinquishing that chair. Little did you know that that act of kindness would pay off in a big way, an act of kindness that had nothing to do with the interview process.

You may be thinking to yourself, “But that’s my nature.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “I can’t let my job search dictate how I act every minute of the day.” The point is when you’re in the job search, you’re constantly on. Let’s look at other ways you make a first impression before the interview begins.

  1. The way you dress. When you leave the house during the warm seasons, are you wearing your Red Sox Tee-shirt, baggie shorts, and sneakers without socks? You might want to ditch the Tee-shirt…and everything else. Work casual dress shows you’re serious about your job search. Trust me on this: I know which one of my customers’ job-search stint will be short based on how they dress.
  2. Body language. I tell jobseekers that people–not just employers–can read your body language like a neon sign and will make judgments. People can tell if you’re tense and therefore unapproachable. Alternatively, people sense you’re open and welcome them if you have an open stance and pleasant smile.
  3. Possitive attitude. I see plenty of people who are understandably angry, and they’re not afraid to show it. There are other people who are angry because of their unemployment but don’t display their attitude. Think whether you’re more likely to help others who show a negative attitude or those who come across as friendly. I would never insist that you must feel positive; I’m just saying fake it till you make it.
  4. Effective communications. At a networking event or during a phone conversation, are you demonstrating proper communication skills? Are you listening or just doing all the talking? If you’re doing the latter, it could be a turnoff for those with whom you’re speaking…a possible employer or valuable networking contact. I’m highly sensitive to people who do most of the talking.
  5. Activity. One of the best ways to present a great first impression is by being active in your job search. I’m not talking about being overbearing or obnoxious–I’m talking about due diligence, including sending appropriate e-mails, making telephone calls, attending networking events, calling on recruiters, engaging in daily networking, and whatever you’re capable of doing in a professional manner.
  6. Personal business cards. Nothing says professional and serious about the job search than personal business cards. They’re perfect to bring to networking events, job fairs, informational meetings, or just when you’re out and about. My close LinkedIn connection and branding master explains how business cards brand you.
  7. Your online presence. While it’s a well-known fact that employers are using social media to hire talent–approximately 96% use LinkedIn–it’s also known that they are using social media to “dig up dirt.” So make sure your online presence is clean, that there are no photos of you sloppy drunk in Cancun, that you haven’t used Twitter to blast your previous boss. (If you type “Bob McIntosh” on Twitter, you’ll find my tweets, and I guarantee they are professional in nature.)
  8. Chillax. In the job search you’re so focused on getting your next job that you may come across as too focused and determined. Give yourself a break every once in a while. People can sense those who are desperate.
  9. Follow up. This can’t be stressed enough. When you say you’ll call or email someone or meet that person for coffee, make sure you follow through with your commitment. And be sure you’re on time by the minute. Being late leaves a negative first impression.
  10. Pay it forward. In the above scenario you demonstrate selflessness by offering the other person the chair. It so happened the recipient of the chair was someone on the interview team. Your act of paying it forward worked out nicely, as she appreciated your act of kindness.

The story of you meeting the VP of marketing at Starbucks and offering her the coveted seat ends well; she casts a heavy vote to hire you for the job of your dreams. You still don’t know what you did to earn her vote, but does it really matter as long as you consider being the say you are. The power of first impressions.

If you found this article helpful, please share it with others.

 

6 ways college students can take advantage of being LinkedIn

student computerA recent articles in Forbes, Why Freshmen College Students Need to Major in LinkedIn, may seem a bit extreme. As the title suggests, colleges should be teaching students how to network using LinkedIn.

Although this might be extreme, it makes sense. I’ve been trying to impress upon my college-age daughter that she should take advantage of LinkedIn, especially at her young age.

She’s no different than her closest buddies, a group of college students with great character, who haven’t the inclination to join this ever important networking platform. Which is a shame because they are in prime shape to start their networking on LinkedIn.

The fact is that college students should be building their network before they need it. When I asked my daughter when she is going to join LinkedIn, she told me she’s got enough to handle with Facebook and Instagram. But she’ll seriously look into it when she returns to school, she told me with a smile. She brushed me off.

This will take time, I see, but I won’t give up. She’ll have to realize the advantages her generation has over jobseekers who are scrambling to join or strengthen their LinkedIn strategy. She and her classmates can join the party early, but they’ll have to do the following to be successful:

  1. Learn about LinkedIn. Learning about LinkedIn will give college students a huge advantage over people already in the workforce. What has taken years for workers of all ages, including myself, college students can get a head start on the process of learning the intricacies of this platform that is not extremely difficult to master, but will require a learning curve. This, to me, is reason enough to create a degree in LinkedIn.
  2. Begin constructing their profile. Now if you’re thinking they’re too young; keep in mind they need to produce a résumé for when they enter the labor market. This is just a start, but with guidance they can do it correctly. A former friend of my daughter began constructing his profile after his senior year of high school, and it was pretty good for a graduating high school senior.
  3. Develop a quality network. This network will consist primarily of colleagues of their parents. My daughter is considering becoming a nurse. I’ve suggested she talk with nurses I know. And while she’s at it connect on LinkedIn with these same nurses, providing they’re on LinkedIn. “Won’t that be creepy,” she’s probably thinking. No, this shows initiative.
  4. Connect with alumni. College students might be under the false impression that their alumni consist only of the people with whom they’re going to school. Their alumni are those who have gone to her school, those who are currently employed, and most importantly those who want to pay back the school that played a part in shaping their lives. Yes, alumni are complete strangers, but the goal is to turn strangers into networking contacts.
  5. Start their research earlier. Astute college students will use LinkedIn’s Companies feature to follow target companies. When they graduate, they’ll have more knowledge of these companies than their classmates. Further, they can identify top players in their industry. It is highly likely a college student won’t have a first or second degree connection at a company or organization; so an introduction or bold connection request will be required.
  6. Join groups in their major/industry. But what will I do in these groups, I hear my daughter thinking. College students should take their time to peruse the five groups or more they join to better understand about their potential colleagues. Consider this a way to gather information from the experts in your field, information you won’t find in your classes. Groups for nursing show 11 in my daughter’s geographic location. There are two specific nursing groups for her school.

As I think about the article that got the wheels in my head turning, I realize I’m relying on the fine institution to which she attends will stress the importance of getting on LinkedIn. Maybe not create an actual major called “LinkedIn 101,” but a week-long lesson on LinkedIn. What would this crash course on LinkedIn consist of? One thing for sure is that something needs to be done.

 

10 reasons why your informational meetings aren’t working in your job search

meetingLet’s set one thing straight: it’s not an informational interview—although that’s how most people refer to it. It’s an informational or networking meeting. But regardless of its name, there are 10 reasons why your informational meeting will fail, if you approach it the ways listed below.

I’ve granted informational meetings, and in many cases they were uneventful. Uneventful because they were more like a question and answer session than a conversation. Dull. Furthermore, the questions were not well thought out.

I’ve asked for informational meetings and in most cases I was prepared for them. Often they went to the point where we could have talked longer. I gathered great information, whether it was encouraging or set my expectations straight.

The purpose of an informational meeting

Let’s be clear, no job has been advertised, so they’re not actual interviews. That’s why the terms “informational meetings” or “networking meetings” are more fitting.

You’re requesting an informational meeting to gather advice for a particular position and the company. So you’re the one asking the questions, intelligent questions. Therefore there is no pressure on the person offering information and advice; and no pressure on you.

Your goal is to present yourself as a potential solution to problems the company may have. There might be a position developing at the company, unbeknownst to you; and you might be recommended to the hiring manager for the position. At the very least, you could be sent away with three other people with whom to speak.

Some reason why your informational meetings aren’t working in your job search

1. The questions you ask are weak. Poor questions show a lack of preparation and are disrespectful. A question like, “What does your company do?” is weak because is lacks creativity and thought. Besides, you should already know what the company does before talking with the person granting you the meeting. I hate this question.

Another question I hate being asked is, “What do you do?” Can you be a little more specific? “How do you prepare for creating your workshops?” is a question I can talk to at length because it gives me direction. Begin the discussion with, “I know a little about what you do, but I  have some questions to ask….”

Note: If there’s one question you should ask, it’s, “Are there any issues or problems that exist in your department or the company?” This gives you the opportunity to talk about how you’d solve the problem.

2. Your enthusiasm level is low. Chances are the person granting you the informational meeting is not looking forward to spending his valuable time answering questions from a person he’s never met, or met once at a conference. So coming across as bored or hesitant, will not bode well.

Instead begin the conversation by introducing yourself and explaining why you are excited about talking with said person. Why you’re interested in the position up for discussion, as well as the types of companies you’re interested in learning about. Don’t forget to smile while you’re talking in person or on the phone–it can be heard through the phone connection.

3. You arrive or call late. This is a no brainer. If you are late for the meeting, you might as well kiss it goodbye. This is common sense; people hate it when others are late, me included.

Make arrangements for this special day so that there’s no way you’ll be late. In fact, arrive early if you’re meeting for coffee with the person granting you the meeting. Set your watch alarm or e-mail alert 10 minutes before making the call. You’ll impress the person by being early.

4. You don’t have a clear agenda. Similar to point #1, your agenda doesn’t provide direction. You come across as wimpy and disorganized. Your adviser is unsure of how this meeting will go.

State at the beginning of the meeting that your goal is to learn more about the position, the company, and competition–if the person can speak to that point. While you want the meeting to be more like a conversation, it doesn’t hurt to provide structure. Write down all your questions in groupings of the job, company, and competition. This way you won’t forget to ask them.

5. You don’t have data to back you up. You’re not being interviewed for a job, but the person granting you the meeting will want to know something about you. To break the ice, she might ask what you currently do and what your interest are.

So you’re interested in event planning, but most of your experience as been through extensive volunteerism (you stayed home 10 years to raise a family). Most recently, you were tasked with planning the PTO’s bake sale which raised $30,000; whereas the year before the school raised only $15,000.

6 You don’t make the person feel like he’s doing you a favor. You make the person feel as though you’re the one who’s inconvenienced by having to ask questions and giving structure to the meeting. You come across as someone who is all about yourself, not about giving back.

As I’ve said before, the person granting you the informational meeting is taking time out of her busy schedule. Say, “Thank you for taking this time to answer my questions,” at the outset and repeat your words of gratitude at the end of the conversation. If you don’t do this, you’ll come across as a taker.

7. You ask for a job. Hold on. There’s no job available; at least to the person granting you the meeting, so don’t be presumptuous. Besides, the mere fact that you’re before this person or talking on the phone implies you’re looking for a job, especially at this company.

Now if it’s a known fact between you and the person with whom you’re speaking that a position exists at the company, by all means discuss the possibility of your fit, both job-related and personality wise. Perhaps you were given a soft lead from a connection of yours.

8. There’s no call for action. You don’t ask if there’s anyone else you can speak with to gather more information and advice. If no position exist or is being developed at the moment, the least you should come away with are additional people with whom to talk. Often jobseekers will neglect this part of the networking process.

Your goal is to gather as many quality people to join your networking campaign. Politely ask at the end of the informational meeting, “Can you think of anyone I can speak with regarding a nursing position?” Don’t expect the person to come up with three people immediately; she may have to send you the contact information.

9. You don’t reciprocate. Failure to give back demonstrates your lack of networking etiquette. You can’t expect to receive and not give. I come across many people who think their job search is the center of everyone’s lives and don’t think of offering help to those who help them.

Reciprocity can come in many forms. After discussing some issues that existed at the company, you came up with a better procedure for the company’s supply chain operation. Or the small company needs some graphic art for their website–this will fit nicely on your resume.

10. You don’t send a thank-you note and follow-up. This is a golden rule at any point in your job search. Failing to send a thank-you note, via e-mail or thank you card is insulting and a sure way to lose that person as part of your network. A network shows your gratitude and professionalism.

Gently remind the person who granted you the informational meeting of the additional people you should contact. Keep a lively conversation–perhaps one that involved an existing problem at the company–going, and offer a solution to that problem. By all means don’t drop this person as a potential networking connection.


 

Informational meetings can be a gem. I tell my workshop attendees that they’re not easy to come by, as people are extremely busy. Most people who grant informational meetings do so because they want to help you in your job search. Don’t waste their time. They can be an asset to your networking endeavor.

 

3 places where introverts need to get away to recharge their batteries

alone at workLast year my family celebrated our daughter’s graduation from high school with a small celebration. We were near a lake and the temperature was in the 90’s. Many of our friends were there with their kids who immediately took to the water.

A perfect setting. I enjoyed conversing with our friends, as we talked about kids and past events; and I was particularly animated as I talked.

Then it hit me like a title wave. I needed time to get away and recharge my batteries. Did I care if company would miss me? Not really. As an introvert, group events can take a toll on me. I enjoy the company of others, but my energy level for talking with them is not as enduring as it is for extraverts.

Extraverts have that energy that drives them through a party; it charges their batteries. They derive mental stimulation by talking and being listened to. I don’t’ envy them, though. The time alone to watch the kids swimming in the lake or even sitting in silence next to another introvert is as rewarding as it is for extraverts to talk to others at length.

Small gathering is the first place that comes to mind where introverts need to get away. The following two are:

Networking events. As an introvert, you may find yourself enjoying a conversation with a few people, but suddenly it occurs to you that where you’d rather be is in a quiet place, perhaps outside getting some fresh air, or in a lit room.

What’s likely to happen is another introvert joining you, perhaps by mistake or because she saw you escaping to your place of reflection. This is fine, because it’s you and she making small talk, such as, “Had to get away from the crowd.” I know what you mean, she tells you. And so you’ve established a bond.

Like the time I stole away from our guest at my party, you’ve had the opportunity to recharge your batteries so you can return to the larger group, which is now in the “needs and leads” portion of the event. One of my LinkedIn connections told me this type of break is what she needs before returning to a business event and possibly an extended after hours. Sure, it may be time for some to retire to the hotel room, but she understands the value of personal networking and pushes herself to keep going.

Work. Some introverts enjoy the opportunity to take a lunch-time walk, while their colleagues, most likely extraverts, are gathered in the staff room engaged in a boisterous conversation. Walking alone or with a walking mate is a great way to recharge your batteries. I personally prefer listening to music or talk radio, as it allows me to walk at my rapid speed and lose myself in thoughts of the day.

If your fortunate to have an office or cubicle away from the fray, your getaway is convenient and doesn’t require leaving the office. This type of situation is ideal after a day full of meetings, not only to recharge your battery but also to respond to any e-mails following the meetings. Introverts are more productive when they have solitude and moments to reflect and write, something they prefer over meetings and brainstorming sessions.

Whether you’re at a family gathering, a networking event, or at work, getting away is important for maintaining a strong energy level. Introverts are capable of interaction for extended periods of time, but we’re more comfortable if we take time to get away. Don’t deny this opportunity and don’t feel as if you’re being antisocial. You’ll be happier and more productive if you tend to your preferred way to energize yourself.

5 ways to be memorable in a positive way in your job search

question mark

I don’t remember much, but when I do, I never forget. There are some jobseekers I remember because they leave a lasting impression, like one woman I had in my Behavioral Interviewing workshop whose story about motivating others was so compelling. Melissa is her name.

Then there’s Mark who just got an Administrator position in healthcare. He thanked me for my help and told me he’d write an account of his job search and how LinkedIn was of great help.

Lisa landed a benefits job in human resources. Previously she was a manager, but she wanted out of that. She proved that stepping down is fine, just as long as you can still prove your value.

Armando I remember because he would always ping me with updates about his job search. He was always positive, never seemingly desperate, and sometimes he offered to help me. He still remains one of my favorite former customers, still someone I’ll reach out to. The other day, in fact, I called to see if he needed a gift in the form of a very talented jobseeker.

Kelly just landed a marketing job at a bank after being out of work for approximately a year. When she spoke with me just before securing her job, she admitted to being discouraged; but she never showed this. In fact it was just the opposite–she was positive and very active on LinkedIn.

Unfortunately there have been people who are a complete downer, but they’re far and in between. Still I remember them because of the poor impression they made. Mike Downer would constantly e-mail me about how he wasn’t going to make it. I would tell him he would if he networked and tried to be positive. He finally got a job. I won’t hear from him unless he needs another job.

The five people* I mention–yes they exist–who came across as positive and/or were willing to provide any help they could are the ones I would go out of my way to help; whereas the one that was always negative is someone I’d dread hearing from.

There’s a pattern here. People want to go out of their way to help those who make a good impression. If you want to be memorable to people who can assist you in your job search, keep in mind the following:

  1. Appearing positive, regardless of your internal struggles, attracts more people than if you’re negative. Negativity drives people away. Take Mike Downer, for example.
  2. Remind people of you by pinging them with e-mails and phone calls, but don’t annoy them with constant contact. Offer to meet them for coffee if it’s convenient for them.
  3. Always follow up after you’ve met someone who might be of assistance. Every time you follow up ask if you can be of assistance to them. If you can reciprocate in any way, it’s better than only asking for their help.
  4. Know your stories. Expert on storytelling, Katharine Hansen @ A storied Career, touts the importance of stories, how memorable they are in life and in the job search.
  5. Let people know about your successes. Had a great interview? Let people know. Finished a résumé you’re happy with? Let people know. Although your confidence may be low, announcing your achievements will make you and others feel great.

These are just a few positive things you can do to become memorable. Don’t be a downer, regardless of your internal struggles. Most people understand that being out of work is painful, including yours truly; so don’t make it the gist of your relationship with others. People like this are easy for me to remember, even if I can’t remember big name actors like Chris….See, I forgot.

*I will occasionally update this list of people and their examples of positiveness.