Monthly Archives: March 2010

How to Start Networking, Today

I wrote yesterday’s post fully aware that it was not a recipe, but a Cook’s Illustrated style preamble to the recipe itself.   Before you bake a cake, for example, you have to be sure you have fresh baking powder, a couple of eggs in the fridge, and the right kind of flour.  At least.

But if you have never introduced yourself to someone you always wanted to meet, if you are not the one in your crowd who strikes up a conversation with the person in front of you in the check out line, then the steps don’t come naturally.

I don’t think that networking is my strongest suit; I especially don’t do that well when placed in the company of all-star networkers like those found in the Chambers of Commerce and Leadership organizations around the world.  Networking is a lot like flirting—it isn’t that substantial, it’s more of a process.  You can’t be serious or substantial when you do it.  You can’t be weighty.  Your needs can’t be the subject (or the predicate).

So here is a simple review of the process of networking.

Step 1.  Forget the word networking.  Just like the recipe has no place in the actual cake, at the end of the process, you will celebrate and enjoy your new friends, not your network.  Make the word go out of your head.

Step 2.  Identify your objective.  Do you want new friends, different friends and acquaintances, ideas, clients, information, facilitation, donations, more folks who know who you are?  If your only answer is that you want a job, think hard about what will happen when you get that job.  I can only say that I have spent a lot of time with people who befriended me in the interest of getting a job, who I never heard from again after they got it.

Step 3.  Create a database.  Oh this is so hard for people to do.  You must, must keep track of your connections and their contact information.  Make notes.

Step 4.  Set goals.  Meet new people every day, every week, or every month.  The time frame isn’t important, the goal and the filter is.  Your job is to meet people and get to know them and what they are interested in.  To share a moment and express your interest in them.  Ask where they got the blouse.  Note the book is one you have read and liked, or one you might be interested in reading.

Step 5.  Practice the art of making friends everywhere you go.  Start by smiling and making eye contact.  Strike up a conversation; if you do not get a response or the response you want, let it go and move on.

Step 6.  Call someone you don’t know, to ask for information.  No, I didn’t say email them.  Phone call, please.  Identify yourself.  Tell the person who answers the phone who you are calling and why.  If you get through to the person you want to speak with, thank him or her for taking the call.  Ask your question, get your answer, say thank you, say good bye.  Follow up with letter, note, or email.

This doesn’t always go the way you want.  You have to practice, you have to try, and you have to get comfortable.  I can’t stress enough that having a smile on your face will put a smile in your voice and will make you feel better no matter what the outcome.

Step 7.  Make a date.  “Can I buy you a latte?”  “Can we talk over lunch?”  “Would you like to come to our meeting?”  “Jan and I are putting together a group?”  Sooner or later you have to make a move.  Prepare more for the acceptance of your offer than for the rejection you might get.  The answer to the “no” is “perhaps another time; I’d love to get together.” And let it go; the next offer should come from them.

When you offer is accepted, get to the place of meeting first and wait for your acquaintance.  Pay for the coffee or lunch, or split the bill.  Keep your conversation low key.  Agree on your commonalities, but reserve the right to get to know someone and reflect on the meeting before you agree to anything else.  “Let me check with my (calendar, banker, spouse, assistant, or accountant) are all fair responses to most requests.  Then respond later as you wish.

Step 8.  Be honest with yourself.  Not all prospective friends can end up being friends.  Let it go as soon as you know it isn’t for you.  Some folks, if you hang with them long enough, will do more than just not be helpful:  they will hurt you.  Your instincts on this may be better than you realize—if you are not comfortable, let it go.

Step 9.  Circle back and stay in touch.  Don’t let too many people drift out of your life—time goes by very fast.  When you do reconnect, establish just how much time went by.  This is when a database can help.

Step 10.  Stay connected to people, but not to slights, wrongs, or hurts.  Sometimes a misunderstanding is just that.  Give folks a chance to grow and a chance to clear things up.  Get into the habit of sending a personal note or an email when you come across an interesting tidbit that might interest the other person.  Do not send your email lists links to spam.  Those jokes and funny writings that circulate are busily picking up URLs that will soon receive a fair amount of advertising garbage.

It is a little like dating, but making new friends is never exclusive.  It always leads to more friends, broader relationships and understanding, and a better understanding of yourself and what you can do for others.

How to Network

I was astonished to learn recently that several of my friends have closed their Facebook accounts because they didn’t like the trivial nature of the information supplied by their Facebook friends.  Of course, this is what I love—I’m the one who would rather hear what you are having for lunch than what you think of the health care bill, only because the second thing is such a minefield.  If Facebook is like the route you travel to work or school every day, then “what’s for dinner” is the small talk that makes each day a little more pleasant.  Just FYI, I like the photos of your pets and kids as well.

Networking takes many more forms than ever before.  But at the core of all networking is the act of connecting with another human on the basis of a shared moment.  Whether it’s online or on line in the local bakery, there are some basic networking skills and tools that will help you develop acquaintanceships that have friendship and networking potential.

  1. Show interest wherever you go, whoever you meet.  Curiosity is crucial to networking; if you aren’t interested in someone you can’t really hide that fact.  Be interested and you won’t even have to be interesting.
  2. Don’t assume anything.  We all think we want to look like we are insiders who have special insight, info, or connections.  Looking or acting like you have all that will help you?  Exactly how?  People use their influence for folks they want to help. . . and they decide who qualifies, not you.
  3. Write or speak with eye contact and a smile.  You don’t have to have a conversation with everyone, but think of yourself as one who promotes good will.  How to make figurative eye contact online?  Speak directly to the point and acknowledge the other(s).  And be nice.
  4. Before you friend someone online, or hand over your business card if you are in person, write a note (on it, if it is a real card), or somehow personalize the offering.
  5. When asked about your self, be modest, be moderate, be brief, and return the conversation to the other person or turn it to a third or fourth person who is present.  Don’t worry, you’ll be noticed and you’ll be remembered.
  6. Choose subjects that are easy, fun, neutral, interesting.  Of course, if your hobby or motives are political, you may want to educate.  And if that is the case, what you really want is the opportunity to change someone’s mind—so you’ll want to ask for permission to try to do so, and respect a firm no.  Wanting to be known as mean, stupid, pushy, arrogant, strident, closed-minded, or incredibly naïve would be an unusual networking goal.
  7. Practice, practice, practice.  Networking is another word for making new acquaintanceships (or renewing old connections) that may turn into friendships.  You cannot do it without taking risks.  You will make mistakes and from time to time you will look clumsy or awkward.  But you’ll get better at it, if you practice.
  8. Do not take things too personally.  Not everyone wants to friend you; not everyone shares your interests and some folks are more awkward and less skilled at this than you are.  The immediacy of a moment in time makes it all look more dramatic than it really is.
  9. Organize and record your contacts and your network connections.  Online, social networking sites do this for you—sort of.  Organize your information according to what you want and need, not what Facebook or LinkedIn thinks is best.
  10. Spend time and effort getting better at making friends.  Remember your mistakes and don’t make them again; seek opportunities to improve.

But don’t be so quick to close those accounts.  Experiment with what you have; try out a newer version of you, ask others how they solve what you think is the problem of excessive information that isn’t crucial to your day.  We’re all so different; that’s what makes a network strong.  Time management does figure into effective networking, and you do have to sort and pick, and choose, and sometimes even ignore.

Telephone Interviews: Tips for Improving Your Performance

Telephone interviews are highly effective screening tools used by employers to save time and money, screen “on the fence” applications, or whittle down an oversized file of good possibilities.   As an HR professional I’ve done a lot of phone interviews, almost always for the purpose of deciding whether to include or exclude someone who is not otherwise a clear choice. Headhunters use them–a lot more often–to build a slate of candidates.

I’ve screened and been screened using the phone interview; it isn’t quite the same as interviewing in person, because you can’t rely on your physical appearance, clothing choices, or body language to get yourself screened in.  But you can set yourself up for success through planning and self-management.  Here’s how:

  1. The interviewer should schedule the interview in advance, identifying a time, phone number, and the name of the person to whom you will be speaking.  Be sure that you a.) confirm who is to call whom,  b.) confirm your interviewing phone number, if you are going to be the call recipient, and c.) schedule it for a time when you can devote your full attention and control your surroundings.  “Now” is never a good time.   Never–even if it’s “just a few questions.”  The polite response to that is “This is not a good time.  May I return the call?”  Believe me, it will not ruin your chances.
  2. Do not interview on a cell phone.  But when you ignore this advice because you think I’m either old or crazy, do the following: Make sure the battery is fully charged and that you have reliable service.  If your house is a dead zone, don’t do the interview there.  Use your hands-free head set; if it’s the Bluetooth, make sure it’s charged.   Cell phone functional difficulties interrupt the flow of your conversation, and that is not helpful to you.
  3. Don’t use the speaker setting on whatever phone you choose.  It makes you sound distant.
  4. Do not participate in the interview from work, from your car, from a public location like an airport or shopping mall, from a place where there are barking dogs or demanding children, or anywhere that interferes with your attention.  Don’t ask a friend to join you and signal you or help you.
  5. Dress for success.  While you may not need to wear a suit and carry a briefcase to the phone interview, some people do this to provide themselves with the cue that this is that important.  I do not recommend doing an interview in your jammies, unless you want to sound like you are in your jammies.  Somehow it comes through the phone; I imagine there are all kinds of theories about why.
  6. Practice.  Have someone conduct a twenty minute interview with you and give you feedback on a.) how close you hold the phone, b.) how loud you talk, c.) your phone manners, like do you interrupt or talk too long, d.) clarity of your words, e.) ambient phone noise on your chosen telephonic equipment, and f.) pleasantness.
  7. Aim for warmth; smile when you speak.  It comes through the phone in a very good way.
  8. Don’t use your keyboard, make lunch, walk around a room with hard floors, watch tv, or read the mail while on the phone.  For some folks (like me) phone focus is difficult.  But the one split second when your listening falters as you see an email  land in your mailbox will be the second the run-on sentence turns into the question, and you are dead.  It happened to me.
  9. This is an interview.  Manners are the same: “Hi, Bob, nice to meet you.”  “Thanks for your time, Jane, I’ve enjoyed our conversation.”  “Frank,  I hope to hear from you.”  “John, If you need further information, don’t hesitate to call or email me.”  If you do a lot of interviewing, you may by now be used to glancing at name tags or desk signage to remind you of the name of the person you are talking to.  So, when your interviewer identifies himself or herself–and not before–write down his or her name and keep it in front of you.  And use it.
  10. Be certain that your call is disconnected when the interview is over and you believe that no one can hear you.  Oh, yes, it does happen; be sure it doesn’t happen to you.

I’m sure you’ve been having phone conversations since you could talk; most of us have.  But there are tricks to performing well when you can’t see or be seen by an interviewer, someone who can move you along to the next phase or place your candidacy to the side of the “definitely worth a look” pile.  Remember that the phone interview is usually reserved for folks who’ve made it over at least one hurdle—make sure you get over this one, too.

Cover Letters and Resumes: Send Your Message

You should think of your cover letters and resumes as companion marketing documents:  they travel together hand in hand, delivering your clear and focused messages.  What one is good at, the other really can’t do very well, and vice versa.  The cover letter introduces you and opens your storyline or narrative, and the resume states the relevant facts of your past and present.  So you need them both, and as the planner and boss of them, you’ll get the best results when you calibrate the way they’ll work together.

One of the biggest mistakes that job seekers make is to overburden their documents with too much information.  If you have ever been in a conversation with someone who drones on and on to the point where you lose the point, you know what I mean.  Whether it’s in the cover letter or the resume, TMI can be fatal: it reveals that you don’t understand what’s important to your target employer.

The droner and the unfocused job seeker have one thing in common—they are paying more attention to their own needs than to the needs of the person to whom the information is offered.  Most people who write resumes and cover letters begin to feel pretty insecure as soon as they begin to write; starting the writing process is a need (theirs) to change jobs, a need (theirs) to impress a prospective employer, a need (theirs) to appear more worthy than the competition.  That neediness emerges in the documents as TMI.

The solution to this problem not better editing, as in “help me get this down to two pages.”  The solution is to think about the prospective employer, not about you.  If you are the hiring manager (see earlier post on who’s who), what do you want to know?  Here are some examples.

  1. I want to know that you’ve done some homework.  You read about my company, and you read for understanding, putting yourself in the job you want, and thinking about how you can help me.  Your cover letter can speak to what you understand about my needs, while your resume will highlight your understanding of how your backgrounds fits.
  2. I want to know that you understand collaboration, that you are supervisable, that you do not sacrifice people and process for results, and that you understand my world as a boss.  Will you make me look good or are you a high maintenance attention seeker?  Your cover letter will identify who valued your accomplishments and your resume will not claim credit for group results.
  3. I want to know that you love work and working, and that your energy is available for my benefit.  Your cover letter will discuss how you see yourself relative to work, the industry, and the community of interest.  Your resume will show that you have one or two fairly focused—and current—volunteer roles and hobbies.  Both will be energetic and active.
  4. I want to see words I understand, that reflect the language of the profession and industry we are in.  Your cover letter will use those, and your resume will echo them.  You will use the terms correctly in both documents.

The job of your document team is real simple—to get you an interview with someone who can get you into the running for an opportunity that you want.  To do that, they have to be focused on the company and the hiring manager, and in so doing, they illustrate that you are worth a further look.