Sunday, September 30, 2007

Networking and Job Hunting: Don't Hate Yourself

Jason Jacobsohn once again gives excellent networking advice: start networking now while you have a job, so that when you need a job you can call on your network. Do it now, or you'll hate yourself later…

Many people only care about building and nurturing relationships when they
actually need someone. For most people, this is when a job is needed. Therefore,
I will focus this post on employment. I can’t tell you how many people who I
meet who just started the networking process because they needed a new job. It
takes time to build relationships so this is not the right approach.

Well, that's good advice, as far as it goes. What happens when you need a job and you really haven't built up much of a network? Hate yourself? Hardly. I found myself in much the same situation, and I discovered there are some very concrete ways you can build up your network:

  • You already know hundreds of people. Make a list of everyone you know. Your family, including your extended family. Your friends, including your extended friends. People from your Quaker meeting house. People from the PTA. The people you play pick-up basketball with. People you went to high school or college with. People who cut your hair or drill your teeth. People you worked with 6 years ago. People you work with today. You have hundreds of established relationships already. Stop thinking you don't know anybody.

  • There is untapped depth in your existing relationships. I recently found out that someone I know very well from church, school, and local politics is also a patent attorney. As you talk to your friends and family about your situation, ask them about theirs. You will be amazed at what you didn't know about them. Keep track of it by writing notes to yourself.

  • Know what you are about and what you want. Have a good elevator pitch. Rehearse it until you can say it in your sleep. Say it with a smile. Have your accomplishment stories ready. Have your bio and your resume ready. Have your business cards ready at all times. Give your business cards out freely (you should have a personal business card, in addition to the one your employer gives you). Follow-up with your bio. Send your resume only if you know they have a job they want to talk to you about. Look professional, be professional.

  • Get out, and stay out. There are a wealth of online tools for networking and job-seeking. If you spend more than an hour a day using them, you are wasting valuable time. Get up, call people, make appointments to meet, and get out of the house or the office.

  • Volunteer. One way to get out and about is to volunteer with your favorite non-profit. You will meet people with similar interests. Working together on a shared goal is a great way to meet people, who -- having seen what a great person/worker you are -- can then introduce you to their contacts.

  • Keep in touch. Follow-up with the people you meet to tell them how their advice or guidance worked out for you. Take them out to lunch. Ask them how they're doing. This builds relationships, and it also keeps you top-of-mind if something new comes along.

  • Be more than a job seeker. Learn to express your goal in a way that gets people charged up. You're not just looking for a job teaching math, you are excited about a new way to teach math and you want to learn from people in field about how it is done in different school districts, what are the critical success factors, etc. This gives you a chance to talk to virtually anyone teaching math or planning a math curriculum anywhere in the country. Not only that, as you talk to people, you start becoming the expert in this new approach to teaching math, increasing your visibility and your marketability as a potential math teacher.
So, yes, start networking before you have to look for your next job. Just don't sell yourself short, though, if you find yourself out on the pavement without a good network behind you. You already have what you need. Just promise yourself to keep networking once you have that next job.

"Job Hunting Experience"

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Things to Do Every Day

My networking has led me into some pretty intense consulting engagements, so I haven't had a chance to work up a blog post in the past few days. (It's amazing how all the networking I did over the summer has suddenly started to bear fruit.)

I ran across a hand-out I picked up at one of Steve Smolinsky's Conversation on Networking seminars, and that inspired me to post. These are just some simple little things that you can do to be more successful in your networking. Personally, I've found that the little things make a big difference, so here you go:
  • Think about the new and exciting thing you're going to tell people when they ask, "What's new?" Tell it to everybody, from the bus driver to the boss.

  • Practice listening.

  • Be positive. Try to spend a whole day without once saying anything negative.

  • Change something about your daily routine.

  • Call someone you haven't spoken with in a long time.
These are all excerpts from his book, which I suggest you buy.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Teaching is a Great Way to Network

I was very flattered when Rick Anthony of The Solutions Network invited me as a guest speaker at his class on Organizational and Leadership Communications at Villanova University. I wasn't quite sure what I was agreeing to (most people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of dying), but I knew it was something worth doing.

It turned out to be a fascinating conversation, as the students were all engaged in fulltime jobs and were taking the class at night. We touched on the disconnect between what organizations say and what organizations do, how messages get confused in the marketplace, and what makes an organization functional or a dysfunctional. I told them what made for good communications (talk about what matters to your audience, not about what matters to you). I didn't get a chance to tell them The PR Secret. Well, another time…

Enough about corporate communications. This blog is about professional networking.

Here's why I think teaching is a great networking tool. The evening started with the professor talking about my background, all based on the bio I had given him. He then teed me up as an expert in my field, someone of significance. Then I had an hour to talk about me. Well, it wasn't really about me. It was about answering their questions by drawing on my experiences and point of view. (Talk about what matters to your audience, right?)

This is called Personal Branding! I didn't get a single business card, but every single one of the students has my name and e-mail address. They all know my background, they know I'm an expert, they've heard my stories and experiences, and they know I'm not boring (I hope). I've heard from some of the students since.

(Someday I'm going to write about how learning is a great networking tool. Conferences, seminars, and classes like this one are fantastic places to meet people and, more importantly, see them in action in a real world setting.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Jumpstarting Your Networking with a Newsletter

Great minds think alike. Jason Jacobsohn, in his blog Networking Insight, highlights 10 Ideas to Jump Start Your Relationship Building, and number 4 on his list is to start a newsletter!

I agree: start a newsletter. For both Jason and I it was a "transformative experience," and it might lead you in new and different directions, too. It doesn't have to be a fancy newsletter, just an informative and interesting to read one.

Jason also suggests starting a blog. That is also an excellent idea, but it can also be a much larger time commitment than just doing a quick newsletter every few weeks. Be careful.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Publishing a Job Search Newsletter

Over the past few months, I've been "publishing" a mini newsletter to keep friends, family, colleagues, and my networking contacts updated on the progress of my job search. It's been somewhat controversial, but it's also been wildly successful. I learned long ago in public relations that it's OK to be controversial if it helps you achieve your goals.

It was Ford Myers of Career Potential who suggested that I put out a mini newsletter once my job search networking reached a critical mass. I'm glad I took his advice.

When I sent my first issue, a third of the people sent me a reply (an incredible response by the standards of e-mail marketing) -- offering me encouragement, giving me a referral to a contact of theirs, asking me for a connection to someone I had met, or thanking me for the ideas I wrote about. It was that response that prompted me to start this blog.

I don't always get that sort of response from my mini newsletter, but I'm always amazed at the opportunities it does bring to me. I've been asked to speak about networking (I'm always happy to speak). People have forwarded my newsletter to their colleagues, who have then contacted me (I like people seeking me out, rather than me having to do all the seeking). I get consulting and freelance work from it (I'm always happy to take consulting and freelance work, too).

Most of all, the mini newsletter helps me keep in touch with people who have expressed interest in my job search. I've met hundreds of people in the past few months, and it is easy to lose track of people and forget to keep them up-to-date. My mini newsletter is a way of re-establishing a connection and keeping me top-of-mind with my networking contacts.

Here are my four secrets to publishing a job search newsletter:

  • Keep it interesting and engaging. Not even your mother wants to be bored by your whining. Write about the things you've learned that have gotten you excited. When you are out networking, talking to people, looking for a new job, you are probably finding out about new things far in advance of anybody else. Share what you've learned.

  • It's not all about you. Well, it is about you, but what I mean is that a successful newsletter serves the needs of its readers. You have to keep your audience in mind. You want to get their interest, so write something they will find interesting. In some sense, you are creating a community of people (albeit one focused on helping you), so look at your newsletter as something that serves your growing community.

  • Offer to help. Ask for help. I've been talking in this blog about how networking becomes most valuable when you are offering to help the people you meet rather than just looking for their help. It works the same way here. Also, never miss an opportunity to ask for specific assistance -- a company you want to network into, a question you want to get answered, etc. You would be amazed what your friends know that you don't know. Ask and you shall receive.

  • Don't send it to everybody. Nobody likes spam. Make sure the people on your list will want to be getting your newsletter. In my networking, I've been referred to a lot of new people. I don't send these people my newsletter until I've spoken with them directly, either in person of by phone, and there was a mutual interest established. There are also a few people I've connected with solely via LinkedIn, and I wrestled about including them. I finally decided to send them their first copy of the mini newsletter with a personalized e-mail, explaining what I was doing, and offering to remove them from the mailing list if they wanted. (In fact, I make that offer in every mini newsletter. So far, no one has asked.)

Some of the more tech-savvy among my friends have asked me why I continue the mini newsletter now that I have a blog. I see the two of them serving different purposes. For one, this blog is more of an open conversation to anyone interested in networking. The mini newsletter is more about me and it is a direct conversation with people I have a personal connection to.

I encourage you to publish a job search newsletter. (Send me an e-mail at picher2007 AT comcast DOT net and I'll send you a copy of my newsletter, if you are curious.)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Winning at PodCamp Philly

I spent a large part of my weekend at PodCamp Philly, an "unconference" focused on audio and video Podcasting. This is the latest in a long series of PodCamps being held around the country. These events are great for networking. (Learning new things is always a great way to network.)

There were some really good sessions at the unconference, most of which you can find online in several versions. It was probably the most photographed, recorded, and videoed event I've ever been to. I'm used to audiences recording panels, but here even the panels were recording the audiences!

Artist Todd Morrone was there doing collaborative art, compliments of Used Wigs Radio (whatever that is -- my interest here is in the art, but the marketer in me wants Used Wigs Radio to get credit for making it happen). I contributed the original squiggle to this picture, and Todd added the rest.

I recommend David Tames' sessions on Low-Budget Interview Lighting and Pro Video Results on a Low Budget (both links lead to the same place, but you can choose from there). I also enjoyed Lisa Marshall's panel on Business Podcasting, which doesn't seem to have been taped (well, I'm sure it was taped, but I haven't found it yet). Paul Kontonis of For Your Imagination made the interesting observation that video Podcasts are great for gaining attention among a new audience. They are short, high-impact, and (relatively) expensive to produce. Audio Podcasts, on the other hand, are better for extending a relationship with an existing audience. They are cheaper and do a better job of supporting the longer, more in-depth stories that an existing audience will take the time to listen to.

After the conference we stopped by Independents Hall to check out the new digs for the co-working consortium put together by Alex Hillman and Geoff DiMasi of P'unk Ave. Indy Hall had just held its grand opening earlier in the week, and the place was impressive. It's targeted at people who are working on their own -- mostly at their homes or in coffee shops -- and are starting to go a little stir crazy from the lack of personal contact. Not only is Indy Hall a great little work spot in the center of the Old City section of Philadelphia, but it puts you in a setting that promotes collaborative work habits. Breakthroughs are a social act, after all, and you can't get that at home.

I've mulled over joining Indy Hall, if only for having a place to hold a meeting that isn't in a coffee shop. Unfortunately, I really don't need to work in Old City at the moment, and I'm sad to admit that I don't own a laptop. (Indy Hall is very laptop-centric.) Maybe I could just drop by and co-work using my spiral-bound notebook and a pen. That would certainly be a stand-out way to collaborate on a Web 2.0 based application.

The highlight of my time at PodCamp Philly was winning an Apple iPhone, thanks to the great folks at Viddler. Viddler, by the way, is a great video sharing service that allows groups of people to tag and comment on specific timecodes in an online video.

Of course -- story of my life -- I just last week re-upped for a two-year contract with Verizon. Now I'm torn between paying $10 a month for adequate family-shared Verizon phone service or many times more for uber-cool iPhone phone service. Or worse, doing both!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A LinkedIn Success Story

I had a great LinkedIn connection experience today. Last week I found a job posting on the LinkedIn jobs tab that was pretty close to perfect for me and was only 2 degrees away from me.

(For those of you who haven't used this feature, LinkedIn ranks job by how close the "poster" is to you in your network of connections -- a second degree connection means that the job was posted by a "friend of a friend.")

I sent a note to the friend who connected us, asking if he could write me a recommendation that emphasized my qualifications for the position.

Cut to the chase: they asked me in for an interview, and when I arrived they had already printed hard copies of my LinkedIn profile. No resumes ever changed hands!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What Makes a Good Networking Experience?

Sharan Tash, in her blog The Professional Networker, asks "what makes a good networking experience?" The question struck me as a good one, one that got me thinking.

To me, a good networking experience is broken into three critical stages:

Stage 1. The initial meeting. Is there a personal connection? Do I enjoy talking to this person? Are they listening to me, or are they just talking about themselves? Do we have some common interests? Can we learn something from each other?

Stage 2. The next step. Are our common interests compelling enough to continue our conversation beyond the initial meeting? Is there something I can do for them? Is there something they offered to do for me?

Stage 3. The long-term relationship. A bond of mutual respect develops. We keep up-to-date with each other's activities. We meet each other at different events, and take time to introduce each other to new contacts. A business relationship might develop.

Now, here's the thing. You can have a good networking experience at any one of the stages, but the truly meaningful networking is always moving towards creating a long-term bond of mutual respect. I've had great initial meetings with people that ultimately went nowhere. I've had ho-hum initial meetings with people, but I might meet the person again a few months later and suddenly the full potential of the relationship seems to come into bloom.