Three months ago a good friend of mine lost his job during the 2nd round of layoffs at a struggling dotcom. He was the sole breadwinner in his household, had just bought a new home, and had three young boys under the age of 7 (one having serious medical issues). Like many of us, he faced stiff competition and a market where employers are cutting benefits. So how did he find fulfilling full-time work in 90 days?
He dove headfirst into a job search and utilized all of his networking talents. Within a day, all of his 400 friends on Facebook knew his predicament, with a half dozen sending leads his way within hours. He put out his feelers on LinkedIn and reached back to past employers now working in various positions across a wide range of fields. He jumped on an opportunity when it presented itself and took a job that wasn’t as glamorous but paid the bills. To his surprise, it was this “consolation” job that led to a dream offer with a non-profit that had in many ways helped save his son’s life years before.
A journey like this can’t be planned – but it can be facilitated by strong networking skills and enhanced by the realization that no man is an island. We depend on those around us, and the strength of many can overcome obstacles impossible for an individual. Every man’s quest for meaningful work or sales is directly influenced by his network; improving your ability to harness this power is the goal of this article.
Step 1 – Develop a Networker’s Mentality
Shout from the Mountain
Losing a job is a major blow to our self-esteem. As men we often define ourselves by the work we do, and take great pride in being able to provide for those who depend on us. And although the reason for a layoff may be beyond our control, we often feel ashamed and embarrassed that we are no longer in control of the situation. We slip into a depression, and tell no one about our situation until they find out through other means. The first step in developing a networker’s mentality is to move beyond the shame of job loss and to notify everyone about your situation. By doing this, you have a hundred or more people with their ears to the ground passing on what they know about un-posted job opportunities. Be open to opportunity, even if it’s down a path you hadn’t considered, and get in touch with old acquaintances who you haven’t talked to in years. In the worse case scenario they know of no leads, and you spend thirty minutes catching up on old times.
All of this applies as well to those needing to increase sales, especially small business owners. Although you shouldn’t push sales onto your friends and family, you can explain to them what you are doing and make it known that you would appreciate any leads or assistance. You’d be surprised who your former colleagues know from college, who your neighbor plays golf with, and who your mom knows at church. We all want to help our friends; not only does it feel great, but if the person is an excellent worker or has a superior product to offer, then we create a win/win situation for all parties involved. Give others the opportunity to help you by letting them know what you are trying to accomplish.
Think like a Business Owner
As a small business owner, there are two things that will ensure my company survives – a healthy profit margin and enough sales to capitalize on this margin and pay expenses. If I meet a potential employee or salesperson who understands these two things and can clearly articulate how they will help me improve them…….well this person has my full attention.
So think like a business owner when pitching yourself or your product – show what you can offer the company and why they’d be missing an opportunity if they didn’t utilize your talents. To do this effectively, you’ll have to do your homework – you’ll want to find out a bit about the companies whose representatives will be on hand and have a general understanding of the industry. A quick witted individual can wing this if they ask the right questions, but like anything, a little bit of preparation will go a long way. Show owners you’re thinking about their business like they do, and you’ll be surprised what they’ll do to harness your talents.
The worst networkers are those who are clearly only out for themselves. They dominate conversations and fail to listen to those they are trying to win over. They seek to take, and more often than not walk away empty handed; don’t be this type of networker. Instead, strive to learn about the people you meet, their business, and their problems, and then offer assistance that is sincere and in their best interests. Something as simple as facilitating an introduction to a friend who can assist will be appreciated and trigger the phenomenon known as reciprocity.
Reciprocity is the act of an in-kind response to another’s actions. If someone says hello, you say hello back. If you send someone a Christmas card, they send you one back in response. This works very effectively in business: go out of your way to help another person make a connection/set-up an interview, and they will go out of their way to try and help you when they can. Reciprocity is a powerful mechanism that proves nice guys can finish first.
Time Is Your Most Valuable Resource
Each of us is given 24 hours a day; how we manage it and where we apply our efforts determines how much we accomplish. When you are out of work or self-employed, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of having no timetable or routine. Do not let this happen; wake up at a set time and schedule appointments that force you to focus on high priority items that yield results. Preparing and sending resumes or making 20 cold calls before 11AM is an example. Stop checking your email once every 2 minutes, and set deadlines to avoid the little “emergencies” that pull you away from the work which must be accomplished. The key here is a routine that keeps you engaged and using your time effectively.
Perhaps the hardest time management skill to acquire is the ability to tactfully end a nonproductive conversation. Whether it be with a fellow at a networking event who has decided to tell you his life story or a neighbor who feels your being home is an invitation to visit all afternoon and chat about politics, you must set limits or you’ll find these events can eat up hours that you can never recover. This is where a schedule comes in very handy; because appointments must be kept, and it is never rude to excuse yourself for a scheduled engagement.
Step 2 – Know your Networking Tools
Modern Networking Tools
I won’t spend too much time on these – I have undoubtedly left off many, and in less than a year this information will be outdated. But I will tell you that I have tested all of these and at the time of this writing use them on a daily basis to build my business.
LinkedIn – Every professional should have a profile here, no excuses. The number one professional networking site in the world, it serves as a place to display not only your resume but recommendations written by those you’ve worked for and clients you’ve served. It connects you to colleagues and peers, and enables you to see who they know so that you can potentially reach out to their network. Its search feature can locate contacts deep within a company you want to work for, and its groups are smaller communities where you can discuss ideas, post jobs, and expand your network.
Facebook – For most, this is more of a social networking tool than a business one. But the largest growing demographic are those aged 55+, and despite the collegiate feel, it is a great platform for promoting your business. Facebook has Pages and Groups, both of which are indexed well in internet search engines and enable you to interact with your target audience. Facebook advertising can be very specific in whom it targets, and as the largest social site on the internet, it will expose you to a wider network than LinkedIn.
Twitter – There is a lot of buzz concerning Twitter and it’s potential. I won’t get into the debate about whether it’s overhyped, but I will say it is indexed well by search engines and is a simple way to expand your network. I also find it’s a great way to reach people who do not return calls or emails.
MySpace – Half the size of Facebook, MySpace hasn’t enjoyed the same glowing press coverage. But its size and growth rates are still amazing, and there are a large number of people who prefer it over the “stale” environment on other social media sites. So you may find quite a few contacts here that are not on other sites.
You Tube – Perhaps not the best place to put your resume, but if you are looking for a place to get a message out, there isn’t a more popular or powerful video site out there. Want to establish yourself as an expert in marketing? Upload and market a video that gets a hundred thousand hits in 3 months and you’ll have proof you can deliver.
Blogging – Want to break into an industry? Start and consistently write quality content that pertains to a niche you are passionate about. Note, this simple advice is difficult and time-consuming to execute. Just ask the Art of Manliness founders Brett and Kate McKay. But the rewards can be tremendous.
Old School Networking Tools
The Handshake – Tried and tested, a handshake and face-to-face conversation is the most powerful way to communicate with another human being. It is the surest way to make a strong impression, and even the busiest gentleman will give his fellow man a few minutes to make his case once engaged. Given this moment, a man should be able to clearly articulate his case (your 30 second elevator pitch) and display his emotion and enthusiasm. Sincere conversations are not forgotten, and are the surest way to a longer meeting where the details can be sorted out.
The Phone Conversation – When you can’t meet with someone in person, the next best old school networking tool is a phone conversation. Unlike an email, a phone conversation is an interaction where emotion can be expressed and the direction of the conversation can go anywhere. An effective networking technique is to send support information prior to a call and then follow up the conversation with an email summarizing the topics and thanking the other party for their time.
Business Cards – An effective business card gets the point across and provides a means for someone to contact you in a professional manner. Some people choose to print a message on both sides of the card to continue their message – this is effective, but be sure to leave room for notes. Avoid cards you print at home as they never measure up to professionally printed ones. Finally, if you’re looking for work, carry a card that has your name, contact info (to include address to a LinkedIn profile), and a list of your talents and opportunities sought. More effective than an old company card with scratched out information, this shows you are serious about your job search.
The Resume and Cover Letter – Anyone looking for work no doubt has a resume, but is your resume crafted to the companies you are applying to? Although you can’t know what exactly the employer is looking for, you can word your resume in a way that the right skills and accomplishments are highlighted in the appropriate fashion. Unless specifically not asked for, a cover letters is a great way to show you are serious about the company you are applying to. You can elaborate on experiences not found in your resume that make you the ideal candidate and show you know a bit about the company and what it’s looking to accomplish.
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Step 3 – Look like a Professional
When I meet someone for the first time, all I bring to the table is my understanding of the world gained from 33 years of experience. I can’t see your PhD, have no idea you are the best salesmen at IBM, and probably won’t walk away knowing you speak 5 languages. But I will form a first impression of you within seconds. I’ll know if I like you within a minute, and within two to three decide if I want to do business with or hire you. The rest of the time we spend talking? I’m just confirming my first impressions. Yes, appearances are that important.
A simple headshot in business attire is all you need for most of your online profiles. For the social sites, casual pictures are great, but remember that they will eventually be seen by clients and co-workers. Never post anything on the web that you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see. Despite assurances that pictures can be controlled and seen only by friends you designate, you will make a mistake and grant the wrong person access. And although performing a double keg stand does require talent, it’s not the kind your boss seeks in his next advertising VP.
Email Address and Signature
A professional email address is a must, with GMail, AOL, & Yahoo being safe domain options for those on a limited budget. Hotmail is less professional sounding, but paired with a simple username, it’s acceptable. The wrong username though can negate any professional domain. [email protected] is fine for personal use, but not for business contacts.
Resumes and sales brochures should be updated, spell checked, and available in multiple formats. Adobe Acrobat is the world’s most readable form, but for those without access to costly professional document making software like Microsoft Word, free software such as Google Docs allows you to create profesional resumes and cover letters.
Take into account these factors when determining how to dress.
The Job Seeker – For those actively looking for work, a networking event should be approached like a job interview. Make no mistake, if you start talking with a company representative with hiring authority they’ll immediately size you up and form an impression. Dress one level above the company’s office dress code, with the least formal outfit being a sports jacket, no tie, and business appropriate jeans for the creative types. Most, however, will be best served by dropping the jeans for dress trousers and adding a tie; those in conservative fields should always assume suit & tie (you can always slip the tie off if overdressed a bit). The key here is making sure your first impression is your best impression.
The Salesman – Much like the job seeker, you are being judged by the way you present yourself. Although your clothing is somewhat determined by your industry, anyone in sales can tell you people are more receptive to a man in a suit; it initially lends a bit of credibility and gives the wearer a few valuable seconds to introduce himself and throw out his elevator pitch. Sales in a more casual environment can call for dropping the tie, but be careful about being seen in something less casual than a sports jacket, especially during a first encounter.
The Employer – In this market environment you are setting the terms and have the ability to dress down. But top talent always has a choice, and the best candidates are often still employed or in a position to choose from various suitors. Out of respect for those you meet, I recommend you always dress at least business casual or in your company uniform.
2. The Time & Environment
Networking events before 5PM on a workday – Most will be taking time off from work or attending the event on their lunch hour; the appropriate clothing is business attire specific to your region and industry. But even in Cedar Rapids, IA, you’ll want to show up wearing at least a tie or sports jacket.
Networking event after 5PM – Perhaps the most confusing networking event to dress for, a man needs to balance the professional look with the “off the clock” image when working after 5PM. A dark sports coat and dress boots or loafers are perfect here. Be prepared by having a tie in case the event is dressier than expected; oftentimes these events are held at bars where the front of the building appears casual but the event is in a back conference room where the mood is more upscale.
Networking events at Convention Centers & Hotels – Larger events like this are great for exposure to a wide range of contacts; however, it’s harder to set yourself apart. To gain the edge, it is imperative that you dress to the level of your competition – do not give them an easy victory because you were too lazy to throw on a jacket and tie. If you have resumes or other items you’ll be carrying, bring a professional case or bag; leave the backpack at home. Finally bring an umbrella or overcoat if the weather looks at all like it might turn – you may have to wait outside before entering the event.
What networking tips did we miss? Do you have a recent success story of how your network helped you succeed? Please comment below!
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