How to Grow Your Network

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Many job seekers are reluctant to network, but the reality is that networking is the most efficient and effective job search strategy.  If you want to get a good job quickly, then you need to invest time into networking.  The more people who are in your network, the more opportunities will be available to you.  Here are some tips to help you grow your network:

Join a professional association.  Many of these associations have networking events where you can meet other people who work in your industry.  If you attend these events and nurture the relationships that you build, it won’t take long for you to create a strong network.

Volunteer.  Find an organization that you would like to support and start volunteering.  You can make strong connections when volunteering especially when you are working with a lot of different people.  Also volunteer work gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge, skills, and professionalism.

Ask your contacts for help.  Although the people in your network are probably happy to assist you, the truth is that they may not even know that you need their help.  Ask a few of your contacts out for coffee and tell them what type of job you are looking for.  See if they know of anyone who might be hiring someone with your skills and experience.  You may be surprised by the doors that you can open just by asking.

Help others.  Networking works with the spirit of reciprocity, which means that if you go out of your way to assist the people in your network, they will also support you.  You may think that if you’re not working, you have no means to help somebody with their career but that’s not true.  Think about the people in your network; would any of them benefit from meeting each other?  Also, keep your eyes open and if you see an article or a job posting that may interest someone in your network, send it to them.  Once you start focusing on assisting others, you will find that opportunities just open up for you.

Use social media.  Social media gives you the opportunity to connect with people in your industry who would otherwise be inaccessible to you.  Join industry groups and participate in discussions.  You want to position yourself as someone who is knowledgeable and engaged in your industry.  Do company searches and reach out to people who work at your target companies.  If you are direct, respectful and your profile looks professional, most people will be open to talking to you.

Networking is more about quality than quantity; a few strong connections are more valuable then a bucket full of acquaintances.  However, if you strive to nurture strong relationships with each person you encounter, you can create a large network of people who are committed to your success.

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of ddpavumba at Freedigitalphotos.net)

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How to Make Connections

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Networking is your single most important job search activity, but many job seekers avoid it because they don’t know where to start.  The first step to networking is to build up your list of contacts.  While you may initially feel like you don’t know anyone, you probably have a lot more people in your network than you realize.  Here are some sources of new contacts for your network:

Networking events.  Industry events provide us with an opportunity to connect with people who are outside of our social circle.  At these events you can talk to people who work in your industry and see if they are aware of any opportunities that would be a good fit for your skills.  Just come to the networking event prepared to deliver your professional introduction.

Social media.  Social media is a powerful tool available to today’s job seeker because it allows you to directly interact with key decision makers.  By regularly posting interesting and relevant content, you can establish yourself as a knowledgeable professional in your industry.  By sharing and commenting on posts, you can build relationships with other people in your field.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who work at your target companies.  Don’t ask them for a job; just let them know that you are trying to progress in your career and ask if they have any tips.  

Through your contacts.  Even though the easiest way to expand your network is through your existing contacts, many job seekers are reluctant to use their contacts as a resource.  You may be surprised to learn that your contacts would actually welcome the opportunity to help you.  Just let them know exactly what type of position you are seeking and what type of people you would like to meet.  If someone in your network does introduce you to new contact, be professional and remember that the way that you conduct yourself will reflect on the people who vouch for you.

Extracurricular activities.   Volunteer and community work is an excellent way for you to build up your network.  Often in these types of activities, you are able to build even stronger relationships than you would in a work setting.  Try to involve yourself in a variety of activities and make an effort to reach out to people.  Don’t be afraid to talk about your career goals; you may find that the person you’ve been working with for years is actually in an excellent position to help you. 

Networking is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.  While you may not see the benefit of your efforts right away, if you stick with it, it will become your strongest asset as you progress in your career.

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

5 Networking Tips that Actually Work

ID-100249468You always hear about the benefits of networking, but is it actually working for you?  Have you successfully uncovered job leads or made connections with potential employers through the people in your network?  If you haven’t yielded any tangible benefits from your networking efforts, then it may be an indication that your approach needs some tweaking.  By changing your networking strategy, you could open yourself up to new opportunities.  Here are some tips to consider:

Approach it strategically.  Your networking efforts are a lot more effective when you are working with a strategy in mind.  When your approach to networking is all over the place, it is difficult to gain any momentum.  However, if you are clear about who you want to connect with and for what purpose, it will be easier for you to make those connections and uncover opportunities.

Focus on building relationships.  The savvy networker never forgets that networking is about people.  If you sometimes find yourself getting so lost in a conversation that you forget that you are supposed to be networking, that is probably a good thing.  Always remember that there is nothing more important than the person standing in front of you.

Learn how to talk about yourself.  ‘So what do you do?’  If you are going to have any success with your network, you need to have an excellent response to this question.  Keep it focused on your target job and your relevant qualifications.  Be specific and detailed about your accomplishments and make sure that you target your pitch to the person that you are speaking to.  Practice your professional introduction so that it sounds natural when you deliver it and be prepared to answer follow-up questions.

Be consistent. Have you ever noticed that people always say to ‘build’ a network?  While it may initially sound strange, that is exactly what you are trying to do.  Your foundations are the people who you already know: your family, friends, acquaintances, and previous colleagues.  These initial contacts can introduce to you the people who are then the second layer of your network.  As you build those relationships, they may introduce you to people who they know.  With a concentrated effort, it doesn’t take long to build up an impressive network, but you have to work at it every day.  If you lose touch with people or you stop showing up for networking events, your network will start to dwindle.  Take a few minutes out of every day to work on your network.  

Help others.  ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours!’  Reciprocity is key when you are building a network.  Keep in mind that most people are very interested in learning about possible career or business opportunities.  If you can connect your contacts to those opportunities (and introduce them to a decision maker in the company) they will be eternally grateful.

Many people shy away from networking and you may have a good reason not to make it your main job search strategy.  However, since you will meet people in your day-to-day life anyway, there is no reason not to use these contacts to benefit your career.

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of ratch0013 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

How to Make Networking Less Painful

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You know that networking is the most effective way to find a job, but the truth is that you’d rather have a root canal!  What is it about networking that makes it so painful?

You don’t like asking for help.  The idea of networking feels like you are asking someone to hand you a job.  If you are the type of person who likes to do things on your own, that can be uncomfortable for you.

You have to put yourself out there.  An important part of networking is telling people that you’re amazing at what you do.  Self-promotion makes a lot of people feel awkward.  It almost makes you feel like sales person and your product is you!

You are nervous around new people.  Many people are shy and just getting out there and talking to new people is enough to make them want to hide.

Does this sum up how you feel about networking?  If so, don’t despair.  There are ways to make networking a LOT less painful:

Smile and be personable. Yes, you are uncomfortable but if you put on a smile and genuinely engage with people, after a while you will start to feel more relaxed.

Be interested in other people.  The most effective way to forget how nervous you are is to be completely focused on someone else.    When you are talking to someone, ask them questions about themselves and their work and actually listen to what they are saying.  Being a good listener will help you to build stronger connections and will get rid of your jitters.

Be prepared to talk about yourself.  A big part of networking is telling people what you do.  It is important that you have a professional introduction prepared and that you are able to deliver it smoothly and confidently.  Practice your professional introduction in front of your friends and ask them for their feedback.

When it comes down to it, networking is really just talking to people.  Being phony or putting on a show is actually really bad networking.  Instead, if you just focus on meeting people and building relationships, you will quickly develop a strong network that is ready to help you find your next job.

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of Vlado at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Do’s and Don’ts for Information Interviews

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You’ve heard about information interviews, but have you ever actually done one?  An information interview is a structured form of networking that allows you to make strategic connections while also uncovering valuable information about your target industry.  Here are some tips that will help you conduct effective information interviews:

Do come prepared. You are going to get a lot more out of this meeting if you take the time to prepare for it.  Do your research on the company and the industry and don’t ask them questions about things that you can find out on your own.  They are going to take you a lot more seriously if they can see that you’ve done your homework.

Do show appreciation. Keep in mind that meeting with you is probably not benefiting this person’s career.  However, they are still willing to spend their time talking to you.  Let them know that you appreciate their willingness to share their knowledge and experience.

Do try to learn as much as you can.  There is so much that you can learn from information interviews; you can learn about the organization, the industry, and the occupation.  You don’t get this opportunity everyday, so get as much knowledge as you can.

Do be professional.  This isn’t a job interview, but it is an opportunity to make a valuable connection for your network.  Dress professionally, show up on time, take notes, and be respectful.  If you make a positive impression on people who work in your industry, you never know what doors it might open for you.

Don’t ask for a job.  Some employers refuse to give information interviews because they don’t want to be put in the awkward position of having someone ask for a job that doesn’t exist.  Information interviews are a valuable source of information and potential contacts.  Don’t ruin it.

While it would be ideal to uncover a job opportunity during an information interview, the industry-specific information that you receive will probably be worth more to you.  People who work in the industry can help you determine where to focus your energy and what you need to do to achieve your goal.  If you are willing to listen, an information interview may open you up to possibilities that you had never considered.

(Written by: Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of Holohololand at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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Nail Your Professional Introduction

ID-10050053Your professional introduction is your most important networking tool.  You need to have it in your back pocket so that you can deliver it on a moment’s notice.  You never know when you’ll have the opportunity to make a valuable connection.  The ability to introduce yourself in a way that makes a positive impression will allow you to turn those connections into job prospects.  Here are some tips to help you polish your professional introduction so that you will be ready when opportunity knocks:

State your goals.  What are your short-term and long-term goals for your career?  What type of job are you looking for right now?  People are a lot more impressed by those who know exactly where they are going.

Practice.  Your introduction isn’t going to sound amazing the first time you say it.  You need to practice it until you can deliver it naturally.  Practice in front of friend and ask them for feedback.  After a few tweaks, you should be ready to go.

Customize your pitch.  While you need to have a standard introduction ready, you should also be customizing it to the person standing in front of you.  What can you do for that person?  Which of your skills might interest them?  Remember the question that’s at the back of everyone’s mind, “What’s in it for me?”.

Talk to the person.  Have you ever had a conversation with someone who was speaking ‘at’ you instead of speaking ‘to’ you?  It makes you feel as if the other person could happily continue the conversation even if you were replaced by a teddy bear, a chair, or some other inanimate object.  Don’t make people feel that way.  Engage them and try to get to know them.  Most importantly, take the time to listen.

Have a hook.  What makes you different from everyone else?  Do you have a special skill?  Do you have a unique background?  If you can’t think of anything, then you need to find a way to develop your own niche.  Don’t be afraid to be creative.  Consider the employer’s problems and try to determine how you would be the best person to solve them.

On the whole, networking is a skill that takes time to develop.  Few people are natural networkers, but it does get easier with practice.  As you become more comfortable making professional connections for the purpose of furthering your career, the jobs will start to come to you.

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of Chanpipat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

How to Find a Career that You Love

We all know that the secret to career happiness lies in finding a job that you love.  The problem is that if you don’t know what you want to do, it’s hard to know where to start.  Here are some tips that will help you find a career that will allow you to make a living and be happy doing it.

Identify your skills and values.  What are you good at?  What skills have you attained from other jobs, in your education, or through your hobbies and interests?  In what types of tasks do you tend to excel?  It will be easier for you to succeed if you pursue a job that is consistent with your natural aptitudes.  You also need to consider your values.  What is important to you when choosing a career?  Do you value work-life balance? A high salary? A flexible working environment? Prestige? Opportunities for advancement?  Opportunities to make a contribution to the community? Once you are clear about your values, it is easier for you to determine whether or not a particular job would be a good fit for you.

Follow your interests.  Forget about the money for a minute; what do you genuinely enjoy doing?  What do you find yourself doing when you have a little extra time?  When do you forget about everything else and become totally focused on the task at hand?  If you can find that in a career, you are definitely on the right track!

Find out what’s in demand.  No matter how skilled you are at a particular job, if there are no positions available, you will remain unemployed.  You need to pay attention to the labour market and identify careers that are in demand.  Check out labour market reports and see which industries and careers are expanding.  Ontario Job Futures is an excellent place to start. 

Consult your network.  Your network can be a valuable resource in your career planning process.  The people in your network know you and your skills, and they give you access to a variety of different industries and contacts.  Talk to people and ask them what careers might be a good fit for you.  They may introduce you to a career that you had never even considered.

The truth is that most people change careers several times in their working life.  Just because you start out in a particular career, doesn’t mean that you’re stuck with it.  However, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by putting some time and effort into career planning.  As Confucius said, “Find a job that you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!”  Good luck!

(Written by: Karen Bivand)

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