One of the most important factors in business building and job searching is networking. The old phrase “It’s not what you know but who you know” holds some validity and there is a reason that the phrase has been around so long. There have been statistics showing anywhere between 80-90% of people who secure a position do so through networking.
Networking can be used as a noun or a verb; per dictionary.com it is defined as:
verb (used without object)
to cultivate people who can be helpful to one professionally, especially in finding employment or moving to a higher position
a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest:
Needless to say it is important to develop a network of support no matter what your goals or objectives are – you need a support system. This can be accomplished through your place of business, community involvement, sports, kids activities – the list goes on, but one biggie is volunteerism.
Volunteering with a community group, within a networking group or on a subcommittee at work can be a great win-win. You have the opportunity to connect with other people and give yourself the opportunity to stretch outside your normal boundaries while helping serve a greater purpose.
This all sounds wonderful and can give you the warm and fuzzies; but let me throw a tiny bucket of water on this happy parade. Because sometimes you can do more harm in your actions as a volunteer or committee member than had you never signed up in the first place.
When you volunteer you will have the opportunity to get to know others and they will have the opportunity to get to know you; therefore, it is important that you remember three key things:
- Behave in a manner that is consistent with your normal self
- It is not all about you
- Learn to step up
I’m an example kinda girl so let me utilize some of my own experiences for illustration purposes.
I am very active in a couple of organizations. As I own my own business, was raised to be independent and was a single mom for much of my adult life I have learned to be a take charge kind of girl. If I want something I am going to figure out a way to go get it – period.
Given this I also have learned that when I am part of a committee I am exactly that – a part of the committee. It is not about my goals and way of doing things – it is about the goals of the organization and the methods as determined by the whole.
I had the pleasure of serving on committees with some amazing people and honored to have gotten to know them. I have also served on committees with others who have a stellar reputation and once I had served with them came to the realization that they, in fact, are really just a giant butthead.
Those that fall in the butthead category are the
- In it for the recognition without wanting to do any work
- The pushy, it should be my way only
- Only signed up for the committee to meet key people without giving a darn about the organization
- The manipulators who will “con” you into doing their share of the work while claiming all the credit.
If you fall into any of these categories I implore you to either change your ways or just simply get the heck out of the volunteer business. You suck the life out of the rest of us. Oh, and you are creating a whole new reputation for yourself that is not, I repeat and stress, NOT favorable.
I am on a committee with a woman that has a good reputation and people had told me personally she is really funny, witty and a lot of fun to be with. Yet her degrading remarks, lack of interest in her leadership role and snide comments or innuendos when things do not go as she wants them or expects them to have left me with a completely different impression.
I have formed my own opinion after months of working with her on a personal level. I do not know how she works with her clients or how she treats them; but after trying to give her the benefit of the doubt and still seeing this behavior I know that I would not be comfortable referring a client, friend or colleague to her professionally.
I do not want to refer someone to an individual that I have to preface the introduction with, “She may come across as just coming off a broom, but she is really good at what she does.” Remember my blog about the buts?
Serving in a volunteer capacity gives others the opportunity to see how you do things, how you interact with others and how you deal with stress – there is always stress in volunteering and committees. They do not know you in a professional capacity but these three factors can give them a lot of information about you. Information they can pass in a positive or negative manner to prospective clients or employers. It is up to you to manage this information.
I’ve already admitted that I am a take charge kind of girl; however, I also realize that when you are leading something you must realize that there are people involved – people that have feelings, great ideas and hesitations about helping. They do not want to be thought of as doing the wrong thing or hurting the organization; or maybe they are not comfortable in stepping up and do not know how. In a leadership capacity it is important to make everyone feel a part of the organization, feel valued, and comfortable in contributing what they can.
I volunteer because I love the organizations, their missions, their goals and the people within the organization. I help because I want to and I can add value. I was quite surprised to be asked to head up a rather large committee for an important event for one of the organizations last year. I thanked one of the event leaders that asked me to do so and asked her why she chose me. She told me that I have a reputation within the organization for getting things done, I care and I treat people with respect. There was no greater compliment. This is not an image I set out to create; however it was established because I remembered the three important rules about volunteering – see above.
If you are new to networking and want to start developing your network start by volunteering for an organization that you believe in, care about or have a passion for. If you are an avid gardener volunteer for a gardening club within a church, hospital, organization etc. Love to read? Volunteer for someone that helps others learn to read or that helps donate books to a children’s home. The list is endless, but start with a passion. This will help create the right environment for you to begin and cultivate your volunteering skills. From there you can begin to grow outside your comfort level and begin to volunteer with organizations and activities in which you are a novice.
Be yourself, give to others, step up and become a part of the organization and you will cultivate not only great connections but further your positive reputation.
Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW
Certified Professional Resume Writer
Career Polish, Inc.