Networking: Break the Rules to Make Connections

HandshakeThis morning I had the pleasure of doing one of my favorite things: talk to a group about one of my favorite topics – the elevator pitch.

If you are in business the elevator speech should not be anything new to you. It is simply 30 seconds of verbal mayhem that supports or blows up your first impression.

Your introduction is critical because all business begins with an introduction; either you introduce yourself or you are introduced via a third party.

This morning a couple of the attendees mentioned that what I presented is different than what they have heard from other professionals. What they had been told was more about structured rules, protocols and expectations.

There are many networking groups and they have certain protocols that their members or attendees are expected to follow. You should respect these protocols. As far as all the “rules” of elevator pitches, if they do not work for you – break them.

You can talk to 10 people that do what I do (career, networking, business building coaching or resume writing) and can get 12 different answers to the same question. You can also do an internet search on the topic and really get overwhelmed with advice, dos and don’ts.

Given this overload and sometimes conflicting information overload my suggestion is this: read or listen to it all then stop using your head and listen to your gut. Use what resonates with you. This morning what I said, as explained below, resonated with the audience. For them it felt like breaking the rules and it felt good!

The Context of an Elevator Pitch

If you break down networking to the core it is all about building relationships. Relationships are based on an exchange of value. Before you can build a relationship, you must first make a connection, which is the point of your elevator pitch.

Make a memorable impression

I have a hard enough time remembering names, there is no way I can remember titles. My brain filters those out because they are unimportant.

Titles are meaningless for two reasons:

1. Titles allow your audience to determine your value. If you had a friend that had an unscrupulous broker who caused them to lose all their money in the market, what do you think their personal impression of brokers would be? If they were at a networking event and someone walked up and introduced themselves as a broker, do you think your friend would have the warm and fuzzies for this person?

Your friend is assigning a negative impression and value to someone they just met solely on the basis of their title.

2. Titles do not convey value. There are certain titles that do not need to be elaborated on, for example Pediatric Surgeon. That pretty much sums it up. However, for the vast majority of us titles are ambiguous.

The Crafting of an Elevator Pitch

You are not a title, stop introducing yourself as such. Introduce yourself as your value.

Make it clear

What do you do and for whom? Break it down to the very basics. What do you do? I have a friend in insurance and he does lots of things for his clients. Planning, sells insurance, blah, blah, blah. But what does he do at the core? For him and his clients it is all about retirement. His core is preparing and guiding his clients to be able to retire when they want with the income they want.

His what is retirement his who is his clients. He changed his introduction after we spoke from “I work in insurance to help my clients plan for and …….” I am not including the rest because I am pretty sure you started nodding off after hearing “insurance”.

He now introduces himself as “I’m a retirement coach.”

Make it less (to get a response)

I was at a networking event a month or so ago and a woman and I were talking when we were approached by a young man. We followed proper etiquette and invited him into the conversation asking what he did.

That was a mistake. After two minutes we started shifting in our places, after three minutes we started shooting each other sideways glances. By five minutes we were saved by an announcement over the loudspeaker. And we still didn’t know what he did.

You want to elicit a response from your audience, preferably a positive one. Ideally you would want a question. This gives you leeway into a conversation.

My friend who is the retirement coach is almost always asked a question. He purposefully uses a very short introduction to lead to a deeper connection.

Make it personal

I love the IT industry. I have a great deal of respect for people who work in this industry. I also know they get a bad rap. I also know that a lot of them do not help themselves clear that rap. I work in branding, I work with social media and with technology. I know what I know and it enough for me at this time. I also know when I am out of my league.

When I have to call on IT professionals the first thing I tell them is “I am an IT idiot, explain things to me as you would a three year old.” I just do not get what they are talking about when they use IT verbiage. I am also not alone.

When you describe your value, describe it in a way that other people – us non-industry people – will understand. Make it relatable to me. If I can understand it and relate to it I will remember it. I cannot talk about you or refer you if I can’t remember you.

One client started introducing himself in this way, “You know when your company does a system update and you come in the next morning with a crashed computer?” pausing for a positive response “I’m the guy that makes sure that doesn’t happen.”

Make it real

This is about you so it should sound like you. Not resume you, real you. The person I am talking to right now and at any time in the future. Be authentic, be yourself. My dad told me many years ago that a lie is much harder to remember than the truth. It is much easier to be yourself in every situation than present a façade and keep it up.
Some people are going to like you, some are not – there are no two ways about it, you cannot please all people all the time. The real you will resonate with the right people, clients, prospects and organizations.

I am a straight forward, blunt and high energy. I also practice the art of effervescent witticism (sarcasm) and sometimes my language does not meet with my mother’s approval. I am this way in my blogs, seminars, talks and coaching. I am consistent. You know what you are getting. I am passionate about what I do, I give my clients my all and I celebrate their victories as much as they do.

I also am the kind of coach who tells her C-level executive client that he has a bad case of verbal diarrhea. It clicked with him and he appreciated it. He also said no one had ever told him that before (even though he knew deep down he was doing it) and I told him because everyone else was afraid he would fire them.

This does not resonate with everyone, this is why everyone is not a client and I do not want everyone as a client.

When he refers me he can tell his peers what to expect and they get it. Part of my brand is my consistency in who I am and the value I provide to my clients.

This leads me to my last point:

Make it repeatable

The more I understand what you do and how it relates to things I can understand the greater the chance I will remember you and more importantly, mention you.

Many times in structured networking events you are expected to mention the types of contacts or companies that you are seeking for an introduction. If I know that contact, but not your value, then how can I introduce you?

If I tell one of my contacts that they need to talk to you one of their first questions will be either, “Why?” or “What do they do?” If I cannot answer that question I will feel stupid. It is as though I am telling my contact that I am using them and it is a one way introduction – for you to get value from them but not for them to get value from you.

Telling them a title will not answer their questions. If they ask me what you do and I say you are an IT Manager they will ask more follow up questions to determine if they want to have that conversation. Your value will determine if they will share one of their most valuable resources: their time.

Sell me on you so I can sell you to others.

–Lisa

My Anti-Networking Secret Weapon: Shoes

I am a shoe freak.  When traveling most people get trinkets with the name of the local on them, I get shoes.  Boots from Dallas, killer pumps from Ocala – no matter where I have been I have a pair of shoes from there.

My grandmother started it.  When I was growing up she had a full size walk in closet lined in shoes, rows and rows of shoes.  It was heaven.  She knew every shoe store in the tri-state area.  I have proudly continued what she began.  It is one of the things I am known for – my shoes and boots.

I will admit, I do not always love networking.  Sometimes on the walk in phrases like “necessary evil” pop into my mind.   Then there are events that are just not good.

You know the ones; you are expecting one thing and end up in an environment that is completely different.  Whether that environment is a low turnout, the feeling of a singles bar or a complete different venue than what was offered.

This is when I find it difficult to network because there is a disconnect in my mind and the environment. I call it being in the ‘anti-networking’ mode.  You are there, but you just do not want to do it.

That is when I use my secret weapon: shoes.  I start looking at people’s shoes and I make a game out of it.

I will walk up to someone and compliment their shoes.  I do not try to talk about business, certainly not mine; I talk to people about something as random as their shoes.  I give a genuine compliment that is personal to them.  It is amazing how many people are thrown off by compliments to their shoes.

Instead of being approached with a horrible networking line or a fake conversation, they hear “I love your shoes” or “my son would love your shoes”.  Yes, my son has inherited the shoe lover gene.

This leads to fun conversations, real conversations, relaxed conversations that take the pressure off ‘networking’.  It helps draw in the introverts, exclude the creepy card handers and forms a sort of unique dynamic.

Not every networking event is going to be a business success.  But that does not mean that you cannot have fun and engage people from a different perspective – through a genuine compliment.

Sometimes when I run into those same people at other events they greet me warmly with, “It’s the shoe lady”.  That works for me because if nothing else, I did make a connection.

Isn’t that the whole point of networking?

For Crying Outloud Don’t Tell Me You are in Sales

Do you know the quickest way to alienate or mislead prospects and potential contacts?

You might be doing it every time you network.

How do you answer the questions, “What do you do?”

If you answer with a title, you are alienating or misleading.

A title in this situation is either a name for your position or a generalized scope of field.

“I’m a manager”
“I’m in sales”
“I’m in communications”

Say any of these and your inroads to beginning a relationship are pretty much over, conversation dead before it started.

You did not answer the question – what do you do?

You have randomly and generically assigned no meaning to your value whatsoever.  People are looking for a way to escape your vicinity.

Titles are meaningless

More often than not, titles do not convey an accurate portrayal of your position and value.  There are exceptions, of course.  If you are a Pediatric Oncologist that pretty much sums it up.  There are also those who are very elevated within their industry or career that they use a simple title to underplay themselves because their reputation precedes them.

But for the vast majority of us – titles stink.  Not only do the not reflect who you are; they also allow the other party to assign your value based on their own personal experience.

Poor insurance agents, they have such a bad rap.  People normally assimilate them with never ending phone calls, follow up emails and endless conversations about term life insurance – snore.  I worked in the financial industry in brokerage, banking and insurance and have yet to meet an insurance agent who truly wants to talk my ear off about term life insurance.  But the negative reputation precedes them.

There are a few out there that do fall into the stereotype, as well as unfortunate souls who have been party to their badgering and mind-numbing conversations.

If you are an insurance agent who happens to come across one of those unfortunate souls and you introduce yourself by your title, you have just allowed them in less than 2 seconds to immediately categorize you as the same as that other agent.

Do not think you are going to talk your way out of it to change their mind about you.  They have already assigned a value to you and will not be listening to how you are not that person, they do not care.

In telling the other party that you are “in sales” they will most likely translate that into “I’m going to try to sell you something right now!”  Why?  Because there must be some unwritten law that, as consumers, we much be subjected to the pushy sales person at least once in our lifetime.  It is never a pleasant experience and one we are not likely to forget.  That is the impression that stays with us, despite hundreds of interactions with solution-based, customer centric sales professionals.

Manager – what does that mean?  I have had managers who were awesome, mentoring leaders who cared about their team.  I have also had managers that didn’t give diddly-squat about anyone but themselves.  Which one are you?  Giving me just the title allows me to assign that perception to you.

It is not what you are called, it is what you do

Instead of using a title, try introducing yourself as the value you provide to your clients or company.

A friend of mine attended a talk I gave about networking and elevator pitches, which is in line with what I am saying in this blog.  He is an insurance rep.  I know, stop cringing.

After the talk he took time to think about the value he provides to his client.  He asked himself why do his clients work with him, what are their goals and what does he help them achieve.  He then assigned a new way to introduce himself and tested it at his next networking event.

When asked what he did, he responded, “I am a retirement coach.”  It is an anti-title because it is an unusual title that prompts a question.

The question is key.  You want that type of response, it means they were listening and have opened the door for you to paint your picture the way you want and engage them.  Just a word of caution: don’t get too cutesy, it will have the reverse effect.  If you assign a title that is so outrageous or cutesy people will assign it no value and not care to ask what that means.

It is not a matter of time

I am not a big fan of the two minute rule.  Coming up with two minutes to describe yourself equates to me two mind numbing minutes that I will never recover.  Do you realize most people stop listening after about 15 seconds, if you are lucky?

I love going to networking events where everyone has a very lovely, down pat 2 minute speech and when it is my turn I use all of five seconds.  The looks on the faces is awesome.

Short and sweet.  If you blurt out everything in two minutes what have you possibly left for them to ask you?  You have told them everything.  They will probably smile and nod politely and might even add a non-committal remark like “that’s nice”.  Conversation is one way and over.

Turn it around

Engage them, evoke a feeling, connect with a problem, use humor – be human!  You want to build relationships and that means connecting on some level.

An excellent way to engage another person is to make it about them.  Once you give your value – and they ask you a question – turn it on them.  Use them as an example, ask them a question to frame your response in a way that is meaningful to them.

When asked to expand, someone in sales (ick – I know) may ask, “do you have enough clients?” Other options could be starting a question with: do you find, have you ever, what is X like (some component of their business), what is your biggest frustration with, don’t you hate when and so on.

I have two segments of clients that I work with: those looking to move in, on or up in their careers and those in some form of sales.  I cannot assess which category a person is in by looking at them, or even hearing their title.  Someone may be in sales and be secretly looking to change jobs, industries or careers.

After receiving a question to my introduction, I might say, “let me use you for an example; if you love your job but are still struggling with building a solid book of business this is how I would help.” Then end with “…and if you hate your job, I am there to help you find and get the one you love.”

I say might because I do not have a down-pat response.  I have a good idea of what I want to say but never memorize it.  I want it to be fresh, relevant and real to the person I am talking to, therefore I vary it every time.

Now in following these tips, you might just find that you are the center of attention in the conversation.  That’s nice, but do not let it continue.  Bring it back to them.  Ask them questions about what they said, what they like about what they do, about their clients, markets, industry or company.  Give them genuine attention.

One of my favorite quotes is by John Wooden, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

Your title is your reputation, your value is your character.

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Brand Strategist & Career Coach

Certified Professional Resume Writer

www.CareerPolish.com

The Art of Faking It

Ever had an obligation that you needed to fulfill but you just did not want to? There are times in job searching or business building that you must attend networking events or activities even if your heart just isn’t in it. For those times it is important to learn the art of faking it.

Adjust your attire. Sometimes wearing your favorite tie or piece of jewelry can shift your mood. Anything that can put you in a more positive state will help. For me, its shoes; if I’m a little grumpy about going somewhere I put on one of my favorite pair of kick-a$$ heels and instant pick me up – literally.

Smile, smile, smile. It is hard to be grumpy when you are constantly smiling. It is best to use a genuine smile, not a forced one – those are much easier to see right through. So, here’s trick to help you smile: try saying something to yourself that will make you laugh under your breath while retaining the smile (or to yourself) before anyone approaches you. “Please don’t have sweaty hands” could do it.

Make a game of moving them on. When you are speaking to someone listen intently to find one nugget that you could use to help introduce that person to someone nearby. Get the two engaged in conversation and see how easily you can slip from their grasp. Start timing yourself if you get desperate to stay engaged.

Set a reward. There are times that part of me is just stubbornly refusing to get in the right frame of mind for networking so I create a little game with myself. If I make three good connections then I can leave and go have a Peanut Buster Parfait from Dairy Queen. Not just three connections, that is cheating, but three good connections – three people that I can either do business with or connect with someone else for a strong solid business reason.

Mind your manners. Saying “please” and “thank you” are two things that can involuntarily make you smile when you say them. People also appreciate manners and respond in a positive and kind way. Receiving this type of feedback can help elevate your mood immediately.

Above all else keep your eye on the prize. Remind yourself of one of your goals for the week, month or year every time you begin to feel yourself slip. Start with “Suck it up – remember….” It is the equivalent of taking one for the team in baseball when you get beaned with a ball.

You are a grown up now, there are times you must do something that you don’t want to. Stomping your foot and proclaiming, “I don’t wanna” isn’t going to get anyone to come running up and telling you that, “It’s okay honey, but you really need to do this.”

Normally after faking for a few minutes your mood begins to shift and you shed the negativity that you brought in and begin to enjoy yourself. Go with it and watch out for the high, inside pitches.

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW
Career Coach-Strategist
Certified Professional Resume Writer
Career Polish, Inc.
http://www.CareerPolish.com

No One is Just a Just

I attended a fabulous networking event this morning – love, love, loved it! It started with everyone standing and giving their elevator speech, as many networking events do. I was very impressed because, even though a couple people told me they weren’t prepared to give their spiel everyone did pretty well.

I have two thoughts from this experience.

1. You should always be prepared – no matter what, when or size of audience – to give your spiel.
2. Do not use the word “just” within your statement.

As a coach point one is something that I am adamant with when working with my clients. There is no excuse, rhyme or reason for you to not be prepared to network especially when it is a designated networking event.

Honestly if your intent is to build your business, make connections or find the right job then you should have your elevator speech prepared for any situation no matter what. This is such an important point that I will be covering it specifically when I speak to the Indy NAIFA chapter next week on the 19th of January at the Ritz Charles. It deserves it’s own space so I’ll focus the remainder of this article on the second point.

One young lady was giving her speech and she stated, “I just do …” not in a manner of specialization of a certain industry or item aspect, but in the apologetic this-is-all-I-do aspect. No, no no – never demean yourself this way. No one will point fingers and shamed you if you do this; however you will have planted a seed. Unconscious or not that “just” is going to stick.

Let me further illustrate by asking how would you react if someone said to you, “Oh, so you just do x for a living?” Sounds demeaning don’t it?

No one JUST does one thing, I don’t care who you are or what you do. Don’t challenge me on this people, this is what I do for my life’s work! No one is a just. A just can come across as:

 I don’t take pride in what I do
 I don’t know what I do
 I am not interested in connecting with people
 I have nothing to offer potential prospects or employers
 I do not place value in myself or what I do

I’m not saying that it always does communicate one or all of the above messages, but do you really want to take that chance?

Take a moment to review your elevator pitch and make sure there are no “just”s in there; if you find yourself saying then it is a clear indication that you have some re-evaluation to do. What value do you contribute to others? Make sure that is the message that you are delivering to your audience, not just killing time until the appetizers arrive.

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW
Career Coach-Strategist
Certified Professional Resume Writer
Career Polish, Inc.
http://www.CareerPolish.com

Networking – It Takes Work!

I was talking to a new friend today about networking. It is very encouraging to me how many people are so aware of how important networking is, especially to those in transition. My new friend has been doing a fantastic job of meeting new people, tracking information and following up with several people who can be of assistance to him and to whom he can assist. I was encouraged and impressed.

After our conversation I realized he was out-doing me. Not a happy thought for me, as I am a bit competitive in everything I do. I can’t help it; it just comes out in me. But I digress; today this is not all about me. I know a lot of people have one great, and grave, challenge when it comes to networking – implementing all the steps. And the one step that can really hurt a person or business is not following through and then keep following through.

Here is a typical scenario: you go to a networking event all pumped to meet three people. You are dressed for the occasion, have your great opening statements or questions to help break the ice, you’re in the right frame of mind, have your business cards or information handy – you are good to go. You enter and immediately meet a great contact. You make a connection, share information and move on and meet another great connection. This continues through the event and before you know it you have made five great connections!

Holy cow, you think, this was a great event. I meet five new people, we have established a connection and I can either help them or they might be able to help me: this is awesome! You might be so good as to that day or the next send a follow up email to tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them. They might send one back telling you the same and maybe a few emails exchange. And then it all fades to black. The connection stops. You do not follow up again, you never call, you never write, we never hear from you anymore unless you want money … oh wait, wrong speech… But you get my point.

You made a connection but that is not a relationship. Relationships take time and effort. Effort people, effort! You must stay connected, you must continue to reach out, and you must continue to be of assistance to others. You must put in effort to cultivate a relationship with someone. One magical night does not a marriage make. In order to do business with you (and that includes refer you to someone who is hiring) people must know you, trust you, understand what value you bring to others and remember you for crying out loud. I doubt many will refer a person they met one time and never heard from again.

If you are someone who keeps all those business cards, take a gander through them and think about when was the last time you reached out to any of them, even just to say hello? Do not fib here, we’re all friends, we can be honest. I am looking at mine and I must say I am embarrassed because it has been some time for me. Oh, the shame.

So, as soon as I post this I am going to go through and send out a friendly “hey stranger” and wish them a happy day. I must practice what I preach so that is my mission today. I am willing to bet dollars to donuts that I will receive a friendly hello right back from a few people and be able to reconnect with some amazing people. As a matter of fact, I will keep track of my results in order that I can come back and tell you to hopefully inspire you to do the same. Of course, I might have to mention that see, you should always listen to your mother… oh darn it, wrong speech again….

Gaps in Work History – What have you done for YOU lately?

“So tell me what have you been doing since you left your last position?” That can be such a daunting question during an interview. Please, please, please do not answer, “Looking for a job.” If you have answered in this way I am sending you a mental head slap! How you answer this question is important. Of course, that is, if you get to the interview.

When a potential employer is reading your resume and cover letter, if they see gaps, they are asking the question: what have you been doing. Are you adequately explaining gaps or even acknowledging them? Putting your head in the sand does not make an uncomfortable situation go away – I’ve tried, it doesn’t work.

I recently saw something on CareerBuilder the other day that stated over half of the countries unemployed have been without a job for 27 weeks or more. While six months may not seem like a long amount of time during this economy, what about those who have been looking for 12 or more months? No matter what the time period, this is a challenge and there are two things that can help you.

First and foremost: Invest in yourself. I’ve said it before and I will say it many more times: if you are in transition you are now officially in the business of sales. Your company is you, your product is you and your market is the employment world. Welcome aboard! Welcome to one of the most difficult jobs you will ever have full of frustration, doubt, insecurity, rejection, unknown – and that’s just a Monday!

So how does one invest in oneself and how much is this going to cost me you ask? Well, first, shame on you – that is the wrong attitude. Do not approach this as a negative; investing in oneself is a positive thing! The cost can vary monetarily but there is a heavy price of your time, effort and mental energy. You cannot slack on this, you must commit!

1. Take classes. Your public library has a plethora of classes available (I love that word plethora and am so excited that I can use it!); WorkOne Centers offer classes; there are community colleges, online resources: just look around you and you will see the availability. You may not be able to go back to get a college degree at this time but that does not mean you cannot take a class to help expand your skills. This can cost money, but you are worth the investment!
2. Network. Look in your community paper to see what networking groups are meeting and when and get your caboose there. Practice, learn, try – the more people that know you and what you can do the greater the chance they know someone or a friend of a friend that might be able to help. This can be low or no cost, do your homework and get moving.

3. Ask. If you are looking to get into a new industry, do your homework, research companies and reach out to ask for informational interviews. Generally I find people do what to help others, but how can anyone help you if you do not ask? This is free!

4. Volunteer. You can think of this as paying it forward, putting others before yourself or an opportunity to meet new people with whom you have something in common. You will be expanding your horizons and network, giving back to your community and building information to be able to put on your resume. This is free but the rewards are priceless.

5. Hire a professional. Sometimes you must realize there is only so much that you can do on your own and even that might not be working. There are professionals in all areas that can help you: life coaches, career counselors, etiquette consultants – you name it there are resources available to you. Yes, this costs money but again, aren’t you worth the investment?

5a. Go to a professional. Utilize the services of professionals that can assist you in your job search – staffing firms or recruiters. Many do not charge the employees but rather the employers so this is another free option in terms of money. But be forewarned – you must be worth the investment for them to try to sell you so I suggest you employ one or many of the above options.

Now, let me back up and say first that I completely understand the anger and frustration of losing a job and job searching. At some point it is akin to the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression then Acceptance. You are allowed to feel any or all of these emotions and it is perfectly normal.  Keep in mind; however, there is a difference between allowing oneself to feel these emotions and being trapped by them.

Before you can invest in yourself you must believe in yourself and the benefits of taking action. To be blunt – stop fighting everything in your world! I once knew a gentleman that was in transition for well over a year. He would show up at networking events, seminars and workshops and had quite the reputation. And not the reputation that one would like to have.

I was giving a workshop once on resumes and throughout the entire workshop he was very negative and challenging. Not to me personally, but to most things that any of the presenters said. He would say things like, “I tried that once, it didn’t work,” or “I personally do not think that employers care about that.” Negativity oozed from his pores and others around him started to roll their eyes. You see, every positive thought or suggestion that was given to him he rejected. Every suggestion on investing in himself was met with volatile denial, “I can’t afford to do that, I don’t have time. I don’t’ want to – I just need a job!”

You cannot afford to invest in yourself, just by becoming involved in activities that are free? Seriously? Think about that thought for a minute. To me it says I can afford to be unemployed for as long as I want to poison my world with my negative attitude. Seriously.

Now, one might think he picked up on this clue as to why he was in transition so long, but unfortunately, he did not get the connection. He created such a physical wall around himself that others were no longer willing to assist him to the point that they turned the other direction when they saw him coming. Learn from this, please.

I have talked to several recruiters, HR professionals and managers who state that they understand that there will be a time between positions; however, if it is any length of time they want to see that the individual was proactive in investing in themselves. Yes, they literally use this phrase: “I want to see that they have invested in themselves.” Do you start to see the connection?

Investing in yourself in any of the above ways shows that you are proactive in your search, in yourself. My uncle, when he was a teenager, was told my grandfather to go get a job. He came home after about an hour and told his mother, “I walked up and down the street and no one offered me a job.” True story. Your next employer is not going to run out of their building and say, “Oh, thank goodness you walked by, you’re hired!” nor are they going to come knock on your door!

Investing in yourself also means opening your mind to other possibilities. You want to be doing X, but cannot obtain that position right now. Sometimes the best roads are the ones that are not a straight shot to where we think we want to go. My path has taken some crazy turns but as I look back, I see that every step was a step in the right direction. No matter what job I did or what the title was or duties performed, I learned something and I moved forward.

If you are not willing to invest in yourself, why would an employer want to? Keep an open mind; get off your duff; put the time, effort, energy and possibly money into the most important person in your company – you. Oliver Wendell Holmes said it best, “I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”

It Could Be You…

Most of my blogs are written for those in transition. I try to give a different perspective and a little advice with a bit of humor. Today, I am still writing for that audience; however it is in a different perspective. I am writing FOR that audience, a voice for them. Let me just say this, to set the tone: for all of those that are employed who treat Transitioners with pity, avoidance or disdain – be careful who you look down upon because you might find yourself looking at their back in line for an interview.

I am passionate about helping people; I try to helping any way I can to help them come to a successful end to their period of transition. This is one reason I have become a board member for a newly formed Rainmakers Hub – the Transitions Hub. Our goal is simple – to bring resources and assistance Transitioners and bring together those that are employed to expand their networking circles. I believe Rainmakers is a great group to assist this vision because their mission: Do More Serve More. I am very excited about this new group! (Our kick off event is February 8 at 5:30 at the Junior Achievement Building on Keystone Avenue)

However, I can also take off the rosy glasses and see the other side. I have been at networking events both formal and informal where I have witnessed first had the iron curtain coming down to someone in transition. It starts simple enough by Person A asking, “So, what do you do?” and Transitioner responds in some manner, “I am looking for a job in…” then BAM! The Transitioner is no longer viewed as valuable to Person A they want to immediately remove themselves from the Transitioner’s presence. Well, to that I throw the Yellow Flag and yell “UNNECCARY ROUGHNESS!” It is like a full on, head down tackle to the kicker: it is just wrong!

I mean, come on, what is wrong with these Person As? It is not as though people in transition woke up and said, “Hey, I want to put m life in disarray today – I think I will become unemployed!” Or better yet, “Wow, I my self-esteem is way too high so I think I will become unemployed today so others will immediately look down upon me and knock it right down to size!”

Being in transition stinks, I mean really stinks. Stinks like the uniform of a football player being closed up in the locker for two weeks after hard fought game in the pouring rain. Really stinks. There are a lot of emotions going on – denial, anger, embarrassment, resentment, frustration, insecurity – just to name a few! So really, let’s get a clue about our fellow man!

Over the past couple of weeks I have seen great acts of humanity both large and small to residents of Haiti. Even just the simple acts of people reaching out to offer hope and help by keeping those affected in their thoughts. If we could offer these qualities to individuals in the midst of devastation so many miles away, can we not offer the same to those that stand right next to us?

Instead of saying, “Gee, that’s too bad” (while thinking Transitioners have nothing to offer you) how about saying, “Tell me about yourself” and then listen. You might actually know someone or a friend of a friend that would be a good person for the Transitioner to talk to, even to just get more information. Or, you may not know a darned thing that might help them out, but at least you showed common courtesy in listening. Small acts of kindness, like asking and listening can work wonders for everyone.

Still not convinced? Think about this:

* What makes you think your job is so safe? You could be walking in those shoes next week or next year. Life happens to everyone! And if it were you, how would you like to be treated? Ever heard of the saying, “I can forgive but I never forget” or “What goes around comes around”?

* Those Transitioners are going to land on their feet and get back in the game. One day they may be a player that could make things happen, even make things happen for you. Oh, they may not score a touchdown, but they might be able to make a heck of a block for you, and you never know when you will need a good block!

So, the next time you meet someone and you ask what they do and their response is somewhere in line with, “I am looking for a job…” repeat after me –

“Tell me about yourself and what you are looking for, maybe I can help.”

Hey New Year – Wait for Me!!

A new year, seriously? Already? Wait, I was not ready! It was just Thanksgiving and I had a great list of things to do, put up all the Christmas decorations, bake holiday cookies, make goodies for my neighbors, send out all my holiday cards early…. Then it was Christmas, holy cow, I have so many things that I had on my 2009 list that I only had five days to accomplish! Now it is the New Year? It is already the middle of January – wait, let me catch up!

So if you are wondering, no I did not make any New Year Resolutions. I never do. Not because I run out of time or I am a slacker with no goals, I just realized a long time ago that making a years worth of resolutions at one time is daunting – especially if there is no short planning to back it up! Oh sure, you are normally all jazzed to start fresh and go full steam ahead (look at the parking lots at your local workout facility), but by February or March you are all fizzled out. Then deflated. Then driving by the local workout facility and giving it dirty stares.

So I learned to cut myself a break. Now, I do start out with some lofty goals for the year, but having a lofty goal and setting it in motion are two completely different things. Can’t eat the elephant in one bite, you know. So I break it down to segments, in four quarters of the year. It is much more manageable and obtainable. I am an example kind of girl so let me give one here. A typical New Years Resolution.

Let’s say that your resolution is to loose 20 pounds this year – period. Let the diet begin. Okay, great. But then what? How are you going to do that? What kind of goals are you going to set? How will you know when you achieve them and in turn help propel you to keep going? What about if instead you tried this: your overall goal is to lose 20 pounds this year. In the first quarter of the year you will cut out sweets and white breads through the week, walk three times a week and drink two more glasses of water a day. Not focusing on the weight here, but the habits. Then at the end of the quarter you can measure your progress then check out the scale. Dropped 7 pounds? Awesome, you are ahead of the game. You can continue with this plan for the next quarter or decide to increase your walking to four times a week and add more fruit into your diet on the weekends. Check yourself out at the end of that quarter – whoo hoo, you are looking awesome and feeling good! The point is, have a plan, measure your plan appropriately and adjust from there.

How do we do this in the job search world? Set a goal to be employed in 2010. Great lofty goal, right? So now, let’s break it down into quarters. For the first quarter you are going to attend two networking events a week and meet three new people at each event. Within two days after meeting these three people decide who you would like to get to know a bit better and reach out to them for a one on one. You will also attend one free training session a month. The training can be on job search or related to that or for a skill (for example a computer application) or even something fun – a free cooking class. Track your progress and guess what, look at you. You have met 24 new people a month! That is (given a rounded four weeks in a month) 72 people in one quarter! Now, let’s say that out of each one of the three, you met with one person for a one on one – get out of your way – you have started to establish 12 new relationships!! And not only that, you have learned something new three times this quarter by attending a class. Not bad, kid! How are you going to top that for the next quarter?

Set your goals, track your goals and pat yourself on the back for your achievements! At the end of the year if you follow the path of your first quarter – you will have met 288 new people this year! And, you will have begun to establish and established relationships with 48 people. Can you grasp this? That would be 48 people who are getting to know you and what you are looking for and working for you by spreading the word of knowing this great person! Way to go kid!

**side note** I always read my blogs to my fiancé before I publish. In case any one else is thinking this, he beat you to it – the first words out of his mouth after he heard this is, “There is a lot of math in there!” Yes, I am a numbers freak, but just focus on this” 288 new people – 48 new relationships.

Time Management

clockTwo words that can either express a great talent or two words that put you in fear of facing that you are less than diligent. Time management is a tricky thing. I remember when I was entering into the financial arena and had to get my stockbrokers exam, supervisory and a few more all while staring a new position and my son’s father was diagnosed with cancer – oh yeah, and caring for my young son. I don’t remember how I got through that year, but I did. I do remember the clock was not my friend. First thing in the morning getting my son to school, then to work, lunch was studying, after work get my son and off to the hospital, home in time for dinner time with my son then put him to bed, then two to three hours of studying. I earned five Series exam designations within 12 months, I excelled at the job, Jeff survived cancer and the horrendous treatments and recovery and my lovely son was wonderful and able to participate in all his activities with glee.

Then later in life I was between jobs. I had all this time on my hands and could not get a darn thing done! How is that? I think I finally figured it out, when it is your time you do not put the same value on it that you do for others. When I punched a clock I was determined to make the most of the time I was there, then when I left for the day I left it there. When it all bleeds into one day and there is no delineation we tend to not keep track of our time. It can be a habit so easy to slip into and a battle uphill to break. I know, owning my own business it is my biggest challenge. It can be the same principle when looking for a job.

Sometimes we volunteer and join so many networking groups that we are very, very busy but at the end of the day we can not determine what we have done for us, for our pursuit of a position. We really end up hurting ourselves by putting everything else first and ourselves last. Let’s face it, if you are looking for a job your first priority must be you and that is hard for some of us to do.

My advice, look at it as a business. Look at your activities – what is the return on investment? Are many of your events duplicates? Same people just different times and locations? Are some events not productive or worse yet involved negative people? Drop them. Just because there is a group out there it does not mean you have to join every single one of them! Be selfish, be honest and make sure what you are choosing to spend your time on is worth your time. Your time is valuable! If you do not believe it how will anyone else?

Make a list of all the activities that you participate in or attend. Next to each item write down their value. If it is your church group, that adds value, maybe not in your job search, but mentally and spiritually it adds value. If it is a networking group – what is the value for YOU? Is it a group coming together complaining or actively supporting and encouraging each other? Are you getting return on your investment of time. Next, think of each one and if you enjoy participating or attending. If you dread going or are not enthusiastic about attending then don’t! Make it a point to put you on the calendar and realize that you are a priority and should be treated as such.