À l’échelle humaine : October 19, 2016

2016-2017 Issue 1

IMG_3981For those of you following along with our 7-Step Career Roadmap, we’ve reached the penultimate stage. Readers have decided on a specific career path and are addressing any gaps that may prevent them from getting to where they want to go. Potential action items fall into five categories, four of which were covered in our last column: language skills, credentials, work experience, and soft skills.

The fifth and final element is so important that we are dedicating an entire column to it: your network and networking skills

 

Step 6: My Action Plan, part II

Your professional network is crucial. The connections you make and the information you acquire allows you to increase your access to the highly disproportionate number of opportunities that get filled before they are ever posted – the hidden job market. Taking routine steps to grow and nurture your network allows you to position yourself as a well-informed professional and will increase your credibility in comparison to your competition. The higher you aim in your career, the more access you need to relevant connections and the inside information they can keep you ahead of the game.

Previous steps in the roadmap required some research, and as a result you are able to identify the companies, associations and industry circles that fit you best. Before we dive in to reach out to them, let’s ensure you are prepared.

Let’s be realistic: networking is a skill that does not come naturally to anyone. Like everything else, you get better with practice.

Approach the idea of developing professional relationships similarly to how you would develop friendships or romantic relationships. You wouldn’t ask someone to help you move 20 minutes after you’ve met them, nor would you ask for a romantic commitment after the first date. This is also why you wouldn’t ask for a job shortly after introducing yourself at a networking event: your interlocutor does not know you! In fact, do not ask for anything – offer. You need time to establish a professional relationship. An initial connection may lead to pleasant, insightful, mutually beneficial exchanges, and perhaps later on, to inside tips, referrals and even job offers. But the process requires openness, assertiveness and tact, as well as an outlook focused on the win-win.

 

1. The First Encounter

The first stage can occur at a job fair, school conference, recruitment event, through a personal introduction, or even a virtual introduction through LinkedIn. The exchange should have a formal tone, but can open with light banter and small talk: about Montreal’s weather, the event you’re attending, or even a compliment on a piece of jewelry or a watch. At that point you have the opportunity to instigate a handshake, introduce yourself, and ask them to “tell me about yourself.” Listen, and wait for them to ask, “what about you?” (Your answer will roll off your tongue, because we covered it in Step 1 of the 7-Step Career Roadmap!)

Follow up by asking them another question, and you have likely established a conversation. After a few minutes, it ideally wraps up with a way to stay in contact: exchanging business cards or LinkedIn contacts.

Navigating these encounters is not innate, nor is it is reserved for extroverts. Aim to initiate two introductions per month and through time and practice it will become easier. It may also, without even trying, become enjoyable! After all, you are learning about people and careers that genuinely intrigue and inspire you – the only barrier to having fun is the confidence in doing it right, and that is always a question of practice.

 

2. The Follow Up

Following the initial encounter, your aim is to keep the conversation going. Reconnect by providing individuals with something that can help them. Perhaps you came across a helpful article or an upcoming conference, or you have a contact that would be beneficial; you can also simply reach out with a piece of information that might be helpful.

Regardless of the context, be sincere. If you want to include how much you appreciate meeting them, do. If you didn’t enjoy talking to this person, don’t fake it!

Upkeep your network by reaching out to one or two contacts per week, and rotate among them. Look to mirror their behavior: if they are only responding four days after the initial outreach, do the same. Otherwise you run the risk of appearing needy or desperate, and that is a difficult impression to correct.

 

3. The Long Term

Networking is a marathon, not a sprint; establishing a long-term connection is what we are really aiming for. It should be ongoing – you don’t just network when you’re looking for work, just like you don’t make new friends only when you’re looking for help. There are no guidelines, but by nurturing your relationships you can build a mutual sense of trust. Eventually you may feel it is appropriate to ask if “there’s anyone you could introduce me to that could provide me with information” on your field or employer of choice.

Yes, eventually you can reach out to your network for your job search, and that’s the subject of our next column. Stay tuned.

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Connect with Maia and McGill’s School of Continuing Studies on LinkedIn.

This article was originally published in French in 24heures Montreal.

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