If you’ve been unclear about what effective networking looks like, it might be time to assess your expectations and your approach. Random networking produces random results. Imagine what networking with the right people in the right way can do for you. Figuring out what “right” means requires thought and preparation. Approaching networking with a strategy for getting what you need and allowing yourself time for preparation will ensure you get better results from your efforts. Having a strategy behind your actions will also help you stay focused when opportunities seem unclear.
Without a goal or focus, it’s very likely you will miss relevant, pertinent or valuable information when communicating with people in your network.
Start with a goal in mind. Without a goal or focus, it’s very likely you will miss relevant, pertinent or valuable information when communicating with people in your network. Your goal will help you determine what you need to learn or gain from others. (If you think you have nothing to learn, then there’s a problem brewing before you begin.) If you only vaguely or generally know there are things you need to learn, then it’s important to take the time to get more specific and make a list of what you need.
Review your needs and compare them to your expectations. What do you need? Who is likely to be able to help? How will you meet/communicate with those people? Are you working with assumptions or are you clear about which people are realistically going to be able to help you with what you need? How soon do you need information or actions?
Prepare what you will say/ask. Many people believe that attending events with lots of people will automatically produce some sort of imagined outcome. You may think if you just attend enough events, you will miraculously run into someone who will immediately see/hear your value (through a spontaneous conversation) and offer you a job or refer droves of customers to you. That’s assuming, of course, that the people you run into are mind readers or care enough about you and not what is already foremost on their minds. Your strategy needs to take into account who you would be most likely to run into at any given event. It also needs to consider what might be of interest to them at that event. Once you have considered your audience, then you can prepare a short statement that allows you to introduce yourself (not a 5-minute dissertation) and enough questions to help steer the conversation in the right direction.
Be prepared to follow up. People often make lots of promises in the excitement or heat of the moment when meeting new people. They may be sincere about wanting to help, but their own issues may move those thoughts to the back of their minds, and all action stops. If someone has promised to provide you with information, then it is your responsibility to let them know you will follow up with them. Agree on what the action is and the date you will check back. A ‘thank you’ email that confirms what they offered and the check back date you discussed should be sent within one day. Waiting weeks for someone to come through wastes time and puts you in an awkward position. Agreeing to what has been promised and also managing the process makes it easy for the person to follow through.
Manage your time well. I don’t know anyone who likes having their time wasted. Thinking ahead and determining who to ask, what you need and when you need it is all part of strategy. Asking people for immediate help (when it is not an emergency) because you just got around to it isn’t likely to produce positive results. Plan ahead to get what you need, and allow ample time to account for miscommunications or introductions to third parties. Don’t expect others to turn themselves inside out to help you. Make it easy for them by providing enough information and time to allow them to do what they need to do. Waiting until the last minute (e.g., the day before an interview or the response to an RFP is due) is likely to lead to a lot of running around with no results. In the same vein, planning ahead to know who you want to speak with or what you want to learn while staying aware of time constraints for in-person events will help you get more out of your investment. Attending an event with no prior thought and no plan can still end up being a fun experience but perhaps not as productive as you need it to be.
Stay in touch. Being connected to people through a social or professional network is only as useful as you make it. It’s important to plan times to communicate with others and stay aware of their circumstances. Reaching out to others only when you need something is really bad form. Everyone is busy, and we all can feel like there isn’t enough time. Make the time to nurture your network and you are much more likely to get what you need when you need it.
Building a solid and useful network requires thought, time and effort. Contrary to what many people think, networking can be more than “the luck of the draw” or “happenstance.” You have plenty of ways to control how your network grows and what it can produce if you are willing to develop a strategy for accomplishing what you want.
It’s commonly understood that there are many reasons to network with professionals in your field. What is not as widely recognized is the need to network with others outside of your field of interest and the benefits that can be gained. Networking outside of your comfort zone can lead to unexpected learning opportunities that can add to your development as a responsible citizen, employee or emerging leader.
To start thinking more broadly, it is helpful to reaffirm some of the obvious reasons for networking inside of your industry/profession. You may already network within your field to learn about technical innovations, your current marketability and new opportunities for advancement or to identify new areas to build skills and build your visibility to industry leaders. All of these reasons are widely accepted and practiced in many industries. But the downside of associating only with people having the same career interests is that it can close off opportunities to view the landscape from different perspectives.
The problem with having networking tunnel vision or a silo mentality is that the singlemindedness of both approaches tends to make things stay the same. Things might be good, might be bad, but they are very unlikely to change without a fresh viewpoint. Hearing a new perspective can be like choosing to listen to music based on your mood. New or different ideas can be brought together like a melody of notes played on different instruments. Valuing and leveraging differences can ultimately produce something greater than only one person or people with siloed interests can.
Speaking with people outside of your area of interest can lead to personal growth, tolerance and a greater understanding of those around you.
Speaking with people outside of your area of interest can lead to personal growth, tolerance and a greater understanding of those around you. Moving out of your comfort zone and associating with the general population can help you see important issues through a variety of lenses. It is easier to understand business decisions when you hear and learn about the experiences of people who work outside of your known arena. Talking to people who are unfamiliar with the commonly used acronyms in your field can force you to speak more clearly and precisely. Practicing the use of a different or broader vocabulary can improve your communication skills. Along the same lines, getting more comfortable with diverse groups or audiences will help your presentation skills.
Just as restaurants have created food fusions to produce fabulous new dining experiences and multicultural neighborhoods can create communities united by new traditions, networking with people with different interests can expand thinking and create new solutions to tough problems. Someone else’s naïve position on a current topic can often offer an unbiased view on some issues. Sometimes that naïveté can actually provide the opportunity to take a second look at what might have become your knee-jerk response. And asking and responding to questions from people unlike you can start entirely new and different dialogues. You just never know.
The more we all can learn to embrace differences and listen to new ideas, the more likely we are to produce truly new and fabulous results. Networking outside of your comfort zone with professionals who may seem to be completely different from you may stretch your brain and bring you unexpected results. Why not try it?
Sometimes people come to me with unrealistic expectations. It’s not unusual for people to believe a career coach will “get them a job,” just as many people assume a recruiter will “get them a job.” In each case, their expectations are hopeful but unrealistic.
As a career coach, I can help someone develop a strategy for getting a job, assist with creating all the tools required and guide their preparation. I can also help people navigate tough situations in a way that will allow them to keep their job or move in a new direction. And sometimes it really is possible to connect candidates with employers that are in need. But, overall, there is nothing I (or anyone else) can ever do to guarantee that someone will get a job, unless the person is enlisting in the military. As much as I wish it were so, there just isn’t a magic pill I can give someone to solve their employment concerns.
If a career coach can’t make that promise, then a recruiter can, right? No, sorry, not them either. Recruiters are paid by a company to find talent. They might reach out to candidates when they are representing a client company that is in need, but they are not in the business of finding jobs for candidates. In the old days, as a recruiter I marketed great candidates to employers I had close relationships with and was often successful in facilitating an unsolicited match that worked out for everyone.
Things have changed quite a bit, and the exchanges are less personal. When someone’s skills are common or the market they work in is one that everyone else on the planet wants to work in, those ordinary – even highly talented – people aren’t going to be able to rely on a recruiter to “find them a job.” In this market, unless someone has incredibly unique or in-demand skills, a recruiter is not going to give them the time of day unless they have an immediate need or anticipate one coming up. And even then, a recruiter cannot guarantee that the employer will love the candidate or that the candidate will love the role that comes up. Only the candidate can go to the interview and actually influence the interaction that takes place between them and the employer.
the easy way is typically a quick or short-term fix and is not necessarily the sustainable or long-term solution
No matter how attractive it might seem to just call someone and ask them to do it for you, there isn’t a special button to push or a pill to take that will remove the need to research what you are getting into and prepare you for your interaction with the employer. Even when it seems like there is an easy way, the easy way is typically a quick or short-term fix and is not necessarily the sustainable or long-term solution. An attractive resume or LinkedIn profile may attract employers, but there is never a guarantee that whoever calls on you has your best interests in mind or that you will be prepared to have an intelligent conversation should they contact you out of the blue. The promise of a “catchy” resume or profile cannot make up for the market/industry/role research that is needed before someone can make a long-lasting good impression or a good decision.
The good news is that there are more jobs now. Many of the people who were underemployed throughout the long recession are moving up and out. That doesn’t mean that the great jobs are easy to find or get. People who have stayed connected with their networks and stayed on top of industry trends are moving into roles they have spent time positioning themselves for. The less desirable roles are left for those who have been waiting to climb on the bandwagon, hoping for a break when the economy turned around.
If you have been sending out hundreds of resumes, posted on ten job boards and are still not working in a role that makes sense for you, then consider taking a different approach. Stop doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Start doing your research and connect with your network to learn about unpublished opportunities. Find out what employers want before they post. Don’t wait for a magic pill.
Recently I read a “success story” written by someone who was very proud of their networking efforts to get a new job. They had simply sent their resume to a handful of recruiters and waited to see what came back. In a matter of weeks, an interview was arranged and they accepted a contract position. The problem is that they had not learned much about the company in advance of the interview and only knew what the company’s website stated. Essentially, although the company was well known, they were offered a position with a company whose internal processes, politics and culture were all areas they knew little about. I am not so sure this really fixed their problem.
It’s been my experience that if someone is already working and wanting to jump ship, contacting external/agency recruiters and relying on them to “fix the problem” is limiting and not typically a long-term solution to someone’s employment dilemma. You may be offered a different role, but there is no guarantee that the fit will be any better than the one you are leaving behind.
Contacting recruiters as your only job-search effort is a passive approach and, in my estimation, can’t really be considered networking. Recruiters will tell you what they need to tell you, not what you need them to tell you. In contrast, if asked the right questions early on, your network will share inside information and provide a real-world view of what is needed to succeed in a role or in the company overall. Researching organizations through your extended network takes time and is not a project that should be relied on only when you are at the end of your rope with your current employer.
Networking — staying in touch with people —and showing interest in them by asking questions about their circumstances takes time and consistency. Through the process, you are able to learn much, much more than you will by a biased third party who stands to make money off of your new employment. Insiders can advise you about a potential opening before an external recruiter gets involved. The insider’s referral of you, at no cost to the employer, results in the company saving money and will more likely produce a relationship that works. Why? A simple answer: Someone who has worked for a company knows what works and what doesn’t. They are also not likely to recommend someone who will make them look bad.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not bashing recruiters. Recruiters are extremely useful to employers when they have carefully screened and matched candidates with the right roles. They do a great job for employers. But that’s just it. They get paid by the employer, so their loyalty is with them, not with you. On the flip side, although an insider can answer the questions for you that a recruiter can’t (or won’t), a referral without credibility is meaningless. Your insider needs to know what you know and what you do, and how well you do it. So, essentially, the insider is taking the place of the recruiter, and with that comes some responsibility. It’s important that you really do fit and that you represent your contact well.
If you want a better job and a better workplace, you’ll need to invest more time and effort in research to make sure what sounds good really is good for you.
If you want a better job and a better workplace, you’ll need to invest more time and effort in research to make sure what sounds good really is good for you. Don’t wait until you are on your last nerve. Think long and hard about what you need and your investment in that outcome. Is it enough to consider any job offer a success? In this case, the “success story” I referenced, it is still too early to tell. Based on what I have learned about the company from several internal sources, I have doubts about whether this person will actually be able to adapt to the company’s high standards and performance expectations. I hope I am wrong.
It’s pretty understandable that people often go into a panic when they lose their job. The tough part is helping them remobilize and develop a plan for what happens next, instead of taking wild potshots at job postings in their quest to become reemployed. Many times a candidate gets so focused on “getting a job” that they start to believe they will magically find and secure a job in one stroke. (Imagine a hunter with a spear facing a charging bear.) The problem with that kind of approach is that, in this case, the hunter is typically blinded by fear and their thinking is full of unrealistic expectations. In this “get-a-job-or-die” mode, they lose all ability to see the steps involved with what is actually a fairly complex process.
The very nature of this tunnel vision impacts their hearing and ability to reason. Excellent (but perhaps not obvious) opportunities may be missed because the candidate is so focused on finding a j-o-b that they forget to listen for clues that could allow them to negotiate w-o-r-k for a price. The linear thinking process that follows a path leading only to posted jobs and submitting resumes, then waiting to be called for an interview where they will miraculously be getting an offer, is out of step with the way most great jobs are uncovered and captured by ordinary people (i.e., people without unique or hugely in-demand skills). Anyone can play the odds by responding to job ads, but it is not likely going to be a “lucky” hit that makes the difference in the outcome. The really cool jobs, in cool companies, working with cool people, are uncovered through conversations with people in the know, inside those same cool companies.
the process for uncovering clues about work is not linear
Keep in mind, the process for uncovering clues about work is not linear, and although information can be patched together through research, there is not an absolute, surefire or solo way to gather data that can unearth clues to base your action plan on. It requires an ability to look at the big picture and fully understand an employer’s circumstances and needs. You have to be willing to hunt for clues about how you can contribute in a way that may not have been completely identified yet or posted. Or, if there is a posted opening, you need insight about the people you would be working with and familiarity with the work to be able to appear as an exact fit when you are brought in to interview.
Clues come from Web research, conversations and the news. There are multiple viewpoints to consider, add up and make new assumptions about. The linear thinker will run into walls if unable to skip steps or take a bigger view of what they may hear or read. Of course, a non-linear thinker may be able to imagine a viable big picture, but they can run the risk of getting lost because they may choose to skip the steps required to create a compelling case for being part of that big picture. You can’t assume your “friends” will automatically open doors for you without a clear understanding of where you fit and why.
A successful search requires the ability to create a strategy with a bigger picture in mind, while also attending to the detail required to carry out the plan for breaking in. (Now picture a jewel thief. The jewels are pretty, but it will take a lot of time and effort to figure out how to get past security and back out with the prize.) Job seekers often get caught in quicksand because they are hell-bent on following a process that doesn’t work and are unwilling to try different approaches or change their immediate goals. Becoming gainfully employed may take a variety of approaches or even completely different paths than what you had expected to take. The key is in keeping your eyes and ears open and paying attention to the realities around you. Be willing to take half steps or leaps that take you completely out of your comfort zone, if necessary. You can end up in a new place only if you do something that is different from what you have done before.
Beyond that, be willing to be awkward or even fail at the new approaches. Don’t give up because things don’t work the first time you try a different approach. It may have taken you 10–30 years to learn what you have always done, so we can guarantee you won’t learn or be comfortable with new approaches in just one shot. Don’t get pulled backwards by an apparent failure or rejection, and don’t default to your old process. Pick yourself up, ask for help to get back on track and get back in the saddle.
In an ever-changing economic market, or riding the wave through industry changes, you just never know when you might need to rely on your professional network to help bail you out of a rough patch. Maintaining a professional network is like having car insurance – it’s a pretty big risk to drive without it. Your network is your safety net. And like insurance, it requires an investment that can’t lapse. Without it, the costs can far outweigh the investment.
Your network serves as a barometer that alerts you to changes you may miss. It can fill you in on the inside details of organizational and industry changes you might not see coming. Peers help you keep abreast of which skills are in demand and where to get training. Just like insurance, you’ll want to understand your coverage and be current on your protection. Who is in your network? Are your contacts aware of what you actually do and what your strengths are? When is the last time you were in touch?
And just like choosing a policy, it’s important to regularly analyze what you need and be clear about what you are protecting.
And just like choosing a policy, it’s important to regularly analyze what you need and be clear about what you are protecting. Is your status inside of a company going to be impacted by your internal network (or lack thereof)? Will your ability to quickly adjust and recover after a downsizing or merger depend on who you know outside of your company? Is your business in a position to falter without referrals?
Investing in your network requires attention. Regular installments, if you will. It takes time every day, every week, to stay in touch with people. Everyone is busy, so trying to excuse your lack of engagement with that tired excuse about being “too busy” isn’t going to impress anyone. Now that our networks have spread to global proportions, it’s even more critical to have systems in place to maintain our connections. Having a communication system is more than just having the technology available. It means creating and executing a plan for sustained engagement that may involve technology and in-person commitments. It may be true that you are busy and that probably isn’t going to change any time soon. The following remedies can help you sustain your network without a lot of added effort.
Plan further out. Look ahead and commit to actions/activities. By committing ahead of time you can ensure you are fitting in time for people who would be glad to support you if you end up facing a major change when you least expect it. Look for and commit to professional development activities that will help you build skills while simultaneously exposing you to others in your industry.
Do a little every day. If you are currently using social networks, then develop a system for reading and posting. Plan the time to find something every day, or at least every week, that would be of value to people in your network and share it. You really can make an investment of five minutes a day and find something a number of people would share an interest in.
Listen to others. If you are head down in your own world, you will miss the opportunity to help someone else and be remembered. You may be busy or having a particularly tough time, but there is always someone else who is dealing with something worse than you are. Listen to/read about what other people may need and find opportunities to make their world a little easier. Sometimes a simple message offering genuine support or encouragement can make a big difference to the person receiving it.
The key to maintaining your network is to make it a habit. Avoid getting caught in the quicksand of complacency because everything is going fine right now. It’s never too late to start making adjustments to your behavior, one little step at a time.
There are professionals who match people to jobs or business opportunities and others who connect people with similar interests. Professional associations or academic institutions may match mentors with mentees. All around us are opportunities to link people with people, or people to information. The success of these referrals is typically predicated on how much the referring party knows about each of the others.
Everyone wants to benefit from a referral in some way. Whether it is to gain new information, meet a key influencer, identify a useful service or secure new business, there is always something to be gained through an exchange of information. The risk involved to the referring party is whether the referred person represents them well or leaves a trail of evidence that questions the association.
Referrals can go south pretty quickly when the referred party fails to follow up or isn’t prepared for the requested outcome. The following are tips to help you become the person people are happy to refer.
Be reliable. If you are asking for something from someone, make sure you have demonstrated that you can be counted on to follow through if they deliver. Show up on time for meetings and deliver what you promise, on time. Trust is built slowly with many people, and seeing is believing.
Show an interest in others. Ask questions to learn more about people’s interests. Be an active listener. Make an effort to stay in contact with others. Send reminders and plan time to communicate with people you may not interact with regularly.
Be helpful. Find reasons why you CAN do something and fewer reasons why you can’t. Go the extra mile to arrange a carpool for a group of people, drive someone to their door or make a phone call on someone’s behalf. If you are requesting a referral to someone, make sure you are ready to return the favor in some way.
Be responsive. Follow up quickly when others reach out to you. Make sure you are available to respond quickly when you have reached out to others. Manage your communication devices and use them to stay on top of things. Don’t let your email pile up and then use your full inbox as the reason you haven’t responded to someone sooner.
Prepare. If you are making a request for a referral, research the person you are asking to be referred to or the company you would like to learn more about. Plan questions for people that indicate you have done your homework. If you offer a service, prepare in advance and anticipate new business.
Walk the talk. Soft skills are hard to measure. If you are claiming to be a great communicator, project manager or meeting facilitator, make sure you are visibly illustrating those strengths. Volunteer or take the lead at events that will allow you to show people what you can do and how you do it.
If you are wondering why your phone isn’t ringing with opportunities on the other line, take a look at how much effort you are putting into helping others get what they need. If you can do more for others, it is very likely you will be positioning yourself for others to be comfortable doing something for you. Are you modeling behavior that allows people to confidently refer you?
It is surprising that many people still rely on their resume to tell their story for them and spend little time preparing for an interview. The old-school thinking that “the resume will get me in the door and, once there, I’ll wing it” is no longer effective.
Preparing your answers for the most frequently asked interview questions is a good start, but if you don’t know the context of the role you are vying for, or are unaware of the real needs of the employer, you still won’t make it to the final rounds. Context of a role can cover reporting structure, specific deliverables and how this role contributes to the organization’s mission. It also includes team dynamics, functionality and communication styles; potential partnering teams or collaborative relationships; and anticipated work hours/schedules. Overall, you are looking for what you need to produce, how it impacts the success of the organization, and whom you will be working with and how.
Applying for posted positions without knowing the context can put you at a disadvantage during an interview and, more importantly, when you actually accept the offer and begin the position. Job postings can be limited and sometimes completely inaccurate. It’s not uncommon for HR and/or recruiters to “borrow” descriptions of other “similar” positions they are attempting to fill in their haste to get them posted. Conversations with the hiring managers to learn more about their real or actual needs may not have taken place before the post goes live. For everyone involved, it’s critical to know what the REAL expectations are for the role and why the requested skills and experience are important (and sometimes they aren’t). The candidate will stand a greater chance of being selected (and being happy) if they completely understand the actual functions of the role, which may be beyond/different than the posted required qualifications.
Many times a candidate passes an initial screening because they have added the right key words to their resume and they sounded good on the phone. The screener may be unaware of the actual context of the role or how critical skills may be necessary to get the job done. All too often candidates say that they can “learn” key functions without recognizing how much time it could take to train them or how the training would be accomplished. Now, I don’t mean that you should not reach for something when you aren’t a 100% match, but I do recommend that, if you fall short in any way, you need to completely understand the functions of the role, the expected outcomes and how any shortcomings will impact the results the employer needs. If the missing 20% ends up reflecting critical baseline functions, then everyone needs to be aware of how much it would take to get you up to speed. You need to think through whether it is even practical to expect the employer to invest the time and effort on a new employee to teach them a basic function of a role they need to fill right now.
The flip side of that is that it is also common that posted requirements or qualifications are only minimally relevant to the functions of a role. The screener may completely overlook very relevant experience or skills because the words they are looking for are different than what they see in someone’s resume. Once again, without understanding the context of the role or the actual functions, transferable skills can be completely missed. In these cases, even prepared answers to the usual interview questions will fall flat if the candidate’s description of their prior work is not exactly translated into how that experience matches the new employer’s needs. To do that effectively, you need to know exactly what the employer does/produces, how this role supports their mission and what it takes to get that job done. A posted job description may cover only the bare minimum of this information. If you have already applied for a job, a call for an interview could come immediately. Waiting until after you apply to learn more may be too late.
If you are now thinking, “how in the world can I find out what they really need if I have only a job posting?” The answer is pretty simple. The key to knowing what an employer needs is to learn first about the industry, then as much as possible about the actual employer through conversations with actual employees or people who work for competitors and finally as much as you can about the role by talking with people in the same department – before you apply. A proactive search (targeting and researching organizations) started long in advance of applying typically produces more satisfying results than a passive search (only applying to posted positions). Internet research can produce a considerable amount of relevant information to start. Yet it is learning from real people who actually do the work you will be doing or others already working in a company or their former employees that will help you to know and understand what you would really be signing on to.
Fully understanding what an organization needs and wants will help you to be realistic about whether you are qualified for a position or a fit with the organization’s culture. Simply wanting the job (or the money it reflects) is not enough. Knowing who else is in the market, which skills are in greatest demand and the amount of talent available to an employer will help you understand whether you are competitive or if pursuing a role is worth your time.
There are many ways to help ensure your next interview results in an offer. Overall, it requires research and preparation. It all comes down to how much time you are willing to invest up front to get the results you desire in the end.
If the last bus was leaving in two minutes and you were still contemplating where you were going, how long would it take you to make a decision whether to get on that bus? If you did get on the bus, what’s the likelihood you would be on the right bus headed in the right direction? It seems to me that most people would no sooner jump on a bus without a destination in mind than drive with their eyes closed. Why, then, do people engage in a job search without a target or a plan, and without a sense of urgency, expecting the outcome to miraculously meet all of their needs?
There are two issues I typically run across when someone comes to me for help with a stalled or unsuccessful search: They don’t have a plan and they have been relying solely on job postings to determine where they will work. Often they’ve also waited until they are on their last dime to hunt for work, and for them, it is miles beyond the last bus stop. Looking for work without a plan or being lackadaisical about your approach can extend the length of your search unnecessarily. A passive approach and a lack of urgency can lead people off track.
The “any job will do” notion has outlived its time. What you do for work has to be attached to your values and your life goals. Finding satisfying work that meets all of your needs requires a strategy and a plan, along with considerably more information than what may appear in a job posting.
Applying for posted jobs may lead to an interview, but without a solid understanding of the employer’s needs and a plausible story for why you want to work there, the interview is not likely to lead to an offer. Even if the interview does result in an offer of employment, it can just as easily lead to a new misery. Without context for the role and knowledge of the circumstances — e.g., company dynamics, internal politics, unspoken expectations or difficult personalities— the candidate could be walking into a snake pit.
An improved economy does not necessarily mean that everyone can be employed in their dream jobs or that getting a great job is easy. It takes a goal, a plan, a commitment to working the plan and a sense of urgency to come close to finding the “perfect” job. It also takes resiliency to weather the disappointments that can arise and flexibility to adjust your plan when it isn’t working.
An improved economy does not necessarily mean that everyone can be employed in their dream jobs or that getting a great job is easy.
Blaming the economy or job market for your unemployment or passively waiting around for your ideal job to materialize won’t change anything. Changing your approach can make a big difference in the results you get.
If you are like many people, the beginning of a new year is prompting you to make some changes. New year, better economy…time for a new job? If the thought of leaving your current position has crossed your mind, take control of the process and make it a move that counts. Avoid a knee-jerk reaction to apply for a posted position that catches your eye and start the year fresh with a solid plan for making a strategic change that steers you toward your ideal situation rather than yet another dead end.
Randomly applying to a posted position with a company you know nothing about is much like playing the lottery. Certainly it could turn out to be better than your current situation, but the odds are you’ll simply be trading known issues for new ones. The beginning of a new year prompts many people to evaluate their circumstances. They desire more yet stay stuck on why they want to leave rather than focusing on what they want to move forward to. This year, prepare yourself to make a meaningful and sustainable change of your circumstances. Make the most of your time and resources, by developing a plan for moving forward. The following are some key points for getting started.
Clarify your interests. If you focus only on what you don’t want, you still don’t have a target for what you do want. Establishing a concrete list of what you hope to gain from a new position/employer/business endeavor is the first step to heading in a new direction with favorable results. Refrain from using vague words like “better” or “more” and be as specific as you can be. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to measure or weigh one opportunity against another.
Give it a reality check. Do your research. Learn about today’s conditions rather than relying on memories from ten years ago. Learn how work is getting done and, more importantly, why certain skills are in demand. Know what the market will bear and how your skills/experience measure up to competition. If you need additional training/development to be competitive for your “dream job” or to get your foot in the door with your “dream organization,” then integrate that into your plan. The process from Point A to Point B may seem like it takes longer, but you will probably save time by avoiding attempts at throwing your hat into the ring for work you are not competitive for.
Nurture your network. (Ok, so I say that a lot.) The surest way to learn if a new circumstance will be better than what you are in, or will offer you more of what you want, is by knowing someone who is already in it. And, if you are not an exact fit for the roles you desire, you are much more likely to be considered with the help of a valued internal referral than by submitting a blind application. Use the freshness of the new year as an opportunity to reconnect with people you have lost touch with.
Establish timelines and benchmarks. Don’t just say you want to make a change — act on it and commit. New Year’s resolutions are typically out the window by mid-February because of the failure to create a plan, develop new habits or commit to dates. A vision or image of where you want to be is great! The next step is to make it real by establishing timelines and accountability.
Plan your activities. Unless you have a magic process for adding hours to the clock, you have 24 hours a day and seven days a week to work with. It’s important to plan out what has to be done ahead of time (regular work, doctors’ appointments, special events) and work around that schedule to fit in the work required to make a change. Research (by Internet and through conversations) takes time. It won’t happen unless you plan out when you can do it and stick with it. Break big chunks of work into smaller bites and determine exactly when you will complete them. Don’t leave this to chance, or you will be wondering in June how the time flew when you find you are still exactly where you were in January.
Don’t knee jerk. Many people have taken roles that have left them underemployed or bored, just to pay the bills. If that is your situation, then use it to your advantage. If you can do your job in your sleep, then stay put while you take the time to do the research you need to complete to make an educated decision about changing. Chances are no one is watching you, and you can actually carve out time to talk with people and read about companies/roles that are more to your liking. Watching job boards for the next posting and throwing a resume at something isn’t likely to reap a satisfying or sustainable reward if you are hired before you really know anything about the company, department or role.
As you head into the new year, concentrate on what you want and check out whether it really is for you. Making impulsive gestures based on what you don’t want might bring about a change, but researching and putting together a plan for making that change is much more likely to take you where you want to go.