All Articles Tagged "networking"
Networking can be awkward and frightening for a lot of people. But, along with referrals, networking also happens to be the way many people obtain employment and significant opportunities to get ahead. A fine art that takes time to master, networking is especially challenging for introverts who, in finding the process nerve-racking, may come off as aloof. If that sounds like you, here are some tips that will help you get out of your way and make the most out of networking.
After finishing graduate school, I was determined to be a working actress. However, after numerous casting calls in several different cities, the starving artist façade quickly became a reality. I was broke, and my student loan payments were due, so I quickly had to find a “real” job. I landed a gig on Capitol Hill in the office of then-senator and now our illustrious president, Barack Obama. I know what you’re thinking: an actress on Capitol Hill? How does that work? Well, aren’t politicians the best actors in the game?
However, a true artist is immensely restricted on the Hill. Consistently hidden behind a muted color palette of navy blue and black suits, coffee, C-Span, and whatever flavor of frozen yogurt is being served in the cafeteria on any given day. But that never stopped me from indulging in an occasional pirouette down an empty Senate hallway. Or from singing the intro to the “Circle of Life” from The Lion King on an empty train car ride over to the House side. The acoustics in the Capitol dome are just that amazing.
When President Obama announced his campaign for president, I was excited and quickly did anything I could do to help. From attending rallies in D.C., Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, to even attending the Democratic National Convention in Denver. I was focused.
But before I left for Denver, my mom (more like my mom-ager) quickly reminded me that attending the DNC was not only an excellent opportunity to support the Obama For America campaign, but also a great time to network as an actress. Everybody who is anybody in the industry would be there. She even made sure that I had 100 headshots and resumes to pass out. But there was one major problem. I am also an introvert who can be very uncomfortable in many social situations. Again, I know what you’re thinking: “How can an actress be an introvert?” Well, I am. Just accept my reality, please.
The thing is, I find my uninhibited strength when I am performing. And I don’t have to endure small talk and awkward silence while I’m doing it either.
Despite my nerves, with a lot of love and encouragement, I packed my bag and prepared to confront all my networking possibilities.
My mother was right. Everyone who was anyone was there. I rode the elevator up eight floors with President Jimmy Carter. I took selfies with Danny Glover. I watched Blair Underwood shade autograph-seeking hopefuls by saying, “I’m with my family.” Congressmen and women, filmmakers, actors, artists, singers, ambassadors, preachers, and journalists were all there. One of the duties I had was escorting VIP guests into a Congressional Black Caucus reception. Many well-known stars arrived at the event, from Congresswoman Maxine Waters to Alfre Woodard. All I kept thinking of is what my mother had told me to do. Network. What the hell does that even mean? I don’t know how to do that! What am I even supposed to say to these people? I thought to myself. I was a nervous wreck. Time was winding down at the event, and I had yet to net or work anything. I knew I had to do something or the headshots I was carrying around in my bag would surely have been a waste of good ink. Then out walked Tracee Ellis Ross in all of her beautiful, bubbly, curly-haired glory. She was heading to the bus full of other celebrities to shuttle them back to their hotel. This was it. This was my time to net the work.
I reached into my bag. My stomach was in my back with the rest of my nerves at this point. I started walking over to her, and I could feel the pain of fear take over my legs and feet. My heart was pounding a bass line beat to the tune of death accompanied by the ringing in my ears. I walked over to Ross, reached my trembling hand out with my headshot and resume attached and said, “This is my–” That was it. No other words came out. But what happened next haunts me to this day. I burst out crying. I’m not talking a cute cry with a few drizzling tear drops. Oh no! I balled like my very soul had been ripped from my body. The scripture says, “Jesus wept.” Well, I guess me and Jesus have something in common because I sobbed uncontrollably. I guess my nerves ransacked my tear ducts because I could not stop.
Ross took my headshot and said, “It’s okay! Don’t cry! I’m going to keep this.” She gave me a lengthy hug, wished me luck on my acting career, and got on the bus. To this day, I wonder if she really kept it or if she and her celebrity friends laughed about it all the way back to their hotels. Either way, I will forever be the girl who cried on Tracee Ellis Ross’s shoulder while trying to get my hustle on.
And that’s what happens when an introvert tries to network. Thanks a lot, mom.
These days, the adage of “It ain’t what you know, it’s who you know” couldn’t be more accurate. How you read on paper is no longer enough to climb to the next step in the ladder towards your dream job and career. With more and more college graduates walking around with a diploma but no job to show for it, you have to get creative.
Stepping in as a necessary evil: networking.
For a long time, when I was in college, I loathed the idea of all the networking mixers professors would advertise for a source of extra credit needed to bump those grades up. But being the nerd that I was, I’d put on my business casual attire, head to one of the rooms in the student center, draw in a long breath, and paste on a smile. The entire process just seemed so disingenuous. As a freshman and sophomore college student, I didn’t see the point. I didn’t view the card swap as important.
And for those two years of not believing in the power of shaking hands, and making connections, I probably missed a handful of great opportunities.
For someone working in media, professors and mentors couldn’t stress enough the importance of building those relationships. Even if it is a phone call or email that is never returned, the fact that your name pops up with a “How are things? Hope all is well” every once and a while speaks volumes.
A part of being determined in reaching a particular goal is doing things you might not necessarily enjoy. Instead of focusing on how uncomfortable or awkward you feel talking to someone you don’t know, approach it as a stepping stone towards securing what you need to get where you want to be.
As a recent college graduate with no real job prospects and what felt like a bleak forecast for my post-grad life, attending networking brunches that insisted they would connect me with other women like myself helped me hit that RSVP button. What was most desirable was the notion that not one other person in the room would be “better” than me. We were all trying to work our way up and make connections.
I’ve shaken hands with other recent graduates, women starting their careers over, and industry professionals with a successful brand through various brunch and happy hour mixers. I’m not sure if it is the unlimited mimosas or happy hour prices that help to make networking feel a little less like a painful version of speed dating, but the atmosphere always allows for me to be my most natural self.
No one is mindlessly standing around, fumbling with their business cards or acting as though they believe that the sun rises and sets on their bottoms. Everyone has a glass in hand, is dishing food into their mouths, and is engaged in regular bar/restaurant/foodie conversation that incidentally leads to a beneficial bond.
For many, stepping up to a major player in the room when your confidence is already shot after too many past rejection letters and too many present whiskey gingers is an unfair feat to try and tackle. But remember, beating yourself up won’t change your circumstances. Ease yourself into the room and focus on the goal at hand: With the help of another well-connected individual, more doors could open, inching you closer to your dreams.
There is no way around networking. In this day and age, getting out there and making your presence and your talents known is a must. There are ways to find some sense of enjoyment in these events, and it takes a little digging and a few personal pep talks to take on the room and inevitably own it.
Whether you are still in college or have recently landed an entry-level position in your field, you have probably been told that you need a mentor, an experienced, powerful person in your industry who can guide you throughout your career.
Some professors often describe mentorship in a traditional, if rigid, way. You meet someone at an event, you get their card, a day or two later you send them an email and set up a coffee date. At said coffee date, you wow them with your smarts and experience. Soon, they’re introducing you to their other powerful friends and you’re zipping up the corporate ladder/masthead/tenure track.
But how do you find a mentor? How do you convince an important figure in your industry to invest a significant amount of their already limited time in you?
Here is some expert advice from a few women who know a thing or two about networking and mentorship.
Why do you need a mentor?
“I think that everyone needs people that are older than them that have gone through similar experiences to be able to point them in the right direction,” says Lauren Wesley Wilson. Wilson is the founder and chief networking officer of the ColorComm Network, an organization that connects women of color who work in communications.
If you want to be successful and influential, Wilson says that you definitely need a mentor. “If you want to flat line – stay at your job, make $50,000 a year for eight years – then no, you don’t need to network. But if you want to get promoted, if you want to move up, if you want to be successful, then you absolutely need mentors,” she says.
So, how do you find a potential mentor?
One great way to connect with powerful and experienced women in your field is to find networking groups like ColorComm. Launched after a luncheon in 2011, it’s an organization that connects women who have mid-, senior- and executive-level communications positions.
“I was working in an environment where there weren’t a lot of women of color at the executive level and I wanted to see more faces and be able to think that one day I could achieve this position, but I had to see examples that looked like me,” said Wilson.
Sherry Sims of Black Women’s Career Network began her organization because of similar frustrations. She was looking for “someone who looked like me in my industry” and in 2008, she created a LinkedIn page for Black women to connect about career challenges.
Sims wanted to provide access to women who can work with each other. “The challenges we face in the workplace as African-American women need to be talked about because it’s been happening for years,” says Sims who is also a career coach and a speaker.
That LinkedIn page grew into the Black Women’s Career Network, a platform for Black women to “meet, connect, share experiences, resources, career advice, mentor others to grow professionally and learn how to deal with challenges and complexities within your career while striving for upward career mobility.”
BWCN does that in several different ways including, meet-ups, online webinars, career coaching and its annual national conference, which takes place in Cincinnati this August.
Professional conferences can also be a great way to go. For example, seasoned journalists attend the National Association for Black Journalists’ annual conference expecting to network with younger journalists who are seeking a mentorship.
NABJ communications consultant and member, Aprill Turner, suggests that prospective mentees be strategic about which events they attend at a convention, that way they can meet potential mentors who share similar interests.
“Every industry is a little different. I think NABJ, just based off of our student program, is seen as a student-friendly place,” she says.
If you’re a student looking for a networking opportunity, Turner suggests that you see if professional organizations in your field have affiliate groups for college students, such as the Public Relations Student Society of America.
Sometimes, the perfect mentor is right down the hall – or in your call log. If you already work in your field, you may be able to connect with co-workers or higher-ups who can provide you valuable advice that will help you move forward.
This is someone who sees you often and knows the ins and outs of your specific place of business. That in-house mentor could directly help you by putting in a good word for you when the opportunity arises, taking on the role of sponsor.
“A sponsor is a spokesperson or cheerleader who will talk you up for the next promotion or project. A mentor can give you guidance,” says Sims. “It’s almost like being a movie star. Your talent coach tells you what to do. Your agent helps you to get roles.”
Older friends who work in your industry can also serve as de facto mentors, able to advise you on more sensitive topics, should the need arise. Sims says that person will probably be flattered that you asked for their advice, and that they could also become a sponsor, if you operate in the same networking environment.
“Not to get all scriptural, but there is a Biblical application of this: ‘…be a Barnabus. Pursue a Paul and train a Timothy,’” says Turner. A Barnabus would be a wise, older friend, Paul is a biblical figure who was “very much a mentor” and to “train a Timothy,” you would make sure you “reach back to someone who is a few years younger than you and do the same thing.”
“Those different levels are important: to have a more seasoned mentor, to have someone who kind of walks alongside you and also have someone that you are training up and mentoring are definitely all important aspects of mentorships,” Turner continues.
You can also look to professors for mentorship (after all, they know your work very well because they both taught and graded you), but that can prove to be difficult post-grad.
“It takes one person to keep the connection going. Stay in contact, send emails. No response? Then there is nothing that you can do about that,” says Sims. She suggests that mentees invite professors to events and find mutual interests to share. Does you mentor NEED to be a black woman? Getting advice from an established professional who “looks like them” is important to many Black women, because they want to learn from someone who shares a similar background and may have faced some of the same career challenges.
However, many companies and industries lack racial and gender diversity at the senior and executive levels.
Sims says the key is to find people (hence, the reason for her network), but thinks that you may be able to find a mentor that isn’t a Black woman who “gets it and gets you.” “Stay open to that, as well,” she says.
How do you get them to be your mentor?
“There’s an art to it. I think that people go to conventions for the first time and they’re nervous and it’s not formulaic. It’s not written anywhere,” says Turner, who thinks it is important to apply emotional intelligence when engaging in small talk with potential mentors. Paying attention to nonverbal cues, understanding when someone wants to engage and when they want you to back off – it all matters.
But she does find that professionals attending the NABJ conference expect for young people to approach them about mentorships. “They understand that innately, part of their role is to be a resource to young people and be a person they can talk to and ask questions,” says Turner.
Wilson, who once spent a year trying to land a coffee meeting with an executive, only to discover that they had little in common, suggests that going the coffee date route may not be the best tactic.
“Mentorship is an organic relationship building and there are many people who I’ve called my mentors without asking them to be and I told them that they were,” says Wilson. Attending meet-ups and industry functions, chatting with potential mentors and finding common ground are better ways to reach your goal.
A certain amount of persistence is key here. “This is a time that people need to be chased,” said Wilson. Email them at a decent hour, (no midnight messages, because those are both unprofessional and often get lost in the early-morning shuffle) reminding them who you are and where you met. Keep those messages short and snappy to give them a greater chance of being read.
Mentees should also avoid the “whatever time works best for you” trap. It might appear to be the more flexible and considerate thing to do, but it actually places the onus of planning your meet-up on your potential mentor. “If you want a meeting or you want a relationship, you need to request a date and time. Often, I get requests that are so open-ended that I’ve moved on,” says Wilson.
What if nothing you are trying is working?
“Networking is not always traditional. Sometimes you have to think outside of the box to establish a relationship,” says Sims who has developed several key relationships through sites like Twitter and LinkedIn.
“Sometimes it’s hard to find someone locally and meet face-to-face,” says Sims. If you can find someone who is willing to continue an email chain with you and offer advice over the phone, you can stay connected and get the guidance that you need.
Be persistent. It is not on the mentor to keep the relationship going, but it is on the mentee. If they never answer your emails, it just might not be a good fit. Many people have multiple mentors who can help them in varying ways.
If you find that mentorship truly doesn’t fit your personality or isn’t necessary for your career goals, you can try getting inspiration from friends and sign up for business-related newsletters. However, ruling out mentorship altogether is not advised.
“Success is not a secret. Someone has done what you want to do. You have to find them and really almost emulate it,” says Turner. “It won’t go exactly for you the same way especially being women and women of color, but definitely I can look at what someone I admire has done and go that way.”
Most of us understand the importance of networking as it helps us meet fellow industry professionals and expand our list of connections. Even if you’re the most outgoing person, it can be a little nerve-racking to walk up and introduce yourself to someone. Here are some networking tips to consider along with a few questions you might want to ask.
Since when do we only join social groups that match our skin color? Haven’t we fought to have equal access to everything?
Moving from the New York City area to Oklahoma, I kinda assumed things would be less… diverse here. Much to my surprise, there are tons of cultural pockets that expose my family and I to new things. After a few months of being a resident, I knew it was only a matter of time before I wanted to join a networking group. I participated in the Junior League years ago and was happy to see they had a chapter in Oklahoma. One of my biggest draws to this organization is their dedication to volunteerism and impacting the community. They’re a group of professional women from various industries that share a common cause. It was always awesome to work with CEOs, small business owners, stay-at-home moms and other ladies who shared similar interests and hobbies.
Before joining I went to an interest meeting where I noticed a lack of minority members. Knowing what the organization was about I chose to sign up anyway and have thus far had nothing but good news to report. Sure it’s pretty obvious I am one of few, but that doesn’t take away from the rich conversations and relationships I’ve developed. In fact, it sparks more discussions about ways we can reach out more.
When I told some of my gal pals about my experience, they could only focus on one thing–the lack of diversity.
“Why do you want to be one of the only minorities in a group?”
“Why don’t you just join an organization that has plenty of ‘us’ there?”
There’s nothing wrong with joining minority-focused organizations just like there’s nothing wrong with participating in one with fewer faces that look like yours. Sometimes it takes one or two “brave souls” who are willing to pave the way for others to join and feel more comfortable doing so. It’s also good to mix up your circles from time to time as you never know who could be that missing link to opening a new door of opportunity.
While it’s wonderful to have minority-focused organizations, it’s important not to unconsciously segregate ourselves from others. So many of us have fresh ideas and new approaches that deserve to be heard from an assortment of different platforms.
If you’re ever faced with joining an organization that doesn’t have a ton of Black faces, do it nonetheless. You never know the impact you’ll have until you take that first step.
We’re inching closer and closer to December 25th.
That means office holiday parties! Free food, free drinks, dancing, and mingling with your work mates.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are some unspoken rules of the holiday party that you should abide by to avoid looking bad. Here’s what NOT to do during your office party.
Networking can be a very powerful tool when it comes to expanding your business and getting your name out to others in your industry. Yet, there are some of us who still don’t know the basics when it comes to striking up a conversation and meeting new people. While it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out, it does however require professionalism. Here are some ways you are turning folks off a networking events. Make sure you make the necessary changes.
Welcome to our weekly column, Reset. Written by Karen Taylor Bass, this column, published each Tuesday, is about life lessons learned and mastered mentally, spiritually, and physically and how they contribute to a successful life and career.
You have limited time/resources and your brand needs leveraging to score a potential client or employment. How about a little speed networking at an after-work affair, conference or mixer?
Speed networking is a creative way for entrepreneurs to meet substantial business contacts, secure referrals and network in a friendly, uplifting environment, in a matter of hours. Networking is the best tool to secure an opportunity. Now you can expedite the process while promoting your brand — and yourself — in under five minutes with no hassles in a relaxed setting.
Like many entrepreneurs, I understand the importance and value of time, talent and worth. My brand is Karen Taylor Bass, PR Expert, and “Brand Mom.” My business is consulting corporations, entrepreneurs and individuals on how to position their brand via media campaigns, PR coaching, while simultaneously positioning myself as the go-to expert as it relates to all things strategy and branding. How is this done? By spicing up the networking with some speed and momentum.
I’ve tried countless strategies to secure new business and keep existing business. Although technology is an amazing tool with very little filter, nothing beats the old fashioned way of doing business — face-to-face.
Making a pitch to someone involves nerves, sweaty hands, and maybe even a forced smile or two, all while trying to be genuine in some way. A valuable lesson I learned was pressing RESET and getting comfortable with speed networking to grow my brand. When things get stagnant, you must shake it up and go back to the foundation to stand out.
Karen Taylor Bass’ tips to speed networking:
Prepare a smart and succinct two-minute brand pitch. Engage your colleague and promote your expertise.
Listen. Often a lost art form, however, the best way to communicate and learn.
Collect business cards and meet new colleagues.
Engage, promote and be the brand you want to be.
Take notes on new business contacts, writing down keywords to remember the person for a follow-up.
Work the room during the reception to get out of your comfort zone.
Follow-up with all potential contacts and referrals within 48 hours.
Make a poor pitch. Make certain your pitch is interesting and includes the basics along with a tag line (what your business is known for), target audience, your niche and any accolades you’ve received
Lack of confidence. Believe in your brand each and every time.
Fail to follow-up. It is reported that 90 percent of business leads are not procured. What’s the point?
Speed Networking Reset: Invest your time and money to network strategically in a controlled environment with decision makers and doers with the goal of securing an opportunity. Think that way and you can make it happen.
And check out this site for a little more detail on speed networking and various events.
Karen Taylor Bass is a best-selling author, PR Expert and understands that life only gets better when you press RESET. Follow her @thebrandnewmom
Online networking is all right, but in-person contacts are way better. A growing number of companies, according to Forbes, are selecting their next candidates based on employees’ recommendations. So you can spruce up your LinkedIn profile all you want, but the best way to truly strengthen your job prospects is to build an in-person network.
And we’re talking about creating a network with quality, not quantity. As you expand your professional crew, you must make sure you’re being quite selective in whom you’re allowing into your circle. To help cultivate your career crew, we’ve listed 10 people that will help brighten your professional future.