Career Corner: Networking – Stressful to Successful

By Meg Busse.

As you take your personal mission statement out for a test drive, you will inevitably (hopefully!) find yourself about to begin a conversation with someone. This is often the moment that causes folks (like me) to dread networking events—the awkward small talk, the fumbling to find some common interest to talk about, the mumbled excuse that you need to go refill your beverage….

Here are a few ways to make networking events a more successful, less stressful part of your schedule.

1. Set goals.

I recognize the importance of networking events. Really, I do. But many nights, given the options of heading home to play with my new puppy, grabbing dinner with friends, or just relaxing with a good book, a networking event may not be my top choice. So to make sure I make networking a priority, I’ve set a goal for myself to attend three networking events a month. If I do that in the first three days of the month, great—I’m done. Usually, though, I end up waiting until the last week of the month and then have to look around to find something to attend.

2. Have great questions.

I recently saw David Sedaris on his book tour. After the show, there was a two-hour line for a book signing. As I got closer in the line, I got to hear some of the fantastic questions he asked people who silently handed him their book to sign. By asking interesting questions, listening to the answers, and often responding with something witty, everyone left the table smiling and feeling good about themselves.

One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “What are you working on?” This is different from “What do you do?” because it broadens the scope of possible answers to beyond just a current job. People can talk about the scarf they’re knitting, the blog post they’re mulling over, the bike they’re learning to fix, or any of the projects they’re engaged with at work. Give this or one of your favorite questions a try at your next networking event and see how much easier it is to get the conversation going when you begin with great questions.

3. Know what you want.

My first impression of networking was an uncomfortable, orchestrated process where slimy guys in suits tried to find ways to get what they wanted. I have since become aware of the nuanced and collaborative nature of good networking. But even when there is an emphasis on reciprocation and relationship building, it’s still a great idea to go into a networking event with an awareness of what you’re looking for.

Depending on where you are in your job search or career and what kind of networking event you’re attending, be open to interesting conversation but also have a few specific goals. For example, perhaps you’ve been working as an IT consultant in the nonprofit sector for several years but are interested in learning more about nonprofits that focus on wind or sustainable energy. If you attend one of the international Green Drinks networking events, you may want to set your sights on finding people who will provide informational interviews, advice, and resources to learn more about organizations in the green energy arena. Whereas if you go to one of the local tech-focused nonprofit networking nights like PDX Net Tuesdays in Portland, Oregon, you may be seeking contacts, opportunities for collaboration, or even a mentor because your knowledge of and connections within this field are much better established.

While none of these tips will make networking an effortless process, they can help provide some structure and goals so that you can get out there, meet people, and make the connections that that will get you a great nonprofit job and allow you to find new and innovative ways to collaborate within the sector.

For more information on networking, check out Chapter Four of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers: “Networking: Is it really all about who you know? Yes.”

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Career Corner: Your Personal Mission Statement

By Steven Joiner.

Job seekers looking to convey their unique skills and talents need to first look within. Your ability to concisely and convincingly convey your interests, abilities, and experience is a vital first step to career success. By honing your personal mission statement, you ensure that you are always ready to express yourself to a new contact, networking connection, potential employer, or anyone else who may be able to help you in your search for meaningful, fulfilling work. The whole idea behind networking and building connections with people is to create a group of advocates who know about your interests and abilities and can therefore keep you on their radar for times when opportunities that they hear about could possible fit with what you are seeking.

Self-knowledge and the ability to express yourself through a personal mission statement isn’t about “selling yourself,” rather it is about “knowing yourself.” Transitions Coach and Career Counselor Cathy Wasserman says, “While selling yourself can come across as pushy and insincere, knowing yourself inside and out—your core strengths, experience, passions, and goals—greatly increases the likelihood that you will stand out and land a fulfilling job where you can contribute, be supported, and continue to develop and grow professionally. Furthermore, lack of self-knowledge makes it more likely that you will end up treading professional water or embarking upon a career path that does not maximize your abilities.”

A job seeker should never, ever say, “I don’t really know what I want to do” nor should they say, “There are a gazillion things I would love to do.” Neither of these comments help others help you in your search and they don’t help you stand out. After you do a little bit of self-reflection, it is pretty clear to see what you want to do. And, while it may be true that you have a lot of different interests (almost no one, after all, is only good at or interested in one thing), identifying your two or three key interests allows you to talk about relevant interests with relevant people. For example, I am interested in and generally good at teaching and writing. If I meet a fellow writer, I talk first about my writing. If I meet a teacher, I talk teaching. My other interests and experiences may come out in the course of the conversation but I always try to “hook” a new contact by starting with what I see as the area of greatest common interest and then going from there.

To get started, check out “Self and career assessment,” Chapter Three of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers (you can choose from the first-time job seekers guide or the sector-switcher guide) and learn how to clarify your mission, values, priorities, and greatest skills. Then check out Chapter Four “Networking” to learn ways to turn this self-knowledge into your elevator pitch. By taking steps to identify your greatest skills, understanding what kind of jobs and organizations work best for you, and practicing how to authentically communicate this information to others through your elevator pitch, you will appear confident, self-aware, motivated, and directed. Talk about a great set of qualities to display to anyone helping you find that dream job!

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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