One of my coaching clients, a 56-year-old woman from California who was navigating her way back to the workforce, realized she needed to network far out of her comfort zone. She emailed me this question:
I have connections at organizations where I’d love to work in a flexible way, but they are either people I’m not close to or people I don’t feel comfortable approaching. Call it anxiety or an old-fashioned sense that I’d be “using” them to get a job, but it’s an obstacle for me. How do I get over this? Just be pleasant and directly state what I want? That’s it, done?
Yes, that’s pretty much it. Here’s how to do it well:
“The best things in life are often waiting for you at the exit ramp of your comfort zone.” -Karen Salmansohn
Networking involves a shared connection, not just out-of-the-blue cold calls to strangers. Networking connections do not need to be people you know well: you can establish connections through relatives, school or employer alumni groups, club members, or a friend of a friend of a friend. Figure out how to give your connection the comfort level of knowing that in some way you are connected. It could be as simple as having children in the same soccer league or being connected to the same person on LinkedIn.
Be specific about the help you need.
No one wants to hear, “I’d just like to pick your brain about flexible fundraising jobs.” That’s a conversation that could wander aimlessly with no easy end. Busy people want to slot you in for a quick brain dump of specific information they have at hand. A better approach would be, “I’m trying to get an idea of how most large fundraising departments are allocating part-time responsibilities among functions, and I’d like to see how yours is structured in relation to peer organizations.” If you lay this out in an email or LinkedIn message, your connection can think about and summarize a worthwhile, bite-sized response. This very focused networking request would help you gather information about where and how your skills and experience would most likely fit at your connection’s organization and many others. When you ask a dozen networking connections the same question, you start gathering valuable anecdotal research.
Limit the amount of time your connection needs to invest.
It’s 10:25 a.m. on a Thursday. Your calendar indicates that you have a meeting with your boss at 10:30 in her office to update her on an important company project. You grab a pen, your notepad, and a printout outlining the status of each open item.
Walking into her office, you immediately realize that the meeting agenda will be different. Sitting next to your boss is the Human Resources Director. Your boss says, “Sit down. There’s no easy way to say this, but your position has been eliminated.”
You’re not sure whether they see you gasp for air. The sharp breath you take is to try to slow yourself down. You feel heat rushing up into your face like lava erupting from a volcano. Your heartbeat feels like you are running as it begins to pound faster.
You don’t even hear the rest of the dialogue. You stare blankly as your boss exits the room, and you are left with HR and a stack of paper.
“Facing your fears robs them of their power.” -Mark Burnett
Losing your job rates as one of life’s biggest stressors. That stress ratchets up dramatically if you have little or no savings. But it’s not just about money. For many, it’s also about identity. Losing friends and colleagues, and feeling ostracized, are also contributing factors.
And in most cases it is a blow to self-esteem. Often your higher-level thinking will lose out to emotions. Change is hard, especially when you don’t control it.
“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.” -Marcus Aurelius
After you lose your employment, experts quickly tell you that you need to network. Because, they will say, the way to a new job is through your network.
“Who do you know?”
“Who is in a position to help you?”
“Who are the most influential people in your network?”
“Who will you ask to be references?”
I have been both the recipient and the originator of networking calls. If you are looking for a job, you are inevitably going to call everyone you can.
Because I have a large network, most months I receive several calls or emails from people looking for work. I truly feel for these people. I understand the challenge. It’s stressful. Earlier on, I tried to help everyone. Now, though I try, I just don’t have the time or bandwidth to help most people. That’s difficult for me because I want to help every person that I possibly can in these difficult situations.
“It’s not stress that kills us, it’s our reaction to it.” -Hans Seyle
You’re walking down a busy city street and turn the corner only to see a small crowd of people all looking up in the air, at a point across and above the street. What are the odds you’ll be able to stop yourself before looking up to see what they’re all staring it? I know for me, it’s almost impossible…and I’ve tried!
Similarly, in movies and TV shows, it’s easier to laugh along when we hear the show’s laugh-track. I once watched a funny old movie with no laugh-track, and the child I was watching with didn’t know what was funny. We take our cues from others.
It’s the same online. One of the main reasons that people make a choice is because they have “social proof” that others have done so before. It’s a strong motivator.
“The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.” Ken Blanchard
Whether you are a business, a blogger, or an individual with career aspirations, you should be harnessing the power of positive social proof. The concept is not a new one, but its importance continues to grow both for businesses and individuals.
Wikipedia defines it this way: “Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation.”
Helps you stand out. Competition isn’t slowing down, isn’t letting up, and isn’t taking a break. If you want your business to get noticed, then social proof is one way to do it. With more sources competing for our attention every day, it’s vital to differentiate your offering from everything else.
Improves your success metrics. Studies show that we are more likely to share something that others are also sharing. We watch what we see others are watching. Visit a new town and you see two restaurants side-by-side. One has an empty lot and the other has a line wrapped around the block. Which one appeals to you?
Builds credibility. Unless you are already an established expert, a bestselling author, or a of host a worldwide talk show, it helps to build credibility. In Nashville, I see many up and coming music artists using quotes from famous musicians. Authors routinely ask for endorsements for book jacket quotes. Businesses include testimonials from others. All of these are ways to differentiate and add credibility.
“The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.” –Vince Lombardi
Some of you may say, “Sure, I can see that building social proof matters for a business. But it’s not something I need to think about.”
If you want to increase your chances of promotion, see higher raises, or reduce your chances of getting let go from your organization, you should use some elements of social proof. Do you have a marketing plan for YOU? Today, you must promote yourself.
You don’t need to blatantly self-promote. No one likes an egotistical, self-centered know-it-all. But, if I want the boss to choose me for a new project, how do I keep my name out there? How do I stand out? It may not be a blog, but it may be that you wrote an article in your company newsletter or an industry publication. It may be that you are speaking at a customer event. And there is nothing better than the word of mouth social proof because you delivered a key project or pitched in to help when it wasn’t even your responsibility. When your colleagues are buzzing about your performance, that is the best social proof possible. There are many ways to build your social proof as an individual.
“Intense love does not measure, it just gives.” –Mother Teresa
Recently, one marketer sent me a list of the ways I have used positive social proof on this blog. Here is what she shared (with my explanation).
Shares. On the top of each post, you can see the number of shares. Here’s where I ran into a problem last week. Because I have preferred Twitter to other social media, my Twitter shares are higher than others like LinkedIn or Facebook. Recently, Twitter made a strange, surprising, and I think wrong move by removing counts from everyone’s websites. That turns some posts that were shared by the thousands to showing nothing overnight. Why they did this is answered in a strange post, but I still don’t quite understand it. And, for the record, it alienated a large community of content creators who are now rethinking strategies for Facebook and LinkedIn over Twitter.
Does it matter? Adele recently smashed records with the release of 25, becoming the best-selling album in the US of any single week. Large numbers create even more numbers. What would have happened if just as her sales took off Nielsen made a decision like Twitter and just zeroed out the sales?
“A true measure of your worth includes all the benefits others have gained from your success.” –Cullen Hightower
Not too many weeks ago, I received an email from LinkedIn indicating someone had endorsed me for a skill. After deleting the message, I noticed another one appeared the following day. Taking the bait, I clicked, signed in, and saw the new Endorsements feature at work.
I thought about blogging about this new feature immediately. After thinking about it, I decided to wait a few weeks to see if my opinion changed.
The new feature has been widely criticized. And, at first, I was with the critics. Many people are complaining: