Exit Your Comfort Zone and Become a Networking Pro

networking
This is an excerpt from Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman and What to do Instead by Kathryn Sollman. Kathryn is a recognized leader in helping women navigate the many stages of work and life.

Become a Networking Pro

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

 

Establish even a very loose connection.

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.

How Smart Professionals Change Careers and Seize Success

job switcher

Make a Career Change

If you’ve been itching to make a change, but don’t know where to start, or feel like you’re stuck in a career path that no longer makes sense, you’re reading the right article at the right time.

Dawn Graham, PhD is a Wharton Lecturer and EMBA Career Director, coach, author, Forbes Contributor, and Sirius XM Radio Host. Her new book, Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers and Seize Success, is a resource for anyone looking to change career directions in a purposeful way.

 

Switchers Fact: Most Americans spend around five years engaged in some type of job activity.

 

You have a unique vantage point both due to your leading SiriusXM Radio show and your role as Director of Career Management for the Executive MBA Program at Wharton. What trends are you seeing across professional job searchers today?

People want a job that inspires them! Compensation will always be important. However, professionals are willing to make some sacrifices to find work that is meaningful or flexible, or that puts them on the path to a career that is more satisfying.  Many mid-career professionals landed in a job after college and climbed the ladder, only to realize that the path they chose isn’t fulfilling. Others have discovered careers that may not have existed a decade ago and still others have experienced life changes, such as having a family, which have led them to seek something more flexible.

 

“Lifetime regrets are more painful than delayed gratification.” -Dawn Graham

 

What is the “new normal” in America for most people in terms of changing jobs?

The great news for career switchers is that the market is becoming more accepting of trying new paths. The rise of the gig economy, portfolio careers, and entrepreneurial pursuits have opened the door to non-traditional career paths. The average tenure in a company is about 4.2 years, so long gone are the days of the 30-year retirement gift. In fact, while yearly job hopping is still frowned upon by employers, so is staying at a company for too long, especially if you’ve not shown significant progression or diversity in your assignments. After 10 years, hiring managers in new companies start to wonder if you’re adaptable enough to function effectively in a different culture, so it’s more important than ever today to pay attention to taking charge of your career.

 

Research: up to 80 percent of employee turnover is due to poor hiring.

 

How difficult is it to change careers today?

Do You Have A Leadership Lifeline?

Leadership Lifelines

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

 

What are you going to do?

 

The Stress of Losing a Job

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

 

Common and Uncommon Advice

Advice you will often hear: Network. Build your connections. Meet people at industry events. Become an expert in your field.

Here’s the advice you don’t often hear: