How to Network Your Way to a New Job in Just 5 Minutes a Day – Money.com and Time.com

This post originally appears in my weekly column for Money.com and Time.com:

Does the word “networking” send shivers down your spine? Maybe it would help if I told you that networking doesn’t have to be a big production or a big time drain.

Of course, you want to attend conferences, join professional groups, and have lunches with contacts. Those activities are absolutely worth the investment, but you can do them sparingly.

In between, resolve to network for just five minutes a day. The 10 simple activities below require little preparation, will cost you no money, and can be done during your coffee break. With these ideas, you’ll have no excuse not to network each and every day. And you thought you were no good at networking!

1. Send a birthday greeting. LinkedIn and Facebook both highlight birthdays. Or, you can add your professional contacts’ birthdays as annual events to your Outlook calendar. When you see that it’s someone’s big day, email that person directly with a brief personalized note.

2. Offer congratulations. Social media sites also highlight big moves and wins, including job changes or work anniversaries. You can also use a specialty tool like Newsle, which links to your contact list and lets you know when any of your contacts is cited in the news. When you see good news, send a direct message to congratulate, again personalizing the note.

3. Say thank you. Surely, someone did something nice for you in the past week. Maybe it was a colleague who dug up a report you needed. Maybe it was an old classmate who forwarded an alumni event you would have overlooked. Send a quick email to thank that person: Hi John, thanks again for helping me find that Client X info. I finished the report, and you made my life SO much easier. You’ll probably make that person’s day.

4. Post a career-related article on Facebook. If you’re only using social media to share selfies and personal news, you’re missing an opportunity to remind people what you do professionally—which helps put a bug in your friends’ ears in case they hear of cool opportunities relating to what you do. You don’t need to post your resume to make a professional statement (please don’t, in fact). But you can post an article related to your role or industry, and write a comment that showcases your knowledge. If people aren’t interested, they’ll skim. But if someone is looking for your expertise, they’ll now know to contact you.

5 . Update your social media status. Even if you don’t have an article to recommend, you can post about something you’re working on. It doesn’t have to be detailed, and it doesn’t have to be promotional. An example: Whew! Looking forward to normal working days now that I’ve finished our quarterly revenue analysis.

6. Acknowledge other social media activity. When someone else posts something about what they’re doing—professionally or personally—write back with encouragement, suggestions, or just to acknowledge that it’s nice to hear from them. For example: You popped up on my Facebook feed. It’s been too long since we connected. How are you?

7. Change up your email signature. Your email signature is a passive networking tool: It’s included in your correspondence automatically, and you can use it to include information relating to you and your activities. My email signature rotates every few weeks and includes upcoming events plus titles of my most recent articles (with links).

8. Take a walk around your floor. A strong network is a diverse network. It’s tempting to fall into a rut of hanging out with the same people, typically the people in close proximity to you. Take five minutes to walk to other areas in the office. Say hello and chat with people you don’t regularly see. Then, if you ever have to work on a cross-departmental initiative, you will already have established at least some relationship with your extended colleagues.

9. Ping a random contact Build the habit of picking a contact at random from your phone list or Outlook contacts, and email that person just to say hello. This gets you in the habit of doing some networking each and every day, and it also ensures that you reach out to a wide variety of people, not just the people you naturally think of.

10. Share a recommendation. In the last week, you probably experienced something new—read an article, ate at a just-opened restaurant or tried a new recipe at home. Think of one new thing and of one person you know who might enjoy whatever it is you did. Email that person with the article, restaurant name or recipe, including a short note saying that this new thing made you think of them. They’ll be flattered to pop up front of mind and will appreciate hearing about something new.

How To Stay Creative – Video Blog

Creativity is critical to the entrepreneur thinking up marketing initiatives, business offerings and client solutions. Creativity is equally important to the traditional employee solving problems, innovating new approaches and brainstorming ideas. In this career advice video blog, I share 3 of my favorite strategies for staying creative:

You can read how other small business owners stay creative in this WeWork post by Natasha Khimji: 9 Secrets To Staying Creative. Special thanks to Emma Carter at WeWork for sharing it!

The Job that Got Away – Life Reimagined

In my latest entrepreneur advice column for Life Reimagined, I share some of the lessons I learned firsthand from losing out on a project I wanted. These hard won lessons apply whether you’re a fellow small business owner or a traditional employee angling for a promotion, career change, or new job:

A few weeks ago, I pitched for a consulting project that I didn’t win. As I reviewed what went wrong, I realized that, in the crush of a massive full-time project, I broke some of these cardinal rules I give my own clients.

Reserve time and energy for career management outside your day-to-day job. If you are looking for a job, resist putting all your focus on one prospective employer. If you are employed, be sure to network and attend conferences—activities that nourish your overall career. If you are a consultant like me, don’t bill out so many hours that you can’t tend your sales efforts. I broke this rule big-time by accepting an assignment that put me full-time on-site for a corporate client. When the consulting project came along, I had zero capacity in my schedule to prepare.

Given a choice, always meet face to face. My mega project also meant I couldn’t meet live, so I had to make my initial pitch by conference call. Sometimes, this is a good move—quicker to schedule, it can get the ball rolling, or it could be a time-saver if you’re not sure the prospect is serious. However, if this is an employer or project you know you want (as I did), meeting live means you can make a deeper connection, learn more about the culture and personality of the office, and more fully gauge their reaction. I was not a 100% fit for the consulting project, so I could have used the advantages that a live meeting brings. Even if I didn’t get the gig, my connection would have been that much stronger the next time I pitched this group.

Know how you’ll explain away the obvious objections. I hadn’t assigned and edited technical website copy before, yet I had a rare combination of other skills (for example, because I had worked for a competitor, I knew the subject matter in a way most candidates would not). Of course, the prospective client homed in on my lack of experience. Pressed for time, I did a superficial job outlining how I would approach their project. A step-by-step guide to what I would do and the information I would need along the way would have been more persuasive.

Continue reading at Life Reimagined – The Job That Got Away.

I share more business lessons, including why major media mentions sometimes don’t matter, in my free audio for entrepreneurs: 5 Strategies to Grow Your Business to 6-Figures.

What are your most important lessons from past failures and successes? I’d love to hear!

5 Ways Microsoft Employees (and You) Can Prep for Layoffs – Money.com and Time.com

This post originally appears in my weekly career column for Money.com and Time.com:

In an email his staffers sent yesterday, new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talked about restructuring the company to “streamline” and “simplify.” Those reading between the lines are taking this to mean that layoffs are coming.

Clearly no company is immune from restructuring that involves staff cuts.

When you get the hints through the grapevine that something like this is coming at your company, your first response is probably panic. But try to channel that anxious energy into getting prepared in case you are asked to vacate your office quickly.

Follow this checklist when the rumors start swirling:

1) Get familiar with your company’s exit policy. Most companies post their severance policy in the company handbook or on the intranet. Review this so you have an idea of what you are entitled to should the worst come to pass.

2) Protect your personal data. Of course, client information, project documents, and any other intellectual property belongs to your employer. But many employees blur the lines by using their professional email and/or work phone number for personal bank and credit card accounts, social media profiles, or other non-professional parts of their lives. Change over any accounts to your personal email address and phone number so that you don’t disrupt access if that contact information is no longer valid.

3) Collect contact information from colleagues and supporters. You want to maintain your network if you leave. Make sure you have emails and phone numbers for the people you want to keep in touch with— colleagues, vendors, consultants, direct reports, senior management. Keep this in your personal Outlook or personal cell phone. You will have to return company equipment if you’re laid off, so don’t leave your contacts behind too.

4) Update your resume and online profile. While your latest projects and accomplishments are still fresh in your mind—and you can refer to supporting documents as needed—update your resume and online profile. This way, if you’re laid off, you are ready to start your job search immediately.

5) Continue to focus on the job you have. Remember, just because you hear rumors of layoffs does not mean they will happen soon or ever. Therefore, continue to do a great job even while you prepare for a worst-case scenario. Maintain a positive attitude despite any negative water cooler talk. Maintain high performance standards even if your colleagues decide to give up. Remain professional so that you position yourself for continued career advancement if you stay or for a quick landing elsewhere if you go.Your continued strong performance under tough conditions may be the tipping point that convinces the decision-makers to keep you on. Even if it doesn’t, you ensure a strong reference because you continued to do your job.

 

Did A Bad Reference Blow My Offer – Video Blog

In this job search Q&A video blog, I answer Shanna’s question about whether or not a bad reference tanked an imminent job offer:

You always want to check with your references in advance, well before you are in the late stages of the hiring process. You can find 3 strategies to better manage your references in my previous blog on How To Choose and Use Employment References Wisely.

SixFigureStart in Business Insider – Get Busy Coworkers To Read Your Emails

You need to communicate well with others in order to get your job done. This includes getting busy coworkers to read and prioritize your emails. In Emmie Martin’s latest piece for Business Insider, I share some tips for how to make your emails stand out:

1. Write a specific subject line.

The subject line will determine if workers open and read your email or ignore it, says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, a career coach with SixFigureStart. A clear, compelling subject line will entice people to open it, while a boring or generic one will get lost within a flood of other messages. Ceniza-Levine advises to also include any deadlines in the subject as well, so coworkers know how urgent the information is.

Another tip: limit the subject line to 10 words or less.

2. Include a clear objective and any deadlines at the beginning.

Concisely state the purpose of the message and any action items needed from the get-go. Make it easy for your reader to understand exactly what this message is asking of them, whether it requires merely reading to the end or responding with additional information. “A lot of people will write like the story is unfolding, and it actually should be the inverse, because by the time I get to what I need, they’ve exhausted their attention span,” Ceniza-Levine says.

Read 3 more tips at Business Insider: 5 Tips For Getting Busy Coworkers To Read Your Emails.

How Making A Friend In HR Can Help Your Career – Money.com and Time.com

This career advice post originally appears in my weekly career column for Money.com and Time.com:

If you don’t have friends who work in human resources, you might have a very narrow view of what happens there: It’s the place to go during benefits selection time; it’s the place where people get fired; it’s a mouthpiece for the company.

Like most people, you probably only contact HR when you have a problem.

But as someone who has worked in the field for more than 20 years—both inside companies and outside as a consultant—I can tell you that getting to know the people who work in your human resources department can be very valuable. HR professionals work on career-related issues every single day. And you can take advantage of that expertise to better manage your own career.

Don’t yet know anyone in HR well enough to ply them for insights? Invest some time to build a connection: Invite someone to lunch whom you’ve worked with on matters related to work—say, filling an open position or promoting a star. Also, look at your LinkedIn and Facebook connections to see if you know someone in HR even if not in your own company; they can still be helpful to you. And the next time you’re contacted by a recruiter, return the call and suggest meeting up.

Once you’ve got your lunch planned, here are five areas you might want to talk to your HR buddy about:

1. What the straight story is on company benefits

Better than a hotline, your friend in HR can translate the doublespeak from the benefits guide into information you can use. Your friend might not know every nook and cranny of the guide, but if you have a specific interest (say, elder care issues), he or she can probably point you to the expert on her team who knows this well. Medical benefits is definitely a company perk you want to understand well.

But you might also ask if there are other benefits you’re entitled to that you are likely overlooking. There may be training and development opportunities, or even discounts to local attractions or consumer services (e.g., cell phone plans) that your company offers its employees. Your friend in HR knows about these because it’s part of his or her day-to-day.

2. How the decisions that affect your pay are made

What data is used to establish pay ranges? When are raises and bonuses decided? Are promotions granted at specific times only? Does every department do performance reviews at the same time, in the same way?

If you want to keep your career moving on an upward trajectory, you need to know how decisions are made around raises, bonuses, and promotions. This includes when decisions are made (if it’s once a year, start planning now so you don’t miss the next cycle), who decides (it’s not just your boss) and how your group compares with others (maybe you’re in a department with little upward movement and need to switch).

You can’t ask your boss or immediate colleagues for this information without revealing your intentions, and they may not know the whole story. Someone in HR, however, deals with these issues frequently, and across different areas of the company.

3. When exceptions are made to the rules

In addition to knowing how the processes typically work, your friend in HR probably also knows about any exceptions to the rule.

Any decent professional keeps confidentiality, and HR issues are absolutely confidential. However, your friend in HR can let you know if exceptions have occurred and how likely they are.

For example, you could find out if bonuses really are paid out only at year-end. Your HR friend may not be able to reveal who got the special spot bonus or how much it was, but might say, “I’ve seen it happen from time to time” or “I did hear of one case when…” And if you’re working on an extra assignment and feeling undervalued, your pal may suggest you lobby your boss for special consideration. At least you know an exception is possible, and it’s on you to press on for what you want.

4. How things compare between your company and others

Are you fairly paid? Is every company in this industry restructuring so frequently? Are work-at-home opportunities just not available in your line of work?

Your friend in HR doesn’t just look at career-related trends inside your company. He or she also needs to have a sense for what other companies are doing to ensure your firm stays competitive. Use that competitor knowledge as a shortcut for your own research.

5. How to approach your boss with requests

Now that you have all this useful knowledge about what benefits you might select, how decisions are made, possible exceptions that could apply to your situation and what competitors are offering, you may want to ask your boss for something—access to that special training conference, a promotion, a special bonus. But you don’t want your meeting with your boss to be the first time you practice this ask.

It is incredibly helpful to role play what that negotiation will look like with someone other than your boss who is experienced in career negotiations. This is another perk of having a friend in HR. He or she has sat through offer negotiations, performance reviews, and other career discussions much more frequently than you (and maybe even your boss). He or she can pepper you with questions you can practice in advance, or give you tips on what works and what doesn’t.

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