May 25, 2009

New networking skills can help you restart your career

Networking through friends and going to conferences are time honored and effective strategies for creating career opportunities. Now the web adds new dimensions to the process, but a lot of folks have been working too hard at their “real jobs” to get acquainted with the online tools they could be using to adapt to our crazy economy. They find their jobs threatened—or gone—and don’t know where to start.

“The tools that are available today are greatly different from the last recession in 2001,” says Tim Noble, principal at search firm The Avery Point Group, which specializes in lean and six sigma jobs and skill sets.

Professional networking sites like LinkedIn represent one way to increase your visibility. When you join the network, thousands of other members can check out your profile, including employers looking to fill jobs with the most talented people they can find.

Noble says tools like LinkedIn work passively in the background for you--not shouting to your current employer that you are job hunting. He says, “Your profile highlights your background, your experience, and what you can offer an employer. Even if you’re not looking for a job, you should have your profile out there. You never know, somebody may come across you in their search for a certain skill set and reach out to you via a Linkedin email. You can say yes or no, but isn’t that a nice position to be in?”

The basic process is simple. You open an account—it’s free—create a profile, find people you know in the network, and invite them to connect.

Some people stop here, their barebones profile competing weakly with thousands of others. Others enthusiastically aim for the numbers and try to get more connections than anyone else.

Smarter folks use networks like LinkedIn to create business relationships. Jim Pfister, LinkedIn member, says,

“I have found that the real secret to success is to join and actively participate in Groups. By commenting on Discussions you get a chance to show off your skills and knowledge, and sooner or later, people will start calling you. I also belong to several professional associations. Just about all of them have started a LinkedIn group, and they've in turn gotten a lot communications going.

Harold Philbrick, an experienced lean manager looking for a job, (and who has since found one) talks about searching the LinkedIn network to open doors. He says,

“When I see a company that is hiring I will try to find someone on LinkedIn who works there and contact them. If the person is in upper management I tell them that I saw the opening and would like to learn more about the opportunity and ask if they'll speak with me. If they do not want to, I ask them to put me in contact with the hiring manager.

“If the person isn’t in upper management, I tell them I'd like to learn more about the company before applying. Sometimes they know the hiring manager, but even if they do not, when I write my cover letter I can say I spoke to someone there and liked what I heard.

This tactic has helped me land a couple of interviews for jobs that I probably would not have been considered for otherwise. I am at the final interview stage with one company where I contacted the VP of the department I would be working in. In the other company, I had a phone interview, and the hiring manager told me he'd like me to come out there.“

It can be intimidating at first to build your profile and start using the other features of the network, but you don’t have to learn it all in a day. Use “people search” to find people you know and look at what they’ve done with their profiles. What could you do to make yours better?

Look at what groups experts in your field have joined. Check out the groups’ pages and see if the activity is robust—get a feeling for how people are demonstrating their knowledge and expertise. Add your two cents’ worth, but not until your profile will show your best side. Anyone interested in your comment will click on your name, and you want them to be impressed with what they find out about you.

The same techniques go for all those who’ve just hung out their new “consultant” shingles. Make it easy for a potential client to check out what you’ve done, and work hard at getting recommendations from people who know what you can do. Become more than just a name on a business card.

Craig Crook, President, TQM Network, Fort Wayne, IN, has a few tips:

• Build your network before you need it.
• Start simple; develop as you go.
• Picture!
• No selling.
• “Customize” your profile link--add to your business card.
• Build authority, credibility, without bragging.
• Build reciprocity by recommending others.
• Keep it fresh with status updates and profile updates.
• Comment on other people’s posts--keep the conversation alive.
• Answer questions in your domain of expertise.

Noble says, “As we exit this recession, folks may get lulled into a sense of security about their jobs and let their profiles or their memberships lapse. That’s the worst thing you can do. One important lesson learned out of this recession is to always have these networking tools working for you in the background. The time to work on your network isn’t when you absolutely need it—you should always be building your network as key part of your ongoing career development.”

One more thing—do a search on your own name, just in case you once started a profile you’ve forgotten about. I see that all the time. You don’t want to have someone go there when you’ve invested so much work in developing the profile you want to show off.

Linkedin Networking groups:

Association for Manufacturing Excellence

Society of Manufacturing Engineers


Note: I wrote this article by posting a question in the Superfactory Group Discussions to ask for people to share their experiences and knowledge.

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Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm