How to take control of your career

In September 2016, the company I work at hosted a Women’s Leadership Conference entitled, “It’s Your Move.” The idea behind the theme was that every person is not only responsible for the direction of their own careers, but they are much more empowered than they might think. With some careful planning and the use of a multitude of resources, each of us can move strategically along the career path of our choosing.

Let me be real, I picked the theme out of a sense of defiance. After hearing story after story of women who were told they couldn’t get a promotion, get a raise, lead a company, break into a certain field and ultimately take control of her own career, I decided that it was time to defy these barriers and false narratives.

Being in control of your career takes boldness. It might mean venturing into an area that you might not be familiar with because there aren’t many role models yet. Being in control of your career takes confidence. It means knowing who you are, knowing your strengths and weaknesses (but focusing on your strengths) and knowing what you want. Inwardly, we need to take the stance of the defiant girl facing off against the Wall Street bull. Being in control of your career will require you to be strategic. It will require to you make the right connections, be seen by the right people and speak up at the right times. It will also mean that you have to make corrections and changes as needed.

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There are some things in life that are true mysteries.  Career advancement doesn’t have to be one of them. We still have a long way to go before there is more representation of women in key decision-making positions, but we’re seeing more women entering the C-Suite. It will still take many years to close the wage gap, but more women are learning how to negotiate for fair wages. We are making strides because, in addition to our expertise and training,  we are learning how to use the tools (sponsorship, networking, negotiation) that have always been available.

My career journey will be much different than yours but we all have the same tools at our disposal. What we do with them will make all the difference. When it comes to career advancement, fortune favors the bold, confident and strategic.

10 ways to use your network to find work

Consider these two statistics about finding work.

  • “85 percent of jobs are filled through networking”
  • “Only about 5% are jobs are filled through job boards”

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Job hunting can be a fulltime job in itself. After months of sending out resumes and filling out online applications without a callback, you might feel like giving up. Don’t despair, however. You might just be directing your resources to the wrong places. What often happens is people put most of their effort into the avenue that provides the lowest returns (job boards in this case). If you really want to maximize your job search efforts, it’s time to start using your network for all it’s worth. The chances of finding a job using your network are much greater than just utilizing job boards to find work.

Your network is your goldmine

People think that networking is about working a room or having to schmooze with upper management, so they’re immediately turned off by it. While it is necessary to attend networking events and approach people you don’t know (See # 10), many networking activities involve connecting with people you’re already familiar with. Authentic networking relationships involve give-and-take with the end goal of both parties gaining something.

  1. Don’t be afraid to reach out – This is probably the most difficult hurdle to get over. Asking other people if they know of any job openings is not always an easy thing to do. This is especially true if you’re currently working and want to keep your job search private. This is an important hurdle to clear because this is one of the most effective ways to get a real handle on the jobs that are available, along with first-hand knowledge about who you should contact.
  2. Keep your resume up-to-date – Think of your resume as your calling card. It’s a quick way for you to introduce yourself and make a good impression. It certainly isn’t as effective as a face-to-face impression, but a well-presented and well-planned resume can get your foot in the door. I’ve seen resumes that are so out-of-date that you don’t know who you’re speaking to. Other resumes are unappealing in their format. They may be too long (try not to go past 2 pages) or use fonts that are hard to read, or they might just be poorly designed. Always have a copy of your resume saved on a USB stick, on hardcopy and in the Cloud in the event that you’re called upon to send one at a moments notice.
  3. Be open to different possibilities – You may have your sights set on a particular position at a certain level of responsibility. The reality, however, is that there are more people vying for fewer positions. If you find that the opportunities for certain positions are drying up, it might be time to consider another possibility. Ask other people you know about the profession they’re working in. They can give you insight that you otherwise might not have gotten. Perhaps you have to make a lateral move, or even a downward move to get your foot in the door. If your end goal is to find a job, then this is still a success. It’s not easy to change careers, but there are many resources to help career-changers through these transitions and you just might find that this new avenue is exactly what you wanted.
  4. Don’t burn bridges – When you leave a job, it’s always advisable to depart on good terms. Try to avoid office drama as much as possible. It also pays to maintain connections with key decision-makers in the event that you have to make a return. Keeping your name fresh in their minds will prevent you from having to re-tell your story again in the future.
  5. Work on your elevator pitch –  When attending networking events, it pays to prepare your introduction or elevator pitch in advance. It’s similar to the interview question “Tell me about yourself.” Practice it in front of a mirror until it becomes second nature and rolls off our lips with ease. A good elevator pitch includes who you are, what you’re known for and the service you can offer. My pitch would sound something like “My name is Gail and I am Project Management Professional. I am known for planning projects that come in under budget, on time and in scope. Come to me if you need direction on starting a project or if you need to get an existing project un-stalled.”
  6. Ask friends for job referrals – Once you know what jobs are out there and if you’re in the running for one, don’t be afraid to ask your friend to put in a good word for you. Recruiters and HR essentially go into hiring blind. They can hope that people are giving accurate and honest information but even with background and reference checks, they might not always get the complete picture. The first-hand referral from a trusted source can put a recruiter’s mind at ease and also save a lot of time in the search process. Many companies also provide a cash incentive for employees who refer a successful hire, so this definitely a win-win for everyone involved.
  7. Use Linkedin – Don’t think of Linkedin as just the Facebook for job seekers. It’s much more than that. It can be an extremely powerful networking tool. I’ve had a recruiter reach out to me because she saw that a former co-worker of mine (listed among my connections) was working in a certain industry. She was recruiting for a position that required a very specific skill set, and she could see from my friend’s profile that she would be a great fit. She asked me to put the two of them in touch and this networking connection resulted in a new job for my friend that paid more money and was a step up the ladder.
  8. Do pro bono work  – Think of pro-bono work as a donation of your professional services to an organization that wouldn’t normally be able to afford them. Pro bono isn’t just reserved for legal services anymore. Organizations such as Taproot and CatchaFire connect a variety of professionals with pro bono opportunities. It’s a great way to build experience because you’re actually working in your area of expertise (just for free). Most times, you’re donating your services to a cause you believe in strongly so the amount of passion and effort you put in will be seen by the organization and they will most likely keep you in mind if a paid opportunity opens up.
  9. Volunteer for charitable and community events – Volunteering for a cause you believe in is a good practice because it helps your community, is a way of giving to people in need and it benefits you as well. Often times, volunteer efforts continue for a period of time and this gives the team time to get to know each other. Being connected by a common cause creates trust and as a result, makes people more likely recommend or refer you to a position. Additionally, volunteering for an organization gives you insight into company happenings (ie job openings).
  10. Attend industry-specific events – Even if you hate to network, you should attend at least one industry-specific event a year, such as a conference or a networking luncheon. They’re one of the best ways to stay on top of industry trends, and they also keep you aware of the top people in your field. If you want to get the most out of these events, then you need to add networking to the mix. Having so many people from your field in one place increases your odds of finding someone who needs your specific set of skills.

Networking has gotten some bad press, but it’s time for that to change. Networking is best when it comes from authentic relationships that can be leveraged to the benefit of all parties involved.

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Networking | Adding value to your network

Study after study shows the benefits of networking. You make connections that you otherwise would never have made and it’s a great way to increase your profile among industry peers. For some, nothing beats the confidence you feel after working a room and walking away with 5 new customers.

You scratch my back…

If we’re completely honest, we’ll admit that our initial motivation for networking is one-sided. How many leads can I get? Who can introduce me to an influential person? How quickly can I get promoted?

There’s nothing wrong with this. After all, you have to take control of your own career and that means going after what you want. However, if you truly want to get the most out of your network, then you have to start adding value to it.

You’ve recently written a book entitled Negotiation Skills for Millenials and are eager to start promoting it on the speaking circuit. Being a new author and speaker, you’re finding it difficult to get past most receptionists let alone book a speaking engagement. Candice, a close friend of yours, works as an Executive Assistant at a very large training company. She mentions that her boss is looking for new instructors and arranges a meeting. All goes well and you get your very first speaking gig which leads to some in-house training sessions.

…and I’ll scratch yours

You want to thank Candice for all her help. You think about sending her flowers or treating her to lunch. Then you remember that Candice is actually a freelance graphic designer, and as much as she would appreciate a free dinner, she’s really hungry for steady design work so she can eventually quit her day job. Phase Two of your training plan includes the development of an e-learning course. You hire Candice as the graphic designer for the project.

Value-Added Networking Tips

  • Do pro-bono work (sparingly) to gain experience. It’s not paid work, but you can use it on your resume.
  • Be intentional about buying from people you know personally
  • Use social media to increase the exposure of people you know.

Give and take

Networking is about reciprocity. Think of it as the modern-day barter system. As with any good relationship, the best way to maximize your networking relationships is through give-and-take. Think about all the skills, expertise and new business that you can potentially bring to the table and give those back to your network connections. They will reap great rewards for you and your connections.

Network like your job depends on it.

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Did you know that almost half of all job openings aren’t advertised? Add to this an increasingly difficult economy where more people are competing for fewer jobs and you’ll see that it will take intentional strategies set yourself apart in the job market.

Having a great resume is only one tool for your career success. In some cases, that’s enough to get you in the door, but when you’re competing with thousands of applicants, even the best resumes can end up in the trash bin. HR Managers don’t have the time to read every resume and HR Applicant Tracking systems are notorious for missing even the best candidates.

Networking gives you a clear advantage in this case. Word of mouth referrals are the most effective way to connect with new people. People tend to trust the opinion of someone they already know. Additionally, it can save HR hours of work.

So if you’re ready to take your career to the next level and find that new position, don’t forget to think of your network first.