A cartoon I have in my files shows two forlorn individuals dressed in tattered business suits walking down the street. One turns to the other and opines, “I think it IS who you know . . . and I know YOU!”

Although networking is always a key topic in unearthing the “hidden job market,” whether in job search or career development, precious few of us really enjoy the process very much. We do, however, grudgingly admit that it must be done if we want to avoid too much time workiImageng our “to-do” lists or watching daytime television..

I have discussed at some length WHY networking is important and even provided some guidance on WHAT to do with that precious contact when you land it. Seeking information, advice and referral is the key to developing longer-term, mutually productive relationships that are likely to provide you with opportunities.

Now, I’d like to discuss HOW to make this magic happen. And, at the same time, suggest a counter-intuitive technique to increase your opportunities, something I like to call “Reverse Networking.” What is this, you may ask? Before I answer that question, let’s talk a bit more about the WHY behind such a back-to-front technique.

Some time ago I read an extraordinary book, Working Identity by Dr. Herminia Ibarra. She cited a somewhat obscure reference to a 1973 research project by a sociology graduate student, Mark Granovetter, who discovered that most opportunities discovered by networkers (people seeking contact), came from individuals with whom they had infrequent contact. Granovetter called this phenomena “The Strength of Weak Ties.” The numbers are staggering: of people finding work through personal contact, 17% found jobs through people they knew well (strong ties), 55% found their new positions through individuals they did not know as well (weak ties) and 28% were successful through contacts that they barely knew or with whom they had almost no contact (weakest ties). This means that over 8 of 10 opportunities came from people that they would not typically consider! Granovetter also found that these people often found better positions for more money.

Ibarra’s chapter titled “Shifting Connections” suggests that this phenomenon is critical in career change. I would take it a step further and suggest it should be considered in all things career. If we continue to connect with people who know us well, we get caught up in “blinds” and “binds,” keeping us away from new experiences and opportunities. If you continually run in the same circles, you will keep running into the same folks, the same ideas, with little opportunity for Serendipity, surprising and exciting opportunities that appear to emerge from seemingly inconsequential events.This is what Dr. Richard Wiseman, author of The Luck Factor (another favorite tome of mine), writes of when he says that “lucky” people not only maximize chance opportunities, they create them!

How does this relate to networking in general, and “Reverse Networking” specifically? We typically think of networking from the center out, starting with people we know well, are comfortable with, know of us and about us and network out in concentric circles to the outer fringes of our contacts. There’s nothing wrong with doing this, by the way. However, I suggest adding Reverse Networking to your repertoire as well. The “reverse” theme implies just what it says – let’s start from the outside and work our way in to the middle!

Sounds good, eh? There is a potential glitch in the plan, however: To quote one my clients when faced with this concept, “If all of the good leads are in these ‘weak ties,’ how do you find these people?”

A great question! Well, I think I may have found them for you! Who has not seen you in a long time? Your list could include: old neighbors, former coworkers, high school and college teachers, college roommates, distant relatives, former bosses, acquaintances from service groups, associations, or places of worship, etc. If you have not spoken to someone in some time and that person is likely to remember who you are, there’s where you can start.

One more word of warning, however. If you aren’t well versed in the art of networking (that is, seeking information-advice-referral, not job leads), DON’T CALL ANYONE! Be sure you know how to connect with people positively and effectively, establishing solid, active contacts for collaboration and insight. Otherwise, you will soon find your email in spam and your calls blocked (and rightfully so!).

Please allow me to add one more insight:  Remember that your “weaker ties” have “weaker ties” of their own!

DIZZYING, ISN’T IT!

I have determined that Spring is imminent, despite of the prognostications of websites, meteorologists and all of those weather channels!

I have had many conversations with clients, friends, peers, etc. about the seeming lack of progress often present in job search or career development. In talking through this ever present phenomenon, I realized that thinking about the process in gardening terms may help resolve this conundrum.

With Spring weather just around the corner, allow me to suggest some insights by introducing my Career Development Parable of ImageMystery Gardening™. Basically, here’s how it works:

Let’s suppose you go to the local garden store to buy some packets of seed for planting. On the shelf you discover some discounted containers. The packets are very inexpensive, primarily because they’re old and the labels fell off a long time ago. Oh well, the price is right, so you decide to give them a try. You have very little to lose, after all!

When you arrive home, you dig a furrow in the ground, guessing how deep to go and how far apart to place each seed (you have no clear instructions, remember?). You then cover them up and give them some water (guessing again).

You follow this procedure for each of the packets of “mystery seeds” that you have purchased.

So, what do you have? You don’t really know! Here is what I can say so far about your Mystery Garden:

  • You don’t know if anything will come up at all.
  • You don’t know how long it will take if something does manage to push its way up towards the sunlight.
  • You are unsure if anything you planted will turn into something you will like.
  • It’s likely that some of the seeds are completely dead, providing no results at all.
  • Some have a longer germination period and may appear to be dead but are just working their way towards the surface under their own time frame (a time frame that is frequently not yours!).
  • Some of the seeds may produce plants that hold no interest to you.
  • And, some of them may actually give you excellent results!

I’m not really much of a gardener myself, but here is something else I know: if you simply dump the seeds on the ground and walk away, you’re virtually guaranteeing little or no success. Yet, if you take the time to care for these “mystery seeds” by planting, weeding, cultivating and watering, sooner or later something will show up!

In a real sense, this entire process is quite similar to your career development. As you start to plant “seeds” through your various techniques (networking, side bar conversations, social media, research, kibitzing, etc.), you have little or no idea WHAT is going to happen, IF it is going to happen or WHEN it may happen!

You do, however, know three things:

1) you’re “planting seeds” of opportunity and

2) these “seeds” need to be cultivated.

3) sooner or later, something will come up!

Oh, there is one more thing you should be aware of: if you fail to “cultivate” these “seeds” through continued activity and follow-up, even continuing to add “seeds” to your Mystery Garden(tm), your chance of being able to “pick” the best plants from your vocational harvest is significantly reduced.

The moral of this little parable: Start planting, keep planting, watering and cultivating and don’t stop. It’s the only way to get your best “harvest”!

See the connection? (Probably not yet, but be patient…I’ll get there).

As a former apartment dweller and a college student making the trek to the laundry room, I recall perusing the cork-covered bulletin board while killing time during the rinse cycle.

ImageWhat did I see? A collection of signs with tear-off phone numbers, providing access to used sofas, pleas for roommates, lost dog information and a panoply of related requests and announcements.

Some time ago, I used a BBS to gather useful advice on improving my marathon performance (a goal that has since gone “the way of all flesh”…these days, I’m happy to finish standing up!). Amazingly, I received quite a collection of helpful advice and support. Since that time, I have come to see the multitude of Social Media applications (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, etc., etc.) as the 21st century replacements for that corkboard that had served so well.

Allow me to suggest some key points on using a digital thumb tack to post your “sign” at the new “Laundromat”.

  • Be professional. As you request insight and advice or referral (please, NEVER job leads!), be aware of the sacrifice these people are making in sharing their perspectives with you.
  • Use these tools with discretion. If your every communication is to “get something,” you will soon be branded as a “user,” and rightfully so.
  • Always, always be appreciative. A simple “thank you” (taking precious little of your time) can cause you to stand out from the teeming mass of “gimmes” out there.
  • Participate in groups as an advocate and contributor. Don’t be a “cyber stalker.”
  • Pay it forward. For every time you to seek to gain, find at least two times you can give.

Please don’t take this metaphor too far. If you have an ottoman for sale, I really don’t want to read about it on LinkedIn. However, at the same time, Social Media can present an extraordinary goldmine of information, advice and referral that would take months, perhaps even years to unearth without it.

…I’ll be watching for your “ad.”

Even though the papers, Internet,  smartphones, etc. are touting encouraging news regarding the job market, many of us are nearby, if not related to, people that I prefer to term as “Free Agents.” That is, for one reason or another, they still find themselves unemployed, in the face of the latest statistics from the Department of Labor. After all, it’s cold comfort to read how there are less people unemployed if you are still in that statistic!

I’d like to suggest some practical tips on “being there” for these folks…Image

  • Keep them in your social circle. Unemployment is not communicable and we all need interaction with others (even those who don’t think so!).
  • Ask for a copy of their resume. Look it over, learn more about them and what they have done. If you have good advice on how it’s written or how to use it, share it with them.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for any opportunity that may interest them, whether it’s an article in the Business Section of the paper, a comment at the hair salon, a sign in the lawn in front of a company or a blog you just read.
  • When appropriate, offer to serve as a reference or provide an introduction to opportunities for them.
  • Provide a sympathetic and non-judgmental ear. Job search is tough sledding. They may just need a sounding board at times, not advice.
  • Maintain regular contact and follow up in a positive and supportive manner.
  • Never, EVER ask them, “Didn’t you find work YET?!”

Finally, be a friend. They need one now, more than ever!

Since I’ve had the privilege of working with a plethora of job hunters over the past twenty plus years, I thought I’d share some insights on the downside of the search adventure: How NOT to look for work. I can almost guarantee that following any one of these rules exclusively will increase the likelihood of your catching all the episodes of  “The View” and “Judge Judy” as well as completing “to-do lists” for everyone on your block!

Are you ready? OK, here we go…

Stick with only one job-search method.

There are a lot of job search techniques out there and I’m frequently asked which one should be used. The answer? Use ALL OF THEM! If you restrict your search activity to any single method (including excellent ones like research interviewing or networking), you severely limit your opportunity for success. For example, the ads in the Sunday News are real jobs, not hallucinations. The Internet does list employment opportunities. Some companies do have “NOW HIRING” signs on their front lawns. Talking to friends and relatives about your Fail Hashtaginterests can help identify employment opportunities. Recruiters and agencies, used intelligently, can be helpful. Social Media applications (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are becoming exceptional search tools. Although I recommend that you invest most of your time in activities that tap into the “hidden market” through research, social media and networking, an effective job search campaign is probably one that uses all available methods to unearth opportunities.

Apply for anything that isn’t nailed down.

When you reduce job hunting to the lowest common denominator, it’s basically a numbers game, right? So it stands to reason that the more times you apply, the more chances you have for success. Logic then dictates that every time you see any job that you’re even remotely qualified for (e.g., I’m not a brain surgeon, but I have a brain), you should go for it. Well, not really. First of all, you’re likely to experience an even higher level of frustration when you’re not considered for most of these positions, chipping away at your already fragile self esteem. In addition, you’ll probably invest a significant amount of time with little or no results. Finally, sooner or later you’re likely to be labeled in the employer community as someone who would do “anything for a buck.” Would YOU hire someone like that? Neither will they!

Tell everyone, everywhere, all the time, that you need work.

Similar to the above technique, this process will certainly gain you some visibility… as damaged goods! Although the vast majority of people will be willing to help, most of them will quickly tire of your contact as you continually bemoan your lack of a paycheck. OK, I know that’s not what you’re doing, but that’s what your approach will seem like to them! It won’t be long before the word is out for everyone to avoid you at all costs – crossing the street when they see you coming, getting caller ID, spam-blocking your e-mails, ignoring your LinkedIn connection request, turning you into a job search pariah. There is nothing wrong with staying in touch with others to assist you in your search, but you should be seeking information, advice and referrals, not pumping innocent bystanders for job leads.

Spend all of your time on your job hunting.

You’ve probably heard that “looking for a job is a full-time job.” I respectfully disagree. Looking for a job is NOT a full-time job; it’s much more that that! Looking for work is, for most of us, much harder than the most difficult job we’ll ever have. Be sure to schedule some downtime, fun activities and recovery time from the wear and tear of presenting yourself to potential employers. If you don’t, you’ll probably end up as a worn-out interviewee, barely able to sit up straight in a chair, not to mention being totally unable to sell your qualifications to the company. To quote a cartoon in my files, “My name is Bob and I need a job!” Be sure to schedule some relaxation and recreation along with all of your search activities. You’ll be a better candidate for it.

Use a resume that says you can do it all.

Since you don’t know exactly what a company may need to know about you, be sure to include every single job, experience, class, volunteer activity and project in your resume to make them aware of all of the marvelous ways you could contribute to their organization’s bottom line. This gives you the highest potential to connect your skills with the employer’s needs, right? Wrong! This will more likely turn your resume into an unread epic poem destined for the shredder or recycle bin. And if someone decides that he or she needs something to read before dozing off, it will show you to be an unfocused candidate who will happily take the first position offered (and just as likely to move on for something better as soon as the opportunity arises). Resumes need to be targeted, honest and focused to the needs of the industry, the market and the company.

I trust you get my point: the sooner you decide NOT to follow these rules, the sooner people will be able to send you “Congratulations!” on your new position!

To tout orImage not to tout – that is the question.
Most of us are not inclined to “to blow our own horns,” experiencing significant discomfort in describing our work and life accomplishments with anything other than monosyllabic terms like “did” or “made.” Exciting words they are not! If you were to pick up a brochure on a brand new car that was typed on an IBM Selectric in Courier 12 pt. on white copy paper with an austere, word-starved list of options, you’d probably be less than impressed.

Yet that’s exactly what many people do when preparing their resumes or recounting their accomplishments in seeking career advancement! Fearing the monstrous sin of pride, they go to the opposite extent out of an honest desire to show humility. Please don’t misunderstand. I agree that over-inflated egos are not only insufferable but ineffective as lifestyles as well as marketing campaigns. And false humility isn’t any better. To quote a favorite author of mine, C. S. Lewis, “A man is never so proud as when striking an attitude of humility.”

So what is the answer? How can you strike a reasonable balance between turning in a 3×5 card and writing an epic work of fiction?
Much of it starts with language. Words like “exceptional, extraordinary, demonstrated expertise, expert,” etc. may seem to be over the top, but my experience has shown that most of us UNDERREPORT our competencies, what I like to call the “aw, shucks” response. We can take criticism. We don’t like it, but we usually believe it. Compliments are much harder to handle, particularly when they come in our own voice!

When I presented a client of mine with the phrase “possesses an extraordinary work ethic,” he whistled through his teeth and said, “I certainly sound full of myself, don’t I?!” He was virtually incapable of saying positive things about himself. Yet the statement was true. I advised him that I would abide by his decision on the resume (since I wouldn’t be present at the interview to defend his words), but recounted from his own experience why I felt this phrase belonged in his document. Here was a man who treated all with whom he came in contact (subordinates, peers, bosses, outside vendors, etc.) with dignity and professionalism. His word was his bond. As a senior project engineer, he was one of the first on a site and one of the last to leave. He never requested anything from a coworker that he wasn’t willing to do himself.

After making these points to this fine gentleman, I advised him that I did not see this language as over the top but as fact demonstrated by his years of experience. If he wished, I would remove the phrase from his resume, but my vote was to keep it. He hesitated for a moment, then grudgingly agreed, “OK, we can keep it.” He didn’t like hearing it, but he knew it was true!

Following are some guidelines for deciding if a statement belongs in your resume or if you’re signing up for a Pinocchio button:

  • If the language seems a bit over the top but you can cite specific experiences where these skills were demonstrated effectively, I say keep it in!
  • If, however, your work and life experiences seem to bear out that you’re capable but not necessarily extraordinary, scale the language back to something like “solid interpersonal ability.”
  • Be aware that most of us are unable to give ourselves credit even when it is due, over-exercising our humility muscles when it’s important to make sure people understand how competent we are. Unfortunately, humility in a resume or during an interview is frequently misinterpreted as lack of confidence.
  • Consider asking a friend  (or me!) who is skilled with words to help you showcase your experiences effectively. Remember that the goal of your resume is to make you worth seeing. No more. No less.

In summary, step back from your self evaluation long enough to recognize where you excel and admit it! For example, if your work and life experiences bear out that you interact with the vast majority of individuals at all levels with success and professionalism, I would argue that your interpersonal skills are “exceptional.”

Remember, if you did it, you’re not bragging!

Please allow me to start this “anti-resolution treatise” with a disclaimer. I have no problem with people who choose the start of a new year to make life-enhancing commitments. The title of this blog is directed to my musings alone on the advantages and disadvantages of New Year’s Resolutions.

Early in my career I spent years working in fitness centers, both as a sales consultant and a trainer. The die-hard “gym rats” (not a term of derision, to my way of thinking) always dreaded the first couple of months of the New new-years-resolutionsYear. Scores of “newbies” would descend on the equipment, monopolizing the machines while grunting and groaning, often in poor form with little chance of success, in search of that elusive, fit individual hiding deep within them. By the end of February, however, most of the smoke had cleared, and we were back to the “old faithful” regulars at the gym.

You can also observe this fanaticism for resolutions in the ads on TV and the blogs/tweets/updates on the Internet. Lose weight, transform your business, embrace success, take charge, be all you can be, etc. And you are all but guaranteed success in any of your endeavors as, after all, it is the New Year! It’s all New! You can have a Fresh Start! It’s bound to work this time, right?!

Well, yes and no. Bless those dear souls who, with all the integrity and resolve they can muster, make these Resolutions. I read a tweet from someone just before the arrival of a New Year that noted they had just 2 days left to achieve the results they had committed to 363 days before! Well intentioned, yet not likely to be realized in the next 48 hours!

So, you may well ask, what’s my point?! (Go ahead, ask!) Simply this: To borrow a well-known phrase from Madison Avenue that originated in 1988, “Just Do It!” Start it right away, whether in the shadow of the New Year’s fireworks, the excitement of spring blossoms, the oppressive heat of the dog days of summer, the panoply of fall colors or the grey skies in the dead of winter. To quote the title of one of my favorite books by Barbara Sher, “It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now!”

And, once you’ve started, stay with it! I recently encountered a T-shirt emblazoned with this pithy phrase – “Just Doing It.” Two steps forward and one step back (the way I typically advance) is still a net gain of one step. Remember that success is more often the result of “grit” than anything else. To quote another favorite author of mine, Dan Pink (in the persona of Johnny Bunko), “Persistence trumps talent!”

Make your resolutions, whenever and however you can and, once you have done so, get caught “JUST DOING IT!”