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,Reverse shiftI think it IS who you know . . . and I know YOU!”

Although networking is always a key topic in job search and 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 get anywhere in our work and life.

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 create “win-win” relationships rather than bold-faced influence peddling.

Let’s discuss HOW to make this magic happen. And, at the same time, to 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 then sociology graduate student, Mark Granovetter, who discovered that most of the jobs discovered by networkers (people seeking contact), came from individuals with whom they had very infrequent contact. Granovetter called this “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 had not had contact with in years (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. The application for career and personal development is obvious!

Ibarra’s chapter titled “Shifting Connections” talks about this phenomenon as being critical in career change, although I would argue that it is equally useful in employment search and career development. If we continue to connect only with people who know us well, we get caught up in what Ibarra termed as “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, the surprising and exciting opportunities that seem to come out of seemingly inconsequential events. This is what Dr. Richard Wiseman, author of The Luck Factor, talks about 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. 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!

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? Or, with whom have you lost touch from your deep, dark past? Your list could include: old neighbors, former coworkers, high school and college teachers, college roommates, distant relatives, former bosses, acquaintances from service groups, associations, hobby organizations, places of worship, etc. If you have not spoken to someone in some time and that person is likely to remember who you are, that’s a good place to start. The use of social networking applications like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. can be particularly helpful in finding out “whatever happened to…?”.

One more word of warning, however. If you aren’t well versed in the science of networking (that is, seeking Information-Advice-Referral, not working them exclusively for your personal advantage), DON’T CALL ANYONE! Be sure you know how to connect with people positively and effectively, establishing solid, active contacts for collaboration and shared insights. Otherwise, you will soon find your email in spam, you will be “unfriended” 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?

Many of us are near (if not related) to people that I prefer to describe as “Free Agents.” That is, for one reason or another, they find themselves back in the job hunt jungle. In conversations with a clients over the past 25 plus years, I realized that many seldom think about how to assist these folks in their employment search. After all, if  you can’t provide them with a job lead or a killer networking contact, you can’t help them, right?

Wrong! 

Here are some practical tips on being there for them . . .

  • Keep them in your social circle. Unemployment is not communicable and we all need interaction with others.
  • 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, tell 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 sign in the lawn in front of a company or a blog you just read.
  • 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 ask them, “Did you find work YET?!”

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

Can we eliminate Hump Day?! OK, I will admit that this is probably an impossible task. Gallup research tells us that there is a certain percentage of any work force that will Camelremain “disengaged.” What a great word – DISENGAGED.

I still recall reading a license plate on the front of a vehicle in Western PA which opined, “I LOVE PAYDAYS, VACATIONS, WEEKENDS.” Some quick mental calculations told me that the driver must HATE most of their existence!

There are, of course, people out there who will never be happy unless they are miserable. While discussing this phenomenon in training with a company, one of the attendees raised his hand in the middle of the presentation to “give his two cents.” Anyone who has trained knows that the raised hand can go one of two ways – very badly or very well! Breathing a silent prayer, I acknowledged the gentleman’s presence and gave him the floor.

I am happy to report it went well, and this is why: he shared THE STORY OF SMITTY.

Smitty was a long term employee of the company. Smitty was also a pretty miserable person. Smitty wore a perpetual scowl, seemed to be trying to decide between staying on the job or having root canal without Novocain. His interaction with his co-workers was consistently negative. If queried as to what he liked about work, his response would probably be something like “Payday, lunch and leaving.” That’s assuming he answered at all.

Smitty’s job, by the way, was working in The Pit. I never found out exactly what that involved, but it clearly did not sound good.

One day, his supervisor decided to ask, “Hey, Smitty, do you like working in The Pit?”

“Nah,” said Smitty with his typical venom-laced voice, “I HATE it!”

Deciding to wade in deeper, his supervisor then asked, “Well, what would you LIKE to do?”

Smitty responded immediately, “I’d like to work in Banding” (Once again, I really did not know what this entailed, but clearly Smitty preferred it to The Pit).

The result of this exchange was that the supervisor was eventually able to transfer Smitty to Banding. When this happened, something AMAZING took place!

Smitty became human! He actually smiled on occasion, working more effectively with his co-workers and became much more productive.

Here is the Big Question: Whose fault was it that Smitty was so miserable for so long? The supervisor or Smitty?

And the Big Answer: BOTH!

To quote from two companion books by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans (Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em and Love It, Don’t Leave It), “ASK”, whether you are the employer or the employee!

Smitty should have thought to ask if there were any other positions that he felt he could enjoy/do better at (often these two factors work together), and the supervisor should have checked much sooner on Smitty’s interests and skills. To paraphrase another favorite author of mine, Marcus Buckingham (formerly of Gallup), “Companies should stop trying to make people what they aren’t and use them for what they are.”

By the way, so you do not consider me to be a starry-eyed idealist, I realize that EVERY position will require each of us to perform some tasks we would rather give up. I like to call this “The Grown-up Stuff.” I don’t want to do it, but I have to because they told me to! Welcome to Life.

However, by asking about and considering the employee’s key interests, satisfiers and skills we can come as close as possible to eliminating that favorite term for Wednesday touted by morning DJ’s – HUMP DAY!

I must take issue with the 80′s rock group Loverboy – Not “Everybody’s working for the weekend!”

An insurance ad I have been watching has a young lady bemoaning the accident that totaled her beloved car Brad. She and that car had been through so much in the 4 years she owned it…2 boyfriends, 3 JOBS!

Welcome to the new job market, Sports Fans! The Rules have clearly changed!

Let’s remind ourselves of the Old Rules:

  • Get training in a field where there is work.
  • Find a good job with a solid company in that field.
  • Do what you are told.
  • Take every promotion they offer you.
  • Stay until they present you with the “Gold Watch.”
  • Retire and then go do what you want!

WRONG! I would respectfully suggest the following “Rules” for the New Workplace that has taken over:

Be prepared for change at all times.

Only two things don’t change – God and change. As a company, stay flexible, forward thinking and open to adjustments for you, your industry and your personnel. As a worker, you need not fall in love with change, but you’d better learn how to handle it. Change happens.

Act as if you are self employed.

One of my favorite sites to follow is Careerealism (http://www.careerealism.com), which touts the tagline “Because EVERY Job is Temporary.” Well, it is. As a company, don’t assume that you will be ordering gold watches at a volume discount. Help your employees see themselves as integral parts of the solution. As an employee, take action at work as if your paycheck is directly related to your contribution (because, ultimately, it is!).

Never stop learning.

Employers should provide opportunities for employees to acquire new skills, knowledge and expertise that enhance them as individuals as well as enabling them to contribute at higher and higher levels. Employees should be seeking these opportunities continually, even if they must do it on their own. To borrow a title from another one of my blogs, your workers may be saying “Play Me or Trade Me!”

Continually add value to your work.

“What have you done for me lately?” sounds very ungrateful, but it’s a Fact Of Work these days. The best way to stop advancing in your job is to simply do what is expected of you. Employers, create opportunities for the employee to contribute more to the position. Employees, never be completely satisfied with your performance. Always seek to improve. I’ve coined a term to describe this mindset: “Professional Dissatisfaction.”

Take charge of your attitude.

When I’ve been called in to work with employees, it is never on how to use a spreadsheet or fill out a time card. It’s to teach them how to “play well with others!”  Employers should seek to enhance the communication and team building skills of staff through modeling the appropriate behavior as well as providing training and support in these areas. Employees should invest time and energy into enhancing their interpersonal skills.

Is it a New Workplace? You bet it is!

STOP USING THE OLD RULES.

I recall a conversation with a young lady near completion of her undergraduate degree in aKids in careers general business subject. I asked her what her next steps were. “Graduate school,” was her prompt reply. “What will you major in?” – I inquired. “I don’t know,” was her immediate response.

Perhaps as a parent myself, my head was spinning as I thought of the time, money and energy that had been expended to reach the response “I don’t know.” The cost of education continues to spiral upward and the number of career options before our young ones is growing exponentially.

What is a parent, grandparent, guardian, mentor, etc. to do? Education should be an investment in one’s future, not a repository for disposable income (if indeed any of us have it anymore!).

Here are some suggestions as to how to help those under your charge to consider what they want to be “when they grow up.”

PAY ATTENTION…

Even at the earliest ages there are often hints as to natural gifts and talents. I have a son who, at an early age, was constantly taking things apart (and occasionally putting them back together). A non-traditional student, he ended up in a successful career as an automobile technician, learning and doing things that are well beyond my meager mechanical skills. Those “hints” were so present at a young age that my father used to call him “Fingers.” Watch what fascinates and engages your young ones, looking for clues as to their natural aptitudes, fascinations and skills. To quote the great philosopher Yogi Berra, “You can see a lot by just looking.”

EXPOSE THEM…

We are constantly surrounded by people in a panoply of occupations, from delivery drivers and store clerks to banking professionals and business owners. Reading books, watching television, enjoying popcorn at the movies, browsing on the Internet, etc., all provide opportunities to identify and discuss potential careers. When Henry Ford built his first automobile, you could choose only one color: black. Careers in the new millennium are a virtual rainbow of opportunities. Do your best to introduce them to the vibrant colors that make up this new vocational landscape.

CONSIDER EXPERT GUIDANCE…

Although there is no assessment instrument out there to tell any of us what we should be “when we grow up,” the judicious, professional use of sound assessments can provide excellent insights regarding your child’s interests, skill confidences and values and how they relate to occupations and careers. This information is best used to investigate alternatives using my next suggestion: “Get Feedback from the Street.”

GET FEEDBACK FROM THE STREET…

I am constantly amazed how people spend so much time and energy in “due diligence” as they shop for cars, homes, technology, etc., yet they decide to become accountants simply because they are good at math (no disrespect meant to accountants, by the way, I need them desperately)! Use your network of contacts to find people in fields of interest to your kids and let them “shadow” them for the day (if possible), ask questions (I have an excellent list I can share with you), learn what it’s really like to be a _____________. No one knows better than someone who has been there.

KEEP OPTIONS OPEN…

Even as your young one moves ahead in their career decisions and vocational tracks, be sure to help them keep an eye on the shifting landscape that is part of the new career model. I am now reading that, rather than changing jobs 3-5 times in a lifetime, our kids may be changing careers as many times. This presents an excellent argument for helping them understand themselves and how what I like to call their “Best Stuff” relates to the vocational opportunities before them throughout their lives.

By the way, this process works for “grownups” as well!

In his excellent book ”Go Put Your Strengths to Work,” Marcus Buckingham introduced what he describes as 3 critical myths regarding strengths. Whether you agree with his premises or not, they are certainly worth considering.

Ready? Here they are:

1) As you grow, your personality changes. Individuals certainly make adjustments, have new experiences, mature, acquire new skills and knowledge, etc., but the core of the person stays pretty much the same. You should become intimate with what I like to call “Your Best Stuff,” because that’s where you will be the most accomplished and satisfied. This is why I chose the name “Gift of Self Career Services” to describe what I do. What you do should be who you are!bicep

2) You will grow the most in your areas of greatest weakness. As a consultant, I used to tell people “It’s not a weakness, it’s an opportunity for development.” True, to some degree, but it’s still a weakness! Spending an inordinate amount of time working away to turn a weakness into an ability that is barely adequate cannot begin to match the contribution when one is using their strengths to contribute to the organization. This does not mean, by the way, that you get a pass on your weak areas, just that more time should be spent on growing “Your Best Stuff.”

3) A good team member does whatever it takes to help the team. If this means finding the areas in the task, project, assignment, etc. where each team member’s strengths can contribute the most, this is a true statement, If, however, it means that individuals who are less talented in certain areas should step into these tasks, both the team and the individuals suffer. A good team member will help the entire team to identify and assign duties to match the strengths of each member for the task before them. That’s when the true ROI (Return On Investment) can take place!

Interesting take on strengths and weaknesses, is it not?

social-security-card-baby-boomers1OK, I admit it. I was born smack dab in the middle of the Boomer Generation. I can’t help it; I was not privy to the decision for me to enter the world.

I did a quick Internet search this morning on the term “Millennial”, came up with over 1.6 million hits. Wow! And I am constantly hearing about how the New Workforce is so disloyal, impatient, in it for themselves, etc., etc., etc.

Some time ago I read the following (don’t ask me where, I read all the time): “If you give a Boomer another task, they see an opportunity. If you give the same task to a Millennial (or any of the new terms out there for the emerging work force), they see MORE WORK!”

I’ve been puzzling over that distinction for some time now, asking myself “Who is right here?”

I think I have the answer: They BOTH are!

Another task IS more work, and it is ALSO an opportunity to demonstrate value, acquire more skills, expand one’s influence, etc.

Having read a number of books and countless blogs on this topic as well as working with individuals whose birthdays place them in virtually all the work groups out there today, I feel I have some practical insights regarding these shifts in the workplace. A client once told me that his son challenged him for his unwavering commitment to the company that decided to show him the door, suggesting that it was a waste of time. My client was able to see the other side of the coin as well, noting that his extensive experience, qualifications, skill sets, etc. were a direct result of his years with the company. As a newly minted “Free Agent,” he can now take all of his expertise out into the wide and woolly world of new employment opportunities.

So, opportunity and more work can happen simultaneously.

What can we do about this, as either an employer or employee? Is loyalty completely dead?

Thoughts for the Employer:

A former co-worker has suggested that loyalty in the newer workforce is not dead, but it now wants to be earned, not simply given immediately. Take steps to demonstrate that they are valued, allowed to have a life outside of work, seen as real “Human Resources” to be tapped into, nurtured and developed (reference my blog, “Play Me or Trade Me” for more on this). Help them discover and develop their natural talents and capabilities, rather than simply insisting that they merely “do what they are told.”

Insights for the Employee:

Identify what I like to call “Your Best Stuff,” the God-given abilities, interests, values that drive you and seek opportunities to practice them in your present job and in your career development. This is why I borrowed the phrase “Work as Gift of Self” from Marsha Sinetar in To Build the Live You Want, Create the Work You Love.

After all, wouldn’t it be great if “doing what I am told” and “getting to do what I do best every day” were the same message?!