Summer is made for being outdoors – BBQing with friends, running into neighbors, attending little league games, and casual conversations at the dog park. While many discussions revolve around the latest heat wave or our kids’ summer camp escapades, these informal meetings offer a huge opportunity to positively influence our careers and the careers of those around us. Yet, most of us will miss it.
Here’s a test:
Can the people you interact with regularly – your neighbor, second cousin, the outgoing German Shepherd owner, your beloved hair stylist, or fellow book club members – verbalize what you do for a living in a sentence or two in a way that sells your value to others?
I’m not talking about the company where you work or a generic job title, but rather, can the people with whom you have an established (or at least baseline) relationship specifically relay the value you bring to your industry?
The truth is that many of the people closest to us, the ones we feel comfortable talking to and in many cases the ones invested in our success, don’t really know or understand what we do for a living. This means they’re unable to spot or relay opportunities that might be a match for our expertise. Also, we’re unlikely to be able to do the same for them.
Even if you’re not looking for a job in the moment, building a network of like-minded people can be very beneficial to your long-term career. Statistics point to the fact that you’ll be in a job search at some point in the next few years, and if the people you feel most comfortable around don’t know your professional value, they can’t help you.
Don’t wait until you need ambassadors to start creating them. While you don’t need to turn every summer social gathering or soccer practice sideline conversation into a business meeting, here’s what you can do now:
- Learn about your contact’s work. Don’t be embarrassed if you’ve been having conversations with someone for a while and don’t know specifically what they do. This is the entire point of this article – it’s pretty common. Simply say, “I’m sorry – I feel like I should have asked this earlier, but I really don’t know what you do at the firm downtown.” It will be rare that someone mistakes your interest as prying, so don’t psych yourself out.
- Share what you do in layman’s terms. Reciprocate and avoid using titles or industry phrases that may be meaningless to others. You may assume everyone knows what a programmer does, but your goal is to give someone the language to potentially sell your value, or at least be able to explain your role to another person. Sometimes an example goes a long way to opening the door to a great discussion (e.g., “Do you know those annoying pop ups that cover the screen when you’re trying to read a Facebook post? I program a software that removes them from commercial websites.”).
- Identify commonalities. Chances are there is some overlap in the people you know, vendors you use, places you travel, perks you receive or something else. The more you engage, the more likely you are to discover these similarities, which builds trust and possibly opens the door to new introductions for one or both of you.
- Ask about their future career goals. Since the average tenure in a role is about 4.2 years, it’s likely your contact will have some ideas about her next career move. Listen for opportunities where you might be able to assist with information, introductions or other ideas and support. If you can’t right now, make a mental note so that you can be helpful when the timing is right.
- Share your future career goals. Even if still hazy, confiding your plans in another can both motivate you to more forward and also might inspire a conversation that helps you to clarify your goals. Often we get stuck in our heads, spinning about the possible paths, so this could be an opportunity to both convey your intentions, while getting some objective feedback. People who aren’t in a similar profession can ask questions that others hadn’t thought to, which may enable you to see new possibilities.
- If the opportunity arises, take action. In some cases, you might learn about a way you can help a contact straight away. Don’t wait for the ask – many are uncomfortable being vulnerable and may shy away from being assertive or may not know what to ask for. Offer to help, perhaps more than once. If you’ve only been talking about casual topics up to this point, your contact may not want to inconvenience you, so be the first to speak up.
- Check in on occasion. While not every future conversation needs to turn back to business, make it a point to ask how things are progressing and what has changed. It’s tempting at social gatherings, sports events, or Happy Hour to steer the conversation to non-work topics since we’re trying to detach. That’s fine, but periodical check-in’s will open many doors for you and your network.
Many professionals dislike networking in a job search. That’s because it’s not meant to be a transactional activity in your job search checklist. Networking is about building relationships, consciously and constantly, so they’re there when you need them. It’s also about helping others to achieve their goals, which you can’t do unless you understand clearly what those goals are.
These seven steps can literally be completed in 10 minutes, or you may find that the conversations continue naturally over several meetings. If you don’t take the first step, you’ll never know.
And if the voice in your head says, “Yeah, but what if…he’s unemployed, she hates her job, it’s an industry I don’t understand, he should already know this…” – stop. Don’t let your discomfort dissuade you from having the conversation. The only way to build a relationship is to remain open to being vulnerable. And, many professionals’ careers are intertwined with their identities, so it’s flattering when others take an interest at a deeper level.
If you’re ready to open up your options to the 80% of jobs that can’t be found online, this is your ticket.
Reposted from: Forbes.com