Back to Work Blog Series: 5 Steps to Confident, Smarm-Free Networking

Welcome back to the Amy Mac Blog Series Back to Work: Everything You Need to Know to Get Back in Business — a playbook of strategies to dust off your skills, your resume and your moxie as you change careers, launch a business, or head from the mom force to the work force. Catch up on previous posts here.

In the last post we talked about steps to Crafting a Winning Resume -- today, we're talking about how to network strategically (without feeling like an infomercial salesman) and land that perfect job.

Now that have several important building blocks in place — the 30-second pitch, your resume, trend awareness and social media — it’s time to start building your network in earnest. In my experience, women who have been out of the work force for a while (or are switching careers) tend to quickly discount current connections as viable networking opportunities.

Recently, an accountant friend ready to make the leap back into full-time work said “a dad on my son’s baseball team is a VP in marketing at a local Fortune 500 company. But since he’s in marketing, I’m sure he isn’t be able to help me land an accounting job.” Let’s dispel that myth once and for all: first, I’m sure the company has an accounting department. Second, as a local business leader, he likely has a personal accountant and knows several more.

Start building your network as soon as you begin thinking of returning to work — you’ll be amazed at how many opportunities find their way to you. If your scene has been more playgroup than boardroom the last few years, the options might seem overwhelming. Start with these five tried-and-true networking strategies:

Design a Digital and Traditional Business Card. Make it easy on any contacts who want to stay in touch. There are many options online to design and print business cards. Have some very simple cards printed with your name, contact information and your industry with the word “freelance consultant” after. For example, a retiring teacher looking to continue to work part-time in some capacity would say “Education Freelance Consultant.” Take the same information and create a digital signature for all of your emails.

Pitch to Personal Networks.  Armed with your 30-second pitch and your business cards, start letting everyone you know you’re back on the professional market. This is a time to make an expansive list — everyone from your neighborhood, church friends, parents on the sidelines at your kids’ sporting events, to colleagues you worked with 10 years ago should be on this list.

Connect at Professional Networking Events. Almost every local Chamber of Commerce holds a monthly networking event, not to mention local chapters of various industry associations. These events cost about the same as a typical lunch at a restaurant, and are usually full of leading local professionals smart enough to keep their eyes and ears open for potential new talent.

Invest in Professional and Personal Development Seminars. Seminars on sharpening career and life skills are everywhere these days. Find one that piques your interest and invest in the fee — not only is it an excellent networking opportunity, but it’s also a new skill for your resume.

Scan Local Newspapers and Calendar of Events Listings. Most newspapers have “Calendar of Events” listings. Some of them even helpfully section out the business-related events. Make a point of reading these at least once a week to stay abreast of networking opportunities that will further your job search.

Remember ... when you have a networking opportunity you must have a goal in mind. For example, if you’re at a Chamber meeting, be determined to meet at least 3 new people, learn what they do, give them your pitch, and exchange contact information. Otherwise, it’s easy to settle in at the table for lunch and be monopolized by your seat mate.

And if you’re nervous about pitching to an acquaintance, try the soft-sale approach: ask them a question about their business (something like “what do you do in a typical work day?” or “who are some of your clients I might recognize?”) which then segues nicely into you telling them about your skill sets and career goals.

And don’t get discouraged if you don’t get any bites right away. I have people that I met weeks, months even years ago reach out and say “not sure if you remember me, but I need some help writing a news release…”, so just keep on networking — even after you land that dream job!

Next up in the Back to Work Blog Series: You're already a CEO ... here's how to use it in the working world.

Thanks for reading! (and please ... if you have any questions related to going back to work, send them my way!)

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