Yes, this is the time of year for shopping sprees and eating and drinking way too much. Don't worry, I'm not about to pitch a gym membership. In fact, I'm going to encourage the shopping sprees and food/drink fests. Why? Because they will provide prime opportunities for networking. And as Lynnette, Larry, and our wonderful LA Fellow advisors will remind us, networking is the key to many wonderful opportunities.
Have you joined any professional groups yet? Many will have December "meetings" as holiday potlucks or minglers. Are you a member of some sort of a social or even support group? They may be having parties, too…and if not, why not suggest one?
In December, I have four events lined up before any school or family-related commitments: The International Association of Business Analysts, a professional group I joined this year, will have its monthly meeting as a dinner and wine sampling mingler at a restaurant. The yoga studio where I take classes will open their doors to a holiday potluck. The Beer Homebrewers Club, a social group I joined when I was let go from my job, will be having their annual Christmas party. And as wacky as it may sound, my surgical weight loss support group will be holding its annual potluck event. These are my personal networking opportunities (and still looking for more!) to show you that you may have holiday events you may not even realize to be good opportunities for meeting people AND building relationships with people you have met.
The importance of networking is in the fact that you don't know who people know. I have so many personal stories of six degrees of separation - as obscure as a woman in my support group having 1. worked with one of my dad's cousins, 2. worked with a former classmate, and 3. having a hairstylist who I met through my best friend....and that is ONE connection of mine! I'm always happy to share my stories if you ask, but there is one that occurred right within LA Fellows: I met David Berkus at the Reunion Picnic in October. He was telling me about the work he used to do, and some companies he used to work for. My response was to ask if he knew someone whose name I will not mention. Not only did David know this person, but they worked together for over 15 years. This mutual connection is a man who was like my father's brother. He is so close to my family that he was in the hospital visiting my dad more than my dad's own brother. His family is like family to mine - to the point that our Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions include dinner with each other! How is that for a small world?
Networking can open many doors - though hopefully to jobs, your next connections can lead to making other new connections, or learning new skills. An informational interview may lead to your ability to join a professional association, or a professional association may lead to your ability to take a discounted skills or certificate course. Stepping out of the professional realm for a moment, for those of us who are single, networking may lead to meeting Mr. or Ms. Right - and provides a much better experience than internet dating! Heck, once upon a time, I met a great hairstylist at a social networking event! You just never know.
And don't forget to maintain the relationships. Attend the meetings/events throughout the year so that the faces and names become familiar. If they don't see you, they can't think of you when they find out about jobs! For people you have created relationships with, don't forget the big gesture a short phone call or email can send. For those you are even closer to, meet for a cup of coffee or a happy hour. Maintain an appropriate follow-up for the relationship you have built, but you MUST follow-up! Be active. And continue this activity AFTER you have found a job. It can be easy to slack off when juggling work and family, but we all know how not-so-great it is to be unemployed, and if it happens again, we all know how much easier it is to find work when we have connections who can lead us to our next destination. Make time, even if it is for one event per month. A-B-C: Always Be Connecting!
For those who are intimidated to go to an event alone, ask someone to go with or meet you. For those who don't like large groups of people, find smaller groups. Keep in mind that the first time you attend anything, everyone is a stranger. Keep going. Keep building the relationships. All you need is to feel as if you are walking into an atmosphere where there is ONE person whom you could say HELLO to.
And for those of you who know me to be advocating networking and all of the activities I have just mentioned...You don't know how FREAKED OUT I am for the first few minutes in anyplace where I don't know people. After losing my job last year, I had to force myself to reach out, and in doing so, attended a Beer Homebrewing Club party with 300 people, knowing no one. The only person I "knew", I had met at 2pm the day of the party. It was an uncomfortable evening to say the least, and a step I needed to take. But over the past year of attending social opportunities and monthly meetings with the same group, I look forward to this year's big Christmas party. And I know I will not know MOST of the expected 300 people there this year, but I do know enough faces and names to mix and mingle and have a good time.
So, advocating the importance of networking is one of my long-winded topics...but very worthwhile of the share. Don't forget A-B-C: Always Be Connecting. You never know who people know and you never know where your next connection may lead. As this festive season begins, get out your best outfits, go ahead and shop (for canned goods and gifts to donate to charities), eat, drink (safely) and be merry....If you're comfortable to do so, be someone's wing-person...and if you need a wing-girl, give me a call!
Happy Holidays LA Fellows and Job Training Staff!
LA Fellows, Cohort 3