Don’t be “that guy”.

Did you ever work with “that guy”?  You know the one I’m talking about.  The guy (or gal) who’s always got a reason to be unhappy.  Every now and then we run into people who seem to like bemoaning the various situations that they find themselves in.  Have you ever actually enjoyed being around someone when all they seem to do is bitch about how bad a situation is or how tough things are for them/etc?  I’m guessing the answer to that is no.  Face it, spending time with folks like that can be downright depressing.  We’ve all been there and most of us have taken a turn or two at being that guy.

I know that we can all have an “off day” where not only do you feel you can’t catch a break but that you want to talk about it as well.  And it’s OK to vent now and then or bemoan how something seems unfair or not right.  But if you are networking, then this kind of behavior can kill you.  Save the venting for your close friends, your spouse, or a counselor.  They either care enough to listen (and know you would do the same for them) or get paid to.  Everyone else, simply put, doesn’t want to hear it.

Moods, just like viruses, can be infectious.  If you are around people who tend to be in a good mood then they can put you in a good mood.  Depressing folks can do a pretty good job at depressing others.  So what if you find yourself suddenly unemployed and now you are networking with other professionals and they hear you complain about how you were mistreated at your last job.  How is that furthering your cause?  Basically, it’s not.  So even if you feel righteous about the fact that you were handled unfairly, before you go and share that with others in your network, ask yourself if it will help you get a job?

Also, for anyone lamenting that they gave so many years and so much dedication only to be let go, allow me to remind you of something.  If you suddenly found yourself in a situation where you could do reasonably better than you had been by getting paid more and still enjoying work/etc, most of you would change jobs “in a heartbeat”.  It’s not personal and you figure hey, the company will survive (and it typically will).  Well the same thing applies in reverse.  If the company can’t economically sustain itself at a certain headcount and needs to trim positions, it’s also not personal and they sometimes have to make hard decisions (sometimes there is no easy choice but a choice has to be made none the less).

So if you are suddenly unemployed due to a layoff, as hard as it may sound try to remember:

  • It’s not personal.
  • You’d have left the company if it suited you.
  • Complaining to people about the company or its management does nothing to help you get a job or get over your loss.

I’ve often said to teams that found themselves doing a hard task that I’d rather “a fake smile from someone than a genuine frown”.  So even if you don’t feel like smiling, fake it.  The results will still be better than if you were a genuine sour puss.  Nobody wants to refer or hire a negative person.  But when people meet you, if they see an upbeat and energetic person, then they will be a lot more likely to want to help.

– Yeti

On the Internet, everyone knows if you’re a dog.

OK, I know what you are thinking.   He’s got it all messed up.  The original cartoon from the New Yorker  reads “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”.  Well that was in 1993 and now it’s 16 years later, we have Web 2.0 and social networking sites that were not even imaginable back then in full swing.  Facebook has more than 200M users, LinkedIn more than 40M, Twitter more than 9M, and the list goes on.  A month from now many of the numbers will have grown again dramatically. 

So where am I going with this?  Well if you are intending to network then you will find yourself using sites like LinkedIn and Twitter and Facebook or Myspace (which has been eclipsed globally by Facebook but still has more US subscribers).  Also, even if you are not intending to purposefully network, you may find yourself using sites like Flickr to share pictures with close friends.  Sites like Flickr are incorporating social networking tools that allow groups of users to congregate and share.

So unless you are purposely avoiding a lot of these sites then you are likely putting out a lot more information than you may realize onto the net.  Or perhaps you even realize that but haven’t given it a lot of thought?  I would like to take a moment to encourage you to give it a lot more thought.   A long time ago a good friend and colleague, Ed, told me that he thinks of every email he ever sends as being “public”.  That is, it could be published for the world to see, even if that was not his intent.  It’s a good way to view things since we have already seen countless examples of emails that were forwarded for enjoyment or even ridicule that were never meant to be shared with millions of folks on the net.

I have been having a lot of fun with the openness of this information simply because it has allowed me to do some great research on people I intend to meet.  I might find that they love photography and perhaps are enamored by pictures of nature, or even urban decay.  I can then use that information I learned to help strike up a conversation and relate to them on a more personal level.  I’ve even met people for the first time and had it be on or very near their birthday and been able to wish them happy birthday.  How do I find this all out?  Well it’s all part of what we willingly put out there as part of the social or professional networking that we do intentionally or unintentionally. 

Why should you be thinking of this?  Well the person that has the biggest control of your reputation is you.  These days, you can expect future employers will do some simple yet powerful searches on your background.  What will they uncover?  If you want to work on an on-line “brand” or “persona” then you may want to purposely leave your networks very open so that people can find it easy to discover you.  That’s fine but then give it some thought as to what they will find and keep thinking that way whenever you post.  Because once you put it out there, you can’t take it back. 

If you love Facebook and leave yourself searchable, will your future employer be amused or even impressed when they see what groups you have joined or read some of your rants and posts.  Or, will they be aghast and think this person is not the kind I’d want on my team, they look like a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen!  I don’t want to make everyone uptight.  I like to have fun on-line too.  But I try and be sure that generally if my mother suddenly joined Facebook, I would not be embarrassed by having her read all my posts/etc. 

So take the time to learn about the policies and privacy settings on the various sites you use.  If you are intending to be incredibly frank and perhaps a bit risque, then you should probably put some serious restrictions on how public your profiles and posts are (just remember, that even if you tighten down who can see your profile, sometimes your friends will share things you have done without your permission anyway).    Or, just give it the Mom test.  If your Mom read the post or saw your profile would you be embarrassed by it?  If not, then you’re probably doing OK.

Social networking on-line is a powerful tool that lets you have fun and expand your network.   Just remember that like a lot of other powerful tools, you can get hurt if you don’t use them carefully.

– Yeti.

So you’re on LinkedIn. Now what?

OK, so let’s just humor me and say that my prior posts have made you think seriously about expanding your professional network .  You’ve created a LinkedIn account or finally logged into the one you created 5 years ago that you didn’t do anything with.  Now what?

Well first things first.  Before we talk about what you can do to import address books in order to quickly build up your network of contacts one of the more powerful ways for you to find people (and for people to find you) is for you to create a history of positions that have your title, dates worked, and most importantly Your employer.   Even if you are not yet sure how you want to fill in the details of what you did for each of those rolls, it’s important to identify the role and show it in your history.

The reason why is that LinkedIn has search features and these are the beginnings of the keywords that people will use to search for you as well as the way you can find others.  So look to the left side of the screen, find the profile section and then click on “edit profile”.  Then use the “add position” button that is across from the header for Experience.  Add in all the places/positions you have had even if there’s no detail yet as to what you have done.  You can (and should) put detail in later but lets just start with identifying positions.

If you’re like me, some companies you have worked at have changed names or were purchased/etc.  You can add a company name to one role and then a different name to another role at the same company.  For example I worked at BBN which became BBN Planet which then became GTE Internetworking which then became Genuity (whew).  So I used those company names at least once each for the jobs I progressed through during my time there.  Why?  Because if someone searched for former colleagues at BBN they would not find me if I left it off.

Once you have all your prior positions listed, along with all the company names, here’s where the fun starts for building your network.  Go back to the LinkedIn home page.  Along the left side you will see the menu and at the bottom is a green button labeled “Add Connections”.  Click it.  Go ahead, you know you want to.  🙂

This brings you to a screen that has four tabs along the top.  Click on the one that says “Colleagues” and you will come to a screen that lists all those companies you put in when you were filling out your positions.  You can then either use the “View All” feature to get a list of all past and present employees of that company, or “Find New”.  If you’re just starting, use the “View All” and this will help you catch up quickly.  Once you have looked through each of the companies and selected people you have worked with that you want to add to your network the system will send them an invite and you will see your network start to grow!  Also, you will see another tab labeled “Classmates”.  If you put your education experience in your profile, then this tab will list the colleges you have attended and you can find old classmates as well even if you did not work with them after graduation. 

Remember the “Find New” button I mentioned above?  This is how you dig the well a foot a week.  Once you have settled into LinkedIn and your profile is up to date (more on what to add into that later), if you come back every week or two, select “Add Connections”, “Colleagues” and “Find New” it will find any new people who joined LinkedIn since you last looked from each of those companies.  I’ve added more than 500 connections by just checking every few weeks over the last 6 years.  That’s one of the ways to build a deep network of contacts without having to be intimidated by it all.

Next post I’ll cover address book imports which is another way to quickly discover contacts and add them to your network.  And remember, you are only doing this so you can then use this network to be able to find and keep track of all your colleagues.  So if all you’re doing is adding to your network but never reaching out to contact some of these folks, then you’re not really doing much to stay connected.  Just remember, if you are looking for work, they can’t help you if you aren’t communicating to them. 

– Yeti.

Using the right tool for the job.

When I was young I learned 2 things from my Dad who was very handy with tools. 

  1. Use the right tool for the job.  It makes things so much easier. 
  2. If you don’t have the correct (or specific) tool, improvise. 

I’d only get schooled by my Dad when he saw me using the wrong tool if he knew the right one was available and nearby.  The job always came out better when you used a tool designed for the job.  You don’t have to stress out if you don’t have all the tools but if you have the right tool why wouldn’t you use it?

So what kind of tools do you use when you are networking?

  • Email
  • Address books (Outlook, Gmail, ACT, etc.)
  • The phone (Yes, I know many of us don’t like using it, but we just have to get over that).
  • Social sites on the web (MySpace, Facebook, Multiply, LinkedIn, Spock, and too many countless others to mention).

If you are going to be effective at networking then you should realize quickly that it’s difficult to reach out and contact folks when you don’t have an up to date email or phone number for them.  That stack of business cards you’re stashing off to the side or the ones you put in your address book are going to be out of date quickly.  You will find tools on the network that are intended to help you like Plaxo or CardScan’s “at your service”. However, these tools can fall short because they put the burden of updating your contacts on the contacts themselves and this is for your convenience, not theirs.  In other words, there’s no incentive in it for them to update their contact info for your benefit.

People on sites like LinkedIn or even Facebook and Multiply update their information without being asked.  If you are linked to them, or “friended” then you get the latest on their personal or professional situations (depending on the site) and it will be easier to stay in touch. 

So if we’re talking about professional networking, what’s the best tool for the job?  How about a tool that is designed to allow users to:

  • Update their professional experiences
  • Search for contacts according to where they work or have worked
  • Discuss industry trends for their line of work
  • Search for job openings or post jobs targeted at industry specific professionals

While you can improvise with other tools and you should still consider them as part of your arsenal in your quest to create an effective professional network, the best and most widely adopted tool for professional networking is LinkedIn. 

LinkedIn is geared specifically towards professional networking and currently has nearly 40 million users and is growing at about a user a second.  While Facebook has 5 times that membership, it is not geared towards managing your professional network.  

So if you want to create a deep well of professional contacts that you can use to find good talent or be found as good talent in someone else’s network, join LinkedIn.

For those of you who did not “dig that well” before you found yourself looking for water, I will post later on how you can quickly get your profile in shape and build up your network. 

– Yeti

Dig the well.

There is an old Chinese proverb that states: “Dig the well before you are thirsty”.  I can’t think of a better way to remind folks of the importance of putting some energy into being prepared for some of the inevitability that life will throw at you.   If you are surrounded by a lot of water and it is abundant, it may seem like a waste of effort to dig a well.  However, when a dry season comes along that well could save your life.  The deeper it goes, the more you are able to draw from it.

Think about it.  The time to save money is when you are making money.  That way, when something unexpected strikes, you have reserves to draw from.  The same thing can be said about your network of professional contacts.  When you are working and find yourself surrounded by other professionals you may not be thinking about building your network.  However, many will come and go and you will have lost the opportunity to stay in touch with all those people who were at one point part of your professional life.  Most of us get so busy with work that we neglect to stay in touch with professionals outside of those in our immediate circle.  We think there will always be time for that later but if suddenly we find ourselves needing those contacts (like from a job loss) then wouldn’t it be a shame to suddenly realize you have little or no reserves to drink from.

So if you find yourself wrapped up in work and life and wonder about how you could ever make time to dig a well, allow me to provide a little advice.  Don’t try and dig the well all at once.  That’s not only intimidating but also not very effective.  Simply dig the well a foot deeper every week.  In other words, for the investment of 15-30 minutes of your time every 1-2 weeks you can slowly develop a wide range of professional contacts that over a course of a year or two will become fairly extensive.  Then if you ever find yourself “thirsty” you will find that you have a deep wellspring of people from which you can network and discover opportunities.

If you haven’t figured this out yet, I’m writing this note for people who are still employed.  It would be a shame that during this time of downsizing and economic uncertainty that you suddenly find yourself wishing you had put a network of contacts together.  Stop putting it off and start reaching back out to folks you have worked with and build up your Rolodex.  If you already find yourself out of work but are short on contacts, I will try and cover networking and building up your contacts quickly in another post.

In the mean time, the best tool for you to use in order to “dig a well” would be LinkedIn.  I can’t stress enough how great a tool this is for building up and maintaining a list of professionals you have worked with.  If you don’t have an account, set one up.  If you have one but it has been largely neglected, then you need to update your profile with your various companies and positions.  Not just so that you can advertise yourself, but also because this is what will help you locate others on this tool who have worked with you in the past. 

I had a “near death” experience back in 2002 as the tech bubble burst and the company I worked for went through a bankruptcy.  Over the last 6 years I have logged into LinkedIn every 2-3 weeks (again not a lot of time at once) and looked up new people who joined that worked at companies that I have also been at.  If I knew them, I invited them to my network.  Over time this has grown tremendously and recently has been a blessing for me as I search for my next opportunity.

I will write more later on LinkedIn and provide some suggestions on how to best use it as well as point you to some of the other blogs where you can get great tips on how to get the most from this tool.  In the mean time, start digging!  It only takes a little time once a week or every other week to pay off big later.

– Yeti.

P.S.

Water really is essential and life giving.  You can change the lives of others by helping put wells into villages that do not currently have access to clean water.  See Living Water International or Living Waters for the world for great charities that change the lives of others dramatically through the building of deep freshwater wells.  They could use your support!