Corrections or additions?
This article was prepared for the January 2, 2002 edition of U.S.
1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Rebuilding Your Career
The hospitality suite is full of laughter. Groups of
well-dressed men and women, sporting name tags on their lapels, lean
close to hear one another’s jokes and industry gossip. Waiters
with trays of bacon-wrapped water chestnuts and liquor flows at an
open bar. However inviting the scene might look to a passerby,
walking in scares the pinstripes off a good many otherwise confident
"A huge part of working a room is getting your fear under
says Lisa Westerfield, executive vice president of SRE Inc., an
consulting firm based in Nutley.
Westerfield makes a good 70 solo entrances into crowded rooms each
year. Finding the experience unnerving, she spent four months
the dynamics at play, and how to use them to overcome fear. She now
helps others cope with a situation many find as intimidating as public
Not always comfortable with plunging into a situation where everyone
else seems to be surrounded by lifelong buddies, Westerfield sometimes
pretends that she is an eagle — strong, independent, and free
— as she sizes up the room and prepares to plunge into
with strangers. Visualizations like this are just one of several
she has found effective in working a room:
a business function or a social occasion, it is okay to wait a while
before striking up a conversation. "We get so focused on ourselves
that we are our own worst enemy," Westerfield says. "What
people are most afraid of is sticking out like a sore thumb."
Be easy on yourself, she suggests. "Learn to be alone for a while,
and be comfortable. Let the dynamic of the room take place."
Those who have trouble standing alone comfortably might try another
of Westerfield’s visualization techniques. "Pretend you’re
she says. Enjoy the art on the walls, the buzz of conversation, a
glass of wine, and take away the pressure by imaging that no one can
and then perhaps drift over to a congenial-looking group. Listen to
what they are saying. If it is personal, move on. If the topic is
general, wait for an opportunity to add a comment. "Small groups
are tough," Westerfield says, suggesting a large group as a better
initial target, because "If there are 10 people, everyone will
assume you know one of them."
out, Westerfield says. Use the same philosophy in working a room.
The warm-up for networking is small talk. "When you mention
people take your temperature," she says. Chatter about an
blizzard, or the Oscars, or Bush’s latest gaffe gives people a chance
to decide whether you’re funny, smart, pleasant. It gives them a
to begin to know you. People who barge right into a sales pitch
engaging in some light banter are unlikely to do well at working a
you might want to do business with is like fishing, Westerfield says.
"You could say `This is my first time here. I’ve heard this is
a great place to meet small business people. I just started a small
business.’" The idea is to "give people several pieces of
bait." With luck, she says, "They’ll pick up on one."
If not, you can ask your conversation-challenged companion if anyone
else at the event is in your situation.
to talk to is the goal of most crowd-phobic people. But that is just
the first step in working a room. Cling to the first person who says
hello, Westerfield says, and you will be perceived as needy. Besides,
the goal of attending a gathering generally is to make a number of
business or social contacts, and that is hard to do while rooted to
one spot. "You want to mingle in, and mingle out," Westerfield
Set goals for the event in advance, Westerfield says, and let them
help you to move around. Perhaps you want to meet three editors of
large circulation outdoor magazines. Memorize their names, and then
you can ask your initial contact if he knows any of them. If so, he
may take you over and introduce you. If not, asking him to keep an
eye out for them and let you know if one arrives will give him
to do. "People appreciate this," Westerfield says. It’s fair
to assume that many, if not most, of your fellow event attendees are
at least somewhat uncomfortable. Giving one of them a job to do will
help him circulate, too.
who are standing alone. You can introduce yourself, find out why they
are attending the event, and then offer to introduce them to someone
they might want to meet. "If you walk in to a room and you’re
only there to take, people will pick up on that," Westerfield
says. "If you’re a person who gives, it’s easy for others to give
to you." Helping someone else ease into a room may win you a
and, besides, "introducing him may help you meet people with whom
you don’t have an obvious connection."
some rooms just can’t be easily worked, Westerfield says. Her husband
ran into that situation when he accompanied her to a homecoming.
said no one wanted to talk to him," she recounts. "He was
right." Everyone was there to reminisce with old pals. The best
advice she could give her husband was "don’t take it
Even in less challenging gatherings, working a room can be far from
business contact nirvana. It is most often a first step in a
"Sometimes," Westerfield says, "the best thing you can
do is take a business card, and call later."
Throughout the area, there are people who are ready
and willing to share job leads, giving others tips on open jobs that
are not right for them.
Page back to the third cover story (20102c03.html) of this issue, for
listings of entrepreneurial
groups, networking organizationns, and chambers of commerce, all good
places to find people who share your business concerns. Or look them
up in our business directory database.
Think of yourself as milk, or maybe a travel
or even a detergent. " This is the advice of Gwen Moran, the owner
of Ocean-based alternative marketing agency Moran Marketing
who says we all are products in need of branding. "Marketers have
spent billions — maybe trillions — on perfecting
she points out. Why not use their tricks to sell ourselves in the
It works for milk, and it will work for career advancement too, if
only we are willing to look at ourselves as just another product.
Here is her advice for doing just that:
What are the benefits? The features?" These are the questions
we, just like anyone peddling soda pop or saltines, must ask.
a personal inventory of the good things you bring to the table,"
she says. "And list weaknesses, too." Any product worth
has "significant strengths and benefits," she says. And, of
course, a drawback or two. Identify each and every selling point,
and work on shoring up weaknesses.
the market will be a function of what you want. Whether your goal
is a new job, a promotion, or the acquisition of a desirable client,
you will need to identify the decision maker, and then "try to
get inside the head of that person." Just as agencies stirring
up lust for sports cars or home furnishings dissect consumer desires,
you need to tease out decision makers’ unmet needs.
the right choice," Moran says. She finds many people hesitant
to promote themselves. Thinking like a marketer can help here. Does
Coke hesitate to sing its praises? Does Pepsi expect that its products
will make it into consumers’ hearts — and shopping carts —
without a little help?
out your old copy of Dress for Success," Moran says. But it does
mean "looking the part." Observe those who have achieved your
goal, whether they be supervisors at your company or small businesses
owners with an impressive stable of clients. How do they dress? How
do they present themselves? This is a trickier question than it once
was. "Over-dressing can be as damaging as under-dressing,"
Moran says. "Too formal can also be negative."
into the outback at a moment’s notice is the best way to sell an
vehicle to suburbanites, so too is plumbing the psyches of corporate
decision makers the best way to land a dream job.
It’s like the first week of school, but trickier. Being
the new kid in the cubicle — or even in the executive suite —
can be a mine field. Should you wear khaki or serge? Call the
"Frankie," or "Mr. Big"? Shoot out your ideas for
reorganizing the place, or lay low?
How to make the transition? How to get off to a good start in a new
office? Jack Guarneri, senior career counselor at Mercer County
College, offers advice.
"The most common mistake is not fitting in with the culture,"
says Guarneri, who has been a career counselor at MCCC for nearly
20 years. A graduate of Stony Brook, where he earned a bachelor’s
degree in Spanish literature, Guarneri holds a master’s in counseling
from Long Island University. "You want people to like you,"
he says of an early imperative for new employees. "You’ll need
all the allies you can get."
This is equally true for supervisors and for the troops they guide.
Fitting in encompasses everything from putting together a work
with just the right degree of formality to identifying — and
away from — the negative political animals who lie in wait at
the water cooler.
Guarneri’s advice for fitting in at a new job includes the following:
culture before you even step into your first interview, Guarneri
"Look at the website, the annual report," he says. There you
are likely to find photos that will indicate whether Hawaiian prints
or pinstripes are the corporate uniform. Big clients, board members,
corporate officers, and even favorite charities, will show up too.
Study these materials and you will be better prepared to make small
talk if you find yourself standing next to the CEO as you ride the
elevator on your first day. You may also save yourself from making
a joke about a client whose fees help fund your paychecks.
Guarneri recounts. "He was very eager. He wanted to reorganize
everything the first week." The young man was not "conscious
of his place in the scheme of things," Guarneri says. "He
was there to learn, not to be the teacher." Had the intern been
a paid employee, he would not have made it through the week at most
jobs, is Guarneri’s guess. That is not to say that new employees
remain mute. "There is a difference between being pushy, and
to an invitation to give input," Guarneri says. "Once you
have some credibility, people will be more willing to listen,"
he says. "People resent suggestions too early on."
close to the grindstone is not a good idea," Guarneri says. Get
out and about, meet colleagues and supervisors, volunteer for
offer to help out on projects, look into working for the company’s
favorite charity, perhaps even contribute to the newsletter. Building
up a network makes it likely, Guarneri says, that you will be aware
of shifts in company priorities and will have a group of friends ready
to help out if problems arise.
have a tendency to cover up and try to keep going. This is a mistake,
says Guarneri. Better to ask for help right away than to try to hide
an area of ignorance. "Say `I’m not sure how to handle it,’"
Guarneri advises. Approach a supervisor with two or three solutions,
and ask advice. "Then you have allies," he says.
to compile thank you letters from grateful clients, positive notices
from supervisors, press clippings, and a synopsis of the projects
on which you are working. Then, Guarneri says, when the time for your
first review rolls around, present the file to your supervisor ahead
of the meeting. Not only should the file increase your chances for
a glowing review, but it becomes a tangible record of your value to
find they are expected to perform illegal or unethical acts. When
that is the case, his advice is to get on out of there — fast.
"But if the problem is boredom," he says, "try to stick
it out for a year." The stigma that was attached to job switching
before the downsizing of the 1980s has lost much of its bite, but
still, Guarneri says, employers like to hire those they believe will
is to fit into the existing organizational culture. And the worst?
"Make your boss look bad."
Two or so jobs ago Elaine Kamm, a vice president with
Manchester Partners International, was asked to start up a training
and development department for the Fortune 100 company where she
"I did all the right things," she says. "It was so good,
they told me to hire more staff. And then more staff. And more."
Supervising all those people, and managing a budget that just kept
growing, Kamm had achieved a prestigious spot in her company, and
was making lots of money.
"One morning I woke up, and I was miserable," she says.
a consultant within the company, "an individual contributor,"
she had discovered she did not like administration one bit. What’s
more, she adds, "the stuff I needed to do, I wasn’t even good
at." Sure, she says, she would have done a competent job, but
"I knew I would never be outstanding."
Deciding her strength was in coming up with ideas, and not in managing
a large staff and budget, Kamm pitched the idea of an executive
department to her bosses. "I designed the function for a minimal
staff, and a big consulting budget," she says. The new position
worked out well, she says, for her and for the company.
Kamm offers this advice to executives who want to keep their careers
is that success is the best predictor of more success, Kamm says.
But the tendency of successful people to think they need only keep
on doing what they’ve been doing can be a career killer. That’s
change is the new constant, and the skills and behaviors that won
promotions in one situation don’t necessarily work well in another.
"Every time you get a new boss, it’s a new job," Kamm says.
Mergers and shifts in company priorities also can create new
So can promotions. The killer closing techniques that served a star
salesman so well in the field may hurt him in a sales management role.
The in-your-face style that won points with one manager may backfire
with a new manager.
limitations too. Kamm discovered this when an overload of the detail
work essential in an administrative position stripped the joy from
her work. Switching back to consulting work allowed her to keep moving
ahead. Realistic self evaluation will clarify career direction.
natural skills and accepting promotions or new jobs solely because
they offer more money or prestige can knock a career off the tracks.
Often, Kamm says, "a top salesman is promoted to sales manager,
and everyone asks `what happened to him?’" Most likely the
kept doing what he was good at — selling — and did not develop
as a manager.
but most people need to turn to those around them to get a sense of
how they’re doing. "People who are really successful seek
Kamm says. "They really want it. It’s not just that they’re
for someone to say `Great job.’" This feedback should come in
frequently, and from every direction. Kamm suggests that work
should be sought not just from supervisors, but also from co-workers,
an acquisition, "a lot of time is spent being angry and holding
on to the past," says Kamm. Don’t waste time this way. "People
need to ask `what’s different?’ They need to look at themselves and
ask `How can I made adjustments in my behavior to fit in with the
new boss, new acquisition, new job?" This is not easy, she says,
because everyone has behaviors that have worked well in the past.
"It’s a natural thing," she says. "Psychology tells us
we keep doing things we get rewarded for."
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.