4. Hone Your Networking Skills

5. Find More Friends

6. Brand Yourself

7. Move Carefully In the New Job

8. Keep Your Career On Track

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Rebuilding Your Career

Top Of Page
4. Hone Your Networking Skills

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

circulate

with trays of bacon-wrapped water chestnuts and liquor flows at an

open bar. However inviting the scene might look to a passerby,

actually

walking in scares the pinstripes off a good many otherwise confident

executives.

"A huge part of working a room is getting your fear under

control,"

says Lisa Westerfield, executive vice president of SRE Inc., an

environmental

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

researching

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

speaking.

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

conversation

with strangers. Visualizations like this are just one of several

tricks

she has found effective in working a room:

Give yourself time. Upon entering a room, whether for

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

invisible,"

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

see you.

Move in gradually. Get a drink, fill a plate with food,

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."

Become good at small talk. You warm up before you work

out, Westerfield says. Use the same philosophy in working a room.

The warm-up for networking is small talk. "When you mention

weather,

people take your temperature," she says. Chatter about an

impending

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

chance

to begin to know you. People who barge right into a sales pitch

without

engaging in some light banter are unlikely to do well at working a

room.

Chum the waters. Striking up a conversation with a

stranger

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.

Prepare to move on. Finding someone — anyone —

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

says.

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

something

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.

Play host. A good way to work a room is to seek out people

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

friend,

and, besides, "introducing him may help you meet people with whom

you don’t have an obvious connection."

Despite all the preparation and visualization in the world,

some rooms just can’t be easily worked, Westerfield says. Her husband

ran into that situation when he accompanied her to a homecoming.

"He

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

personally."

Even in less challenging gatherings, working a room can be far from

business contact nirvana. It is most often a first step in a

relationship.

"Sometimes," Westerfield says, "the best thing you can

do is take a business card, and call later."

Top Of Page
5. Find More Friends

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.

Top Of Page
6. Brand Yourself

Think of yourself as milk, or maybe a travel

destination,

or even a detergent. " This is the advice of Gwen Moran, the owner

of Ocean-based alternative marketing agency Moran Marketing

Associates,

who says we all are products in need of branding. "Marketers have

spent billions — maybe trillions — on perfecting

marketing,"

she points out. Why not use their tricks to sell ourselves in the

employment marketplace?

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:

Take a Look at Your Product. "What is the inventory?

What are the benefits? The features?" These are the questions

we, just like anyone peddling soda pop or saltines, must ask.

"Take

a personal inventory of the good things you bring to the table,"

she says. "And list weaknesses, too." Any product worth

marketing

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.

Examine Your Market. In selling yourself, Moran says,

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.

Craft Key Messages. "You have to explain why you are

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?

Perfect Your Packaging. "This doesn’t mean hauling

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."

Just as filling consumers’ only-half-recognized desire to scoot

into the outback at a moment’s notice is the best way to sell an

over-sized

vehicle to suburbanites, so too is plumbing the psyches of corporate

decision makers the best way to land a dream job.

Top Of Page
7. Move Carefully In the New 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

president

"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

Community

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

wardrobe

with just the right degree of formality to identifying — and

staying

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:

Start before you begin. Look for clues to your new

employer’s

culture before you even step into your first interview, Guarneri

advises.

"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.

Know where you fit in. "I once had an intern,"

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

should

remain mute. "There is a difference between being pushy, and

responding

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."

Don’t stay in your office. "Keeping your nose too

close to the grindstone is not a good idea," Guarneri says. Get

out and about, meet colleagues and supervisors, volunteer for

committees,

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.

Beware of cover-ups. New employees, unsure of procedures,

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.

Build an accomplishments file. Right from day one, start

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

the organization.

Cut and run?. Sometimes, Guarneri says, new employees

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

be dependable.

Overall, Guarneri says, the best thing a new employee can do

is to fit into the existing organizational culture. And the worst?

"Make your boss look bad."

Top Of Page
8. Keep Your Career On Track

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

worked.

"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.

Formerly

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

development

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

on track:

Avoid becoming complacent. A commonly accepted theory

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

because

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

situations.

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.

Scope out your strengths. Everyone has skills, and

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.

Ignoring

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

salesman

kept doing what he was good at — selling — and did not develop

as a manager.

Create a feedback frenzy. Self-knowledge is a good thing,

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

feedback,"

Kamm says. "They really want it. It’s not just that they’re

looking

for someone to say `Great job.’" This feedback should come in

frequently, and from every direction. Kamm suggests that work

evaluations

should be sought not just from supervisors, but also from co-workers,

and underlings.

Ask what’s different. When there is change at work,

perhaps

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."


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