The Art of Networking in 2010

Given these turbulent economic times (high unemployment, a shaky stock market, the Euro dropping...) people are looking everywhere for money-making opportunities. It’s reached a certain fervor: Average citizens have transformed into networking-vampires looking to suck job-info out of anyone they meet -- even if the encounter is at LeClerc or Roissy airport, or any other unprofessional setting.

Efficient and proper networking can be tough to navigate at the dawn of this new decade. So how to best job-hobnob? Follow our advice and you’ll learn how to find the gatekeepers standing between you and the secret opportunities. They’ll do much more for you than those people you killed time with while you waited in line.

Present yourself right

The initial step to building a network is classic, basic -- and so important: Make a good first impression. It’s pretty logical. If you want to build a web of people around you, you’ve got to attract them to you. If you’ve registered with a professional online social network, sticking a photo on your CV is the easiest way to get noticed. According to Nicholas Vieuxloup, head of PR for Paris-based site Viadeo, CVs posted on Viadeo with photos are looked at 5 to 10 times more frequently than those without pics. Also, he recommends filling out your profile, from your studies and competencies down to your centers of interest. The same goes if you’re headed to a networking soirée or a get-together where you know you might be able to make some interesting business contacts: “You make sure you’re dressed well, shaved, smiling. You present yourself, say why you’re there, and what you’re looking for. That’s how others learn about your savoir-vivre.”

Show what you can give, not just what you’ve got

Business connections work the same as friendships, marriages, or any other relationship -- everyone involved gets something from them. Otherwise they won’t last. Nicolas Thébault, founder of career advice agency Tebopro, warns that being a “collector of anonymous contacts” online won’t get you anywhere. You’ve got to show how you’ll bring value to the person you’re reaching out to. Moreover, remember that networking isn’t just about finding a job. In fact, it’s more effective when you aren’t looking for something from a potential contact. “Go toward him in the hope of exchanging information about a shared interest, much as a journalist would approach an expert,” says Thébault. “The most common networking error consists of being solely centered on yourself and your own interests.” The shared subject doesn’t even have to be about work -- if you both like running, ask him about his next race. Maybe he’s looking for a training partner. If all works out, you’ll end up building a real relationship with him, which will serve you down the line.

Get down to business

Whether you’re talking to an HR representative, writing to someone online, or hobnobbing at a networking party, “in 30 seconds or 5 lines you must be able to succeed in attracting a person’s attention,” says Thébaut. Have your pitch prepared in your head beforehand and, if your delivery succeeds, you’ll get a chance to have a fast back-and-forth dialogue. Then hopefully something more lasting develops. A valuable contact is one who gets to know you and will recommend you as a professional, says Vieuxloup. “It will activate your career on the long term.”

Manage your reputation

Again, networking isn’t only -- or even principally -- about looking for jobs. Vieuxloup suggests using online business networking sites (besides Viadeo, LinkedIn is another big one) as resources for finding investors, generating business, looking for products, and just generally building a name for yourself. The latter is super important in this Age of Information. “Your reputation is really fundamental,” says Vieuxloup. “You have to think about it and have a strategy -- know what you want to do, who you should get in contact with, and what you should say to them.” For instance, don’t approach someone with, “Pierre Bloch referred me to you,” if Pierre didn’t. He very well might know Pierre -- business communities tend to be tight (bankers eat lunch together, newspaper editors hang out together, etc.). Maybe he doesn’t have the best relationship with Pierre; or maybe he’ll check in with Pierre, who will be perturbed that you used his name. With one simple sentence you’ve hurt both an existing relationship and an opportunity. So be prudent!

Out-of-the-Box Ways to Get That Job

The spiel of the Manhattan subway panhandler is usually pretty predictable: “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. I’m sorry to interrupt your ride ...” (This is usually followed by jaded passengers pushing their iPod buds in tight and averting their eyes.)

One day, though, that familiar refrain was followed by a completely unexpected pitch: “I graduated from college with a degree in marketing three months ago, and I really need a job.”

As subway riders looked up cautiously, they saw an impeccably groomed young man -- wearing a suit and freshly shined wingtips -- holding a stack of résumés. “If you know of anyone who might have positions open, I’d really appreciate it if you’d take one of these and pass it along.”

The fate of this earnest young grad remains unknown. But what do recruiters and HR pros generally think of this kind of creativity and moxie when it comes to job hunting? Is it OK to let your search go rogue?

“We’ve all seen the reports on CNN of job seekers wearing sandwich boards advertising their skills,” says Margo Morgenlander, founder of Professional Recruitment Solutions, a staffing company based in Orange County, Calif. “But that technique can backfire, particularly if you’re targeting a fairly conservative company.”

And don’t even think of posting photos of yourself on Facebook wearing that sandwich board or, worse, the gorilla outfit you rented to generate attention in your dream company’s parking lot. “Hiring managers absolutely check out your Facebook profile,” says Morgenlander. “When they see a picture like that, they’re going to say, ‘I don’t want that wackadoodle in my company.’” (But then, do you really want to work at a company where people use the word wackadoodle?)

Deborah Bell, a private certified career counselor in Santa Rosa, Calif., who also conducts workshops for Sonoma County’s employment and job-training program, agrees. “One of the most unusual instances I saw was of a candidate who taped a résumé to a box of chocolates.” This Forest Gump–style move makes more sense once Bell explains that the job listing read: “Must have a sense of humor and love chocolate.” And then there was the applicant whose cover letter said, “I’m a shoe-in for the job. The résumé was delivered in -- what else? -- a shoe!

Another example of clever self-promotion was pulled off by Alec Brownstein, a job seeker who used Google AdWords to buy search ads containing the names of the creative directors whose attention he sought. Any time one of them Googled themselves, Brownstein’s ad appeared, calling out for attention -- and a job. He ultimately landed a position at the white-glove Madison Avenue firm Young & Rubicam. What does Morgenlander think of this modern-day Mad Men scheme? “It was simply brilliant -- for his target audience. Would I suggest this strategy for other professions? Not necessarily.”

Vicki Salemi, a New York–based career expert, public speaker and author of Big Career in the Big City, agrees. “These measures can work well if you’re applying for a job in a field that rewards that sort of thinking, such as advertising or marketing,” she says “Otherwise, it shows you to be a loose cannon.”

So how does a job seeker stand out in a market where, according to Bell, one job listing can attract 300 or more applicants? “Make sure your résumé contains all the keywords in the ad,” she says. Many companies use screening software that will immediately weed out your application if you don’t have the same skills enumerated in the job listing.

“Enable yourself to your network,” says Salemi. Every meeting, every graduation party, every birthday, every hour on the golf course is a potential networking opportunity. So have your elevator speech ready -- wherever you go. And when you do get that interview, she advises, “Be polished. Shave. Don’t swear. And even if you normally wear three earrings, take them out.”

Few hiring managers could legally admit this, says Morgenlander, but “people always hire individuals whom they like and like to look at -- even if they’re not the most qualified candidates for the position.” So it behooves you to find out as much about the hiring manager as you can in advance. Use Facebook and LinkedIn to investigate common ground you might have, and discuss those shared interests when you get a foot (not a shoe!) in the door for an interview.

In the long run, if you follow these proven techniques, you’ll have a much better shot at the job than you’ll have hanging out next to the headquarters of Intel or Bank of America in a rented gorilla suit. Besides, says Morgenlander, “Who wants to be wearing a gorilla suit in summertime anyway?”

Return to Work Way Ahead of the Game

My current situation:

About to embark on a weeklong international trip, where I’ll have little or no Web or cell access.

My dilemma:

My to-do list is shorter than it was yesterday, but there’s one thing I’ve yet to cross off: finishing this article. Oh, the irony.

I’ve always envied the organizational habits of friends who can leave for a vacation without spending as many hours preparing for their absence as they plan to spend being absent. Determined to master their secrets, I sought the counsel of some organizational pros, the sort of folks who always have perfectly sharpened pencils on their desks and impeccably labeled files in their cabinets.

Get Organized -- For Good

Peggy Duncan, a personal productivity expert based in Atlanta says the key to enjoying a holiday without leaving mayhem behind is to be organized all year round. “For people who work stressed out every day and then go on vacation for a week, the break will not do them any good.”

Even for those who are able to put work out of mind before a trip, Duncan is not hopeful about what they will encounter on their return: “They’ll have to deal with the week of chaos that built up because of how disorganized they are.”

Stay in Touch

John Trosko, a professional organizer based in Los Angeles, offered some (metaphorical) adhesive bandages. He says he urges people to maintain at least some contact with the office while they’re away. “How really unplugged from work do you need to be?” he asks. “When I was a production coordinator for Walt Disney Animation Studios, I had a coronary every time I went on vacation. Now, with our smartphones and laptops, it just feels a little easier.”

Give Access, Get Automated

Even for those who prefer to be “off-grid” while they’re gone, Trosko offers these bits of advice:

  1. Delegate to a good team.

    If within your control, have a good team in place to fulfill time-sensitive responsibilities while you’re away. And make sure outsiders know who to call for assistance with urgent queries.
  1. Share important documents

    with those who’ll need to access them via tools such as Google Docs or SharePoint.
  1. Allow an assistant to access your email

    while you’re gone so spam and non-important messages can be deleted before you return.
  1. Set up an auto response

    using keywords so that any emails pertaining to ongoing but mundane situations can be handled automatically.
  1. If your office is a mess, clean it.

    Typically operate using the excavating-though-a-large-desk-pile system? Ask yourself whether it’ll be as “logical” for others who might need to pitch in while you’re gone. Don’t count on your colleagues to be able to find everything they need all on their own. Before leaving, put all important items in one area -- ideally in a binder -- for easy access.
Hit the Return Key

And what about maintaining your sanity (and relaxation) post-vacation? Duncan has these pointers:

  1. Spend one day in the office the weekend before you’re due back at work.

    It’s worth giving up a day on your weekend so you can come back more calm. Just treat yourself to something special when you finish getting caught up.
  1. Schedule no meetings

    the first two days after your return.
  1. Arrive extra early

    -- before most of your associates arrive in the office -- on your first day back to work.

“I’ve systemized my business,” explains Duncan, who is also the author of The Time Management Memory Jogger. “Because I work smart all the time, I don’t ever feel like I have to take a break.”

I don’t know whether I’ll ever achieve Duncan’s level of Zen, but the good news -- at least for now -- is, I’ve still got a few hours to get to the airport, and this story is done. Even better, I now know how to make my next vacation a stress-free one before, during and after.

2010 Special Report: The State of Careers

Stocks have rallied (somewhat) and the recession’s “over.” Yet unemployment still worsens. Here’s this year’s playbook for tackling your career goal -- and coming out on top.

Bye-bye, Aughts -- don't let the door hit you in the ’00s on your way out.

True, there were all those years of economic euphoria. Only thing is -- like that classic sitcom Seinfeld -- they were based on nothing. As a result, the United States is stumbling into the Tweens with a full-on nasty hangover known as high unemployment.

Still, there’s no need to let dismal job numbers deter you from pursuing your career goal -- whatever it may be. Whether you’re entering the new decade unemployed, underemployed or unhappily employed, you’ll need to tailor your game plan to succeed in the new year’s uncertain economic climate. Here’s how.  

Goal: Land Your First Job

Plan of Action:

Stay focused.  If you’re just entering the work force for the first time or are without a job due to forces beyond your control, target the field you want to be in -- with laser precision -- to make the hunting simpler (and your prospects brighter).

“By casting too wide a net, job seekers waste time applying to positions for which they are not perfectly suited,” says Sophie Beaurpere, director of communications for the online job-search aggregator Indeed. Instead, she recommends that would-be applicants make Web technology work for them, with methods such as Indeed’s Job Trends tool (which allows users to chart the growth/decline of various fields over time) and job opening e-mail alerts. “These means help seekers stay informed about the newest postings and also track changes in their target field,” she says.

And you’ll want to do that right now: January is a very popular time for job searches. “It’s always the highest traffic month of the year,” says Susan Joyce, editor and publisher of the Job-Hunt Web site. “It’s as if everyone has made a New Year’s resolution to find a new job, and as soon as most of the bowl games are over, they jump into the job market.”

The downside of a winter search: loads of competition. But Joyce says this traditionally dies down by April.

Goal: Ditch a Dying Industry

Plan of Action:

Maybe the hallway between you and that new corner office seems to get longer by the day. Maybe job security in your industry gets more precarious by the minute (you know who you are, newspaper reporters, bank tellers and Saab dealers!). Whatever the reason, when your vocation situation calls for you to go in a different direction, you’ll want to make a choice that will serve you for more than a few years. So, which careers are looking good in 2010 and beyond?

Roger Moncarz, the Division of Occupational Outlook branch chief in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections Program, reveals that the occupations expected to enjoy the greatest growth percentage during the period from 2008 to 2018 are (in descending order):

• Biomedical engineers

• Network systems and data communications analysts

• Home health aides

• Personal and home care aides

• Financial examiners

Moncarz notes, though, that fastest growing doesn’t always mean careers with the most opportunity. For example, although the biomedical engineer sector is expected to increase at a rate of 72 percent, that adds up to only 28,000 jobs by 2018. So it’s important to look at gross growth, too. Using that metric, the profession most worth pursuing would be registered nursing: it’s projected that there will be 582,000 new positions added by 2018 (for a total of 3.2 million jobs).

Of course, there are many professions you’d best avoid if you want to have a job in 2018. Included on that list: sewing machine operators (shocker), telemarketers (woo-hoo!) and door-to-door salesmen (ditto!).

Goal: Leave Your Job

Plan of Action:

You’d love to unshackle yourself from your current desk and look for a nicer ball and chain elsewhere (perhaps one made of white gold). But you’re wondering if now -- considering the economy -- would be a good time.

Ask yourself these questions: Am I in a decent job? Does it feel relatively secure? Is my gut telling me that now would be a bad time to shake things up?

Then trust your gut … especially if it is telling you to be cautious.

According to Joyce, “There are more unemployed people per open job.” That also means the current economic climate isn’t especially conducive to pursuing a job in a new industry. Indeed, according to October 2009 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 15,700,000 unemployed individuals actively seeking work, and only 2.5 million job openings. In other words: there are about six people per job opening. (And that’s not counting employed or underemployed workers who may also be looking for work.)

And if you’re actually considering going one step further -- leaving your entire career -- keep this in mind: “I don’t know many people who have switched careers during a recession,” says Joyce.

Goal: Captain Your Own Ship

Plan of Action:

While, as Joyce says, the economic downturn may not be the most fertile of environments to grow a new career, she notes, “I do know several people who have started businesses [during recessions].”

Hanging your shingle as a consultant, particularly if you can lure your former employer -- or your former employer’s competitor -- to become a client can be especially lucrative. Keep in mind, encourages Joyce, that “consulting gigs do sometimes turn into full-time jobs when the economy begins to recover.”

Of course, taking a job like that would go counter to the whole “captain your own ship” initiative. But then … it’s good to have options!

Goal: Plan Your Career Long-term

Plan of Action:

The short-term take-away is that opportunities do exist in our new economic reality. And how about after that?

The key is to plot where you’d like to be over the next decade and to examine how your skills fit those goals. From there, research the job outlook in that industry. Arming yourself with information is the best way to begin that process.

For a top-notch resource on career paths, check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ just-released Occupational Outlook Handbook (available online). You can also watch the experts weigh in on where job growth will be thanks to the multitude of downloadable videos shot at the White House’s December 2009 Forum on Jobs (check it out at Whitehouse Web site).

Rocket to the Top of Your Career

A star astronaut offers a flight plan for astronomical success in any job.

Leroy Chiao has literally reached the absolute heights of his profession: He’s one of the most accomplished and respected astronauts in NASA history.

During his stellar 15-year career, Leroy logged 229 days in space, flew three space shuttle missions and eventually earned the honor of commanding the International Space Station. He’s also one of only 166 people to walk in space -- a feat he accomplished six times -- and was one of the few Americans to ever pilot a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

We figured if this guy managed to overcome staggering odds (there aren’t many spaceman openings on the job boards, you know) to succeed in one of the most elite professions on Earth and above it, he must know something about building a career. So we put on our jet packs to catch up with Leroy, asking him to share his flight plan for success. (That’s right: We have jet packs in the office. Don’t you?) Here are his inside tips to keep you soaring toward your goals.

Be Prepared
“This is important in any aspect of life. You need to be properly prepared mentally and/or physically for any task. Learn what’s expected of you and make sure you familiarize yourself with all the requirements of any challenge. You need to walk yourself through them mentally to discover any possible gaps. Proper preparation will bring proper execution. Like we say, ‘Train like you fly, and fly like you train.’

“We prepped endlessly when I was training to build the International Space Station. I would prepare in a water tank in my suit 10 hours for every hour I walked in space. With that level of preparation, everything becomes second nature. In reality, nothing goes as planned -- but preparation offers you options.

“Once, I was piloting the shuttle, and as we were about 1,000 meters from the space station, all the alarms went off. There was a failure in the auto [pilot] system. Our ship started speeding up instead of slowing down. But my training clicked in and we ran the emergency procedures I was taught. I took control and stopped the spacecraft only 50 meters from the station. If I hadn’t gone to manual, we could’ve hit the station and killed everybody.”

Never Lose Your Determination
“This is a quality you’ll need to achieve any goal. In my case, it started way before I became an astronaut. NASA looks for persistence. The typical applicant goes through several interviews and rejections before they qualify.

“I put through my first application when I was still in grad school ... and I was rejected. And while I was disappointed, I was determined to try again and make it. So I finished off my Ph.D. and put in another application ... and I was accepted. I wasn’t going to walk away from a challenge.

“Never let anyone deny you your dreams. Never let disappointment get you down. And keep your focus on your goals. But remember: You need to work hard enough to achieve them.”

Be Innovative
“At NASA, you receive very specific training, as in any job. But you need to be able to take that preparation and use it to respond to situations that you may not have expected. You need to be able to think on your feet and show your boss you can be innovative to find solutions.

“After a launch, something unexpected always happens: It’s how you deal with it that separates you from the pack.

“Once, when I was on one of my space walks and working on the space station, I was using a foot restraint that allowed me to use both hands to unfold a giant antenna. But there was a piece of equipment in my way that wouldn’t allow me to reach the antenna. I substituted a tether for the foot restraint. This gave me the flexibility to maneuver around the obstruction and do the work without being bound by the restraint. It was dangerous, but I was able to innovate because I knew the task so well. It saved the mission.”

Remember: No Task Is Too Small
“As a kid, I worked at McDonald’s, and even then there was a lot of detail. Even though I was just making burgers, I had to get the right number of burgers done and out on time. You’re still learning to be a part of a team.

“This would carry over into my training sessions as an astronaut candidate when we had to go through systems checks over and over. We checked every last detail endlessly to see what the failures might be and how to deal with them. It was so tedious! But in flights, you have to recognize those failures when they occur and how to troubleshoot them. It could save your own life -- and those of your crew.

“Whether it’s reading a boring book for homework or doing menial tasks at a job early in your career, the key is this: Do the best you can. This way, you’ll learn how to be successful.”