ladieswithcomputersOK. I wouldn’t be a responsible recruiter, blogger, writer and networker if I didn’t tell you the truth. I have been and continue to be a huge advocate of social networking and using sites like Linked In to build your professional brand and network. But I think it’s getting a wee bit out of hand now. Let me explain.

Yes, the primary purpose of those sites is to get to know people and make lasting connections. However, I have read one too many articles and heard far too many “experts” tell people to get on and use it to find a job. “Don’t be afraid to seek out people in companies you want to work in and let them know you’re looking for a job or ask for an introduction to a hiring manager within the company”. Ordinarily I would agree with that, but with a caveat. Anyone who has read anything I’ve written knows that I tell people build relationships and get to know people. Yes, you should be bold and reach out to people you don’t know. But there is an etiquette to it. Make an effort to get to know the person and build some sort of relationship with them. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gotten an email asking to introduce someone to one of my contacts. I don’t have a problem making connections, but if I have never communicated with you or hadn’t heard from you since we initially connected, do not ask me to refer you. See, it’s a credibility issue with me. My name and reputation mean everything to me. Anyone I recommend is someone I know in some capacity. If I don’t know you from Eve, how can I introduce you to someone not knowing what you bring to the table?

Think about it. Would you refer someone you don’t know? If things went wrong, that could damage not only your reputation, but also your relationship. One time I passed along an introduction figuring I would help this person out because they needed a job. I didn’t know her, but she sent an email introducing herself to let me know she was on the market. I made the introduction and forgot to tell my contact I did not know her personally. The person went on to badger my contact. She called her repeatedly and sent email after email asking for an interview. My contact said she told her she didn’t have anything at the time but to watch the website. She also told her she’d be in touch if something came up. The woman would call her every time she saw a new opening on the company website. I was so embarrassed and had to work overtime to mend my damaged relationship. Well, I generally applaud initiative. But stalking is another issue altogether and I cannot condone that.

I think writers have been very irresponsible to tell readers to go ahead and reach out to people without giving them the proper etiquette lesson that goes along with that advice. I truly hope that you all do go out and network, you’re supposed to, otherwise how would you build your network. But please be responsible about it. Don’t go in there reaching out to folks you never met asking for introductions or worse, making your initial contact about getting a job. I am not heartless. But I am a realist. Get to know the people you reach out to. Ask to speak with them via phone and chat a little about yourself. Don’t go into interview mode or ask to send your resume. What you can do is talk about your expertise, and casually mention that you may be interested in hearing about the right opportunities. As them if they mind if you keep in touch with them periodically. Remain in touch by sending relevant articles, events and books. A follow up email every now and then is welcomed by most people. Sending an email every week, well, is stalking.

So “Go Ahead, Talk to Strangers”, but do it responsibly. Be courteous and respectful. If you manage your network with class, common sense and respect I promise that you will benefit from leads because you took the time to nurture the relationships. Remember, it’s give and take.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham

Black Business WomanAll of us have a similar common goal….to be empowered and have control over our professional destiny.  To have true empowerment, you must take responsibility for who you are, what you do, and what course you chart for yourself. It would be nice to have someone do it all for you.  I would have loved to have someone give me a road map to plotting my professional life.  But alas, it doesn’t work that way in the real world. At best, you can surround yourself with mentors and associates who will guide you along your journey. But in the end, it’s up to you to make the decisions and changes that need to be made to reach empowerment.

Here are a few steps you can take to True Empowerment:

1. Let go of past baggage. We have a tendency of holding on to what does us no good. Remembering a fight, worrying about bills, being upset about how someone else lives their life, holding a grudge because someone else took credit for a project we worked hard on. All of this is negative energy that takes up space in your world of positivity.  In order for positive blessings to come your way, you must get rid of the old negative feelings and thoughts.  Let go and let them fuel you to push even harder to achieve your goals. Come to new situations with a free and clear mind and heart.  Baggage keeps you from bringing your “A” game and from experiencing true success.

2. Get educated. Now I don’t just mean go to school. Education comes in many forms.  Yes, a college education is a good foundation, but continuing to learn well after you’ve earned your degree comes back to you ten-fold.  You can take continuing education courses.  Find topics that interest you and can help boost your career.  You’ll even get credit units for taking them.  Attend seminars, workshops and conferences.  Some organizations give you continuing education credits by simply attending.  Take advantage of events to leverage new relationships and show off what you know (and what you learn).  Read a book or three.  Trade journals, magazines, newspapers, online content and of course books help to continue the flow of knowledge.  Create a binder of important articles that are beneficial to your career or industry.  The internet is right at your fingertips.  Do your research and reading.

3. Find mentors. Notice I didn’t say find “A” mentor.  Mentors are all around you.  They don’t have to be a specific age, gender, position title or even in the same industry.  Study people whom you admire.  What makes them tick?  What paths have they blazed in their industries?  Reach out to them and ask if they would be open to being your mentor.  Don’t limit yourself to just one.  There’s a lot to be learned out there.  Don’t be afraid to reach out and connect with people.  More often than not, they are willing to share their knowledge.  But be careful not to monopolize their time, and definitely make it a value added relationship for both of you. I’m sure there is a way you can give back to your mentors.

4. Polish your image. You’ve got to look the part.  There was an article I read about dressing like a CEO.  I believe that no matter what level you are in your career, you absolutely must dress to impress.  Don’t go out to buy the Georgio Armani suit so quickly.  Buy classic tailored pieces that are timeless.  Have a couple of good staples in your wardrobe that you can mix and match with the Target wear.  Be sure to bring your own flair to your image.  But follow the tone set by those who are where you want to be.  Even law firms are slightly relaxing their corporate attire…but not too much.  Everything from your hairstyle to your accessories say something about you.  Are you portraying the appropriate image?  Invest in some classic shoes, handbags, jewelry and scarves.  Depending on what field you are in, a stunning briefcase can add value to your look.  And most importantly, buy a dress coat that is professional and classic. You must always be cognizant of your outward appearance. Confidence attracts confidence (and opportunity).

5. Build a solid network and use it. There are so many people who tell me “I can’t network. I don’t know what to say to people.” Well I usually tell them to get over it.  You cannot succeed in the business world without interacting with people.  You don’t necessarily have to become best friends forever. But you must have the ability to strike up conversations and the timing skills to know when to strike or move on.  As much as I hate to admit it, there is still an unspoken truth that it’s all in who you know, not what you know.  Learn how to network online, but don’t let that be your end all be all.  Use it as a starting point to building relationships.  The internet is a wonderful thing and I am grateful that I have it to make my job a little easier.  But it can make you lazy.  You must cultivate your business relationships that you form online.  Let’s say you meet someone on Linked In or Viadeo, or any other online professional networking tool.  Immediately suggest a phone conversation.  Take the time to introduce yourself and let the person know how you see them networking with you.  And then continue the dialog.  You don’t have to speak every week, or every month for that matter.  But you do want them to keep you in the forefront of their minds.  Don’t approach your relationships with a “set it and forget it” mentality.  It takes real work.

True empowerment is there within your reach.  Whether you are a college student, entrepreneur, or corporate riser, these principles will work for you.  Education + Action = TRUE EMPOWERMENT(tm).

Til next time.
Adrienne Graham

Social Networking. That seems to be the term of the decade. Everywhere you go, it’s Web 2.0 this, social networking that, Linked In this, Facebook that. Who would have imagined back in the day that social forums would evolve into professional networking opportunities?

I teach a few webinars that focus on not only Linked In, but also social networking to its core. One of the features I read and take advantage of often is the Answers section of Linked In and Yahoo. By answering questions and giving my advice, I seem to draw a lot of people who ask to network with me.  An avid user an fan of Linked In, I am cautious about how and with whom I network and connect.  Daily, I get invitations to connect.  Despite the fact that I have clearly mentioned on many occasions that I prefer people send a note asking to connect and making it personal (ie: an introduction), and that I always take the time to send a personalized note letting a person know how I found them and my reason for asking to connect, this is what I still manage to get from people:

Adrienne,

I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.

It drives me nuts!  It’s as if they haven’t even read my profile.  Recently I received the same generic note from a young man .  I politely responded back to him my preference for contacting and connecting with me and asked him to a least introduce himself.  He replied back that he was sorry I didn’t see anything in his PROFILE that would make me want to connect.  I was taken aback.  So not only did he not honor my request, he STILL didn’t even take the time to introduce himself and tell me how he’d like to network with me.  But he was upset.  It left me scratching my head.

I tell this story to illustrate a point.  When you are stepping into a social networking situation, it’s not like being on Myspace, Facebook, Blackplanet or any other social networking site for pleasure.  When you join a professional networking site, you must have a different approach and mindset than you would with the above mentioned networks.  You cannot assume that people will take the time to read your profile if you didn’t put any thought into introducing yourself properly or abide by their wishes.  The rules of engagement are simple.  Do your research.  Read a person’s profile and see if there are any specific request about how to contact them.  Make sure the person wants to be contacted, and what their preferences are (if you are a pet lover who wants to share an event for your pet, you wouldn’t contact someone who doesn’t own a pet).  Do NOT EVER send cookie cutter or standard template messages.  That will turn a person off immediately.  I know it turns me off.  Take the time to properly introduce yourself, indicate why you are contacting them, and offer to discuss any possible synergies.

Building networking relationships takes work.  Building networking relationships ONLINE takes not only work, but also the proper etiquette.  The people you reach out to cannot see you.  So you have to be extra diligent about presenting the proper first impression.

The next webinar will be held on Saturday, April 26th.  Please be sure to visit the website for more details.

Til next time,

Adrienne Graham

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