The following is a guest post by Kristi Hedges, author of The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others, on creating the right impression during a job search.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who relishes the job search process.
In fact, the #1 reason people stay in an unsatisfying job is because they loathe the process of finding another one. They start looking only when the pain of the current situation is so acute that it’s actually worse than the discomfort of the job search.
As if finding a job isn’t stressful enough, doing so in a volatile economy raises the pain level exponentially. It’s hard to move to a position in a similar company across town; imagine trying changing industries or careers as so many people are trying to do today. Putting yourself out there can be tough.
It’s no wonder the unofficial motto of many professionals right now is “grin and bear it.”
For most professionals, any job search starts with a renewed energy around networking. Some enjoy networking since they consider it an ongoing part of their career, but the majority approach it as a necessary means to an end. Everyone shares a desire to use networking — whether large gatherings or 1-on-1 exploratory meetings — to make the search process as efficient and successful as possible.
In networking, you usually have one chance to create your desired impression, so it pays to be strategic and thoughtful. If you want to improve your opportunities and make networking lead to a coveted position, avoid these common mistakes.
Networking Mistake #1: Exhibiting an uninspiring presence.
Your presence carries an energy into the room, and sets the mood and tone of your exchange. Your goal is to inspire through your words and how you comport yourself. You want others to leave your conversation feeling excited, optimistic, and generally better for having it. You want the other party to see the possibilities you bring.
This is easier said than done — especially when your thoughts going in may be, “I’d rather not be here” or “don’t blow this opportunity!” Neuroscience shows that what we think shows up in our actions, and consistent thoughts achieve default status. People even form micro-expressions they aren’t conscious of in reaction to thoughts, which are read by others.
FIX: Consider networking discussions as informal interviews, and prepare for them as such. Spend time establishing clear intentionality for your exchange that feels both authentic and helpful. Consider what reaction you want the other person to have, and make that your intention. For example, if you want others to feel confident, your intention might be, “I bring deep expertise to an organization.” I use a tool I call theIntentionality Frame that can be a big help to develop talking points. It works like this: draw a rectangle shape on a piece of paper. Put your intention in the middle. Then develop your main talking points around the edge of the frame to keep your intention in mind at all times. If a point doesn’t reinforce your intention, adapt it or scrap it.
Networking Mistake #2: Selling versus connecting.
Never forget that networking is about getting others to like you and invest in you. No one wants to be on the receiving end of a sales pitch. We can barely listen to the other person without poking holes in their statements or mentally shutting them out entirely. Yet, we’re often told to sell ourselves or self-promote. This hurts both parties as it forces them into uncomfortable and unnatural positions.
FIX: Don’t even try to sell yourself during networking conversations. Spend the time making connections. Find as many commonalities as you can with others on vision, industry trends, job success factors, shared colleagues, etc. You can learn many of these well before you enter the room with some information gathering. Instead of trying to sell across the table, consider yourself on the same side of the table in order to deepen trust. After all, trust is the ultimate gatekeeper to getting people to recommend you, and to use their influence to get you hired.
Networking Mistake #3: Apologizing for your history.
When networking, it’s common to feel insecure about what led you to pursue a new position, whether it was because of a downsizing, career change, or an untenable job situation. Just because your path wasn’t a typical trajectory doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable or relevant. Even failure can breed innovation and desire. (Steve Jobs was famously fired from Apple in 1985.) Never feel you have to make excuses or apologize. Others will feel about your history exactly as you lead them to feel through your presence.
FIX: Ask yourself the question: “What’s the opportunity that’s created from my history?” You may want to make a list of what makes you unique whether from experience, perspective or attitude. In networking opportunities, show how your past informs your present, and creates a unique value proposition for your chosen career. And most importantly, believe it. There are many leaders who hire for attitude and resilience over someone who has had it easy. You’re reading the words of one of them right now.
Kristi Hedges is a communications expert, entrepreneur, and certified leadership coach whose clients include Fannie Mae, VeriSign, the National Institutes of Health, privately held businesses, and global professional services firms. She’s a leadership columnist for Entrepreneur.com and a speaker for Vistage International and The Founder Institute. She writes about leadership and communications on Twitter at @kristihedges and on her blog, Communicate Leadership.