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Today’s Career Challenge: Start Networking Like a Pro

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Today’s Career Challenge: Start Networking Like a Pro

You can’t afford to build a career in a vacuum. Even the most independent professionals still need colleagues, clients, mentors, and friends. You can settle with the network you already have, but meeting new people has its benefits. The more people you meet, the more opportunities you have to learn new things, take on new challenges, and exchange interesting ideas. With a broader network, you can even get better business opportunities. If networking has all these benefits, why aren’t more people doing it?

One problem with networking is that it is a broad, ongoing activity. It seems like a daunting task. This is why most people just give up and wait around for the “right people” to come to them. But what are the odds of that happening without any effort on your part? This is why you need to set up a system to make networking easier. Your challenge within the next 24 hours is to set up that system. Why a 24-hour challenge? So that you can take action now and get results as soon as possible.

With that said, let’s get started.

1) Set up a tool to capture and manage your contacts. Estimated task time: 15 to 30 minutes.

The first thing you should do is to pick the right tool. You’ll need something that will allow you to input, gather, and analyze information in each potential contact’s profile. While you can fiddle around with a spreadsheet or a database for hours, this solution isn’t ideal. Setup should be easy so that you have no room for excuses or procrastination. The quickest way is to use an online form management apps, since it takes less than half an hour to set up an account and get your forms ready. There are many options out there, such as the popular Survey Monkey or Survey Gizmo, but personally I use PandaForm which has more features available to free users so we’ll be using that in the example.

You will be creating a “Potential Contact Questionnaire”. It’s a simple form where you can input details about each person you want to meet, including how you plan to introduce yourself and other relevant information that can make the introduction easier. Here are the fields you may need for your form, with the suggested field types in parentheses:

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    Contact information. Of course, you should start off by creating text fields for basic contact information such as the person’s name, email, and phone number. Don’t worry if, when filling up the form later, you realize that you can’t find the email addresses or phone numbers of your potential contacts. You can add an extra text field for “contact page link” instead if there’s a contact page on the person’s website. Don’t forget to add other fields like “Company” or “Mailing Address”, especially if you want to send notes or greeting cards via snail mail.

    Tip: When using PandaForm, you need to make sure that email notifications are off so that when you input a contact’s email, they won’t receive a message by mistake. You can do this by clicking “Save” at the bottom, then clicking on “Settings”, then the “Notification” tab. Finally, click the “Off” button under “Send Confirmation Email”. See the screenshot below for an example:

      Primary website (single line text). Almost everyone has their own website or blog today, so it’s important that you know this. Apart from being a means of contact, their website can be a way for you to find ways to initiate contact.

      List of other relevant links such as a additional websites or blogs (paragraph text). If your potential contact has more than one site, you can type them up here, one URL per line – after you’ve built your form, of course.

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      Additional reference links (paragraph text). These may include any relevant interviews, articles, and other resources that can help you learn more about the person.

      Individual text fields for links to their social media profiles. You can add individual text fields for links to each of their social media profiles. In this example I only used one field for LinkedIn and another for Twitter, but you can add additional fields for Facebook, Tumblr, and other social media services you use.

      Answers to “Why do I want to meet this person?” or “I hope this person will be my…”. List all the possible reasons you have for wanting to meet this person. Some options may include having them as your mentor, collaborator, contractor, or even just a friend to bounce ideas with. Since you can have more than one option per person, the best way to input this data is via checkboxes (see below)

        A paragraph field for “How can I help this person?” Networking isn’t primarily about what other people can do for you, it’s about what you can do for them. By looking over a potential contact’s list of websites, blogs, social media profiles, and related links, you’re sure to find at least one way you can help them.

        A paragraph field for your notes. You may need to jot down a few bullet points about the person you’re contacting. Include any “dealbreakers” that may turn off your potential contact. Some people may not like generic or template emails, extremely long emails, or unsolicited phone calls. They may also be vocal about the things they appreciate, such as courtesy or correspondence that gets straight to the point. If they mention any of these things, include them in your notes. Tip: An alternative for PandaForm users is to use the “Comments” text box that appears when you’re editing individual entries.

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        Create additional fields depending on your needs. You can create a few more fields and customize the form to suit your situation. For example, a simple text field for “Friend in common” allows you to write the name of a friend, relative, or other acquaintance that you and your potential contact have in common. You can also create an additional field for the date you’re planning on contacting them or even a draft of the first e-mail or phone call you want to make. Add as many fields as you need, but don’t overdo it.

        Once you’ve finished your form, you can publish it. Then, bookmark a link to the published form on your browser for easy access whenever you think of a new potential contact. Click here to see what your published form may look like. Of course, it all depends on what fields you end up using.

        2) Make a list of 5 to 8 people you’d like to meet. Estimated task time: 5 minutes.

        Now comes the easy part – listing the people you want to contact. We all keep track of people we wish we knew, even if it’s just in our heads. Listing their names and basic contact information is a concrete step towards meeting these people in reality. You can write the list down in a sheet of paper or, better yet, open up your form and start creating an entry for each person – even if it’s just their names. The key to this task is just to start with your shortlist of potential contacts. You can fill up the rest of the questionnaire after you’ve listed at least 5 people.

        3) Fill up your questionnaire for each person on your list. Estimated task time: 10 to 15 minutes per contact.

        If you already used your form to list your potential contacts by name, edit the entries internally so you can complete the rest of the questionnaire for each contact. In PandaForm, you can do this by going to the “Forms” page and clicking on the form name. You’ll be taken to the records section where you can see all the data you already typed in when listing your contacts (see below).

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          Fill up the more difficult fields such as their contact information, list of websites, and anything else you haven’t filled up yet. When filling up the entry for “How can I help this person?”, make your answer as concrete as possible. Instead of writing something like “help them improve website”, write “send a quick email about the typographical errors you found on the homepage”. Having a concrete, action-oriented answer can make initiating contact easier.

          4) Contact one person on your list today. Estimated task time: 10 to 15 minutes.

          Now, go over the data you’ve gathered. In PandaForm, do this by clicking the name of the form in the Forms page and you’ll be directed to the list of records you’ve entered into your questionnaire. Choose a person from your list, open the record you’ve created about them, and start contacting them using what you already know. This is where your answer to “How can I help this person?” really comes in handy. It can be a great way to introduce yourself and provide value to the person you want to meet.

          When completed, the time investment you spent on creating this system may only take 40 to 60 minutes. The rewards you get, however, will be reaped for a long time. Once you’ve created your questionnaire and get into the habit of filling it up every now and then, all you need to do is choose one of the people on your list and start contacting them.

          Take on today’s challenge and start networking. You’ve only got today to make this happen – otherwise, you risk forgetting about it altogether. If you like my workflow, implement it with PandaForm and share your progress in the comments.

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          Leon Ho

          Founder of Lifehack

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          Last Updated on August 25, 2021

          Why Personal Branding Is Important to Your Career

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          Why Personal Branding Is Important to Your Career

          As a recruiter, I have met and interviewed hundreds of candidates who have no idea who they are.

          Without a personal brand, candidates struggle to answer the question: “tell me about yourself—who are you?” They have no idea about who they are, what their strengths are, and how they can add value to the company. They present their CV’s believing that their CV is the key to their career success. In some ways, your CV still has its use. However, in today’s job market, you need more than a CV to stand out in a crowd.

          According to Celinne Da Costa:[1]

          “Personal brand is essentially your golden ticket to networking with the right people, getting hired for a dream job, or building an influential business.” She believes that “a strong personal brand allows you to stand out in an oversaturated marketplace by exposing desired audiences to your vision, skillset, and personality in a way that is strategically aligned with your career goals.”

          A personal brand opens up your world to so many more career opportunities that you would never have been exposed to with just your CV.

          What Is Your Personal Brand?

          “Personal branding is how you distinctively market your uniqueness.” —Bernard Kelvin Clive

          Today, the job market is very competitive and tough. Having a great CV will only let you go so far because everyone has a CV, but no one else has your distinct personal brand! It is your personal brand that differentiates you from everyone else and that is what people buy—you.

          Your personal brand is your mark on the world. It is how people you interact with and the world see you. It is your legacy—it is more important than a business brand because your personal brand lasts forever.

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          I have coached people who have very successful careers, and they come to me because they have suddenly found that they are not getting the opportunities or having the conversations that would them to their next role. They are having what I call a “career meltdown,” all because they have no personal brand.

          A personal brand helps you become conscious of your differences and your uniqueness. It allows you to position yourself in a way that makes you stand out from the pack, especially among other potential job applicants.

          Don’t get me wrong, having a great CV and a great LinkedIn profile is important. However, there are a few steps that you have to take to have a CV and LinkedIn profile that is aligned to who you are, the value you offer to the market, and the personal guarantee that you deliver results.

          Building your personal brand is about strategically, creatively, and professionally presenting what makes you, you. Knowing who you are and the value you bring to the table enables you to be more informed, agile, and adaptable to the changing dynamic world of work. This is how you can avoid having a series of career meltdowns.

          Your Personal Brand Is Essential for Your Career Success

          In her article, Why Personal Branding Is More Important Than Ever, Caroline Castrillon outlines key reasons why a personal brand is essential for career success.

          According to Castrillon,[2]

          “One reason is that it is more popular for recruiters to use social media during the interview process. According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of employers use social media to screen candidates during the hiring process, and 43% of employers use social media to check on current employees.”

          The first thing I do as a recruiter when I want to check out a candidate or coaching client is to look them up on LinkedIn or other social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Your digital footprint is the window that highlights to the world who you are. When you have no control over how you want to be seen, you are making a big mistake because you are leaving it up to someone else to make a judgment for you as to who you are.

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          As Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.”

          In her book, Becoming, Michelle Obama writes about the importance of having a personal brand and her journey to defining her personal brand. She wrote that:

          “if you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.”

          When you have a personal brand, you are in control. You know exactly what people will say about you when you leave the room.

          The magic of a personal brand is that gives you control over how you want to be seen in the world. Your confidence and self-belief enable you to leverage opportunities and make informed decisions about your career and your future. You no longer experience the frustrations of a career meltdown or being at a crossroads not knowing what to do next with your career or your life. With a personal brand, you have focus, clarity, and a strategy to move forward toward future success.

          Creating your personal brand does not happen overnight. It takes a lot of work and self-reflection. You will be expected to step outside of your comfort zone not once, but many times.

          The good news is that the more time you spend outside of your comfort zone, the more you will like being there. Being outside of your comfort zone is where you can test the viability of and fine-tune your personal brand.

          5 Key Steps to Creating Your Personal Brand

          These five steps will help you create a personal brand that will deliver you the results you desire with your career and in life.

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          1. Set Your Personal Goals

          What is it that you want to do in the next five years? What will your future self be doing in the next five to ten years? What is important to you? If you can answer these questions, then you are on the right path. If not, then you have to start thinking about them.

          2. Create Your Unique Value Proposition

          Create your unique value proposition by asking yourself these four questions:

          1. What are your personality features? What benefit do you offer people?
          2. Who are you and why do people enjoy working with you?
          3. What do you do and what do people want you to do for them? How do you solve their problems?
          4. What makes you different from others like you?

          The answers to these questions will give you the information you need to create your professional story, which is the key step to creating your personal brand.

          3. Write Your Professional Story

          Knowing who you are, what you want, and the unique value you offer is essential to you creating your professional story. People remember stories. Your personal story incorporates your value proposition and tells people who you are and what makes you unique. This is what people will remember about you.

          4. Determine Which Platforms Will Support Your Personal Brand

          Decide which social media accounts and online platforms will best represent your brand and allow you to share your voice. In a professional capacity, having a LinkedIn profile and a CV that reflects your brand is key to your positioning in relation to role opportunities. People will be connecting with you because they will like the story you are telling.

          5. Become Recognized for Sharing Your Knowledge and Expertise

          A great way for you to promote yourself is by sharing knowledge and helping others. This is where you prove you know your stuff and you gain exposure for doing so. You can do this through social media, writing, commenting, video, joining professional groups, networking, etc. Find your own style and uniqueness and use it to attract clients, the opportunities, or the jobs you desire.

          The importance of having a personal brand is not going to go away. In fact, it is the only way where you can stand out and be unique in a complex changing world of work. If you don’t have a personal brand, someone will do it for you. If you let this happen, you have no control and you may not like the story they create.

          Standing out from others takes time and investment. Most people cannot make the change by themselves, and this is where engaging a personal brand coach is a viable option to consider.

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          As a personal brand coach, working with my clients to create their personal brand is my passion. I love the fact that we can work together to create a personal story that defines exactly what people will say when you leave the room.

          Other People’s Stories

          Listening to other people’s stories is a great way to learn. In his article, 7 TED Talks About Personal Branding, Rafael Dos Santos presents the best Ted Talks where speakers share their stories about the “why,” “what,” and “how” of personal branding.((GuidedPR: 7 TED Talks About Personal Branding))

          Take some time out to listen to these speakers sharing their stories and thoughts about personal branding. You will definitely learn so much about how you can start your journey of defining yourself and taking control of your professional and personal life.

          Your personal brand, without a doubt, is your secret weapon to your career success. As Michelle Obama said,

          “your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”

          So, go own your story. Go on the journey to create your personal brand that defines who you are, highlights your uniqueness, and the value you offer to the world.

          Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

          Reference

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