MONEY Careers

How to Network Your Way to a New Job in Just 5 Minutes a Day

Businesswomen saying hi in an office
You'll be smiling too, if all this networking pays off. Paul Bradbury—Getty Images/Caiaimage

Career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine offers some easy ways to stay connected with your contacts. No name tags or awkward conversations required.

Does the word “networking” send shivers down your spine? Maybe it would help if I told you that networking doesn’t have to be a big production or a big time drain.

Of course, you want to attend conferences, join professional groups, and have lunches with contacts. Those activities are absolutely worth the investment, but you can do them sparingly.

In between, resolve to network for just five minutes a day. The 10 simple activities below require little preparation, will cost you no money, and can be done during your coffee break. With these ideas, you’ll have no excuse not to network each and every day. And you thought you were no good at networking!

1. Send a birthday greeting. LinkedIn and Facebook both highlight birthdays. Or, you can add your professional contacts’ birthdays as annual events to your Outlook calendar. When you see that it’s someone’s big day, email that person directly with a brief personalized note.

2. Offer congratulations. Social media sites also highlight big moves and wins, including job changes or work anniversaries. You can also use a specialty tool like Newsle, which links to your contact list and lets you know when any of your contacts is cited in the news. When you see good news, send a direct message to congratulate, again personalizing the note.

3. Say thank you. Surely, someone did something nice for you in the past week. Maybe it was a colleague who dug up a report you needed. Maybe it was an old classmate who forwarded an alumni event you would have overlooked. Send a quick email to thank that person: Hi John, thanks again for helping me find that Client X info. I finished the report, and you made my life SO much easier. You’ll probably make that person’s day.

4. Post a career-related article on Facebook. If you’re only using social media to share selfies and personal news, you’re missing an opportunity to remind people what you do professionally—which helps put a bug in your friends’ ears in case they hear of cool opportunities relating to what you do. You don’t need to post your resume to make a professional statement (please don’t, in fact). But you can post an article related to your role or industry, and write a comment that showcases your knowledge. If people aren’t interested, they’ll skim. But if someone is looking for your expertise, they’ll now know to contact you.

5 . Update your social media status. Even if you don’t have an article to recommend, you can post about something you’re working on. It doesn’t have to be detailed, and it doesn’t have to be promotional. An example: Whew! Looking forward to normal working days now that I’ve finished our quarterly revenue analysis.

6. Acknowledge other social media activity. When someone else posts something about what they’re doing—professionally or personally—write back with encouragement, suggestions, or just to acknowledge that it’s nice to hear from them. For example: You popped up on my Facebook feed. It’s been too long since we connected. How are you?

7. Change up your email signature. Your email signature is a passive networking tool: It’s included in your correspondence automatically, and you can use it to include information relating to you and your activities. My email signature rotates every few weeks and includes upcoming events plus titles of my most recent articles (with links).

8. Take a walk around your floor. A strong network is a diverse network. It’s tempting to fall into a rut of hanging out with the same people, typically the people in close proximity to you. Take five minutes to walk to other areas in the office. Say hello and chat with people you don’t regularly see. Then, if you ever have to work on a cross-departmental initiative, you will already have established at least some relationship with your extended colleagues.

9. Ping a random contact Build the habit of picking a contact at random from your phone list or Outlook contacts, and email that person just to say hello. This gets you in the habit of doing some networking each and every day, and it also ensures that you reach out to a wide variety of people, not just the people you naturally think of.

10. Share a recommendation. In the last week, you probably experienced something new—read an article, ate at a just-opened restaurant or tried a new recipe at home. Think of one new thing and of one person you know who might enjoy whatever it is you did. Email that person with the article, restaurant name or recipe, including a short note saying that this new thing made you think of them. They’ll be flattered to pop up front of mind and will appreciate hearing about something new.

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Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column will appear weekly.

Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:

How Making a Friend in HR Can Help Your Career

10 Easy Ways to Make Yourself More Hireable

Your Career is Your Biggest Asset. 5 Ways to Protect It

 

MONEY Careers

Making a Friend in HR Can Help Your Career

Human resources office door
The person behind this door can give you some valuable insights related to your career. Image Source—Getty Images

A well-placed mole can tell you when key decisions are made, how to ask your boss for a raise, and more, says career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine.

If you don’t have friends who work in human resources, you might have a very narrow view of what happens there: It’s the place to go during benefits selection time; it’s the place where people get fired; it’s a mouthpiece for the company.

Like most people, you probably only contact HR is when you have a problem.

But as someone who has worked in the field for more than 20 years—both inside companies and outside as a consultant—I can tell you that getting to know the people who work in your human resources department can be very valuable. HR professionals work on career-related issues every single day. And you can take advantage of that expertise to better manage your own career.

Don’t yet know anyone in HR well enough to ply them for insights? Invest some time to build a connection: Invite someone to lunch whom you’ve worked with on matters related to work—say, filling an open position or promoting a star. Also, look at your LinkedIn and Facebook connections to see if you know someone in HR even if not in your own company; they can still be helpful to you. And the next time you’re contacted by a recruiter, return the call and suggest meeting up.

Once you’ve got your lunch planned, here are five areas you might want to talk to your HR buddy about:

1. What the straight story is on company benefits

Better than a hotline, your friend in HR can translate the doublespeak from the benefits guide into information you can use. Your friend might not know every nook and cranny of the guide, but if you have a specific interest (say, elder care issues), he or she can probably point you to the expert on her team who knows this well. Medical benefits is definitely a company perk you want to understand well.

But you might also ask if there are other benefits you’re entitled to that you are likely overlooking. There may be training and development opportunities, or even discounts to local attractions or consumer services (e.g., cell phone plans) that your company offers its employees. Your friend in HR knows about these because it’s part of his or her day-to-day.

2. How the decisions that affect your pay are made

What data is used to establish pay ranges? When are raises and bonuses decided? Are promotions granted at specific times only? Does every department do performance reviews at the same time, in the same way?

If you want to keep your career moving on an upward trajectory, you need to know how decisions are made around raises, bonuses, and promotions. This includes when decisions are made (if it’s once a year, start planning now so you don’t miss the next cycle), who decides (it’s not just your boss) and how your group compares with others (maybe you’re in a department with little upward movement and need to switch).

You can’t ask your boss or immediate colleagues for this information without revealing your intentions, and they may not know the whole story. Someone in HR, however, deals with these issues frequently, and across different areas of the company.

3. When exceptions are made to the rules

In addition to knowing how the processes typically work, your friend in HR probably also knows about any exceptions to the rule.

Any decent professional keeps confidentiality, and HR issues are absolutely confidential. However, your friend in HR can let you know if exceptions have occurred and how likely they are.

For example, you could find out if bonuses really are paid out only at year-end. Your HR friend may not be able to reveal who got the special spot bonus or how much it was, but might say, “I’ve seen it happen from time to time” or “I did hear of one case when…” And if you’re working on an extra assignment and feeling undervalued, your pal may suggest you lobby your boss for special consideration. At least you know an exception is possible, and it’s on you to press on for what you want.

4. How things compare between your company and others

Are you fairly paid? Is every company in this industry restructuring so frequently? Are work-at-home opportunities just not available in your line of work?

Your friend in HR doesn’t just look at career-related trends inside your company. He or she also needs to have a sense for what other companies are doing to ensure your firm stays competitive. Use that competitor knowledge as a shortcut for your own research.

5. How to approach your boss with requests

Now that you have all this useful knowledge about what benefits you might select, how decisions are made, possible exceptions that could apply to your situation and what competitors are offering, you may want to ask your boss for something—access to that special training conference, a promotion, a special bonus. But you don’t want your meeting with your boss to be the first time you practice this ask.

It is incredibly helpful to role play what that negotiation will look like with someone other than your boss who is experienced in career negotiations. This is another perk of having a friend in HR. He or she has sat through offer negotiations, performance reviews, and other career discussions much more frequently than you (and maybe even your boss). He or she can pepper you with questions you can practice in advance, or give you tips on what works and what doesn’t.

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Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column will appear weekly.

Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:

10 Easy Ways to Make Yourself More Hireable

Your Career is Your Biggest Asset. 5 Ways to Protect it

New Degree, No Job? 4 Steps Grads Should Take to Jumpstart the Search

MONEY Careers

10 Easy Ways to Make Yourself More Hireable

Sell Yourself as an Expert
Standing behind a podium gives you some serious expert cred. Even better if you're actually giving a speech. Colin Gray—Getty Images

Career coach and former HR exec Caroline Ceniza-Levine shares her advice for getting people to think of you as an expert.

In today’s competitive job market, it is not enough to promise you’ll get the job done. You need to already have a track record of accomplishment.

With smaller headcount, employers are gun-shy; they’re wary of making a hiring mistake when they do have the rare opportunity to fill a slot. So they try to hold out for the perfect candidate.

That means it’s even more critical that you are perceived as someone the employer can’t live without—the best in what you do, the go-to person, the expert.

For experienced professionals, this means being seen as the best for your industry (e.g., media, banking) or role (e.g., sales, financial analysis). Even new entrants to the job market can differentiate themselves as expert in baseline skills (e.g., computer software, communication skills, leadership potential).

Here are 10 ways to establish your expertise:

1. Collect testimonials. Post testimonials on your own website, if you have one, and on LinkedIn. If you say you’re great, it’s bragging. If someone says it about you, it’s social proof. Pick people who know your work well. Email or call them (however you normally communicate) and explain that you are editing your profile or website and would appreciate a recommendation from them. Be prepared to coach them on the specific details you would like them to emphasize—if they worked with you a while ago, they may not remember exactly what you did.

2. Hitch your wagon to brand names. You want people to know you were already selected by the best (and therefore the most selective) employers. Easy enough if the companies where you’ve worked are household names, but if not, look for ways to define them in a superlative fashion in your resume and on LinkedIn. For example, if a previous employer was a Fortune 500 company or leader in its field or the biggest of its peers, say so.

3. Share in another expert’s halo. When you’re going for a job or looking to meet someone important in your network, have someone you know who’s especially well revered in the field put in a good word for you. As a recruiter, when I got a referral from someone that I highly regarded, I regarded that referred candidate more highly.

4. Get published. Pen a guest post for a blog or newsletter that serves your industry. Authorship conveys expertise. (Ahem.) If you’re a member of an association that puts out a newsletter, contact the person in charge of putting it together and suggest ideas. If you’re a reader of a specific blog, it might have instructions right there on how to submit an idea; if not, contact the editor.

5. Get quoted. Not up for writing an entire article? Lend your expertise as a source. Network with journalists who cover your area—you can find them via HARO as well as Twitter—and let them know you are available at any time. Give them your cell phone number, even. Journalists love to know they have a go-to source who will pick up the phone when they’re on deadline. Remember to speak in catchy, therefore publishable, sound bites when they call.

6. Speak in public. In addition to writing, speaking is an effective way to share and promote your expertise. Consider conferences organized for your industry or for general professional associations (e.g., women’s groups, young leaders, MBAs) Volunteer to speak at an alumni event or career-services workshop for your alma mater. Put a Google alert on keywords and phrases, such as “TedX” or “call for speakers,” to get notified of speaking opportunities.

7. Get certified. Continuing education in your field implies that you are staying on top of the latest developments and keeping your skills updated. This could mean getting an advanced degree or formal certification. Depending on your field, it may be enough to take one-off courses without a full certification, attend conferences or lectures or join a professional association or Meetup.

8. Lead your peers. Don’t just join a professional association; head up a committee or sit on the board. Such groups always need volunteers, so it’s unlikely your offer to help will be turned away. No active group in your field? Start one or revive an inactive one—as the person who takes the initiative to bring like-minded people together, you put yourself in a leadership role.

9. See around corners. When you’re interviewing for a job in your target area, don’t just establish your current skills; establish how your knowledge can be applied to help the employer. When you go above and beyond what you know and talk about how you would actually apply it to situations your prospective employer might be facing, hiring managers see you as someone who has practical expertise.

10. Take a stand. In addition to knowing the trends and innovations, have a vision to propose. When you make suggestions to a prospective employer, you are seen as a solution to their problems. When you have opinions and ideas, you demonstrate leadership potential. You don’t just follow; you create new possibilities, new solutions. Employers will want you to implement that solution for them.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column will appear weekly.

 

MONEY Careers

Your Career Is Your Biggest Asset. Here are 5 Ways to Protect It

Career coach and former HR exec Caroline Ceniza-Levine offers strategies for ensuring that your human capital keeps appreciating.

Your earning potential is a million-dollar asset.

The first quarter 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics report puts median earnings in the US at $796 per week, which adds up to $41,392 per year, which amounts to a hair over seven figures over a 25-year career—even without any raises. Get a reasonable 3% bump every year and your career will be worth $1.6 million.

If you owned a million-dollar home, you wouldn’t let the grass get overgrown or park your cars in the lawn, since this would erode the property’s value. Similarly, you do not want to be complacent with the asset that is your career. Instead, reserve a few minutes a day or a few hours each week to focus on protecting it.

Use these five strategies to ensure your most valuable asset just keeps getting more valuable:

1. Nurture your network

Job leads are shared mainly by word-of-mouth.

But even if you’re not actively job seeking, a strong network enables you to hear about company changes, upcoming projects that you might want to be a part of (or avoid), the inside scoop on a new client, or helpful tips on how promotions, raises, and bonuses are decided.

Maintaining your network can be done in a few minutes per day.

Your action plan: Read your LinkedIn activity feed and reach out when people post news. E-mail former colleagues you don’t regularly see to catch up on summer vacation plans. Attend the occasional professional association event or conference. Or, block out specific days and times to reconnect with people —for example, scheduling at least one lunch a week with a different contact.

2. Make friends in HR

A former colleague called me in a panic one day: Layoff rumors were swirling at her company and she wanted to know how severance works without making a formal inquiry into HR. Having worked as a recruiter, I was able to tell her what she needed to know (severance information is actually openly shared with employees–check your employee handbook).

Your action plan: Get to know your HR colleagues well before you have an urgent concern. A friend in human resources can help you navigate the ever-changing benefits landscape, can explain sensitive issues like severance that you’d rather not discuss with your boss, or give you helpful insights, such as deadlines for performance reviews (these often precede when raise and bonus decisions are made so you want to know the timeline). Even HR relationships outside of your own company are helpful, as recruiters elsewhere can inform you about market trends—including what is a fair compensation for your position. Return recruiter phone calls, even if you’re not looking.

3. Manage your references

If you’re not actively looking for a job, you might think that you don’t need references. While you don’t need them in the traditional sense that a job seeker does—no one will be calling your list to vouch for you—informal references are given all the time. Recruiters may ask around to find an expert in a certain area: Will your network mention you, and therefore give you a chance to grow that recruiter relationship (see point 2)? Senior management may ask around about who would be good for an upcoming, high-profile project: Will your colleagues think of you and regard you highly enough to put your name forward? Managing your references means that you have supporters who know your value and promote you as opportunities arise.

Your action plan: Keep people informed of what you’re doing–don’t assume that even your boss knows everything you’re working on—and what is of interest to you. This way, the right opportunities will come your way.

4. Build your online profile

Social media is a great way to keep in touch with your network, your recruiters and your references.

Your action plan: Update your LinkedIn profile regularly to mention a new project or to add a new skill, since this activity is broadcast to your contacts. It’s a way of keeping people updated and staying in touch more broadly. At the same time, you will hear about others’ activities, and you can reach out individually with a congratulatory note or a helpful idea. Finally, you want your profile to be updated so that, if someone does refer you for a job or a project, the prospective employer can easily research you and see comprehensive details about you. Building your profile takes dedicated time if you’re starting from scratch, but updating it and maintaining correspondence with your contacts takes just a few minutes at a time.

5. Maintain your go-to status

Your online profile showcases you, your references think of you, recruiters flock to you, and your network promotes you… all because you are the go-to person for something. You have a set of skills, industry knowledge, specific expertise, or some combination of qualities that make you the perfect solution to a problem at hand.

Do you know what you are the go-to person for? Do you take the time to sharpen this advantage?

Your action plan: Define your unique qualities that make you marketable. And work on emphasizing your competitive advantage even more.This could mean taking advanced classes relating to your skill set, reading trade publications to stay ahead of trends in your area of expertise, or adding new skills with volunteer work or cross-departmental projects at your company.

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Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column will appear weekly.

 

MONEY Careers

New Degree, No Job? 4 Steps Grads Should Take to Jumpstart the Search

Now that commencement's over and real life is about to begin, career coach and former HR exec Caroline Ceniza-Levine offers strategies to get your career in gear, stat.

As a former recruiter, I have hired thousands of new graduates into their first full-time jobs, so I’ve seen the hiring process up close, inside and out.

Some industries—like management consulting and investment banking—do the bulk of their hiring well before graduation. If you have classmates entering these fields, you might be anxious if you don’t have your own first career step confirmed. (This goes for parents, too!)

Temper your anxieties by keeping in mind that the vast majority of companies only hire as needs arrive. Some of those companies are looking to fill entry-level slots right now, just a few heartbeats after commencement. So it may not be long before you (or your child) is launched—assuming you’re strategic. Take these four steps to take now to get the search in gear:

Figure out the finances first

You need to have time for your search. Even in the best-case scenario, it may take a month or two for you to go through the interview and vetting processes and land your first gig. In that time, you need to have a stable living environment where your basic needs are met so that you can be confident and relaxed as you meet with employers.

That requires answering this question first: How are you going to cover your expenses as you look?

Talk to your family about how long you are welcome to stay. If you have student loan payments that had a grace period while you were in school, find out when the first payment is starting and how much it is. Sketch out the rest of your budget, so you know what you’ll need to cover yourself.

Pick the low-hanging fruit

If money is tight, you’ll need to land something quickly and start earning. But even if you have the finances to support a longer search, you’ll want to avoid a long gap on your resume.

People who already know, like and trust you will more readily hire you or refer you for positions. So start your search by reaching out to family, friends, former employers from past internships or side jobs, even professors. Let them know you’re available.

Employers get inundated with resumes, but if someone the hiring manager knows personally refers you as a candidate, there’s a better chance your resume will get noticed.

Don’t discount “stopgap” jobs

First jobs do not have to be exactly in your area of interest to be valuable.

One of my coaching clients worked a retail job after she graduated, while searching for something in her target area (media). That job not only gave her the means to support herself, but also introduced her to other recent graduates working the store; and as her fellow store clerks got hired into their corporate jobs, she got introductions to those companies.

One new graduate I hired had been referred to me by a senior executive—she had babysat for his kids, and he was impressed by her work ethic.

In other words, these so-called stopgap jobs can set the stage for bigger career moves.

Keep going after your ideal job

Block out specific days and times for the search for your ideal job, even if you take that retail job or freelance project in the meantime.

Identify the companies you’d want to work for, check their websites regularly and follow them on social media to hear about openings. Also, use LinkedIn to find people in your network who work there and can introduce you or at least give you more information about the company to make you a more informed (read: more competitive) candidate.

Additionally, join a professional association in your target industry or a broader networking group like your university alumni club. The member events allow you to get comfortable in professional settings and meet new people, some of whom might work for your ideal companies. You never know who might help get you your first job—or your next one.

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Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column will appear weekly.

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