How I learned to love networking

How I learned to love networking

Back when I started my freelance writing business I knew clients weren’t going to show up unless I put myself out there. I had to start networking right away. The problem was I had no idea what I was doing. Much as I like people, I’m an introvert so I was never going to be good at throwing myself into the middle of conversations. Cue lots of standing around awkwardly holding a wine glass.

I have to hand it to myself. I tried it all. Local networking. BNI. Speed networking. Meetup. I went to all of them. I didn’t always get clients but I learned a lot about what to do (and not do) in networking situations.

When I first started out I thought networking was going to as many events as possible, giving people my elevator spiel, handing out lots of business cards and voila… people would call and hire me.

But that’s not how to network and it never felt right to me. Networking isn’t about selling yourself, it’s about building relationships.

It’s about being genuine in your interactions and asking people questions about what they do and what kind of challenges they’re facing. That’s how you find out useful information that will help your job (or client) search. Don’t forget, networking isn’t just something you do to find a job, it’s also hugely valuable when you’re making a career shift or making a decision on which career path is right for you.

Here are a couple of power tips to help you start networking even if you break out in hives just thinking about it.

1) Network in the groups you’re already in

I’m a great believer in pursuing the path of least resistance. Why make things hard on yourself? Start networking in the groups you’re already in, whether it’s your kids’ sports events, social outings or a hobby like a running group meet-up. Ask people about what they do, what they enjoy about their work and how they got their jobs.

2) Bring a wingman or woman 

If you want to attend a networking event, bring along a wingman or woman. This is a particularly effective tactic if you’re an introvert because hopefully your more extroverted friend can introduce you to people and help you out if the conversation stalls. Your comfort levels will go up automatically when you know you’re not going to be left hanging in the corner like a wallflower.

3) Create small challenges

If you’re nervous about attending events like I used to be, give yourself small challenges and then reward yourself for a job well done. For example, stand up and ask the speaker a question if you’re attending a conference, or give yourself permission to go home after you’ve met and talked to two new people. Remember networking is more about sustained effort than pushing yourself to the max at one event.

4) Practice having conversations with strangers

Another issue I used to have with networking was making small talk. It only occurred to me later why this was. I hate small talk. I’ve never been good at it. But if you want to broaden your network you’re going to have to learn to get good at it. You can do this by practicing talking to strangers or people you interact with on a regular basis, like checkout people at the supermarket or the woman who works at the post office. Strike up conversations with people you don’t know. The more you do this, the more natural it will become and you will be a power networker in no time.

Keen to learn more about networking?

I’ll be running a Networking for Introverts workshop in Melbourne in April where I’ll be teaching powerful strategies for building your network, and I’d love to have you there. You will learn how to create a network even if you’re starting from scratch, how to approach people you want to meet both online and in person, how to network your way into a new job and how to build your confidence so that you can network with ease.

Sign up here to get the details.

How to build your confidence (even when you’re full of self-doubt)

How to build your confidence (even when you’re full of self-doubt)

Years ago as I made my way through a rapid succession of jobs I didn’t enjoy, it never occurred to me that working on my confidence could help my situation.

Back then I thought you were either a confident person or you weren’t, and I assumed I fell into the latter category.

I had no idea I could do something to change that.

Research has shown that while many people think of confidence as a trait like I once did, it’s actually more like a muscle that you can develop and strengthen over time.

That’s all very well but how do you actually do that?

I’ve worked on building my confidence for years and like anything, it’s a process, but I did discover some strategies that made a really big difference. Not surprisingly this has had a knock-on effect on my career and business, bringing many more opportunities my way.

1) Be willing to take imperfect action

Perfectionism will kill your confidence and I should know. There was a time when my perfectionist behaviour was so bad it could take me an hour to write an email let alone an article. I wish that my anxious procrastinating had at least created better results, but the opposite was usually true.

When I made a decision to start a new career, I realised I’d have to get over it or I would stay stuck in a holding pattern. So I started following through on my goals even if the end result was not perfect. I practiced acting quickly instead of taking forever to think things through. I figured that even if it wasn’t perfect, I would learn from the experience. Now if I get an idea that I want to run with, I don’t wait until it’s perfect, I just do it. I’m not pretending it’s easy to let go of old habits, but the more you do this, the more your confidence will grow. Taking action is empowering in itself, shifting you out of the procrastinating behaviour that keeps you stuck.

If you struggle with this make it into a challenge. Give yourself two minutes to write an email instead of fussing over it for 10, or make a commitment to start and finish a project within the next one to two weeks. It will feel uncomfortable at first but you’ll soon get into the swing of it.

2) Keep your promises

We all have stories playing on a loop in our heads about who we are and what we are capable of. Your inner mean girl can be one tough mother. A really effective way to silence that critic is to keep the commitments you make to yourself. Whether you want to make a change with your career or your health, you need to follow through on those promises. I know that when I don’t show up for myself it makes me feel pretty crappy. What can you do (and do quickly) to make sure you follow through on your promises? And remember a big part of goal-setting is being realistic and honest with yourself about what you can achieve.

3) Get happy

I used to think I would be happy when I finally had the career, the family, the house and the money that I wanted. Little did I know that it actually works the other way around! I wish I had understood this at a soul level years ago, but it’s true that you need to find a way to be happy now, even if you’re not exactly living the dream yet. When you feel happy with who you are and what you do, your confidence levels rise.

The things that make us happy are not always what we think (more money? not so much according to the research). Thanks to all the positive psychology research in recent years, we know that using your skills and knowledge to make a contribution to society has a big impact on your happiness levels not to mention your job satisfaction. So ask yourself: How can you best serve? What contribution do you want to make?

And in the short-term ask: What makes you happy now?

Do more of that.

4) Face your fears

I used to be terrified of public speaking. I still get nervous but at one point it was so bad I would struggle to introduce myself even to a small group. My heart would literally pound in my chest and I would rush through my speech or introduction as quickly as possible.

I knew I had to tackle this old fear head-on if I was going to start a business.  When I made the decision to face my fear something shifted. Shortly afterwards I was offered an opportunity to present workshops. It was scary at the start but the more I did it, the more opportunities to present came my way. I don’t think this was a coincidence!

Again, I had to let go of the need to do this ‘perfectly’ because the only way to improve my skills was to actually do it. Make a commitment to face your fears and watch out for the opportunities that come your way.

You don’t have to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ as the advice goes, that can actually be counterproductive. I recommend taking baby steps. If you have a fear of public speaking like me, start with small events and work your way up.

5) Remember it’s all just feedback

I really care what people think. It used to stop me in my tracks, because I worried that people would judge me if I took certain actions in my life or business. But of course worrying about what people think is paralysing and definitely not good for your confidence.

The answer I found is to unhook from both praise and criticism as much as you can (an idea Tara Mohr talks about in Playing Big). Remember that it’s all just feedback. You can choose to give it weight or disregard it. The trouble with relying on praise to feel good about your work is that it’s not always forthcoming, and you can’t let your work be guided by the whims of others. So train yourself to be selective about the feedback you take on board. When you learn to trust your own guidance regardless of what others say or think, your confidence will soar.

What do you do to build your confidence? Please share in the comments.

3 questions to create crystal clear, actionable career goals

3 questions to create crystal clear, actionable career goals

It always seems impossible, until it is done ~ Nelson Mandela

I have learned to love setting goals, especially in January when the year stretches ahead of me like a blank canvas and it feels like anything is possible.

What will you create this year?

If you have trouble pinning down clear, practical goals and following through I think you will like this a lot.

In the past I’ve created big goals, writing out reams of ‘be, do, have’ lists but with no discernable pathway to making them happen. I ended up with a ‘nice to have’ list rather than goals I had any hope of achieving.

These 3 questions have helped me the most when I want to get clear on my goals for the year ahead:

1. What do I want more of in my career this year?
2. What do I need to let go of in order to allow space for this to happen?
3. What will make my desired goal inevitable?

In my experience posing the question ‘what will make it inevitable’ moves you past the fears and objections that pop into your head the minute you start thinking about what you really want.

It forces you to get real with yourself and quit making excuses.

What you need to do may scare you a little, push you out of your comfort zone to a degree, but there’s no room for doubt about what’s required.

When you have your goals, get a yearly planner and start marking dates for achieving your goals.

If your goal is to find a more senior role, mark the date on there that you want to start your new job.

If you want to change careers, create deadlines for finishing your research, finding volunteer work or updating your skills.

When you write down your goal and the date you want it to happen, the universe will conspire to make it a reality.

That’s the magic of commitment.

What are you going to make happen this year? Share in the comments below!

PS: If one of your goals is to find a job you love, I’ve created the Do Work You Love Guidebook with you in mind. You can Download Your Free Guidebook Here It’s packed full of worksheets, exercises and tips to help you find your ideal job. Enjoy!

Don’t let shame get in the way of your job search

Don’t let shame get in the way of your job search

When I see someone fall down, get back up, and say, “Damn. That really hurt, but this is important to me and I’m going in again”—my gut reaction is, “What a badass” ~ Brené Brown

A couple of years ago I interviewed for a job I really wanted. It was only a casual job but I knew it was a great opportunity to get my foot in the door and work with some great people. The only problem was I blew it because I was so nervous. I was blindsided because I expected to ace that interview. And I should have totally aced that interview. Instead when the time came, I could not make my brain connect with my mouth.

I left feeling mortified and every time I did a mental replay I felt more ashamed. By the end of the day I had convinced myself that I could never apply to work there again.

When I reflected on this later I realised that my perfectionism was driving the ‘asshole’ story in my head. So I came to my senses and reached out to one of the interviewers. They offered to give me feedback, we kept in touch and recently I contacted him to see if we could have coffee or a phone call. Of course he said yes (this happens way more often than you think by the way). I called him and we had a great conversation. If he remembered the interview he never let on.

Looking for a new job can leave you feeling raw and vulnerable. You’re putting yourself out there and some people are going to flat out say no. Like me, your confidence might take a hit. But it’s all fine as long as you learn from it. If you can worry less about what people think (a perfectionist tendency) and instead focus on what you can improve next time around then you’re on the right track.

In the words of Brené Brown: When perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun. And as I discovered, shame can lead to unhelpful stories in your head that get stuck on repeat, blocking you from getting ahead.

When this happens my advice is to throw those guys out of the car and get back out there any way you can.

Even if, like me, all you do is pick up the phone.

Because that phone call led to a job offer.

Mistakes won’t define your future unless you let them.

Keep on rising like a badass.

5 of my best tips for a successful career change

5 of my best tips for a successful career change

Changing careers can be fun or a huge pain depending on your situation and your attitude. With more than one career change under my belt I’ve learned a few things about how to make the process a little less daunting. Here are five of my best tips for making a successful career transition.

1) Be patient, change takes time 

I know that sounds like a no-brainer but I also know you are probably impatient to get your new career up and running. That drive will serve you well. But sometimes change happens more slowly than you would like and getting frustrated about it won’t help. You might feel stuck at times. Things may get a little messy. Just remember that it’s all part of the process. If you can be patient with yourself you will feel less stressed and be able to think more clearly. Pay attention to the narrative inside your head and clear any beliefs or stories that aren’t serving you. Keep taking action that moves you forwards. When you look back in 12 months you will honestly be amazed at what you have achieved.

2) Consider having a portfolio career 

Are you a web designer who wants to become a marketing consultant? A writer who wants to teach? An accountant who aspires to be an online entrepreneur? There is nothing wrong with having a portfolio career while you transition (in fact you will be part of a growing trend if you do this). When you have a portfolio career you make income from multiple sources including part-time work, freelance assignments or a business. I’ve had a portfolio career throughout my transition from writer to coach and I can highly recommend it if you’re concerned with maintaining an income while you establish yourself in a new industry. This approach is especially suited to those who like variety or who identify as ‘multipotentialites’, aka people with many different interests who thrive on learning, exploring, and mastering new skills.

3) Stay open to opportunities

In my experience job opportunities don’t always show up in the way you might expect, so it pays to keep an open mind. I know how easy it is to get fixated on a particular job opportunity or revenue stream and then get all down on yourself if it doesn’t work out. The trouble is when you focus on one option exclusively you close down all the other paths to getting what you want. It’s like having blinkers on. You just can’t get a 360 on the situation. Go after what you want but pay attention to what shows up in your world of its own accord. The universe works in mysterious ways.

4) Build your support network & get a mentor

This was one of the mistakes I made when I first set up my freelance writing business many years ago. I had no network built up and no mentor to guide me. This time around I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing and very generous people in the industry. Signing up for mentoring was hands down the best thing I’ve ever done. Friends and family can be a great support but you can’t put a price on having the advice of someone who already has the job you want. There are plenty of professional and industry associations that run mentoring programs. You could also try universities or contact someone within your network to see if they would be willing to mentor you.

5) Networking is the key to success

You’ve probably heard the saying ‘your network equals your net worth’, and this is even truer when you are changing careers. It’s never too early to start networking. This might mean meeting classmates you went to uni with, volunteering for a charity or joining an industry association. You could also head along to networking events or workshops (check out Meetup or Eventbrite). Or if you want to find contacts at specific companies and connect with recruiters, consider upgrading to a LinkedIn premium account (you get 30 days free before the charges kick in).

I hope these tips are helpful to you. Good luck and hang in there!

Have you changed careers? What did you learn from the experience?