5 Ways to be Effective at a Networking Event

Networking events sometimes feel like speed dating. Talk to as many people as you can until you find a mutually beneficial connection. It can be less than comfortable.

These events are created with the best of intentions, but trying to create organic conversation in a manufactured setting can be difficult.

The thought of networking will cause you to reach for a stack of business cards or hide in the coat closet depending upon your personality. Rather then shuffling through your forced mental script of rehearsed questions, consider the following 5 ways to be effective at your next networking event.

Be memorable

We don’t mean wearing a flashy tie. Be the man or woman who is remembered by what you say.

We’re all used to the standard, “So, what do you do?” line of questioning. Simply being prepared for these standard questions can leave an impression.

Come up with an honest answer that is engaging and makes the other person want to know more.

Donald Miller, best selling author and CEO of StoryBrand, gives the following example of a conversation between two people at networking event.

Other person: “So, what do you do?”

You: “You know how hard it is to make a healthy dinner every weeknight with all the stuff your kids have going on? Well, our company delivers homemade frozen dinners that are actually affordable, so parents can relax and enjoy time with their families at night.”

As Miller explains, this method works because you’re telling a mini-story with this type of answer. This also positions you as the person who can solve a specific problem. If the other person can’t work with you at the present time, they’ll be able to file your name away in their mental Rolodex as the person with a specific solution.

Be genuine

Vanessa Van Edwards, a human behavioral expert, and author of Captivate, tries to provide a “me-too!” moment for the other person in every conversation. “It makes us feel accepted. It makes us feel heard. And most importantly, it makes us feel calm,” she explains.

Genuinely showing you care goes a long way. During most of these events, you’re surrounded by people searching for what they can get out of the other person. But entering a conversation with the desire to solve their needs often results in mutual benefit. Maybe you’ll get their business or maybe you’ll just get the blessing of being able to help someone.

Show the other person you care by asking questions you actually want to know the answer to. Rather than the standard, “What do you do?” or “What brought you here tonight?” try the following:

What are you most excited about with your job right now?

What are you most excited about with your industry right now?

What’s the biggest challenge you’re currently facing?

How did you end up in your line of work?

What are you looking forward to this week?

Know where to stand

It may sound trivial, but the location you choose to stand in a room can make all the difference. Rather than backing yourself up into a corner, choose strategic high-traffic locations within the room.

More specifically, stand where people are walking away from – against the flow. Find a place where there is a natural traffic flow such as a few feet from the bar or hors d'oeuvres table. This will allow you to make eye contact and be in position to naturally engage other attendees.

Check your body language

In a recent interview, Van Edwards explained that you want to maintain open body posture. This shows the other person you are open to conversation and non-threatening.

A simple way to demonstrate open body posture is to show your hands. Van Edwards says this is a primal survival mechanism showing that we are not carrying a weapon. Conversational stature often causes us to place our hands in our pockets or fold our arms. Subconsciously this communicates that we are closed off or even untrustworthy.

It can be hard to avoid folding your arms as this can be a natural tendency for many. However, if you need to, hold a glass or folder to keep yourself from placing your hands in your pockets.

Have a plan of action

You can usually decide early on in the conversation whether you will want to stay connected with the person you’ve been speaking with. If you do, you’ll want to have a practical way to follow up. But if you decide that you won’t want to stay connected, you need to have a natural exit strategy.

If you desire to stay in contact, provide them with your business card and tell them you’ll be following up with them. Depending upon the conversation, you may be able to offer to email them a helpful resource.

However, if you realize you won’t want to stay connected beyond the conversation, you need to have a way to remove yourself from the conversation. Simply asking to be excused in order to attend to needed business before the next session can be a honest, natural method. You can also watch for a natural break in the conversation and cordially thank them for their time and wish them the best of luck with the remainder of the year. While you want to show genuine interest in the other person, you need to value your own time as well.

Summary

Depending upon the length of the event or conference, you may have several conversations, but you’ll only have one or two memorable connections. Once the event is over focus on the conversation that you see providing the most direct benefit.

Today, it’s easy to make connections, but developing relationships can be difficult. Developing these relationships requires you analyze yourself and be proactive. While searching for connections, you need to be the person someone wants to network with. Keep these five tips in mind to make the most of the next networking event you attend.

Resources:

http://buildingastorybrand.com/episode-96/

http://buildingastorybrand.com/network-without-being-annoying/

Take Time to Assess Your Career

March 30, 2017

Many people think it’s time to change jobs or careers only after a bomb drops on them such as a bad review or in danger of being downsized. Don’t wait until you’re in a desperate situation to make a life changing decision. Instead, take time to assess your career often in order to see where it’s going.

According to the Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 15, 2017), assessing your job should be done on a quarterly basis and be considered a “Fitness Plan for Your Career.” It’s less daunting than creating a 10 or 20-year career road map and consists of small steps rather than large leaps. The WSJ suggests you:

  • Take stock of what’s working well in your career and what’s not
  • Ask yourself what you could add or change on your current job to do more of what you want
  • Consider learning new skills trying freelance gigs as a way to discover new positions
  • Keep a career journal to help you recall details of your skills and accomplishments
  • Build your reputation by writing or speaking publicly about new developments in your field
  • Expand your network beyond past and present colleagues to include others in your field, industry, and region

If after creating the fitness plan, you decide that you definitely want and need a change, don’t be reckless about it. Try to follow these key steps:

  • Know what you want. What does the new job or career look like? What doesn’t it look like? Will you be able to leverage your current skills for a successful transition?
  • Find out what it takes. In order to transfer into a new role or field, will you need additional training, education or certifications?
  • You still have to eat and live. Will this new position pay enough to cover the rent/mortgage and put food on the table? Does it fit with your family life and lifestyle?
  • Create a plan. Put together a timeline of what you need to do and by when. You will need a financial plan as well. Don’t try to just wing it without the proper planning.
  • Shift your brand. Change your resume, online presence and profile so they make sense to your new target audience that you’re trying to reach. Make sure they “get” you and your aspirations.
  • Network. Network. Network. You need to get to know the influencers and successful people in your new field. Ask people you know for introductions to them. Also, find out what associations they are members of. Spend time on LinkedIn, Twitter or their company website to obtain more information and make connections.

Your career is one of the most important assets you will manage in your life. Therefore, you have to give it the proper time and attention it deserves. It’s in your best interest to take stock every quarter to make sure your career is still on track and if it’s still what you want.

Networking With Purpose

July 12, 2016

By John Yurkschatt, Director, IT Services Practice

In today’s challenging job market, it’s not just about who you know but how you get to know them.  If NOT done correctly, networking is a waste of your time. If your approach is to seek out people to tell them about ME, ME, ME, you’ll walk away from every networking event/opportunity disappointed.

The right way to network is to do it with “purpose”.  That means think beyond “What’s in it for me?”  Instead, think “How can I help you?”

True networking is all about connecting, communicating and building a relationship.  It’s about enjoying your conversation with others and actively listening in order to figure out what they need and how you can connect them with the right people without designs for personal gain.

For many of you, this revelation is eye opening.  It’s probably contrary to what you’ve been doing.  If so, the following 5 tips on how to network successfully are especially meant for you:

1) Start networking before you’re in a pinch.  Desperation can be smelled from across the room. Don’t be that person with panic in your eyes and only out for yourself. Handing out resumes at an event will make people run away from you instead of towards you. Start networking when you don’t have an ulterior motive.  Get to know people and about what’s important to them and start building a relationship.

2) Never dismiss anyone as being unimportant. Everyone has value and you’ll discover that fact if you keep your mind open and don’t judge people based on titles.   Remember everyone has connections therefore, everyone is important.

3) Ask for an attendee list. Prior to attending each event, ask the organizer for a list of attendees. You can do some research on the people you want to meet. Check out their LinkedIn profiles and Google their names to gather more information.

4) Fish in the right pond. Unfortunately many of you are attending every event you can. You want to meet anybody and everybody. Slow-down. You need to be more focused. For example, if you’re looking for a big fish, i.e. a key contact with a large company because you want to work for a large company, then you must attend the right event. You have to fish where the big fish are.

5) Figure out how you can be useful. Networking is not just one sided. It’s not asking for favors. It’s about building relationships.  It’s about a two way street and that means asking others how you can be of service to them. Be sincere and generous. Give them your business card and let them know they can call you anytime.

Please share how you network with purpose by posting a comment in the box below.

3 Helpful Tips to Beginning Your IT Job Search

April 19, 2016

By Christy Fox, Marketing Specialist

Are you looking for a new job opportunity in the tech field?  Will you be graduating soon without a job lined up?  If you are, you may be experiencing a range of feelings- excitement, fear, or happiness to name a few.  Job searching may a brand new experience for some, while others are constantly looking for that perfect career opportunity and job hunting is very familiar.  Regardless of who you are, it is important to know how to navigate your IT job search process effectively.

Below are three helpful tips in preparation for landing a new job in tech:

Networking is key.

You have heard it a thousand times; “It’s all about who you know.”  You may think that your connections are not relevant to the jobs you want, but your network is still one of the most valuable tools in your job search.  Even if you send 200 resumes out online in a month, you’re more likely to get an interview or conversation from the one resume that someone you know passed along for you.  The following are some networking ideas in finding your next job opportunities:

  • Contact college IT professors
  • Connect with IT alumni from your college
  • Reach out to past employers and previous coworkers about your job searching status
  • Attend IT networking events
  • Join and attend IT association meetings

Whether you are making short phone calls, writing e-mails, attending networking events, or connecting on social media such as LinkedIn, be sure to update your contacts on your job status.  If possible, let them know you’re looking for IT jobs.  Even if your network can’t directly help you land a job, their network may have opportunities that you can be connected to.  Always keep the lines of communication open and be candid about what you are looking for whether it is a job as a developer, designer, analyst, architect, or data related.

It’s easier to find a job when you already have a job.

Picking up a temporary position or even an internship can be beneficial in the process of finding a full-time gig.  Many employers show concern when seeing a gap of time on your resume since your last job.  While it’s commonly known that job searching can seem like a full-time job in itself, it is important to find a way to continue working.  For example, substitute teaching jobs are available for anyone with a Bachelor’s degree and are welcomed in many school districts, along with seasonal or temporary retail jobs, or get creative and start your own side business to fill in the time gap such as designing web pages for local businesses.  Added bonuses of working while searching are the opportunity to continue networking with different people in different fields and a way to make income while you continue to job search.  Additionally, it is likely that your future employer will be impressed that you stayed occupied and continued to build your resume even during a transition phase.

Be prepared and proactive.

Job opportunities and the chance to share your professional information can show up at any time.  For that reason, it is safest to keep these job searching and interview materials up-to-date and current:

  • Resume
  • LinkedIn and any other social media profiles
  • Reference Sheets
  • Cover letter template
  • Business cards

Keep in mind to be organized with your materials and keep them on hand (or at least saved on your phone) to be able to send anytime and anywhere.  Whether you are at a tech job fair, having coffee with an old friend, or even at a family function, there’s always a chance to make a connection to a job opportunity.

Not only do you need to make sure all your documents are up to date, but it is important to stay current on the IT and tech markets.  Following the technology industry news, job opportunities available and companies you are interested in will help to prepare you and give you an edge in interviews.  It is also helpful to follow employers or job seeking social media sites that can be beneficial to you.  Make sure to have a clear vision of what type of IT positions you would like, or at the very least, what job functions you are interested in so you can relay that to your network.

Job searching can be a long and exhausting process.  Just remember that networking, staying busy, and being prepared will be extremely helpful over the course of your job search.

What other tips have you found helpful while job searching in the tech field?

Interview with Joe Vincent, Senior Vice President of IT, FirstMerit Bank

September 29, 2015

Direct Consulting Associates recently had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Vincent, Senior Vice President of IT for FirstMerit Bank. Mr. Vincent was kind enough to answer questions about his career, trends in technology, daily challenges he faces, and how he finds and develops top talent. 

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a Senior Vice President in IT for FirstMerit Bank. I’ve been at the Bank for 23 years in a variety of Technology and Management positions over that time, with considerable experience in IT Governance, and major technology initiatives. Over the past 5 years alone, my responsibilities have included 3 very successful mergers and acquisitions, as well as a major upgrade to our Branch infrastructure and Teller system software. I am a person who loves new technology, but also loves to work with people to determine technologies that can help them be successful, and ensure they can meet their goals.

I also have a passion for supporting Education. I taught Adult Education for quite a few years, and currently volunteer my time in support of Kent State’s Center for Information Services Program. As part of that work, I’ve participated in Business Leader meetings to review trends in the workplace, as well as actually participating in classes acting as a mentor to project teams. Amazing how real world the classroom can be – right down to one of the teams losing all of their work due to no backups!

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

I typically see two challenges: effectively managing and motivating people, and managing customer expectations.

Most employees desire to do a good job, yet everyone is motivated differently. Identifying that motivation, and finding ways to cultivate it, takes time and dedication on the managers’ part. The flip side of the coin is that this is also the one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. Identifying someone’s true motivation, and finding a way to utilize it for the betterment of the employee, as well as the company produces a very highly motivated and high performing workforce. It is truly a sight to behold.

Managing expectations can also be a very difficult part of running an IT organization. There are always more desires, with competing priorities than time and resources available. Having a great working relationship with the business lines, and transparency on work being done are keys here.

How can IT identify what their businesses actually need and make sure the technology they choose is the right fit?

This is a great question, and one that I find absolutely critical. The answer is “Listen.” Empowering IT to develop a close relationship with the business ensures they have a greater understanding of the operation of the business, and its many needs. Many IT organizations have seen their business units hiring IT staff (commonly referred to as “shadow IT”) to ensure they get the appropriate technology in place to attain their goals. This is a direct reflection of IT not servicing their business requirements sufficiently. Many centralized IT staffs are very in-tune with their responsibilities for running the IT side of the shop, but fail to spend the appropriate amount of time understanding the needs of their business customers, to allow them to serve in a true consultative role. This, in my opinion is a critical mistake.

The other half of the equation is keeping up with the latest technologies. IT must be able to provide leadership to the business line once they have a full understanding of their needs. Only the combination of the two – listening, and understanding the latest technologies, can lead to a truly successful partnership.

How do you find and develop talented employees? How can organizations find, train, cultivate and retain championship-caliber IT players?

We find that talented employees tend to know one another, so employee referrals are vital to helping an organization find top talent. Once on board, identifying the employee’s goals, and ensuring appropriate training and mentoring to meet those goals is very important.

The other key to retention is creating a work environment where employees understand and embrace the IT strategy, feel empowered to ask questions, and come up with ideas to support it, execute on those ideas, and receive the credit for achieving the desired results.

Is the rise of “hyperconverged” data center platforms driving IT leaders to take another look at Virtual Desktop Infrastructure?

I believe it is. Even 5 years ago, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure technology was in its infancy stage. From a management standpoint, implementation was a very large investment in both time and people, which in many cases still resulted in suboptimal implementations. It is very different to put all of the desktops into a single environment, similar to terminals attached to a mainframe, but without the maturity in processes and systems within the environment that the mainframe has developed through many years of service. To think that a server, or storage could go down, and no one would have a desktop to work with was very unsettling to many managers at that time.

Today’s “hyperconverged” data center platforms are much more robust, and mature, providing a viable solution for virtual desktop implementation. Virtual Desktops still require a significant investment in hardware, software, and engineering resources, but the underlying technologies have begun to prove themselves much more redundant and reliable, thereby alleviating some of the earlier concerns.

How do you foresee fraud and cyber security evolving in 2015? How should leadership teams at financial services organizations approach this threat?

Cyber security will continue to be a major threat in 2015 and beyond. Organizations continue to ramp up spending to attempt to proactively address key security concerns such as patching, email phishing attempts, etc., but proactive efforts will never be enough.

With so many incidents of compromised customer credit card data, compromised personal data, and espionage being reported in the news, there is a real risk of damaging a company’s reputation, and alarming the consumer, either of which can be fatal to a companies survival.

The current belief is that it is not if a company will get hacked, but when. This has caused significant increases in expenditures throughout the industry for new and better detection and containment technologies, in addition to the normal focus on enhancing prevention of a cyber crime.

I believe integrating Security teams throughout the organization is key. Whether it is project architecture, coding architecture, or every day processes and procedures, the IT security team needs to be involved.

Are you seeing any trends right now in the industry?

Within the banking industry the major trend continues to be customers banking remotely. Foot traffic for monetary transactions in the physical branch continues to decrease as the Baby Boomer generation dies off, with more and more customers doing their banking online, and via their mobile devices. We consistently see reports in the news of banks consolidating their physical locations. This will likely continue in the years to come.

You have over 25 years of experience in IT. What or who do you attribute your success to? Did you have a mentor(s)?

I like to listen – listen to the needs of my customers, listen to the needs and ideas of my staff, and provide them the freedom to get the job done.

My success has been directly attributed to the teams I work with. With three major acquisitions / conversions in the past 5 years, our teams have just done an outstanding job working together. Teamwork is always the key!

How do you retain top industry talent?

Understanding the motivations of your top performers is key in their retention. With the labor market being as tight as it is, just offering a competitive salary is not going to get it done. Your top employees need to understand and believe in your mission, and need to feel empowered to make a noticeable contribution toward its success.

I also believe it is a mistake to micromanage. Top performers like to figure out the best way to accomplish the task at hand, then get it done. Micro-managing drains the creative energy right out of a top performer.

What soft skills do you look for when hiring new talent?

I look for interpersonal communication skills and teamwork. In this ever increasing digital age, interpersonal skills are becoming more difficult to find, and thus a key differentiator in candidates coming out of school. These skills are critical to their success in managing peer relationships, as well as relationships with supervisors and successful participation on project teams.

In my experience, a well functioning team will always significantly outperform the individual contributions of its members. It is truly fun to watch as a team tries, then comes together to exceed it’s goals!

What are the most important characteristics an IT leader needs to be successful?

For their customers, an IT leader needs to be a visionary. They need to understand the requirements of their business partners, and work tirelessly to ensure the latest, most effective, and most efficient technologies are made available to them to ensure they have every potential advantage in the marketplace.

For their teams, they need outstanding leadership and people skills. Their success, and the success of their teams and business partners, often require heroic efforts to meet timelines and achieve results required to give their business partners the “edge” they are seeking with technology implementations.

One final characteristic that I believe truly sets successful IT leaders apart is transparency. Individuals, regardless of standing in the organization need to know what you are thinking. I make it a point to ensure that in all of my interactions, I am as honest as possible with an individual. In discussions with others, this has consistently been one of the traits highlighted as truly important to them, and factoring in to their overall satisfaction with their manager, and subsequently their jobs.