The Value of Your Network

“The mark of a good conversationalist is not that you can talk a lot. The mark is that you can get others to talk a lot.Thus, good schmoozer’s are good listeners, not good talkers.”  Guy Kawasaki

As many of you know, I got my current position through good old-fashioned networking. And building my network took (and still takes!) time, consistency and effort. I consider my network to be one of my most valuable assets. I can rely on it to help me get questions answered, develop professionally, provide me with ways to expand my skills and to offer a friendly ear to hear about my challenges. I have known many networkers (and some so-called networkers) over the years and I have gleaned some best practices for networking. These have surely helped me.

We all need to tend to and build our networks. Our network can be one of the few consistencies we have in our career even as it grows and changes. I think of my network as a garden. Even when you aren’t growing things, you still need to care for the soil so that when growing season starts you are ready to go. The same goes for a network – you have to have the infrastructure built before you actually need it. Your network should include a broad spectrum of contacts from both inside and outside your field as well as inside and outside your company. This way you can identify areas of development to help you and your company get to the next level. I call on my internal network for consistency within our walls and my external network for best practices and ideas to enhance our business.

The toughest part of building our network can be stepping out of our comfort zone and meeting new people (or learning more about those you already know). Here are some things I keep in mind as I continue to expand and develop my network.

Be Seen. I belong to several organizations inside and outside our business and make every effort to attend meetings and events. While I have a busy schedule, I put these events on my calendar and make arrangements to attend as many events as I can. I find it really important to get out there and be seen. This can show others you are committed to the organization and your own development and it is a great way to build bonds with others.

Be Heard. I strive to meet someone new or learn something new about someone I already know as often as I can. When I go to meetings and events and have the chance to network, I start with the people near me and see where it goes. I have found that many people at events are a bit anxious about meeting new people (and I get this way, too) and a great way to stop that feeling is to start chatting. It is amazing what you can learn! Another way to get heard is to volunteer with professional organizations. Serving on a board or committee can get your seen and heard. Just make time for it – everyone is busy.

Be Sincere. I feel that the goal of networking is to offer your skills and abilities to others and help them develop and, as we all know, when someone succeeds they usually remember those who helped them get there. When meeting someone new, let them know how you can help them by offering your skills, abilities and knowledge. Remember to be genuine and be yourself.

Think Globally. I have connected with people from other companies, industries and geographies. This helps me keep a global perspective while working in South Florida. And keeping this global perspective has gained me relationships outside of my comfort zone. Keep an open mind when meeting people – every one has something to offer. I have a nice network in Egypt that I met at the SHRM Leadership conference in 2009 and still chat with them regularly. How cool is it to know HR professionals in EGYPT?! We just need to listen to them.  Oh and be that person who goes up and introduces yourself to the person standing alone. You never know who you will meet!

And Don’t Forget. Don’t forget about your network. We all get busy and life gets in the way, but find a way to engage your network. Before I had networking hardwired into my psyche, I populated my calendar to make sure I sent Tweets, did LinkedIn posts and wrote blogs. It took some time but now it is second nature, the key is to keep the conversation going and others will listen.

The time to build a network is when you don’t need it. Then when you do need it, your connections are there to support you. I know many people who are great networkers and those that aren’t have an opportunity to become great networkers. The satisfaction in knowing that I can email or call someone to get answers to almost anything helps reduce my stress, provides me with support system and allows me freedom to help others. We are all in this together; why not help each other out?

Last night, I attended the Greater Miami Society for Human Resource Management (GMSHRM) meeting at FIU and had a great time. I made it a point to meet 2 new people – and I did within the first 20 minutes of being there. One was someone who I was wanting to meet and the other became a connection that I hope to retain indefinitely. I got home and immediately connected with them on LinkedIn and added them to my network.

What networking success stories do you have? 

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Honor Thy Commitments

Do what you say you are going to do. And sometimes over commit!

Honor the commitments you make. Period. 

We all have bitten off more than we can chew at one time or another. This can result in either last-minute maneuvering to get something squeezed in, an incomplete final product, or (worse yet) failure to deliver. The stress brought on by this type of situation can be daunting and impact success – sometimes for the good and sometimes not. But the need to strategize about a solution to meet the need and the effort to exceed expectations can help develop better time management and quick thinking skills. What a great opportunity to grow!

Then there are the times that we over commit because no else would volunteer to help, we have good intentions or we feel pressure. These types of commitment should be approached in the same way – honor what you say you are going to do. These types of things can make the difference between excelling in a career or committing professional suicide. If you follow through (fully) you can come out smelling like a rose. If you don’t, some people are undoubtedly going to remember.

If you cannot meet your commitment, decide what you can and cannot do with the committment and ask for help from others. Or have a frank conversation with the leader or the person you committed to and express your inability to meet the expectation. If someone has the ability to over commit they should have the fortitude to step up and say that they are unable to meet the requirements. Just remember how your felt the next time you are asked to do something and don’t get yourself into the same boat again!

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March Came in Like a Lion

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When I was a kid – and even as an adult with children in my life – the month of March started and ended as either a lion or a lamb. Coming or leaving as a lion meant the weather was cold, blustery and tumultuous. Coming or leaving as a lamb meant it was calm, mild and serene outside.

March 2013 certainly entered like a lion in South Florida. When I mentioned this to my friend who was born and raised in Venezuela, he looked at me like I was totally nuts. He was wondering where I encountered a lion in South Florida – perhaps it was roaming the streets and was in wait to pounce on me.

Um, no. There is/was no lion. It is just a figure of speech.

Living in South Florida has been a valuable learning experience for me as a person and an HR professional. Having been raised by Midwesterners in the Northeast and coming from a family that has been in the U.S. for several generations, I sometimes forget that not every country or region have the same colloquial intricacies that I grew up with. While not everyone knows that March comes and goes like two animals, everyone has some sort of childhood mnemonic to explain and rationalize weather, experiences and memories. It helps grow my mind and soul to hear others share their stories and history.

I wonder how March will end… If it ends as a lamb, I have promised my Venezuelan friend that we will have lamb one night for dinner to celebrate. I hope March ends as a lamb because if not I will have to look for a lion to eat!

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Kissin’ Chicken

The recent statements made by the president of Chick-fil-A have spawned a firestorm of reactions. Whether pro or con many Americans have an opinion of the events. Last week, those who support marriage equality staged formal and informal Kiss-Ins at Chick-fil-A restaurants to show their disagreement – and, in some cases, disdain – for Mr. Cathy’s opinions. Ironically, Chick-fil-A made a swift and solid statement that the corporation does not discriminate against any groups including sexual orientation. After Mr. Cathy made his statement,  his supporters organized Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day which produced record setting revenues. Taking into account Chick-fil-A’s business model, this is not a surprise but it will lead to a further rift between the LGBT community and those with certain religious leanings. Throughout the Appreciation Day, I wonder if the customers realized that Chick-fil-A had a policy indicating protection of sexual orientation.

Does policy trump the words of senior leadership? The company’s inclusion statement does not include support of same-sex marriage and Mr. Cathy’s statements do not directly discriminate against the LGBT community, only their right to marry. Technically, Mr. Cathy did not violate the policy but what message does this send to the employees of Chick-fil-A who are LGBT? I can only imagine how they might feel. Even with policies to protect from discrimination, it has got to hurt when the president of the company you work for acknowledges that he will not support your marriage happiness. While Mr. Cathy is entitled to express his opinion (thank you Bill of Rights!), the consequences are higher because of his position. The company’s policy to protect diversity might not be enough to counterbalance his statements. After all, he is the boss.

The LGBT community is one of the last large groups in America that does have protection in the form of legislation. Some of the people who oppose LGBT rights and same-sex marriage are the same ones who supported segregation and viewed interracial marriage the same way they view same-sex marriage. I hope the LGBT employees of Chick-fil-A and their supporters can find solace.

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The Business of Graduate School

When I moved from SC to South Florida in October 2011, I was more than 2/3 finished with my MBA through a large university that had a location near my home. With only 6 classes left to complete my degree, I thought it would be a snap to either transfer my credits to another school or complete the degree through the online version of my school. I was in for some surprises.

I enrolled to take my first online class which started in January 2012. This class was an eye opening experience for me. For many years, I had taken and developed asynchronous e-learning opportunities and approached the class in the same way as I had in my past experiences. I quickly found out that online schooling was not the best learning model for me. I withdrew from my class and went about looking at MBA programs near my home in South Florida. I could find no school that would allow me to transfer credits; I would have to essentially restart the process at their school. I guess graduate school is a business like any other and the schools need to generate profits. Not wanting to restart the whole program, I went back to the original plan to take the remaining classes online but this time with a different mindset. So far, the classes are progressing well. I have found the online classes require much more time commitment than attending brick and mortar classes. I spend about 10 to 14 hours per week on classes. With a full time job and other responsibilities I am only able to take one class per semester. At this rate, I will be finished in early 2013. If my graduate school did not have an online option, I would have had to either restart my degree anew or go back to SC for classes for a few more months. Neither option would have been a first – or second – choice.

The moral of the story – carefully chose your graduate school. Advanced degrees are a great way to develop professionally and personally. An investment of this caliber requires thoughtful deliberation and patience. And if you think online learning is easy, you might need to think again. Or just change your approach.

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The Power of Networking

It’s all about who you know and being in the right place at the right time.

My family and I have spent the last 3 years determining the ideal place for us to move. After much research and deliberation, we decided in 2010 that living in the South Florida area would best meet our professional and personal wants and desires. We started to make routine visits to the area and started pinpointing specific areas that we felt would best meet our needs. Being the HR geek that I am, I immediately started my networking. I joined the local SHRM and WorldatWork affiliates. In November 2010, I attended the SHRM Leadership Conference in Arlington, VA and made it a point to seek out the chapter leaders from the chapters I had joined. I made some good connections during the conference that would lead to life changing circumstances for me.

Flash forward to August of 2011 when I had the pleasure of attending the HR Florida conference in Orlando, FL. Just prior to the conference, one of the people I had met at SHRM Leadership had indirectly connected me with someone who was looking for input for a student networking presentation they were giving at HR Florida. I was happy to give comments for the presentation and offered further assistance, if needed. Well, this person later contacted me and asked if I would mind being a judge for the student networking competition. Of course, I happily accepted. The presentation was great and I learned from the participants. I feel the students had many valuable takeaways to help them become solid HR professionals.

As a volunteer, I was invited to attend a group dinner after the student event. I met the group at a local restaurant and reconnected with those I knew and made my way around to those I did not so I could grow my network. It was great meeting everyone and learning about these new contacts. One of the people I met is a director for a large hospital system in South Florida. After chatting for a few minutes, he shared that there was an opening at one of their facilities in the Upper Keys and gave me some information about the position. That night, I went back to my room and started researching the company and location. I was quite impressed by everything I found and the next day, I sought this person out at the conference and expressed my interest in finding out more about the position. He gave me his card and told me to forward my resume which I did as soon as I could. Before I knew it, I was interviewing for the position. A few weeks later, I was offered the position and have relocated to South Florida. It still has not sunk in!

I just finished my third day in this new position. The company is more than I could wish for and the position is a dream come true – the ideal next step in my career progression. The moral of the story – get out there and network. The ideal time to build and develop your professional network is now. When you need them, they will be there to help. Remember to give more than you ask for and be available to provide support and help to your network. Who knows, you might get a fantastic new opportunity!

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TIP – Get Thee to School

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire – – William Butler Yeats

Whether we like it or not, more and more positions require formal education above the high school level. Many people pursue Bachelors and Masters degrees to move their careers and personal goals forward. A college degree can improve your chance at professional success and give you a great feeling of accomplishment.

The Best Use of Masters Certificate Programs

I am a strong believer and proponent of advancing education for everyone. For HR professionals, some of the best education options include degree pursuant programs focusing on
business and HR related majors. In addition to the traditional education experience with matriculated institutions, there are certificate programs that offer a similar experience but don’t require all the attributes of a degree program. These certificates are not professional certifications (i.e. PHR, SPHR, GPHR, CCP, etc) but rather are awarded by an educational institution for the successful completion of classes and coursework. I am sure you have heard of schools that offer certificate programs and may even be familiar with the coursework. These certificates provide valuable learning experiences but lack the rigor of a traditional degree seeking program.

From a recruiting standpoint, certificate programs are best used in conjunction with a degree program. Ideally, a certificate should accompany an existing degree to enhance it. For example, after achieving a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) a certificate program could be used to enhance a specific area (like HR) to enrich the degree. Another option is to use Masters Certificate programs to update an existing degree that might need some polishing. Perhaps you achieved a Masters in HR a decade ago and want to update your skills; this is an ideal profile for a certificate program.

A certificate on its own has relatively minimal value when it comes to career development and advancement. Certificate programs do not require acceptance to a college or university and are not under the same scrutiny as a course of study in traditional degree programs. If you have a choice of pursuing a Masters Certificate or a full-fledged Masters degree, I highly recommend going for the degree. The monetary investment in a Masters degree program is usually a great investment.

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TIP – Take My Breath Away

This post is not about not about love at first sight, exhaustion or even parachuting. It is about having fresh breath.

Use breath mints

I am a firm believer in fresh breath and perhaps I am addicted to breathe mints. My personal favorite choice comes in a red and white metal box and are curiously strong (can you guess which brand?). I usually buy them in bulk at my local warehouse discount store and keep a box in my desk and in my brief case. I also have a smaller tin that I refill to take to events and conventions. Fresh breath is detail (or perhaps not a detail!) that could spark a positive memory for those who meet you.  

Anyway, when I interview, meet with a manager, see an employee or leave my desk for a meeting I pop a mint in my mouth and happily proceed with confidence. I always feel better when I do.

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TIP – Confirming the Interview

I am putting on my Recruiter hat and offering this tidbit of advice that I would be for in a potential applicant for my company. Here is a tip that might help some of you when you interview.

Confirm the interview

I notice things. Sometimes things go unnoticed by others but more often than not SOMEONE will notice even a minute thing. I believe one of the things that differentiates a good applicant from a great applicant is their own attention to the details. For example, any applicant that takes the extra few minutes to confirm their interview date has an “A” for effort in my book. There are very few times in my years of recruiting that an applicant actually emailed or called me to reconfirm their interview day and time prior to their scheduled date. Even if a short, professionally written email is sent to the interviewer to confirm is better than assuming the interview is still happening. What if somehow you wrote the time down wrong? Or the recruiter had an emergent situation that required them to be out of the office at the assigned time? They will appreciate you taking the time to confirm and note it mentally.

This small detail can indicate to the recruiter your seriousness about the position and that you respect their time. This may not always be possible but when it is try it and see what happens.