THE FUTURE OF TALENT

It’s Not About What You Know
But about WHO you know

terena-bell

Sophie Solomon

Sophie Solomon is a global marketing executive with over 20 years of experience. She is the senior manager at Accenture and speaks four languages.

terena-bell

Sophie Solomon 

Sophie Solomon is a global marketing executive with over 20 years of experience. She is the senior manager at Accenture and speaks four languages.

As professionals, throughout our careers, we are called to go through multiple cycles of “job searching.” It is the accumulation of all these jobs, assignments, and missions that in the end constitute our professional journey. One key element in this process is the relationships and the connections we make along the way and how these relationships open the doors to new opportunities. Often, one’s network is the secret sauce for success or failure. Let’s be real: Relationships are a business currency. They are also your insurance policy for your professional future. Relationships open doors, and they do so because people do business with people.

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The Professional Lifecycle

As we navigate (and manifest) our professional journey, we go through multiple cycles that entail prospecting, onboarding, engaging (performing), and finally offboarding

At every stage of this process, we have the opportunity, but most importantly, the responsibility to network.

At any of these four stages, networking plays a critical role.

#1 Prospecting:

When one is looking for the next opportunity, tapping into one’s existing network is the soundest place to begin. One can activate their personal network and ask for referrals and introductions. Personal relationships are endorsements and door openers, and they should always be leveraged. First, because helping others is the right thing to do, and second, because it is symbiotic to match individuals that can benefit from being introduced.

There is also LinkedIn. In her June 2022 Forbes article The World’s Largest Professional Network, writer Nancy Marshal states, “If you’re not using LinkedIn, you’re allowing potential career opportunities to go to waste. Most people understand that networking is important to career success, but many fail to harness the full power of LinkedIn.”

LinkedIn is the low-hanging fruit. And you don’t even need to subscribe to Premium. The free version of LinkedIn allows you to do just about everything you need to be discoverable, stay current, and be relevant. If you haven’t already, activate your personal network and leverage the power of LinkedIn to nurture and expand it.

#2 Onboarding:

Once you land the role, you are not done yet. Make sure you connect with all your new colleagues and your client connections. Begin to map out your stakeholder ecosystem and introduce yourself to learn something about your new network and find out how you can best collaborate. Remember through this process that you only have one chance at a first impression. So be you, be authentic, and be open minded. Listen more than you talk, and bring on your curiosity.

#3 Engagement:

This is when the real work starts. Once you get the hang of your new role, you can establish how you show up as a professional, how you articulate your personal brand, and where you demonstrate not only your technical skills, but how you execute. This stage is where you strengthen the bonds and relationships that you created and where you make your networking stronger and more robust. This is where you create the stories that build your reputation; this is where you demonstrate to your network how you show up and deliver on your promise. This is where professional intimacy happens.

#4 Offboarding:

And then it is time to say goodbye. And how you leave is just as important as how you performed. No matter the circumstance of your leaving, be mindful of what you want your legacy to be. What is the lasting impression you want to give? Often, when the split is contentious, err on the side of the high road. You want to leave the relationships intact and your track record to be a positive, memorable experience. Once you are gone, your track record will speak for itself.

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Networking:

It’s not for everyone, especially for the inveterate introvert. But remember, we are all humans, and showing your humanity is the best ice breaker and equalizer in any relationship, including professional ones.

Networking can happen spontaneously in a professional or personal gathering, but it can also be a proactive exercise that deserves intentionality and preparation. When spontaneous opportunities occur, there is nothing like seizing the moment and making the most of it. However, when networking is an intentional exercise, here are some tips to make it effective.

Have a plan:

Before you reach out to your potential network, have a plan. Make sure that all your professional assets, including your resume, your LinkedIn profile, your digital business card (for instance, Me In One Slide) are up to date. Ask yourself who you are choosing to reach out to and for what purpose. Be crisp about what you expect out of the networking exercise. Here are some things you may have in mind and want to find out:

  • I want to learn about this person’s professional journey.
  • I am interested in learning about the day in the life of this person.
  • I want to understand if my profile is right for the kind of job I want.
  • I want to understand if I should look into up-skilling.
  • I want their perspective in the trends in their industry.

No matter who they are, make sure that you have done some internal work to nail the purpose of your networking exercise. Your audience will know if you are not prepared.

Do your homework:

Once you have identified the individuals you want to connect with, do your homework. If there’s a connection or a referral, learn about them from the source. In addition, LinkedIn is a beautiful source of professional insights. Look the individual up and dig deeper into their profile. Look at their work history, their network, their thought leadership. There is also a wonderful tool called CrystalKnows (available for free for a trial period) that can provide very valuable tips about the style of the individual.

Get tactical:

Don’t let resistance get in the way and put things in motion. Block time on your calendar every week to reach out to your networking prospect list and make the connections. Get a networking buddy with whom you share your plans and commitments, and meet with them on a regular basis so you can hold each other accountable. Practice your networking drill with your buddy by conducting some dry runs and getting comfortable with the exercise. This may feel artificial and inauthentic, but the idea is to grow comfortable with the practice and address any unforeseen hurdles ahead of time.

Messaging and e-mail introductions:

It’s time to reach out to your victim (just kidding!): your prime audience. When you are reaching out to an unknown audience or third-party individual, consider the following.

  • State who you are.
  • The intent of your message — “the why.”Purpose.
  • Include the name of a connection you share (if applicable).
  • Include your Me In One Slide and your LinkedIn profile URL — make it easy for your audience to learn about you before they meet you.

It’s showtime:

You are well prepared, you know your audience, you know your purpose, and you know what you want out of the 30 minutes that you have with this prime audience. Once you are past the usual formalities, dive right in and be prepared with the five questions you want to ask. Stay open to the rhythm of the conversation, practice active listening, and respond to the dynamics and the flow of the interaction. The purpose of networking is to create connections and build relationships; let the organic process take its course and respond authentically. However, should you get to a dead end, have some questions in your back pocket to get you back on track. Finally, learn to wrap up the conversation with some concrete action items. Paraphrasing what you heard is a constructive way to demonstrate that you were listening and also remember the conversation. And conclude with your next steps so as not to lose track of the outcome of the conversation.

Network for life:

I want to leave you with a couple of notes. Networking, when done with authenticity and purpose, is for life. Make sure to nurture the relationships you have developed throughout your professional journey. Learn to stay connected with them, keep them informed and up to date on your journey, and follow theirs too. Networking is about human connections. It is about building relationships. And it’s about creating meaning with like-minded people. Networking is beautiful human capital that can nourish your professional career and can also nourish your professional soul. It is capital that deserves nurturing. And from a more pragmatic standpoint, don’t wait until you need to find another job to start networking. The best time to be looking for a job is when you don’t need one.

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