September 18, 2010

Networking to Reach Your Dream

Yesterday a local university had me speak about networking to a Job Club, made up of people who had been laid-off by the school. When I was first asked to be the speaker, it had not been made clear to me that the connection these people would all have is their former employer. As the coordinator prepped me for the attendees, just a few minutes before the program started, I suddenly understood that this workshop session was going to be different from any I had done before. These people were all going to be connected through a common loss.

This assumption was the case as each of the 15 attendees introduced themselves. An entire row of people had been former colleagues at a museum run by the university. They still acted as a team, even after being jobless for a year. What I heard from them was frustration, disappointment and confusion. Several of the attendees had been just a few years from retirement and others were completely reconsidering their career paths. A few were completely unsure of how to transfer their skills to new jobs or new employers.

What I soon recognized was that these mostly Baby Boomers were people who could easily have been my bosses if I had been working inside the university, yet, here I was offering them insights into networking. It was an interesting twist that I was now the expert on a topic that just seems so intuitive. I am sure they would say the same about their former work.

As the attendees introduced themselves, most started by sharing their "war stories" about how they lost their job. A few people started to cry. It was heartbreaking. But as they started to discuss their goals, dreams began to emerge. Many of the people began to talk about non-profits they would like to start, the nature centers they would like to work for or how they wanted to make their artwork full time.

By the end of the session everyone was smiling and chatting. Several said to me that they felt totally inspired about following their dreams and could now come from a place of strength when networking. My goal was to help them recognize the gifts they have to offer and to help them see themselves as a commodity as opposed to a liability.

Networking is all about presenting yourself passionately by being tapped into what makes you unique and having the ability to connect that with what the other person wants to accomplish. To do this you need to put aside your story of perceived failure and connect through common goals. As I said to one attendee, "the other person knows nothing about you, so why not present yourself as the person you want to be in the future building on strengths from your past?"