If you’re new to the world of LinkedIn and professional networks (and most women returning to the workforce are), then this is a good time for you to be thoughtful about your professional network. Hopefully by now I don’t have to convince you that getting to know people and building relationships are critical to your job search and, indeed, your professional success. But if you’re starting from scratch with LinkedIn, you might be wondering how on earth you’re going to amass a number of connections. More importantly, you might be worried that you don’t know the right people or enough of the right people.
Relax – I’ve got your back! Here are some strategies for expanding your network – on LinkedIn and otherwise.
- First, assess the state of your network. How strong is your network and how strong are your connections inside that network? I prefer to think about the strength of a network, instead of its size, because I’m a quality over quantity person. Having 1,000 connections on LinkedIn isn’t worth much if you don’t actually know them and can’t rely on them to help you if you ask.
- Second, realize that your message needs to be clear and will be different depending on who you are reaching out to. Friends and acquaintances are probably fine with a “Hi, here’s what I’m up to” type of message. The people you don’t know may need a more formal and flattering message like “I’ve read your books / saw you speak / admire your position on ______.” I’d like to connect so I can continue to follow your success.”
- Third, reconnect with people you’ve lost touch with via LinkedIn. I love hearing from people that I knew way back when! Carol Fishman Cohen, Chair of iRelaunch, tells re-launchers that they shouldn’t fear reconnecting with former colleagues because those people will remember you as you were when they knew you. In other words, people will remember the “professional you” even if that was from years ago.
After reconnecting, it’s perfectly OK to tap into that network for help. Many of us aren’t comfortable asking for help, but would happily help someone who asked us for a favor. Understand that sometimes in your life you’ll be in a position to give back to your network and sometimes you’ll need to tap your network for help. Both of these are perfectly natural.
Always ask “Is there anything I can help you with?” when you ask someone in your network for a favor. You never know what they might need help with so it’s always good to ask. Plus, both relationship-building and networking are two-way streets, so be prepared to give at least as much as you get.
Building and maintaining a strong network are critical to your successful career. If your network needs work, start today to map out who you know and who you’d like to know. Then reach out and build those relationships. If you’ve got a robust network but have let it go dormant, start reconnecting to people by noticing their successes and reaching out to say hi. Here’s a network map that will help you generate ideas about people you should be reaching out to and connecting to on LinkedIn.
Most of all, make networking and building relationships a habit that you work on every day. Happy connecting
For the longest time, I wanted to know exactly how recruiters used LinkedIn so I could advise the people I coached to be the most attractive candidates they could be on this platform. Then last year I had the opportunity to do some recruiting work myself and was able to gain experience being on the other side of the recruiter – candidate equation.
Here’s what I learned:
- Be open to recruiters – go into your privacy settings and click on Job Seeking Preferences => Let recruiters know you’re open to opportunities. When recruiters do a LinkedIn search, they receive results that tell them (a) the number of people who have the profile they are searching for and (b) the number of people who have that profile and are open to new opportunities. In fact, recruiters start with the people who have indicated they are open to new opportunities and most never go through the others. If you want to be noticed, let the recruiters in! Also, being more active on LinkedIn will land you in more searches.
- Keywords matter – be precise. Make sure the language in your profile is an exact match to the terms you are finding in job descriptions. Reading job descriptions for the job you’d like to have is a great way to do research. The more search terms and keywords you hit on, the better!
- Have an appealing profile – show your energy, your passion and your ability to get stuff done. Your summary is a great place to do this. The language throughout your profile should reflect positivity and convey the idea that you’re a great team member.
- Be clear about what you want to do – again, your summary is a great place for this. Another place to do this is in the job titles that you specify you’d like to be contacted about. If your preferred job titles are all over the map, you’ll appear scattered. If they are focused on one specific thing, you’ll look like a person with a clear plan, which is very appealing to recruiters.
- Respond quickly when a recruiter reaches out to you – the opportunity may disappear quickly. If you’re interested, say yes right away. If it’s not the right offer, tell the recruiter why – giving feedback helps ensure that the next time they reach out to you it will be for something you’re interested in.
There you have it – the inside scoop on how recruiters find candidates on LinkedIn! Use this information to become a better candidate and get noticed for the jobs you want.
One final bonus tip: I’ve been following an Amazon recruiter on LinkedIn who is very transparent about the process for getting hired there and gives great tips for managing the job search and interview processes. Her name is Katherine Dumanoir. Follow her on LinkedIn for some solid job search advice!
While you’re on a career break, it’s critical that you keep a list of things you’re doing that will help you make the case that you are a better employee because of your break.
Quick! Grab a pen and write down 5 things you’ve done while out of the paid workforce that a future employer might be interested in.
Need help? Here are some ideas to jumpstart your list:
-took an online course (LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, etc.)
-kept up a professional certification
-developed a new skill (what was it and how did you develop it?)
-took a course at a community college, a bootcamp, or anywhere
-managed a project at your kids school, your church, or a non-profit
-joined an industry association and attended their meetings or continuing education courses
-volunteered for a political campaign supporting a cause or a candidate that you believed in
-taught something (such as faith formation classes at your place of worship)
-started a group to get people with common interests connected
-joined a book club and participated in monthly discussions
-served on your homeowners association
-organized social events for an organization/school/church/neighborhood you are connected to
-took on gig or project work
-attended a conference that inspired you, taught you something, or kept you in touch with your profession or network
Why is this important?
For many reasons! For starters, as you update your resume you’ll draw on this list to fill the gap in your employment history. It’s also important because when you get to the interview stage of your job search, you will be asked what you did while you were out of the paid workforce. It will be up to you to tell a compelling story that convinces employers that you are a constant learner with a growth mindset.
This week I met with a recruiter at a great local company and we talked about hiring women (and men!) who are returning to work after a career break. She’s interviewed lots of career relaunchers: The ones who rose to the top are those that spoke about their time out of the workforce as a time of growth and convinced her that they were busy using skills that transfer well to the workplace.
My advice to you: Keep track of all the things you do while on a career break.
Start a google doc or a page in your journal to list every project and volunteer post you take on along with the skills you used and the outcome of the project. Don’t forget the outcome! If you’re ready to return to work and you haven’t been keeping track, no worries! Start your list now and spend the next few days adding to the list as you remember what’s been keeping you so busy all this time.
What if my list stinks? 🙂
OK, say you start your list and you decide it’s not impressive. Start doing list-building activities today by finding a course to enroll in, a group to join or a volunteer activity that will help you grow. Here’s a link to my blog about resources for job seekers that contains some ideas for you. I repeat, start today!
Being home with kids is a full-time job!
Yet so many of you manage to do this well in addition to volunteering, managing projects and improving yourselves on a daily basis. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I always marveled at how that title really missed the mark: I was never home! Between all the activities my children and I got involved in, I was constantly on-the-go. I even took a fencing class with one of my children, which let me to include “Beginning Fencer” under the Interests section at the bottom of my resume. I didn’t exactly learn practical job skills in the fencing class, but it was a great conversation starter! Also, it gave me the opportunity to talk about how my career break allowed me to explore some unique activities that expanded my mind and kept me physically fit.
So start that list and keep adding to it as you craft your story around how you used your career break to get better and how that will benefit your future employer.
Today I want to share 4 big lessons in restarting a career that I’ve learned over the past 5 years from my own personal experience of returning to work after a career break and that of the hundreds of women I’ve talked to and coached through this transition.
It can be done, but it often takes longer than you think it should
The big take-away here is “it can be done.” I promise, it can. There are lots of women out there who have taken career breaks and then resumed their careers. And while we both know that you’re amazing and highly qualified for that awesome job, job search is called a “process” for a reason. It can move slowly, and it often involves trial-and-error that can lead to changing directions. Be flexible and be prepared for a long process. Keep a journal along the way so you can capture all that you’re learning about yourself and the companies and people you encounter. There is nothing wasted in this process, you can use almost every experience to get better. Even the frustrating ones!
You control much of the process
Keep this in mind, especially on the days when if feels like you’re not making progress. You control how much time you put in on your job search, what your resume looks like, how prepared you are for an interview, the types of jobs you apply for, how good your cover letter is and how you present yourself to potential employers, among other things. You do not control a hiring manager’s decisions. Importantly, you also control your reaction after you receive bad news (or no news, as is often the case) while you are job-searching. Focus on what you can control and do your very best with those things. Invest in yourself. Take a class to keep your credentials fresh. Re-activate your network by reaching out to former colleagues. Scary? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely!
You don’t pick up where you left off
I’ve heard the following from so many women: “I took a job making a lot less than I used to but it was worth it just to get my foot in the door.” Ladies, all you need is a place to start, or re-start. When it presents itself, take it and run with it. Just yesterday I received this email:
“ I attended your first Back to Business Conference and it gave me hope I could return to the corporate world after taking 16 yrs off to raise 4 children.
Thanks to networking, I was able to relaunch my career nearly 3.5 years ago. There were definitely challenges returning… I basically started back at entry level working with recent college grads and accepted a salary significantly less than I made in 2000! But now, the sky is the limit because I have recent work experience at the top of my resume again.”
I love this! My favorite part is: “the sky is the limit because I have recent work experience at the top of my resume again.” It’s almost magic how recent work experience practically erases the impact of a career break on your resume. As they say, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Take that step.
The people who get out from behind their computers are the ones who make it happen
Let me guess: You’ve been applying for jobs online, diligently attaching your resume and cover letter to job applications. Stop doing that! Your time is much better spent connecting personally with people who do what you want to do or who work at companies you’d like to work for. You don’t have to stop applying altogether, but have a balanced job search plan that includes as much person-to-person talking and meeting as you can schedule. The online job application is often a black hole, while meeting in person with another human is not. Tell the people you meet with exactly what you’re looking for so they know how to help you.
To wrap up, remember to be patient and stay positive when returning to work takes longer than you expected, focus on what you can control, take a long-term view and don’t worry about returning to work at a lower level or salary than you previously had. And finally, focus your job-search efforts on making personal connections.
You’ve got this – I believe in you!
Job fairs are a great addition to your job search toolkit. But the thought of all those employers in one big room and lots of other job seekers circulating around the room might be intimidating to some.
Never fear – I’m going to walk you through a foolproof guide to knock it out of the job fair ballpark. When you follow these steps, you’ll be prepared, confident and ready for success. Let’s get started!
First, find the right job fair. Many are free for job seekers or charge a small fee, so look carefully at any job fair that comes with a hefty admission price. Do your research – call the organizer and ask some questions before paying to attend a job fair as a job seeker. The right job fair will have employers there that you are interested in, or at least that you are open to learning more about.
Register in advance. This signifies a commitment on your part and will help ensure that you don’t back out!
Research the list of companies that are attending. Look them up and note the following things about each one:
- What the company does
- How big it is
- What types of jobs they list on their website that they’re hiring for now
- Which of their available jobs you are interested in and are a good fit for
- How the company describes their culture
- One interesting fact about the company that you can bring up in conversation with a recruiter
Apply to positions with those companies prior to the job fair.
Go to LinkedIn to search for a recruiter or Human Resources contact at the company. This is gold! Now send an InMail message or email to this recruiter to let her know you are a perfect fit for this job and will be at the job fair. Include your resume. Send it just a few days in advance of the job fair. Be brief – you want your note to be read, so after you write it, cut it in half and then send it!
Prioritize the employers attending the job fair in order of how interested you are in each one.
Practice your personal pitch. You should have a 20-second version of your pitch for a job fair that includes the following:
- A firm and friendly handshake while you look the recruiter in the eye, smile and introduce yourself
- A mention of your key skills and how they tie to the work this company does
- The specific job opening you saw on their website that you are interested in. We want it to be obvious that you did your homework before arriving
Your pitch should sound polished, but not like a recitation. Keep it conversational. Record yourself delivering it (I like the Voice Recorder & Audio Editor app for iPhone) so you can get good at it.
On game day, wear a suit. You are a job seeker, and job seekers need to look professional. Many other people there won’t be in suits and you will stand out for your professionalism. If your closet no longer holds suits, pull together the most professional outfit you can and go for it.
Bring copies of your resume. Print them out on regular white paper, no need to buy the fancy paper we used to print our resumes on in the old days! Put these in a padfolio or a nice folder along with some blank paper so you can take notes. Also bring business cards with your contact info if you have them. You can get these made at Staples or any other office supply store on really short notice and for very little money.
Arrive early: If you arrive close to the beginning of the job fair, you’ll wait in fewer lines and catch recruiters while they’re fresh. If the job fair starts at 8:30am, plan to arrive by 8:45am – let recruiters have their coffee and get set up before you arrive.
Look at the floor plan for the job fair and note where each company has their booth. Start with a company that is not one of your top priorities. You want to get practice giving your pitch and really hit your stride by the time you approach your most desired company. I also want you to avoid looking like a lost soul wandering around the room.
Enter the room like you own it! You are the reason job fairs exist, after all. Job fairs hope to attract qualified, professional candidates and that’s exactly what you are! So walk in with purpose and get started with the companies you want to meet. Here’s a sample pitch:
“Hi, my name is Elizabeth Smith. It’s nice to meet you. I’m a marketing manager with an expertise in digital marketing and I’m really interested in IBM because you set the standard in the tech field. I applied for a Digital Marketing Manager position online and would like to talk to you about it.” Then ask a smart question about it.
Before you leave the table, offer your resume and business card and ask for the recruiter’s card. Also, ask about the best way to follow up and if it’s OK for you to check in with them in a few days. (You’ll need to have the recruiters contact info to follow up.)
Need a break? Step into the lobby, find a comfy chair and write down some notes while you take a breather. Notes like this are helpful:
Met Cindy Smith at IBM. Hiring in digital marketing, but not in partner marketing. Call on Monday to follow up. Also have openings in Watson Health area.
Don’t rely on your memory when you get home, because if you visit multiple booths they’ll all start to blend together in your mind.
Within 24 hours, reach out to the people you met. Connect with them on LinkedIn with a personalized message or send an email – or both. Let them know that you enjoyed meeting them, remind them of your conversation or the position you applied for and express interest in meeting again soon. Don’t skip this step. Follow up is very important and very few job seekers do it. It will set you apart.
Good luck at the job fair!