Some asked how I was able to change my professional career path from working as a designer to being the Director of a Prevention Coalition then on to the Director of Community Relations for a major hospital and currently to running my own not-for profit.
My big secret is networking. Here's what worked for me:
The single most important thing you can do to get ahead professionally is to network. Plain and simple, making connections in the field that you want to pursue will guarantee your success. Engaging with other people is the only way you will learn about opportunities, gain knowledge, become a relevant player and be noted as a professional.
This also includes networking with people you're providing a service to. Whether you're trying to help them by offering resources for a specific issue, sell them a product, educate them through trainings, seminars or forums, it all happens when you put yourself out there to your audience.
There're plenty of ways to go about this. In my case, I was looking for a job in the field of the prevention, treatment and recovery of substance use disorders, AKA addiction. I started researching local prevention agencies. I also researched current drug trend information, treatment facilities, the different kinds of treatment options that were available, prevention programs, data on current efforts to reduce drug use, blogs from parents and professionals, I read books on these subjects and studied all the non for profit, boots on the ground local efforts that were being done.
If you want something bad enough you have to be consistent. You have to show up, get your face out there! One way to do this is through volunteering. When you volunteer your services, you position yourself as a person who people can depend on. You have the opportunity to show them your passion, dedication and willingness to help and to learn. You network with their staff and employees. You pay attention to how they run things and what’s expected of them. You also pay attention to things that you might do differently, ideas that you might offer to help with projects or issues they're dealing with. You show your value.
You should ask about learning opportunities such as what seminars, forums, events and educational trainings there are. You build up your knowledge! You show an interest.
You can offer to “man a table” at these events so you can network with other vendors. Take advantage of the fact that you can network with your ideal customer/ client or future employer while attending these events. Talk to everyone! See what their needs are. Find out the reason they are there. What are they looking for? Look for ways to engage and to help them.
Have your own simple business cards to hand out. Let me be clear……This is NOT to take business away from where you are volunteering. It’s simply a way for others to contact you to continue conversations or to share stories. Always be loyal and if possible, refer to the place that you are volunteering for. Remember, honesty and integrity go a long way. Be the person they can trust.
Start positioning yourself on social media platforms. LinkedIn is a great networking tool. Create your profile to reflect and showcase your current and prior employment, education, skills and volunteering efforts.
If you’re looking for a job or position in a certain field then say it! You can say something like “ Currently looking for a position in the non profit world” Seeking job opportunities in the substance prevention field, Looking to join board member positions in the treatment and recovery field or whatever job that you’re looking for. This will make you more visible to recruiters, CEO’s and others who are hiring.
You have to build up your contact list. Search and reach out to EVERYONE you know. People in your potential field, possible colleagues, employers, political contacts, people you do business with, your friends and family. This becomes your sphere of influence. This is truly important. You’ll set yourself up as credible. Start joining groups, follow influencers and ask for recommendations.
If you have a personal Facebook account, for God’s sake make sure you don’t have photo’s that show any indiscretions. Watch what you post. That includes your personal views on politics and religion. Any potential employers will Google your name and make decisions based on how you promote your lifestyle. Sad, but true, you'll be judged and you wont get the job or be a welcomed volunteer. I'll also tell you that news travels fast and once you’re pegged, as someone who parties hardy or talks inappropriately you'll be blackballed.
Your name and Bio about who you are, what you do and what you like or are looking for should be short and to the point. Search likeminded people and follow their pages, people you admire in your field. Start liking and commenting on posts they make. Use hashtags every time you post on your page. This will help get you noticed on other pages. Engagement and consistency is key.
If at all possible, use your name or the name of your business as your twitter handle. If you have a website URL to add then do it! Adding a nice picture of yourself makes you more relatable. People will start to recognize you. If your uncomfortable with that you can add a logo if you have one. Include a short bio. Mine looks like this:
Donna Pacicco DeStefano@PICKAwareness
Founder & CEO P.I.C.K. Awareness- Special State Officer on The Governor's Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse- Mom- Wife- Prevention & Recovery Advocate- Blogger
Engage with relevant people who are in your industry and follow them. Comment on their posts. Get creative with your content. Tweets can be up to 280 characters long so you have the ability to get creative. Show your personality and stand out by being yourself. Using hashtags will get you more exposure on your tweets. As with all social media, make sure you stay updated in your field. Research to bring new and useful information to your followers. Be the “go to” by staying current on trending topics. More than 60% of people are visual learners. People respond to images faster than text. When possible add a photo or image to your tweet.
Make sure your resume is up to date. If at all possible use your name in your email. This way when it shows up in mailboxes people know exactly who you are. I like to add an “Objective” at the top of the page. This should reflect information for the specific job that you are seeking. Highlight your volunteer experience and get recommendation letters from the places you volunteered and worked. Show your personality. Add any experiences, chair or board positions, committees, clubs and organizations that you’ve been a part of and references from people who can vouch for your work ethic, dependability and value. There are many resume templates out there if you’re confused on how to do it.
I hope these tips help you with your networking efforts. Remember to ALWAYS be professional. Stand up for what you believe in and don’t settle for a job that isn’t a good fit.
Good luck! and remember,
“The Secret of Getting Ahead is Getting Started” Mark Twain
Donna DeStefano, CEO P.I.C.K. Awareness