How frustration helps us discover and build new skills

The way of frustration is not a path we willingly choose but oh, what new skills we would build if we more often did!

Recently, as I reflected on my career in advertising, I was reminded of the advantages of frustration and how it helps us discover and build new skills. During my first few months in advertising I floundered. I hated it. Instead, I dreamt of joining the music industry or becoming a MP. But I’m so glad I stuck it out, because my frustration eventually helped me discover and build new skills. It helped me surpass many of my peers.

It took me a good three to four years to really begin to enjoy advertising, which came in direct result of the process of becoming good at it. I did it by turning what looked like my disadvantage into an asset. I learned everything I could, and not just how to do my job well, but how to keep on improving.

Obstacles help you discover and build new skills

I was in the place that Rockefeller called the school of life. He is once quoted as saying, “Oh, how blessed young men are who have to struggle for a foundation and beginning in life.” Few of us may feel like that but in the Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday argues that it is those who learn to flip their obstacles upside down that do best. They overcome, they solve problems, they innovate, they start trends, they win. “There is no good or bad without us”, he writes. “There is only perception” and “the story we tell ourselves about what it means”. This can be a hindrance to discovering and building new skills.

The more I learn about the way we grow and develop as human beings the more I appreciate the advantages of having our passions and interests disrupted. It’s the way we discover the new and make great-er things happen. I mean, what would happen if you embraced your frustrations more often?

If you want to discover and build new skills, embrace frustration

This is what Tim Harford’s Ted talk on ‘How frustration can lead to greater creativity’ asks us. Harford talks about Vera Branders, a seventeen-year-old German concert promoter, who persuaded the American musician Keith Jarret to perform a late night jazz session at the Cologne opera house in January 1975. Trouble was that the piano was not up to scratch so Jarret refused to perform. He demanded Vera find a replacement or the concert was off. Then off he went and sat in his car to wait.

Hours before the performance was due to begin, and unable to find a replacement piano, Vera stood in the rain pleading with Jarret not to cancel. He took pity on the girl and reluctantly agreed to play. The broken keys forced Jarret to avoid certain notes, to adopt a playing position that would enable him to hit the keys more forcefully, and to create rumbling repetitive rifts so as to create sufficient sound to fill the auditorium. Playing differently forced him to discover and build new skills.

The result was electrifying, says Harford. It produced the world’s best-selling piano album and best-selling solo jazz album in history. He “was handed a mess, embraced it and it soared” said Harford. But Jarret’s initial instinct was not to play. And we are often like that too.

Embrace your frustrations

Harford argues that we need to gain more appreciation of the unexpected advantages of having to cope with unexpected mess. Certain types of difficulties can improve our performance.

To support his point Harford provides a few other examples. In one of them groups of students were given whodunit problems to solve. One group comprised of three friends and a stranger, the other was formed of four friends. The group with the stranger had a 75% chance of finding the right answer in comparison to the 50% for the friend group. The friends also felt they had done a good job and that they had had a good time working together. The other group did not enjoy the process as much due to the awkwardness and randomness of working with the stranger. Harford says this shows how “disruptions help us solve problems and become more creative” even though at the time “we don’t feel they are helping and so we resist”.

Do yourself a huge favour. Embrace your frustrations more frequently. Next time you’re faced with what appears to be an out-of-your-comfort-zone situation, identify the most irritating aspects and use them, incorporate randomness or change the tools of the job. Remember, just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not helping. On the contrary, it’s a pretty good sign you’re about to discover and build new skills.

University is just the tortoise route to work skills

The apprenticeship route may give you a head-start on work skills – but is it necessarily like this forever? No, says the tortoise.

Hearing that ‘29 per cent of graduates are now earning less per hour than the average apprentice’ may cause one to question whether university is still a worthwhile route to work.

The fastest way to develop work skills is by working. That’s what an apprenticeship has over university. By the time a graduate leaves university and begins working he is playing catch-up with the apprentice.

One of my clients, Paul, a postgraduate in his first year of work, told me about several employees who came into the company straight after school as apprentices and then became full-time employees.

He said: “I recall a conversation with one of them who told me how he struggled with the decision of whether to go to university or not before deciding to do his apprenticeship. I realised that he probably learnt a great deal more about the world of work from his apprenticeship than I did at university.

“Furthermore, he developed his hard and soft skills at a faster rate than I did. He is three or four years younger than me and has over a year’s experience in media and a work environment than I do.”

Paul then admits, “The ability to get on well with others is probably the only soft skill I took from university and, ironically, I think this ability has worsened in the years since I left.”

Education first, work skills second

Many universities do their best to help graduates prepare for work by having them do projects, group work and presentations but, in all honesty, university is about education first, work skills second. Apprenticeships are about work skills first.

This is where the challenge is for graduates: in the first few years after university, with little or no work experience, it takes them longer to find a job.

But is this necessarily forever? Over the long-run, doesn’t things pan out? Isn’t it the case that a graduate’s earning potential stands equal or even greater? And do not graduates gain something from having gone to university that apprentices do not?

According to a new report, How MBA Programs Make Great Leaders and How They Fail, MBA graduates graduate less endowed with the soft skills employers want – but they’re better educated and their earning potential increases by as much as 50 per cent. While the major focus of the research was on the fact that MBA graduates were not stronger or were only marginally stronger in prized skills such as coaching, results orientation and visionary ability, it could not deny that they do not go on to develop these work skills eventually. Once they catch up on the work skills, they’re fine or better off.

University offers its own reward

“After weighting all of this up, I would agree that the education system is ignoring the soft skills employers care about,” Paul told me. “The skills mentioned in the report – coaching, results orientation and visionary leadership skills – were never touched on in any way or form during university – but I do still feel that education is a privilege and if you have the opportunity to go to university you’re obligated to take it. Yes, you will learn far more and progress quicker by going straight to work, but the experiences you get at university are also valuable.”

Paul did a Master’s degree because he didn’t know what he wanted to do and didn’t want to work yet. He has no interest in pursuing a career in his Master’s degree subject but is still glad he did it.

“For one thing it helps me in interviews and makes me seem smarter than I am. Again, there was the social element and chance to live in a different city. But the thing I took most is the ability to persevere and endure. My ability to endure will stand me in good stead for the rest of my life. The opportunity to do a Masters or MBA is a rarity, it is a chance to test and better yourself and I think it is worth doing. I do think one will learn something from the experience and will be better for it.

“In short, we have 40 years to work, so first go to university, learn, meet people, mature, have fun and learn a bit more about yourselves and different people.”

The 9 core skills graduates need in the first two years of work

Just started working and keen to get ahead? Here are the core skills graduates need in the first two years of work.

If you’ve recently landed a job and want to go far in your career, you should start to develop the core skills graduates need in the first two years of work.

Research shows that 90 per cent of business leaders believe that employees with strong people skills make better commercial impact; and 85 per cent see technical skills as the basic necessity for new hires – but soft skills are the characteristic that sets them apart. People with good soft skills advance faster and are more likely to be retained and promoted.

So here are the core skills you need to build within your first two years of work. Work on acquiring these and they will place you in good stead for the rest of your working life.

  1. How to get along well with others

Business is essentially about building relationships with other people, or else what’s the point? For this reason, learning to be good with people is a skill you must build as early as possible during the first two years of work. Being able to work with lots of different personality types is crucial, especially in today’s global business environment. While some people are naturally empathic most of us aren’t, so practice the skill of empathy.

  1. How to build networks of friendships with work mates

The most valuable core skill you can develop during your first two years at work is to learn how to build a professional network of friends with people who can help you in some way or another. The key is not just to build networks, but to build networks that are reciprocal. That’s where the real value lies. No one likes selfish people who are in it only for what they can get. Scratch other people’s backs as you never know when your own back will need scratching in a place you are unable to reach.

  1. How to be resilient

There will be tough days. The sooner you recognise and develop strategies to adapt to whatever comes your way, the more you will enjoy your work and the faster you will progress. Resilience helps you learn – any skill worth mastering takes resilience, patience and persistence. Perhaps more importantly, this is a skill that will set you up with a reputation as one who gets on with it and is great to work with.

  1. How to talk sensibly to bosses

This is about appearing knowledgeable, clued-up and sensible. Listen out for and be vigilant about what makes your boss tick. Be open to learning opportunities (informal and otherwise) and read widely (both in and outside your industry and interest areas). Widening your knowledge makes you appear more intelligent and rounded; you’ll find that much of what you learn is transferable and can help you in lots of other ways too. It will build your self-esteem but also help you bond with your boss, clients and colleagues.

  1. How to recognise and think through problems

I really love that quote, that “quiet, calm deliberation disentangles every knot”. If you rush into situations and decisions you could find yourself making important decisions based on assumption rather than facts, so stop, breathe and take your time when analysing any problem. When facts behind a problem become clear, it’s as good as solved.

  1. Understand what you need to deliver in your job to keep bosses happy

Be clear on your main job priorities and do whatever you can to ensure you meet your obligations. No one is going to pat you on the back if you spend your time doing great work that has little to do with what your boss asked for, no matter how great it is. An understanding of how your role fits into the organisation – who is who and what they do – could help you understand your own job better.

  1. Understand how your organisation works and makes money

What does the company really do and what type of business is it in? These may seem like obvious questions but many a new hire joins a company and gets on with his or her job without paying attention to what makes that company or organisation tick. Know your key numbers – the bottom-line facts and figures, the top performing products, services and people that make the difference.

  1. Understand how your industry works

Learn as much as possible about your industry. Read both the trade press and the company’s internal news bulletins. Find out how well the company is doing compared to others in the industry.

  1. The last of the core skills graduates need is the mind-set of the extra mile

You were employed to do your job so if you aim to do that you’ll do okay. However, if you want to do better than just okay then aim to over-deliver. Is there something extra you can do for a colleague, client or customer? Make more effort when presenting information, get back to people sooner than you promised or suggest an option no one considered. Whenever you can, go the extra mile.

These are the core skills graduates in the first two years of work. Start now. As you do so, people –bosses, colleagues and clients – will notice you for the right reasons.

What no one has probably ever told you about soft skills

Just like a set of ninja warrior skills, soft skills are a set of abilities that make you fit for combat in the workplace – kind of.

We’ve all heard how important soft skills are when trying to find a job. Numerous surveys have shown that employers prize these just as much if not sometimes more than academic achievement, but what are soft skills, really?

What are soft skills? 

What most people don’t know is that soft skills are like ninja skills. No, really. Hear me out. Soft skills are wide and varied. For a start, some employers list six, others as many as a dizzying 86. How can one hope to keep tab of and develop so many skills?

The best way to view soft skills, then, is as a set of attributes that allow you to morph into whatever is needed at the time. The ability to demonstrate interest, passion or enthusiasm is a soft skill. It’s about being flexible and ready.

Your soft skills are transferrable skills that help you navigate your way around the daily challenges and problems that tend to crop up at work. The unhappy customer, the difficult team member, the uncooperative supplier and the over-demanding boss – though hopefully not all in a single day – are all part and parcel of the challenges of working life.

That’s why I think it is better to think about your soft skills as a set of ninja-like abilities that equip you to become proactive and reflexive as and however needed.

How do soft skills help you act like a ninja warrior at work?

Your soft skills are what make you flexible, resilient and decisive. They act like an inner radar to help you detect what needs to be done – how to react to or defend that blow. They will help you analyse situations, make good judgements and decisions, and then take appropriate action so you can get your work done.

It is far more likely for a person with medium level tech skills and high level soft skills to win the job over a person who is great technically but poor when it comes to displaying people skills, team skills, resilience and the like.

It’s a bit like common sense but for work. Your boss likes them because he doesn’t then need to micro manage you or worry about whether you are going to upset an important customer.

Soft skills help keep you in the ‘fight’

Even if your technical skills manage to dazzle the eyes of the interviewer so much so that he offers you the position, you won’t last long once you’re found wanting in soft skills. As psychologist Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., author of the bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence, has observed, your technical skills will get you the job but it’s your soft skills that keep you there. They are the skills that complement the technical knowledge you have and will help you do well in your career. If you’re unpleasant and clueless it doesn’t matter how good you are at what you do because whatever benefit you bring, your oblivious or aloof attitude is going to pose a risk. It could lead to a catalogue of problems with staff, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

What’s the best way to develop soft skills?

Many new graduates bemoan the fact that entry level roles ask for soft skills and other experience which they just don’t have. After all, one needs to start somewhere. The best way to develop your soft skills, or work skills as they are sometimes called, is at work but work isn’t the only place you can develop them. This is important to know if you are a graduate with little or no work experience. If you can identify the experiences that teach you how to work with and understand people, or the way life and business work, then you can probably unearth a worthy collection of soft skills from having travelled, gone to university, played a sport or even learning ballroom dancing. This, at least, will get you in the door to start developing your abilities as a soft skills ninja warrior.

How to build will-power to get ahead

Struggling to get ahead? Never fear. Here’s how to build will-power quickly.

The love of chocolate biscuits once stood between a woman and her dream of a size ten waist. But that was before she discovered the most powerful weapon against unfulfilled dreams known to man: will-power. The woman? Housewife and co-founder of Weightwatchers Jean Evelyn Nidetch, who sold the business to Heinz for $72m in 1978.

Jean said that once she was able to train her will to stop eating chocolate biscuits she could set her mind to achieve anything.

It may not be giving up chocolate biscuits, but what high and lofty dream could mastery over your will-power help you to achieve in your career?

One thing for sure, the will is nothing without action. Scientists who study the will, or what they call volition, agree that what we call the will is incomplete until we act on it. To this end, no matter what people tell you, the thought alone counts for nothing.

Why you must build will-power

Will-power is considered to be the main driving force for human achievement, ambition and success. A well-developed and strong will lies at the centre of taking initiative, being proactive, being decisive, meeting deadlines and achieving goals. It will make you tough when things get tough.

If you find yourself thinking of stuff you’d like to do but failing to take action, then you have a weak will. You tend to give up too quickly or let fear of failure derail your dreams. But if you are to get that dream job or to advance your career, you need a strong will: employers want people who act on what they say they are going to do. Companies need a man or woman of action. They want to see what you can do, not merely what you think, would like or intend to do. During CV assessments or job interviews employers will predict what you will do in the future based on what you have done in the past.

So, how have you used your will-power? Is it weak?

Never fear. It is possible to build will-power, though it takes work.

How to build will-power quickly

The American attorney, author and pioneer of the New Thought movement William Walker Atkinson said, “Nothing schools the will and renders it ready for effort in this complex world better than accustoming it to the practice of disagreeable things.”

The idea is to train the will by occasionally doing something you would rather not. It may be giving up your seat on the train, studying a subject you don’t like or getting up an hour earlier when you’d rather stay in bed.

What this will do is give you a strong will to fall back on in time of trouble: while colleagues are crying over spilt milk you will have found another cow.

There are daily opportunities to train your will-power and they will usually require you to make use of the following:

  1. Memory

    You are more likely to act on a thought if you’ve done it before and have strong positive associations related to the occasion. If, for example, you spoke at an event and enjoyed it, or attended a careers fair and found it profitable, then you will find it easier to will yourself to repeat the act. Your will is aided by your memory.

  1. Reward

    Imagining how the action will benefit you can spur you into action. If you stand to gain the favour of someone you respect or admire or to be paid well in return, then these can provide the elbow grease you need to act. Consequences work too: fear of being punished, ridiculed or letting someone down if you fail to keep a promise can also push you into action.

  1. Repeat

    Do it once and you will find it easier to do it again. And the more you repeat the action the easier it becomes. This is because you are building a habit via the neural pathway in the brain. Once you decide to act, do so straightaway; and once you act don’t miss an opportunity to repeat it. Missing a day makes it easier to break the habit and delay makes it easier for the initial inspiration to fade away.

Train your will to serve you. Just like Jean said, once you train your will to stop eating chocolate biscuits you can set your mind to achieve anything. You will then possess what it takes to elbow yourself to the top of your dream career.

A surprising job interview tip from car drivers who fall asleep at the wheel

Got a job interview coming up? Here’s how to safely smash it with a lesson learnt from sleepy car drivers.

Why do people fall asleep at the wheel of a car? Short answer: they become bored. Green fields and grey roads merge into the background along with the monotonous hum of the car engine and Zzzz.

Lots of job seekers bore the socks off would-be employers during job interviews for similar reasons.

If it were not bad enough that that poor old employer has had to sift through hundreds of CVs with a myriad of anonymous names, work and education histories, and loads of airy-sounding personal statements, here he is sat in a room at the risk of being bored off his chair.

And there you are, explaining your wonderful work history in your chirpiest voice when inside the interviewer’s brain your words are being played out like background music at the mall. Your well-ironed grey suit, grey tie and grey answers all merge into one grey ball like sounds do when a speaker drones on and on.

Is anyone willing to shut up and listen for a minute while I explain what’s going on inside the interviewer’s brain? It may help you help Mr Interviewer remain alert and interested at your next job interview.

What’s happening in the brain of the job interviewer?

His brain has become accustomed to hearing the same things over and over. To avoid having to expend energy processing this information, it has switched from executive to sub conscious mode. His brain is super-efficient in this way and this switching ability helps lessen the demands placed on it.

It’s similar to what happens when you learn a new skill. At first you find it difficult because you’re having to concentrate on paying attention, making associations between what’s new and what you already know, and forming an understanding. After that you still have to expend energy recalling or revising the new skill by practising it. But once you’ve done that a few times your brain then tucks away the processes that enable you to perform your new learned skill into your sub conscious. Now, whenever you need to perform that skill again your brain switches on auto pilot so you can work while you rest.

Although this a wonderful skill of the brain that helps us become more efficient, it can cause problems when we experience the unremarkable, familiar or routine. We switch off.

This is what Professor Ray Dolan at UCL calls ‘procedural memory’. From the interviewer’s point of view, he has carried out so many interviews that he now knows how to do them automatically. His brain knows what happens sequentially during an interview (typical replies) and locks him into what to expect from job candidates.

Professor Dolan explains the science behind why this is. He says we make predictions about what people will do and when they live up to those predictions we don’t notice anything special. However, when they deviate from the expected, that deviation in mathematical terms is called ‘surprise’.

Using surprise at a job interview

This is not to say that the interviewer is robotic. He knows what he is doing and what he is looking for. Someone who will meet his criteria but also bring a little ‘pow’ to the table.

A crucial step, then, is to inject into your job interview an element of surprise. Nothing outlandish or out of place. Just different. Disrupt the pattern. Surprise him. It will wake up the brain of your job interviewer and help you stand out from other candidates.

In their book Surprise!, consultants Lee Ann Renninger and Tania Luna say we are hardwired to respond adversely to surprise: “Humanity’s ancient ancestors didn’t like surprises because they usually involved hungry animals and lots of screaming.” This, they say, has left us in a state where we “fear the unexpected” but they do admit that surprise done well can also enrich our lives and the lives of others.

I once helped a coaching client with degree in economics write a non-standard cover letter that said something like: “Like most of my peers I want to change the world, and I don’t think I’m going to do it as a banker, but may do as a marketer.” The interviewer sent a non-standard reply and awarded her ‘cover letter of the year’.

Now here are a few tips on creating surprise, some of which have been adopted from Andy Nulman’s Pow! Right Between the Eyes:

  1. Start by following the traditional road then look for the fork.
  2. Make it your job to be the square peg in the round hole.
  3. Become observant: watch people and you will begin to notice the out-of-the-ordinary.
  4. Relax, as that’s when our most creative ideas seem to come to us.
  5. Include events with a twist in the tale when replying to job interview questions.

How lessons learnt by Team GB in Rio can help you win at a job interview

Just as winning at a job interview is the result of small differences, so has the success of the British cycling team in Rio been the result of paying heed to tiny acts.

The six Gold, four Silver and single Bronze medals won by our cyclists in Rio are metallic evidence that anyone can win, if they try. There is, then, hope for the graduate jobseeker who finds himself constantly losing out on the job his heart craves for. If you find yourself wondering whether you will ever get into that company, market or field, the inspirational story of Team GB cyclists leads me to respond with a resounding, ‘Yes, you can!’

However poorly you may think you are doing right now.

I say that with rock solid confidence. Because Team GB did not go from good to great, but from also-rans to winners. That’s why their recent wins turned heads and raised protests. The Rio Olympics had hardly drawn to a close before the cyclists’ success was being questioned because, according to German rival Kristina Vogel, up until a few years ago they were simply “cannon fodder”.

Like Kristina, Australia’s Anna Meares was also puzzled: “How do they lift so much when in so many events they have not even been in contention in the world championships?”

From also-ran to job interview winner

When you look at history you can hardly blame them. Until 2012, no British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France. Ever. To put this into context, Tour de France dates back to 1903.

But something dramatic occurred in 2012 when Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first British cyclist to win. The following year Chris Froome secured a second win. Team GB have won four times in the last five years, three of these by Froome himself.

The Team has done well in other races, too. Four medals in Sydney and Athens. Then 16 golds in Beijing and London. Everyone agrees that something has changed for British cycling.

How did it happen? It dates back to 2009 with a coach called Dave Brailsford. Dave said that if you focus on improving everything you do by just 1 per cent you will become better at any skill. He borrowed the principle of the aggregation of marginal gains by focusing on small acts, and you can also use it to catapult yourself from also-ran to top job interview winner.

How to make small acts work for you

The aggregation of marginal gains has helped me to understand why an interview is won by such small differences, differences which when placed together add up to huge advantages. I’ve seen it over and over. A candidate’s CV is just that little bit better. It is clear, concise and relevant to the job. The candidate is just that little bit more confident, is just that little bit better at expressing himself and pays just that little bit more attention to the way he looks. He may spend a little extra time on improving his interview skills, researching the background of a company and compiling great questions to ask.

He may come up against someone with more experience than he has, or who is super confident, but because that’s the only area in which his competitor stands out, the graduate who has aggregated small acts reaps the rewards. He stands an act above the rest.

The aggregation of small gains says that if you focus on lots of small things, they will accumulate to a big difference. So, rather than trying to make huge changes, focus across the spectrum of small areas for a well-rounded and greater impact.

At the job selection stage when the interviewer is reviewing all candidates, your name will keep cropping up. Your skills will look significantly better than someone who stands out in a single area. You will look like a Team GB cyclist in Tour de France.

Networking as a jobseeker (part 2): how to start, build and sustain relationships

With these handy tips, networking as a jobseeker is like selling ice-lollies to kids on a hot summer beach.

In part one of Networking as a Jobseeker, we talked about how to prepare for a networking event. We discussed being mindful of your value, doing your research, and where to network. In this second part, we’ll focus on how to network successfully once you arrive.

  1. Start a conversation.

    Networking is about opening lines of communication so first, you need start a conversation. Some people are naturally good conversationalists, others not so. If this is you, begin with those standing or sitting nearby, during session breaks or perhaps while queuing to buy a coffee. Ask someone sitting alone if it’s okay to sit with them. Share an observation, make a comment or offer a friendly suggestion – “The queue for coffee is shorter upstairs.” If you enjoyed a session, tell the speaker so afterwards.

  1. Let the other person talk.

    This may seem odd if you are trying to start a conversation, but don’t go on and on about yourself; you will turn people off. You may also miss opportunities to learn. Instead, let the other person do most of the talking, at least initially; let them talk about themselves. It makes them feel good. They will remember that “…nice young man (or woman)” they met though they may not be consciously aware of why!

  1. Ask questions.

    And what exactly do people like to talk about? Well, their own interests, perspectives, ideas and goals. They will enjoy giving their advice. So, start by asking questions about how they got into their line of work, what route they took, what it was like when they first began, and how they think the industry has changed over time. Use the research you carried out to develop the conversation, for example, “I read that your company is doing x, y, z… why is that? How is it going?” You will learn lots.

  1. Show interest.

    Give people your full attention while they’re speaking. Genuinely listen. If your eyes are shifting around the room or you keep checking your phone, then it will become apparent that you really aren’t interested in what they have to say. None of us like that.

  1. Confidently offer your skills in exchange.

    . In part one I talked about developing the mindset of one who is not simply there to ask for a job, but one with valuable skills to offer in exchange. Now put that mindset into action. You aren’t the only one who needs something: the employer needs something too! Offer what you have to the right company or person. Tell them what you have been doing to build your skills, what you have learnt, and where you think those skills can be best employed. Remember, the purpose of your skills is to solve their problem.

  1. Don’t overstay or over-talk.

    Know when to say good bye. There is nothing worse than a person that lingers long after the conversation has naturally ended. It could be a sign you are over-talking if the person has become distracted, has begun to focus on someone else or has just stop talking. Worst case scenario is when your contact has said something like, “Well, nice meeting you”, “Okay, let’s stay in touch”, ‘I’d better go now”, or other indirect ways of saying goodbye and you still insist on waffling on.

  1. Be open.

    Don’t rule out speaking to other jobseekers at the event as they could prove useful too. Exchange experiences. You never know, that person may know of job openings for people in your line of work or be an expert on interviews. Be inclusive in your approach.

  1. Stay in touch.

    Before you leave, ask for a contact card. Jot on the back the key points you spoke about, and the date and location where you met. Send a follow up message afterwards even if only to say “thanks” or “great to meet you and to discuss x, y, z”. If the person promised to get back to you on something, say, “I look forward to hearing from you.” If you promised to follow up say, “I’ll be in touch again soon.” If nothing else, your courtesy will be remembered.

  1. Make notes.

    Write down what you’ve learnt after each networking event. Note tips, advice, names, stories and other information. It will help crystalize the information in your mind so that your brain can easily recall it later when you need it.

  1. Keep networking.

    Follow up and relationship building opportunities can also come from attending further events the same person/company is also attending. Reaching out to a ‘first contact’ by asking how a project or initiative is progressing is a good way to continue to build valuable relationships.

Before you attempt networking as a jobseeker, read this!

Networking, even as a jobseeker, should never be entered into without first remembering that it’s all about exchanging what you have for what others want.

If networking is about the exchange of information or services as Merriam-Webster.com puts it, then jobseekers do themselves no favours if they turn up to a networking event seeking merely to sell themselves.

Yes, of course you go along to these events in the hope of getting a job, but if that’s all you talk about you’re hardly going to stand out, are you? However, if you focus on what others want and what you have to offer in return – a bit like you would do in a job interview – then you’ll present a much better proposition. It’s different to focusing simply on me, myself and I!

A better approach to networking as a jobseeker

What this approach will do is alter the way you speak and make you sound much more interesting from the outset. When the opportunity comes for you to talk about yourself, you’re going to say something far more interesting than, “I’m unemployed and looking for a job in x, y x.” You’re going to say something more along the lines of, “I’m developing my skills in digital marketing by interning (volunteering or freelancing) and looking to build on. I’m looking for a company that can use what I’ve learnt.”

So, when networking as a jobseeker remember that you have something of value to offer, because it’s true. You have the skills, experience and knowledge someone else needs. Approach the networking event in a way that shows what you can do for the company and people you’re hoping to meet. Talk about what you’re doing to occupy your time rather than just saying you’re unemployed, even if it’s just learning or researching an area of interest. This type of mindset will guide your approach to networking as a jobseeker much better.

Who can really use your skills?

Now it’s a case of looking for the best company to offer those skills to. Pay close attention to what others are saying. Who are they looking for and what do they have to offer? This is where many jobseekers fall down as they aren’t really listening to what the company is saying it wants. Again, this is no different to the attention you would give to the criteria listed on a job application. Share stories and examples from your own experience that shows you’re the right fit.

Be confident

My final piece of advice when networking as a jobseeker is to be confident. Be confident that what you have to offer is valuable. If you find you’re nervous before going along to an event, adopt what Amy Cuddy calls the power pose. The power pose is a posture that takes up as much space as possible, which is what people tend to do when they feel confident. They may stand with their hands on their hips and feet apart, sit with their feet up on a desk and their hands behind their heads or simply hold their hands in the air above their heads as one does when he or she has won a race. Adopting this type of pose releases certain hormones in the body that makes you feel confident.

Cuddy’s research found that job candidates who did this before interviews came across as much more confident. They stood out not so much for their skills and experience but for the impression they left in the minds of interviewers.

If you do this, you will stand a better chance of successfully networking as a jobseeker. You will be more likely to be remembered and therefore to get what you really want, a great graduate job.