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Phase 1: Preparing to Network

The first phase of the networking model is focused on preparation. This isn’t to suggest you need to spend 10,000 hours to be the best at networking before you begin your journey. However, over 250 individuals were asked for their advice on networking and their ideas and inputs informed the following preparation techniques and advice.

  • What is your value proposition? In other words, what service or feature do you offer that is unique and may be of use for others? If appropriate, include the value your disability experience adds through a disclosure technique.
  • Prepare your resume. Here’s a resource and The 10 Worst Resume Mistakes to Avoid to consider if you need assistance. Your resume should showcase your personal value proposition along with your experiences and capabilities. Seek out feedback from family, friends and colleagues to ensure your resume tells the story you desire and is without errors. Consider using a community – a network – to help re-frame your story. Also, access this Skills to Pay the Bills video series for other tips around soft skills and work.
  • Know your elevator pitch. This pitch is a short persuasive personal sales pitch. Practice by yourself. This isn’t something you should write down and recite, rather it is a description that you can say from memory and from the heart. You need to believe in what you share and if you have to read it then it will not be received as genuine (by most listeners). After you gain some confidence, consider practicing with family members, friends, or colleagues. The more you practice the more
    you will notice the elevator pitch evolves depending on who you are talking to and how long you have….when you get to this point you are ready for primetime. Check out Lauren Berger’s “How to Create Your 30 Second Elevator Pitch” video for some ideas.
  • Prepare your social media accounts. First, clean up your accounts – removing inappropriate language or graphics. You should also create or enhance your LinkedIn profile. Consider adding a video to your profile and start connecting with professionals who have similar interests or as you meet them. Consider connecting with me on LinkedIn if you want to practice.
  • Set relationship goals to earn connections. This strategy will help you know what success looks like when you get there. Who are you trying to reach? Why are you trying to connect with them? What are you going to do or ask when you do connect with them? Where are you going to locate them and how are you going to connect? And when will this occur? Also, you can consider how many connections you make and how many remain active. That’s why it’s called “earning connections” as the win-win value of networking and relationships is enhanced if the two parties find a common interest or complementary agenda. Perhaps meeting 10 new individuals in a week is challenging at first, but know that after practicing it becomes easier and you can and will do that and much more in due time (if you aren’t already now). And remember that it may never be about the number of total connections but about the quality of a few connections!
  • Leverage your family and friends to find networks of interest. There are times when we all want to find a way in. I find it ironic in the field of inclusion that individuals working together to create community and belonging have walls around their networks. Of course, Some realities need to be recognized – limited time, work-life balance, business demands, the boss just called, and more. Realizing that many people don’t network or work with others until a certain level of trust is established, it is important to develop that trust over time. A shortcut in that timeframe can be realized when a family or friend refers you to the networking target. This reference brings trust that you carry into the networking experience. Consider how to honor the relationship’s trust – if it works you can go back to the well (meaning use the source again). If you don’t do this right, you will have to find a new source, and before a long word will get around your family or friends.
  • Reach further out of your comfort zone. Consider if you always surround yourself with similar types of individuals, how you will continue to rotate inside the same network. This leads to fewer opportunities and less interesting possibilities. There is another way that is precisely described by Tonya Menon, a professor at Ohio State University, who I met in October 2018 at a Diversity Leadership Symposium in Cincinnati. She’s a fantastic communicator and has a wonderful TedTalk I recommend for all networkers: “The Secret to Great Opportunities: The Person You Haven’t Met Yet.” Her second point is entitled “Be courageous in traveling your social universe”. Courage is important. You can do this. We have your back. Be courageous.
Image of the word courage with Brailled letters underneath each letter
  • Do your pre-work. This shows a lot about someone’s character when they show enough care to learn something about the person or the person’s organization they are about to meet. Simply put, research the connection so you can better understand their interests, their focus and their career or life path. In the end, this makes the win-win easier. Without asking, you will build a “help me, help you” approach.
  • Arrive early. On time is early. Don’t learn this lesson the hard way. Just make it your habit to plan sufficiently to be early. Recall most networking opportunities happen before the meeting actually starts, so take advantage of that time to move your professional agenda forward before the formal meeting agenda begins.

Phase 1 Preparing to Network Activities

Consider how you do each of these activities. What can you do to improve? If you need assistance, who might you ask? Specifically, let’s create your networking plan:

  • What is your value proposition?
  • What are your three greatest assets?
  • Update your resume and share it with three people (for feedback).
  • Update your LinkedIn profile, connect with 3 new people and join a Group in your chosen field.
  • Practice your elevator pitch. First with yourself. Then with someone you know. Then with someone you don’t know!
  • What do you want to achieve?
  • Who can help you achieve it?
  • Who can introduce you to that person?
  • When are you going to meet with them?
  • Repeat the cycle.

Who is in Your Professional Circle?

This activity is adopted from Seattle University’s Albers Placement Center Networking guide. Consider your network to be a series of circles, starting with the people closest to you in the center and expanding out. Fill in each layer with ideas of who might be helpful to you during your search – providing information, advice, connections to the field, or even a support system.

Five circles in a bulls-eye pattern.  The center circle is "you" and then the other 4 circles are rippling away and represent different layers of networks.  The purpose of the circles is to help you identify groups or communities to network among.
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