Category Archives: networking

The huge power of small talk

Small talk is polite conversation about insignificant and non controversial matters. When you ask people how they feel about small talk, their reaction is almost universally one of reluctant tolerance.  It’s a necessary evil, used in generally large events, either social or professional, where we all experience different levels of discomfort, when we would rather be hanging out with our friends.

But in fact, small talk has greater significance than we imagine.  Whether we are in our element as social glad handers, or it fills us with dread and horror, it provides a powerful and vital function.  Small talk is the  basis of relationship building, serving to create a secure environment by managing stress and anxiety. In basic anthropological terms it establishes if someone is “friend or foe,” albeit in a cocktail party, with a glass of usually inferior wine, rather than in a cave, wielding a club.

Dr. Justine Copeland  in her book “Small Talk” examines the vital role of inconsequential chat in all human communication.  The reality is most relationships start with small talk whether interviews, political delegations, networking events or wedding receptions. In G8 summits the first comments amongst world leaders will not be ” what’s your position on the Ukraine/euro/sustainable energy”  but the mundane “How is your /hotel/kids/wife/husband?”  The first questions a couple might ask each other, will be centred around where they are you from and “what do you do?” rather than  “Will you marry me?”  although I’m sure that has happened!

The same is true professionally.

So if small talk is your worst nightmare, what can you do to minimise the stress?

1. Prepare
The most gifted small talkers are the ones who seem to effortlessly work the room, with a smile and a word for everyone. They are also the ones who are best prepared. They will know the demographics of the attendees, maybe even the backgrounds of a number. They will have followed the news and be up to date on key events,  whether it’s a royal princess or a sporting score. Ladies this is one area we can improve on being better informed about sports and male interests. 

  Go to each event with a short list of current news headlines being careful to steer clear of potential minefields: religion and politics.

2. Introductions

A good firm handshake and a smile is the best for first introductions.  Kiss or no kiss is a question that crops up regularly.  That will depend on the person and the culture. Being British, where at one time the only people you kissed on the cheek were your parents, cheek kissing is  now very common especially amongst better known business acquaintances. However, it is still considered by Debretts to be inappropriate professionally.

3. Aim for stories, not answers

Always ask leading and open-ended questions.  Who, what, why, where and how?  All of these produce fuller answers, especially if the speaker gets the opportunity to talk about themselves. And we all love to talk about ourselves. If someone is even more difficult to engage, give them a range of alternatives. “Which route did you take to get here? Highway A or B?”

 4. Back up questions

The fail safe back up questions are always related to the context, setting or the event, whether the host, food, content of any presentation, speakers .  “How do you know the host…?”  “How did you become a member of…? ”   “How did you enjoy…..?”

Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine.” ― Fran Lebowitz

Note to self – don’t talk about the wine,  although it is a good opening line!  If you are focusing on professional topics shift to the personal. A good way to do this is ” How do you find time to do anything outside work ?” followed by  “What do you get involved in?”.

Ladies don’t make your kids the focus of that part of the conversation.

5. Beware the repetition trap

Have you ever noticed in small talk how we tend to repeat something that has been said to us?  In our effort to be polite and agreeable, we often answer by repeating observations, or just agreeing in a non-committal way. So a comment such as:-

“Great buffet” might get a response such as “Yes, it is.”

You might try to open it up with “I wonder  how they made …..?” or “Who are the caterers?”

6. Mix it up

I have one contact, who depending on the person he is talking to likes to ask one slightly unusual, eccentric question.

What do you think would happen if we lived in a world where networking events were banned?

So what do you think?

What other tips would you add?

 

 

Forget the X factor! Do you have the networking C-Factor?

“BG” (Before Google) LinkedIn and other social networking platforms, any recruiter worth his or her salt maintained a contact book. It included their inner circle from A to Z and was worth it’s weight in business gold.  It benchmarked your connectivity and a solid black book was a sure sign that you had the “C-Factor.”

Networking and connectivity (the C-Factor) is about making contacts and building enduring, mutually valuable and sustainable relationships. Today, with the development of social networking,  this process has shifted slightly to become, not just about who you know but also who knows you.  This means that over time, the C-factor has become slightly more complex, as business relationships become more multi-layered than ever before which can cause confusion. Seduced by the endorphin high of a Facebook like, a  Twitter #FF or a Google +1 we can forget that although all make a contribution to the C-Factor, they are not the same as a confirmed order or a signed contract. At some point we have to pick up the phone, get out there and meet the right people.

Any senior executive or entrepreneur in any sector, but especially recruitment, will tell us that their network is one of their most powerful tools in their business.  For anyone who has any commercial exposure they will also add that they spend most of the working week cultivating these critical relationships.

The C-Factor check list

  • You have an authentic story that people relate to and encourages willing engagement
  • You show interest and understand the stories of others
  • You create mutually beneficial relationships
  • You manage your network, not allowing it to manage you
  • If you can help, you will.
  • You have zero expectation of reciprocity
  • You are highly visible
  • You recognise the key members of your network on a regular basis with no agenda
  • You acknowledge and reciprocate with gestures
  • You follow through on promises
  • If you can’t do something, you say so
  • You reply when you can and when appropriate
  • You understand the dynamics of your business and stay abreast of any developments
  • You are connected to and value the key players in your sector
  • You are a recognised as a significant member of your business community
  • You can tap effortlessly into your sector knowledge resources and know the go-to curators
  • You are considered to be a door opener for others
  • You are willing to refer and are offered referrals in return
  • Networking is an integral part of your personal and business development plan
  • Your position means you are visible for new career opportunities
  • You are able to gracefully draw the line under unproductive relationships

How did you do?

leg waxing

10 things networking and leg waxing have in common

You might be surprised,  but the reaction that many people have to networking can be likened to the way they feel about having their legs waxed. The processes are identical in many ways that you probably haven’t even thought of:

  • The thought of it makes you cringe: both networking and leg waxing produce that response. Not many people feel totally comfortable doing either. The person for whom the phrase “walking dinner” is music to their ears is a rare body.  
  • You procrastinate: well who wouldn’t?  Choosing the right moment when you have such a busy calendar is always difficult when there are so many other demands made of your time. It’s not easy to prioritise.
  • You need a drink: well who doesn’t? It helps the pain.
  • It really does hurt:  indeed both can be painful and nerve-racking.  
  • You have to feel the fear and do it anyway:  You really do. Why? The worst is over quickly. The pain only lasts a few seconds.
  • But the results are great and worth it: after both exercises and following through is certainly better than the alternative. You might be satisfied with a smooth satin finished leg or coming home with a number of helpful contacts or any other useful information. Or possibly you have been able to help someone you met at an event or function. Many people neglect their networks until they have a problem when it is too late and they pursue emergency  solutions.
  • You wonder why you make such a fuss: in fact you feel pretty foolish at the barriers you put up. It wasn’t that bad at all.
  • You know you have to build it in to your grooming regime: you know deep down you have to make a strategic commitment to doing this regularly and incorporating the process into your beauty routine.  It makes sense.  The same with networking.
  • You have to do it again in six weeks:  of course you do, because the lack of regular maintenance produces undesired visible effects and you run the risk of people not wanting to be around you, preferring the company of someone who is more attentive.  
  • You make an extra effort for summer, vacations, anniversaries, special occasions: clearly there are special circumstances which require a special effort  where you might be more exposed and therefore vulnerable.

What else can you add?

After work socialising

After work socialising: Do you feel pressurized?

Business and pleasure have always been uncomfortable bedfellows. It is widely considered than an informal off site or out of hours coffee, lunch, dinner or drink can oil commercial wheels and resolve tricky office situations much more smoothly than dealing with them in the office. Networking and socialising both internal or external are considered to be political skills necessary for professional success.

However, I am increasingly hearing  from a number of sources the difficulties of dealing with the unspoken pressure in socialising outside offices hours with either co-workers, vendors or clients.

Processing this can be challenging for any number of reasons. Meet four people who say ” No”.

  • Childcare responsibilities:  many working  parents manage tight schedules when it comes to childcare. Many have  teenage children at home unsupervised,  others need to relieve nannies or collect kids from nurseries and day care. Very often there is also some after school participation in the early evening.  Suzette an IT Recruitment Manager told me “it’s  part of our office culture and routine to meet good clients for a drink on a Friday after work. My son plays football for a local junior team and I simply have to be back to take him there. My partner’s commute is much longer than mine and he can’t make it back in time. I  know this puts me in the poor team player category but it can’t be helped.  Sometimes I ask one of the other parents to cover for me with my son, but I resent feeling pressurized when I’m doing a good job in office hours and have excellent relations with all my clients.”   

I want to do other things after work

  • No interest:  Some people simply don’t want to go to cafés and bars  and socialising with their colleagues. Aashif, an associate with an international law firm suggestsIf I have been in the office since 0800 and I can actually leave the office at 1800 –  I wouldn’t choose to go for a drink with people I have been working with all day. I  have given enough time. I just want to get home, not because I have a wife or children,  but I want to do other things. I also don’t drink alcohol so it’s not a lot of fun because as a non-drinker I can see the impact that even one glass has on some people. I am always happy to meet clients for lunch or breakfast. I know I am viewed as anti-social”
  • Blurring boundaries:  Chloe a Fund Manager at a large bank finds the pressure to go to after work outings with colleagues and clients frustrating and even annoying.  “There is a lot of blurring of boundaries at these post work drinks and some bad behaviour. If people really want to socialize with their work colleagues or clients they can have coffee, lunch or even breakfast.  Very often some of these functions turn into late night events which I think can be inappropriate.”   
  • Damages reputation:  Behaviour outside office hours can be quite often misconstrued and lead to office gossip and even reputation damage. Martin heads up an all female team and found that he was the subject of water cooler whispering following after work social events with a group of only women. “They were perfectly correct occasions and genuinely intended to cement the team. But  the best of intentions back fired and there was a lot of open sniggering from outside the department, so I simply stopped suggesting them.”

So do you feel pressurized to socialize with clients, colleagues or vendors after office hours?  Take the poll.  [polldaddy poll=7739019]

networking etiquette

The most overlooked piece of networking etiquette

Brush up your networking etiquette. It’s not about you!  Make one person feel comfortable at every event

Do you ever wonder which sadist put eating, drinking, standing up and networking in the same sentence?

At networking events, do you feel genetically challenged and your fine motor movements suddenly seize up?  Does securely balancing your glass, clutching a cocktail napkin and finger-food plate in your sticky fingers become an impossible task?

Do you dread slickly producing your business card with a smooth sleight of hand of hand, while simultaneously delivering some pithy, riveting sound bite about the value proposition of your business (or yourself) in one easy movement? All this of course at the same time as other physical aforementioned challenges?

fingerfood

Do you create a danger zone and is anyone else physically at risk, if cutlery is involved in any part of this process? A spoon, but heaven forbid… a fork?

Do you quake at the prospect of elbowing your way to one of those high cocktail tables, overcoming nausea at the un-appetizing buffet detritus, squeezing your plate in and asking if you can join the group?

Does the thought of a chirpy encounter with a cool, calm and connected fellow networker purring  “Tell ME all about YOU”,  fill you with total horror?

When you see the phrase “walking dinner” on your invitation do you immediately groan and think “foot petals”?

Does your handbag appear take on the same demolition potential as a sledgehammer?

Does root canal work sound appealing in comparison?

You are probably in the majority.

I have read, written spoken, coached and consulted on networking for many years.  But while we are exhorting the newbie networker to get out there and perfect their elevator sound bites, dive into the networking scrum and no end of other challenging strategies,  there is one overlooked piece of networking etiquette that deserves  to be resurrected by every networker, confident or otherwise. We should all aim to make one other networker comfortable at an event. All it takes is a few words:

  • Please join us…
  • Can I help you with …?

Being a good networker isn’t all about being cool.  It’s not  just about making your perfect pitch, collecting cards or securing appointments. It’s about embracing others. If you are genuinely a good networker you will be empathetic towards, and aware of, the people around you and help them feel at ease. You will remember your networking etiquette

shrimp on a spoon

The  man or woman struggling with their carefully constructed bite sized tortilla,  miniature tiramisu, or diminutive shrimp on an oversized garnished spoon might very well be useful connection or have something of value to add.

If you are  truly a skilled networker, you should add to your networking strategy:  make at least one person feel comfortable at any event.

Let’s  start  to reconsider what constitutes good networking etiquette.

How to tap into technology to network effectively

Vintage social networkingNever has the circulation of information been faster. At the touch of a screen which can be as small as the palm of a hand, we have access to information on a scale never been seen before. We can also share data about ourselves and others in a nano second whether it’s an update on our relationship status (Facebook), the meal we’re about to eat (Twitter) a photo of a view or people we’re with (Instagram) an article we’ve read (LinkedIn) or even our own resumés.

Now we can use technology to network more effectively.

There are many, particularly in the older demographics, who still turn their noses up at the new social media platforms, associating them with lowest common denominator activities rather than an opportunity to network effectively. This is not entirely disconnected to intellectual arrogance as well as ignorance.  I do agree that reading about people’s lunch choices is only marginally more interesting than watching paint dry unless of course you are a foodie or a restaurant critic.  However,  there are times when technology can enhance tried and trusted methodologies and even bail us out if we’ve screwed up. It certainly adds a new dimension to networking opportunities.

A spontaneous request for a CV 

Old school   – request business card and email resumé at next possible opportunity.

New options (with permission)  –

  • Option 1  keep a copy of your resumé on your  smart phone or  tablet. Send it immediately to the person requesting the document.
  • Option 2 send a LinkedIn connection invitation on the spot from smart phone or iPad.

Forgotten or run out of business cards

Old school  – panic, cringe with embarrassment, miss opportunities, write on beer mat, ask for their card and contact by email later.

New options

  • Option 1: keep a photo of your own card on your phone or iPad.  Send immediately.
  • Option 2 :    the Evernote app is a business card reader which replaces the app launched by LinkedIn. All you do is take a photo of your contact’s business card and it will automatically upload the business card details to your phone so you can make a connection with a potential connection  in seconds. This process is better on an iPhone than iPad where it has had mixed reviews for layout.  You can also use Bump another business card reading app which allows two mobile phones to “bump” together to exchange “digits”.
  • Option 4: Put number directly onto their phone.

Need help with your networking skills? Check out the career coaching and training programmes !

Don’t know anyone at an event

Old School – feel uncomfortable, hang out with friends, get cornered by event bore, try to break into a group of ” cool” people and fail. Get despondent go home!

 New options – 

  • Option 1: check out other participants on LinkedIn and connect before event and arrange to meet. If the organisations aren’t listing who is attending then the event is probably run by old schoolers
  •  Option 2:  If you are attending an industry event or social function, Foursquare is a location locater tool that allows you to find out who visiting the same place as you. Alert your network and share your coordinates  so you become  visible and contactable to potential network connections.
  • Option 3: many conferences and events have mobile apps to facilitate event networking and interaction while you are there.
  • Option 4:  post your attendance at the event  on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter!   Some registration platforms (EventBrite) encourage participants to post on Facebook as part of their marketing. Let your network know you will be there. Many organisers  issue event  hashtags so that information on the event can be shared and tracked.

Whether this will lead to the predicted demise of the business card the pundits are still at loggerheads. In my book there is no need for it to be an either/or situation. There is a place for both traditional and more hi-tech methodologies and if used effectively they can be complementary techniques.

What other hi-tech tips can you share to supplement traditional networking? 

Do you have a “Go-To” Top 10?

Who are your Go-To Top 10?

Who are your Go-To Top 10?

All of us have situations which are problematic. They can range from  minor irritations and something irksome, to outright  emergencies.    To get out of a hole we might need repairmen, baby sitters or service providers in a wide range of fields.  But one area which we woefully neglect  is the development of strategic alliances to support an emergency in our careers.

We all need a ‘Go-To” Top 10.

These will be your top 10 top professional connections to whom you can turn in a crisis or even with a problem or a question.

All our requirements are different when we assess who should be included on that list.  Broadly speaking there are some general guidelines that apply to us all.  There will be variations according to the severity of the situation:  whether it’s a little situational glitch, a specific question or something more major requiring a full  emergency landing.

  • Go-To Top 1 : Do you have a mentor?  This would be the senior or elder states person in your professional life who can share their deep experience and wisdom.  This will be immediately calming and informative as appropriate,  or both.
  • Go-To Top 2 :  Do you have an internal sponsor?   This role will be filled by a  confidante,  a door opener,  someone whose  professional status and standing will be sufficiently significant to catalyze responses to calls and emails,  or even better to effect introductions to contacts beyond your reach .
  • Go-To  Top 3, 4 and 5: Do you have external sponsors?  See above,  but with a wider reach in your geographic region or functional or market sector.  Having one for each segment of activity would be even more beneficial. If you have connections in line with your longer term goals so much the better.
  • Go-To  Top 6: Do you know a super-connector?  This will be different for all of us.  I count on my super connectors,  but in turn fulfill that function for others. They are the ones who say  ” Let me think… have you tried …????.”
  • Go-To Top 7  Do you know a curator? We all come across the person whose catch phrases are ” have you seen? or ” have you read?” These individuals will be veritable gold mines of information, sometimes obscure, sometimes less so. They will know where to look for any key information on and  in the latest emergency and can send you there quickly, thus saving you hours of valuable time.
  • Go-To  Top 8:  Do you have a port in a storm? We all need a sympathetic shoulder to lean on,  some one who will be there only for us. Their role is not to advise  but perhaps put the kettle on,  open a bottle of something cold and white (or warm and red) and just listen neutrally.   Very often this role is best  fulfilled outside an intimate relationship,  although  not always.
  • Go-To Top 9:  Do you have a devil’s advocate?   Their role in any Go-To Top 10 is to give you the viewpoint from the other side. Their skill in constructive communication will be peerless as they force us to examine our own roles and responsibilities in any debacle and communicate that to us in a way we can hear .  They risk our moods, wrath and petulance or even worse. They are people who know us well.
  • Go-To  Top 10:  Do you have a  list of specialists  Whether this includes doctors, lawyers, coaches, bank managers   accountants or any other type of professional  or technical specialist, it’s always useful to have a full,  up to date list of people you can call on.  If anyone in a network has no problem being contacted out of the blue after years of neglect, it’s usually because they are charging a significant fee.

Who would you put on your list?

B.A.S.I.C: A Networking strategy for Women

Create a  simple networking strategy

I was invited recently to a corporate sponsored  (this is important) golf outing as a guest for the social only, clearly being expected to play to my strengths! My short game is somewhat longer than it should be.

As I waited at the bar in the club house for my host, I observed the players coming off the course and circulating. Here are two almost verbatim accounts of conversations between 2 pairs of golfers I overheard at the 19th hole:

Ladies

Maria : Hi I’m  Maria  J. Pleased to meet you. Are you a member here?
Jane: Jane P. Yes I’ve been a member for 10 years Which club do you belong to?
Maria: Sunny Golf Club, I joined in 2000
Jane: That’s a nice course too. I did look at it when I first started playing, but the  traffic is really bad on the A123, especially on a Friday. Where are you driving from?
Maria: Well, I work on Business Street, Brussels but live in Very Nice Suburb. On the weekends – it’s only 20 minutes by car.
Jane: Very Nice Suburb? That’s a great area. But quite far from Business Street.
 Maria: I know – the kids go to X School and we wanted to be close to there. Even now I feel as if I spend my entire life in the car! Do you have kids? (in response to nod) Where do they go to school?
Jane :  They’re only in the local primary school – but I still spend too much time  in traffic!

 (Conversation continued about best school runs,  school curricula, summer programmes …)

If you want to become an effective networker check out the coaching programmes and training options

Gentlemen          

Tom:  Tom X. Pleased to meet you
Joe Joe  Y… likewise. How did you get on today? Great course –I  haven’t played here  for years
Tom     10 over. More bogies than birdies as they say. You?
Joe –  played  to my handicap
Tom :     what are you at?
Joe:      22 and you?
Tom : 16,  just dropped last year. Where do you play?
Joe :   Sunny Golf Club –been a member for 10 years
Tom:  Good course. Played there with Peter X of Better Products last summer.  He smashed that 9th hole, the one with the dog-leg to the green. Do you know him?
Joe:  That’s true the 9th is tough–I know Pete X well – we should play together sometime. Let’s set something up maybe in October? We have a roll-up competition ( Pulls card out of wallet)

(Conversation continued about business and golf  courses, people they had in common and  game set up)

 I recounted this story to lunch buddy Silvana Delatte  who challenged me to create an  acronym to help women network.

This  is what I came up with B.A.S.I.C.

  • #B =   Wear your business hat first at a professional  and corporate event. Be strategic and inquisitive professionally.  Identify some business basics and have networking goals!   It’s OK!
  • #A =    Assess the situation.   Ask Socratic questions  (who, what where, why and how?) to find out more about the person. Ask for card and contact details. Give yours.  Avoid Mumspeak and private over sharing  too early in this conversation. At a school parents’ evening it would be different. This  can actually upset women without children, as much as diluting a woman’s professional presence.
  • #SSynergy what and who do you have in common? Be strategic! Suggest connecting on an online platform. You are then connected not just to them but  also able to tap into their networks.
  • #I  = show interest and interact professionally as well as personally. Implement your strategy.
  • #C =  Now is the time to Chat and Create relationships. People do business with individuals they like and trust. This is where women excel, social beings that we are.

Research by Monica Stallings of The Wharton School, suggests that both men and women show a preference for multi-plex networking, that is,  they network with people they like and trust. But it’s men’s willingness to be more instrumental  and strategic,  that puts them ahead of the networking game.  We all wear many hats in our daily lives.  We wouldn’t wear a fascinator to the office or a business suit to the gym.  Leaving our parenting hat in the cupboard at a corporate event is no different, until it’s an appropriate time to share.

Neither Jane or Maria had brought cards to the event. Jane’s company shortly afterwards announced major cuts in the workforce. Maria is the HR Director of a company in a loosely related sector.   Would being aware of each other’s professional identities have made a difference? They’ll never know!

What acronym can you create to prompt women  (and men)  to become  more effective networkers?

Get out of the job search advice maze

Navigating the job search maze

Create your own Job Search Advisory Board

If you  Google “job search tips” there are 460 million entries. Now I haven’t looked further  than the first 3 pages, but I can imagine they contain some widely differing nuggets of advice.  Add to this,  the well intended input from friends, family, colleagues and bosses, it’s hardly surprising that the average job seeker is scratching his/her head in bewilderment.

Confusion
Only last week I heard that one client had been advised from someone in Germany not to create his own web site when he was actively looking for corporate opportunities, as well as freelance consulting work.  Another was told to dumb her resume down  by a university friend,  so not unsurprisingly was getting cut after either the first screening or interview.   Another was advised not to connect with people he didn’t know personally on LinkedIn by a colleague nearing retirement. Another was advised by a neighbour that a certain professional networking event wasn’t worth it!

So what can you do when there are so many different opinions and how does the average job seeker navigate his/her way through this veritable maze of job search advice? The answer is with considerable difficulty.

 Get on  Board
One way to get over this problem is to strategically create your own advisory board to give you varied, but focused access to a range of opinions.

But how do you go about this and who should you include?

  • Set job search goals and create a strategy:  for most jobs seekers this key first step alone gives necessary focus.  It cuts out the scatter gun approach of “asking around” and sending your CV to a group that is simply too wide.
  • Research – your sector and chose companies thoroughly. Target them.
  • Create a strategic network –  identify a number of  individuals who can mentor you and answer your questions. Choose different age ranges,  locations, backgrounds and personality types to create your very personal Job Search Advisory Board. As the CEO of your own brand you can synthesise the results and take your own decisions Who do you need?
    • An up to date source   A group of connections with more opinions than experience of job search will not be helpful. You need someone who has been in the job search market or associated with it in some way during the last 3-5 years, otherwise the chances are they are out of date. The market is changing at a rapid pace and it is very hard to keep up with,  even for those who work in the sector.
    • Age  range –   people tend to network and seek advice in their own age demographic.  Some are strongly bound to the way their age group does (or has done things) things.  Get a cross-section of input.
    • Cultural differences – there can be marked differences between corporate, sector, professional, regional and national cultures.  Someone seeking a job in the construction sector in Germany,  will have and need a very different approach to an U.S. based Marketing Manager. Once again get a cross-section advice.
    • Personality types  – We all have different styles. If you are an introvert, the approach of your extroverted advisor may fill you with horror and bring you out in a cold sweat,  but there could still be some lessons to learn. Likewise the extrovert could profit from some lower key approaches of a more reflective personality.

Whatever you do:

  •   Monitor your results –  if you are not getting any results at all, something needs to change even if it means going out of your comfort zone.  We can all get stuck and caught up in rigid thinking. Experiment.  Create a web site, put professional details on Facebook, connect with someone you don’t know personally, attend networking events you were told may not be useful.
  • Trust your gut  – if something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t, at least for you. Go back to step 1! Find what is right for you and don’t be afraid to change.
  • If all else fails seek professional help.

How do you filter  job search advice? 

Ladies! Will an interest in men’s sports advance your career?

Last year at exactly this time, while I was working I must confess, being a sucker for a good ceremony, I was maintaining a watchful half eye on the biggest pageant the world has seen for a very long time – THE Royal Wedding. Keeping me company was an old friend and business associate – male.

I was somewhat surprised at his willingness to spend any time at all observing the frankly semi – hysterical, international orgy of girly gushing about frocks and fascinators, although a view of Pippa Middleton’s fine derrière seemed to make it all worthwhile. When I asked him why, he told me that as the CEO of a company which employs over 90% women, he feels he needs to at least be able to comment intelligently and engage on issues that interest the people who work for and with him. Women. He knew they would all have watched the ceremony, as well as the pre and post analysis ad nauseam and he wanted to be able to make a contribution. I passed an admiring comment on his open-mindedness and resilience – it was rather a protracted affair as you may recall.

His reaction took me by surprise. His perception was that it was a managerial obligation to understand the culture of his organization. It was just coincidence that in this case his employees happened to be all women. He went one step further and maintained that IHHO there was a general failing in women to do the same, suggesting that we women are remiss in taking no, or very little time, to engage or understand male culture and topics which are of interest men, simply bitching up a small storm about being excluded especially men’s sports.

Fast forward a year to the Brussels JUMP conference. One of the keynote speakers Jean-Charles Van den Branden gave an eloquent presentation on the barriers that women encounter in the workplace. One passing comment struck a memory chord. Hiring managers recruit and promote people they like and trust, which as a recruiter I know to be true. Jean-Charles cited that men for example like football (soccer in the US) and would feel more comfortable with candidates who have similar interests, because this forges a bond between them more easily.

Would it make a difference?
Now I can’t help but wonder would it really make a difference if female candidates become conversant in the minutiae of the international transfer arrangements of the Premier League, tapped into the latest Spurs, Juventus or Barca gossip or took a position on the EUEFA cup final (May 19th Bayern Munich v Chelsea) rather than simply what’s going on with the WAGs? The world is full of women who are not only passionate about activities that are perhaps wrongly traditionally and stereotypically considered to be male areas of interest, as spectators, but as participants as well.

In the UK 1 in 4 of those who pass through the turnstiles is a woman. 33% of London marathon runners are women, whereas in New York the figure rises to 38%. According to Scarborough Marketing , 42 percent of the NFL’s total fan base is made up of women.

 

I didn’t know – so I asked around.

A key differentiator
Carys Osborne, Commercial Consultant at Optimal Media and Man U fan says “a definite yes.” Being able to  explain the off side rule has made a real difference.   “Working in the advertising industry, it is all about networking, building relationships with clients and having that personal touch. A knowledge of football instantly creates common ground with prospective clients. It adds something other than a sales pitch discussion to build a rapport. Company directors might not have much time to speak to sales callers, but they are happy to take 10 minutes out of their day to talk about last night’s game. As a woman able to have these discussions, you become memorable to people, which is key to success”.

Not really
I got a different perspective from Amy a Corporate Lawyer who is both a runner and a footie fan, with the London marathon and the 3 Peaks Challenge under her belt. Raised with three brothers learning about football wasn’t an option for her. She was however less sure that it advanced her career in what is the conservative, male dominated environment of the law. But she told me “ I think it all gives me additional respect. The 3 Peaks is particularly challenging and a lot of men don’t make it. It was irrefutable proof of my resilience, commitment and focus. Being interested in football means that I can genuinely participate in post work chat which undoubtedly helps office relationships

A question of marketing
Anne Vandorpe, Consumer Sales and Marketing Manager at Sanoma Media, a soccer Mum and fan, plans to run the NYC marathon later this year. She suggested as a marketeer that “it’s all about knowing your market whether it’s consumer product users or male hiring managers “ and has always found her interest in sport extremely helpful professionally. She has a word of caution that it can be useful as a differentiator, but will exhaust itself if all women had the same level of enthusiasm in traditional areas of male interest. The natural scheme of things will result in men and women finding other ways of standing out.

Where is this headed?
So ladies, as someone who sadly wouldn’t know a penalty from a corner, is the message that we need to get out our football scarves or running shoes and make a better effort at taking an interest in male activities and improve our all-round engagements in these areas of interest? Is this what we need to enhance our careers?

But where does this leave the concept of diversity? Isn’t it about accepting and benefiting from our differences? Don’t men and women alike need their own spaces or are we headed for a totally “metro-sexual” world?

Or is this all just another smoke screen? Should any of it matter at all?

What do you think?

Men and women please complete my LinkedIn poll ” Has an interest in any particular sport helped advance your career?”