Why ‘Get a Job’ is Excellent Personal Branding Advice for Class of 2016

Jon Acuff quote

Late spring is an exciting time of year for many people as graduating college students experience a rite of passage into the next phase of their lives. The National Center for Education Statistics projects 1.8 million students will receive bachelor degrees during the 2015-2016 academic year. Throw in master and doctoral degree recipients, and an estimated 2.6 million people will  celebrate reaching an education milestone. Their graduation begs the inevitable question: What’s next? For the sake of personal brand development, the best answer to that question could very well be “get a job.” It’s time to move from the classroom to the front lines of your career, sharpening skills that are at the heart of the value you offer others.

Get Job Experience- Literally

A professional career is more like a winding road with unexpected turns than a straight line. Many people find themselves in a fulfilling career that is removed from their field of study in college. I make this point to bring out the importance of getting a job… any job to launch your career.

In his book Do Over, author and career expert Jon Acuff says the purpose of your first job is to learn how to have a job. Reflecting on my first professional job thirty years ago, I see that Acuff’s message is spot on. Your education exposes you to concepts and knowledge in the discipline of your major. But, when you take your first job you realize there are many situations and tasks that were never covered in Chapter Eight or on the final exam. How do you resolve conflict within an employee team? What is the best approach for soothing an irritated customer? Why do all project team members  not share your focus on meeting the deadline? You will not know the answers to those questions until you gain experience dealing with them. Heck, you may not even realize those questions exist until you face them on the job.

Skills Development and Your Personal Brand

Skills are a key component of the Makeup dimension of your personal brand. While certain abilities or competencies are obviously important to one’s professional success (e.g., a web developer’s knowledge of relevant programming languages), other skills are not necessarily taught formally like hard skills but are important, nonetheless.

Jon Acuff calls these abilities “invisible skills.” They tend to be skills applicable regardless of your position or industry. Examples include critical thinking, resolving interpersonal conflict, and empathy. These “soft skills” are more difficult to teach using formal methods than hard skills. Yet, soft skills are essential to effectively working with others.

Beat Your Competition

Enhancing invisible or soft skills in your brand Makeup is a prime way to set yourself apart from other early career professionals. Differentiating yourself through strengthening skills can accelerate advancement in an organization or make you more marketable if you look for opportunities elsewhere. Remember those 2.6 million graduates this year? They represent competition. So do the graduates from 2015, 2014,… not to depress you, but you have a lot of competition.

If you are a member of the Class of 2016, accept my congratulations. You did it… now get a job! Not for the same reasons your parents might have for you to be gainfully employed (although paychecks can come in handy), but for the sake of developing skills and ultimately, your brand.

The Fine Line between Determent and Determination

Tommy Lasorda quote on determination

This post represents the first time I have hit “publish” in nearly three months. It is the longest period of inactivity since I began blogging in 2007. I wish I could say I am returning from a planned hiatus, but that would be fiction. Looking back, I realize that feedback from a person I was talking with for the first time took the wind out of my blogging sails. The feedback itself was relatively minor and to the person’s credit, was spot on. It was not meant to shoot me down. However, it (along with work stress) led me to question for the first time why I bother blogging.

Determent

Merriam-Webster defines deter as “discourage; prevent from acting.” If you think about sources of determent in your life, it is likely that more of it comes from the former than the latter. It is possible someone or something forcibly prevents you from acting, but in more cases a sense of determent is psychological. We feel someone has imposed limitations on what can be done. Write a book? Do you know how hard it is to publish a book? Start your own business? Do you know that more than eighty percent of new businesses fail? I could go on, but you get the picture. The feedback or “advice” we receive from others may be sincere and well-intentioned, but such input can unwittingly discourage us from chasing our dreams and goals (i.e., deter us).

Determination

Determent is a belief that usually comes from within us, as do feelings of determination. As a college professor, a trait that I observe and admire in many students is being free of determent. Students are not bogged down by beliefs about what they cannot do or accomplish. I am not suggesting we live in a fantasy world in which we believe we can do or have anything. But, realistic thinking can become deterring thinking if we blindly accept limitations packaged as conventional wisdom.

Embracing a determination mindset requires being realistic, with that realism being an understanding that bumps in the road are inevitable. Sometimes, the bumps will be huge pot holes that make the ride on our success journey more than a bit uncomfortable. A bumpy ride on the road to personal growth should be accepted; being deterred by limitations others want to attach to you should not be accepted.

On the Possible

To get out of my blogging inactivity funk, I went in search of a quote that gave hope and energy. The quote by Tommy Lasorda on the role of determination grabbed my attention. As I reflected on Lasorda’s statement, it became clear to me I used someone’s candid feedback against my own growth efforts. The result was it stifled my determination and in turn, my potential to achieve what is possible. The unfortunate reality is the person was trying to help me, yet I twisted the feedback to have the effect of harming my personal brand. Moreover, I was too dejected to act on feedback that would undoubtedly benefit my brand.

After two months of brooding and inactivity, I have clarity that I must cultivate determination, not determent. Determination and determent originate from the same source: Me. It’s not the boss, the economy, or the competition that is impeding my progress; it’s the dude in the mirror. He and I are going to work together daily, driven by determination to make the difference between the impossible and possible.

Creating Value = Job Security

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My wife texted me a list of items to buy while I was at the supermarket one evening recently. One item on her list was golden delicious apples, which I managed to overlook. So, I knew there was only one way to correct my oversight: Go to the supermarket first thing the next morning and buy golden delicious apples. As I walked up to make my selection, I noticed the apples were arranged perfectly in rows. A sense of guilt came over me as I was about to undo the splendid appearance of the apples. The employee responsible for this work of art was still in the area, and I jokingly asked his permission to mess up the display. He laughed and said “go ahead, it’s job security.” Yes it was.

A Demand for Value

Why was a task so seemingly routine as arranging fruit a source of value for me? The appearance of the display attracted my attention, recognizing the product I sought immediately. Also, the display conveyed a message of quality and was part of a produce department that had a presentation that was inviting and conducive to a positive customer experience. We are all consumers, so there is no need to persuade you there is a demand for products, services, and experiences that create value for us. People are not interested in buying stuff as much as they are interested in what the stuff does for them (i.e., how it creates value).

Another recent encounter as a consumer reinforced the notion of an ongoing demand for customer value. Our dryer was not performing its primary task: Drying clothes. I had called two different appliance repair services in the past, but another business caught my eye as I searched online for a solution. I read customer reviews on this individual, and common themes were fair pricing and customer concern. After giving this business a call and having the proprietor service my dryer, the reviews were confirmed. This person created value by building trust and competently performing the service he promised. Guess who I will be referring business to anytime a friend is looking for an appliance repair service? Thank you, Mike Jarrett, owner of Mike Way, for the value you offer to your customers daily.

Strive to Add Value

Albert Einstein will forever be remembered as a brilliant man, yet his words of wisdom that are this One to Grow On quote are strikingly simple. Instead of chasing success (whatever form that might take), focus on being a person of value- to your family, friends, co-workers, customers, community, and even strangers- anyone whose path you cross. When you focus on creating value for others, it almost always will be noticed. It may not be today, next month, or next year, but if you commit to be a source of value for others it will likely be recognized and often rewarded. The nature of the rewards can vary from a “thank you” to customer testimonial, award, raise, or promotion, all of which are indicators of success. Thus, if you make being a source of value your focus, the trappings of success often follow.

 

 

Put Your Passion to Work

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You may have heard exhortations to follow your passion to guide decisions about the type of job to pursue and even the organization with which to work. This advice is well-intended but at the same time can be misleading, if not dangerous. Finding a job that relates to your passion sounds like a dream come true. After all, if you do something you love it may not feel like work, right? Oprah Winfrey said “do what you love and the money will follow.” If that is true, scores of people should turn in their resignation today from the job that drains energy and enthusiasm from them and do work aligned with their passion. Yet, we know that is not going to happen. Why?

The Role of Passion

Passion has connotations with eliciting strong emotional responses such as excitement or love. However, the origin of the word passion can be traced to the Latin “pasi” which means “to suffer.” Whoa! Does this mean you should be searching for a job or employer that will make you suffer? Of course not- a deeper interpretation of passion is that it is linked to something for which you are willing to invest heavily- time, effort, and yes, suffer through occasional adversity and disappointment. But, because of the intense emotional connection you have with something for which you are passionate you will go through tough times to enjoy the pleasure and satisfaction derived from the endeavor.

Think of passion as the fuel for your purpose. Your values and motivation are energized when connected with passion. In the context of personal branding, passion can be defined as the sources of happiness that energize the work you do. The impact of passion is not limited to work you do through carrying out job duties- it is evident in the volunteer work you perform, conversation topics in which you engage on social media, and the hobbies or outside interests you enjoy. All of these non-job aspects of your life play a part in defining your personal brand. Thus, recognizing your passion is vital to personal branding success. The challenge is how to channel passion to strengthen your personal brand while enjoying the synergy of a career in which your passion figures prominently in your work.

Passion First

If you subscribe to Seth Godin’s view that passion should guide your work, a great deal of anxiety can be eliminated. Rather than seeking a job that is a match with your passion, look for opportunities to allow your passion to be introduced into your work. For example, if you love writing poetry but come to the conclusion that you cannot earn an income to meet your financial needs as a poet, do not stop writing poetry. Instead, look for ways to inject your gift for creative writing into a job in which that skill is valued. Similarly, if you find fulfillment in crafting objects out of wood, put the ability to make a useful object from raw materials to work in other contexts such as product design.

Take the Easy Route

Perhaps the most compelling reason to follow the advice of transferring your passion to your job is that it is easier than the alternative. It is much easier to energize your work with passion that flows from your purpose rather than shopping around for a job comprised of tasks that are a match with your passion. Put your passion to work… whatever your work might be.

Be Thankful for Your Critics

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Here’s a sobering thought to begin your week: People dislike what you do, how you do it, or why you do it. Your work is not done the way they would do things. Fortunately, not everyone around you falls into this category. The reality is you have detractors. It can be comforting to remember the words of Zig Ziglar who said “There has never been a statue erected to honor a critic.” However, Ziglar’s statement is not our revenge against critics. In fact, you should embrace criticism and use it as fuel to energize your personal brand.

Why You Have Critics

If facing criticism is a given, then it can be helpful to understand its sources, or why you face criticism of your work. Among the possible reasons are:

  • Different approach- Your way of doing is different- not wrong- just different from how others would perform in a similar situation.
  • Envy- You are doing something others want to do but are unwilling to attempt.
  • Spite- Some of your detractors simply want you to fail; better you than them in their minds.
  • Encouragement- Some criticism is actually constructive; following it will serve you well.

It is tempting to dismiss critics and criticism for the first three reasons cited above. Recognizing when criticism is a form of encouragement to improve makes it worthwhile to process all criticism directed at you.

A Different Take on Criticism

Rather than allowing criticism to deflate you or hurt your feelings, resolve to make criticism work for you. For each of the reasons for criticism identified earlier, translate the criticism into how it can help you grow:

  • Different approach- In many situations, there is more than one right way to do things or reach an end goal. Be receptive to the ideas and experiences of others.
  • Envy- Recognize that criticism driven by envy may be coming from someone who has never been in the situation you face. He or she does not fully understand your situation or the variables that influence your decisions or actions.
  • Spite- Accept that some people may want to see you fail and that their criticism is not input for improvement but piling on any time a perceived misstep or mistake happens.
  • Encouragement- This form of criticism should be welcomed and acknowledged. When someone offers constructive criticism, it is often coming from his or her own experience. The feedback given is an attempt to help you not make similar mistakes made when facing similar circumstances.

No Statues

There are no statues erected to honor a critic, nor are there statues erected to honor someone who puts down a critic. Be open to receiving criticism, process it to separate useful feedback from noise, and be thankful that some people care enough about your development to give input that could positively shape your brand.

Create Separation along the Extra Mile

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The news stopped me in my tracks. A very influential voice in my personal and professional development (and for thousands of others over the past forty years)) has been silenced. Dr. Wayne Dyer passed away over the weekend at age 75. He publicly acknowledged he was battling leukemia, but he never used his illness as an excuse to slow down or deviate from the message of body, mind, and spirit existing together in harmony.

Dr. Dyer’s work has touched me for the past twenty-five years, and it is only fitting that this One to Grow On post be a positive message from him.

The Journey of the Extra Mile

“Going the extra mile” is a timeless expression encouraging us to go beyond the minimum required to complete a task or meet a commitment. It is more than we have to do, but going the extra mile often delivers added benefit in the form of higher quality work or more meaningful service to others.

Buying into the idea of going the extra mile can be difficult sometimes. After all, it is extra- not traveling that last mile will not harm us, get us fired, or otherwise have negative effects. And, it is easy to not go the extra mile as we are adept at talking ourselves out of it. Perhaps we want to save gas (“I’m tired”). Or, we do not want to wear out the equipment, our mind and body, by delaying the journey (“Maybe I will do it tomorrow” or “No one else is doing it”).

Unfortunately, when we talk ourselves out of going the extra mile we can deny ourselves the joys and benefits of what we can experience once we have traveled it. It is highly unlikely that a family headed for a vacation at Walt Disney World would turn around and go home because of heavy traffic on the last mile to the front gate. Yet, when we talk ourselves out of going the extra mile we may be shutting out opportunities to meet interesting people, learn new skills, or gain valuable experience.

Eliminate the Extra Mile

So, how can you become a more seasoned traveler and make the journey of the extra mile? As I see it, there is no need to go the extra mile when it is not extra- it is simply part of the trip you take to the desired destination. For example, if you are in a position of serving other people you consistently treat them with respect, promptly resolve problems, and strive to be a valued resource. It is not extra; it’s part of your product design. However, it will look like you go the extra mile in the eyes of others who too often interact with people who slam the brakes before going one inch along the extra mile.

I am grateful for the encouragement of Dr. Wayne Dyer to go the extra mile and the many other words of wisdom he shared in his books and presentations. His physical presence has ceased to exist, but his influence will live on.

Avoiding the Double-Life Lie in Personal Branding

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One of the most daunting aspects of developing your personal brand is figuring out how to progress on the journey from where you are now to how you want to be perceived. This challenge can be further complicated by comparing our current state to others who have “arrived.” They have the success we aspire to attain, enjoy the benefits of position and influence that we long for, and in general have made it to where we believe we want to be. Looking to others as examples can be motivational, inspiring us to work harder and be more persistent. It can also be soul crushing, discouraging us because we cannot imagine ourselves worthy of the trappings of success.

Living an Illusion

Returning to the point about personal branding being daunting, comparing ourselves to others whose brands are far advanced in development can lead one to conclude that personal branding is an illusion. In other words, to become the brand we want to be and have, we must act differently than who we are. Could you imagine a product brand conducting business in this manner? A brand whose words and actions are inconsistent with how it sees itself is a recipe for failure. Branding is not a role play exercise, nor is it an endeavor in putting on a desirable face or appearance to please others. It is an ongoing management of your professional identity; there is no beginning or ending. Thus, you cannot engage in short-term behaviors that might serve your brand well but that are incompatible with how you see yourself.

Your Own Worst Enemy

As I reflect on the evolution of my brand, it is clear that one adversary stands above the rest in holding back my development: Me. Inconsistency between how I see myself and where I want to be often keeps me stuck right where I am. Perhaps you know that adversary, too. Fear, self-doubt, and lack of confidence can thwart well-conceived personal branding strategy faster than a weak economy, strong competition, or any other external force. The threat to our growth is looking at us in the mirror, becoming our own worst enemy.

Strive for Congruence

Take the One to Grow On quote personally this week- I am. Make it a point to achieve consistency between the personal and professional growth you desire and self-concept. Don’t let the “stinking thinking” that Zig Ziglar talked about (e.g., “I’m unsure if I can close this huge deal” or “I can’t be any more successful than where I am now”) drive a wedge between performance capabilities and the heights to which you want to take your personal brand.

Fuel Brand Purpose with Passion

fuel

Purpose defines your reason for being. Recent posts examined the role of motivation in determining purpose and how to articulate brand purpose. When applied to managing your professional identity like a brand, purpose serves a similar role to that of a mission statement for an organization- it provides meaning that guides the career you pursue, the employer you choose, and your actions on the job. But, there is another force that guides development of your personal brand’s Meaning: Passion. In contrast to the thought provoking questions used to clarify your purpose, passion is stoked by emotions. Feelings that you have about what you do and the impact you create through your work comprises your passion.

Where exactly does passion fit in with building your personal brand? This question is one for which differing opinions are held. One view is that passion should dictate your career choices- what type of job to hold, what company to join (or go out on your own as a freelancer or entrepreneur), and what city to live in as you pursue your career goals. An opposing view is that allowing passion to lead your career planning could result in going down a path that does not bring the fulfillment and happiness desired.

What Is Passion, and What Should I Do with it?

Before you know whether passion should lead or follow in personal brand development, it would be useful to examine just what passion means. Passion has connotations with eliciting strong emotional responses such as excitement or love. However, the origin of the word passion can be traced to the Latin “pati” which means “to suffer.” Whoa! Does this mean you should be searching for a job or employer that will make you suffer? Of course not- a deeper interpretation of passion is that it is linked to something for which you are willing to invest heavily- time, effort, and yes, suffer through occasional adversity and disappointment. But, because of the intense emotional connection you have with something for which you are passionate you will go through tough times to enjoy the pleasure and satisfaction derived from the endeavor.

Fuel for Your Purpose

Think of passion as the fuel for your purpose. Your values and motivation are energized when connected with passion. In the context of personal branding, passion can be defined as the sources of happiness that energize the work you do. The impact of passion is not limited to work you do through carrying out job duties- it is evident in the volunteer work you perform, conversation topics in which you engage on social media, and the hobbies or outside interests you enjoy. All of these non-job aspects of your life play a part in defining your personal brand. Thus, recognizing your passion is vital to personal branding success. The challenge is how to channel passion to strengthen your personal brand while enjoying the synergy of a career in which your passion figures prominently in your work.

 Follow or Lead ?

Two distinct viewpoints exist about the role passion should play in your career and building a personal brand. One camp lives the “follow your passion” mantra. The other camp subscribes to the belief that you are led to your passion through developing skills and capabilities that enable you to fulfill your purpose. What are the merits of each viewpoint? Is one of them more viable than the other? Great questions, but unfortunately ones that should not be answered here. They merit their own space and will receive it as the focus of a post next week.

Put Your Purpose into Words: A Brand Purpose Statement

Mission StatementPurpose

In recent posts, I have shared how values and motivation drive your personal brand’s purpose. It is now time to pull it all together by putting into your reason for being into words, packaging purpose, if you will. The benefits of distilling your purpose into words are:

  • It’s communicable – Committing your purpose to words is a simple way to convey what drives you to create value for others and yourself.
  • It’s memorable – Putting your purpose into words enables others to easily associate your personal brand with the values and motivation behind your purpose.
  • It’s powerful – Most of your competition has not gone through the process of defining their purpose. Articulating your purpose sets you apart by creating clear meaning for your brand.

So how can you transform why you exist into words? One method for communicating purpose is a personal purpose statement. This approach combines methodology with creativity, allowing you to follow a “formula” while giving you leeway to package your purpose into a collection of words relevant to you.

Purpose Instead of Mission

You might be familiar with a mission statement- most organizations have them to summarize what they do and who they serve. It is often described as a statement of a firm’s reason for being. Many personal branding experts suggest composing a mission statement for your personal brand. This advice is not wrong or over-the-top (although some people struggle with the idea of applying concepts used on non-living entities like a business to themselves). But, the concept of a statement that summarizes your reason for being can be made more personal by not coming at it like a mission statement.

Instead, you should package thoughts about your existence and value offered in the form of a purpose statement. In contrast to a mission statement that suggests existence is a means to an end (i.e., achieving a goal), a purpose statement is a declaration of who you are and what you have to offer- today, next week, next year.

Why is defining your purpose preferable to stating a mission? Human Resources expert Stephanie Krieg cites three advantages of packaging your personal brand using purpose instead of mission:

  1. Purpose plays to the Law of Attraction – When you state your purpose, it can have the effect of drawing others to you that have a similar vision or interests.
  2. Purpose is inspiring – A purpose energizes you to be and do, while a mission is a course of action to which we strive to follow to stay “on course.”
  3. Purpose is empowering for the greater good – Purpose goes beyond a goal orientation associated with a mission statement. When you are able to live out our purpose, benefits are realized not only personally but also through the impact you have on your co-workers, customers, and communities.[i]

How to Write a Personal Purpose Statement

The process for writing a purpose statement is similar to earlier tasks you completed to gain understanding of your values and motivations- You need to ask questions of yourself to develop pieces of your purpose statement. Specifically, three questions that can reveal purpose are:

  1. Who am I? To answer this question, consider the industry in which you aspire to belong, the target market you serve, and the type of work that you do. Part of your purpose is wrapped in these standard descriptions or labels that are applied to our work.
  2. What do I do? This question takes into account tasks performed in your work, how you create value for those whom you serve, and why your work is valuable to other people.
  3. What is my impact? A follow-up to the “what do I do” question is “so what?” Impact answers the “so what” question- what benefits are realized from what you do? How does the work that you do differentiate you?

Let’s put these three pieces together in a template you can use to write your personal purpose statement:

I, (your name), am (description of industry, occupation, market served, or job title) that (value created and benefit).

Using this template, I (Don) created a personal purpose statement:

I, Don Roy, am a marketing educator who helps position future businesspeople by encouraging them to grow intellectually and compete professionally.

After writing this statement, I reflected to consider if it truly fit me, or was it a collection of words written to the template. The answer was clear- It is me. It is the approach I take in developing the courses I teach, how I conduct each class meeting, and counsel I give to students. The elements of my purpose statement figure prominently in the scholarly research in which I engage and the professional writing I do.

Change Your View of Networking from Freak Out to Stand Out

Building and nurturing a network of contacts is essential to success in nearly any endeavor or field you enter. Networking has obvious implications for professional growth, but it also can lead to a richer, more fulfilling life in general. Hard to believe something that is painful for many people to do could make you happier? That idea is not a stretch if you buy into the ideas presented by personal branding expert Dorie Clark in her book Stand Out Networking: A Simple and Authentic Way to Meet People on Your Own Terms (Penguin, 2015). If you are unsure how to get the most out of networking or apprehensive about taking the plunge into networking activities, this quick read is worth checking out.

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Preparing to Network

Among the most valuable takeaways in the book are ideas shared in the Introduction and first chapter. In the Introduction, Clark points out that networking to grow your business should not be viewed as dirty, but treating it solely as a means to an end is damaging. In other words, if the focus of your networking efforts is how meeting people can help you land new clients or make more money, you will likely not be an effective networker and will wonder why you struggle to see payoffs from your networking activity.

To change what you get out of networking, you must change your inputs into networking. Those inputs begin with the mindset held. The goal of networking is to turn brief encounters into real, long-lasting, and mutually beneficial relationships. That view is far removed from treating networking like a game to see how many contacts you can make and whether any of them can benefit you now.

So what does it take to have a networking mindset that focuses on relationships rather than merely making connections? Clark gives three pieces of advice on mindset:

  • Defer short-term gain to build long-term relationships– Avoid the temptation to ask for favors or help immediately. Focus on getting to know the other person to understand you can help them as well as recognizing how he or she can help you.
  • Find common ground with people you meet– One of the fastest ways to convert a stranger into a friend is to identify and build on common interests or experiences.
  • Look how to add value for others instead of how to extract value from people you meet– Too often, people engage in networking in an attempt to get something from the other party (an introduction to someone else, a job interview, or make a sale). Instead, focus on how you can deliver value to them so that they would be willing to do something for you.

When a networking mindset is established that takes an outward looking, long-term view, you will be guided into engaging in networking activities that makes you valuable and set you apart from most people who are driven by solely by personal gain motives.

The Role of Luck in Networking

I found the theme and content of Chapter 6 (Getting Lucky) very refreshing. While the Introduction and Chapter 1 dealt with how we should think about networking, Chapter 6 acknowledges an emotional component is involved, too. Clark advocates developing a lucky attitude. Rather than viewing networking as a necessary evil required to get ahead, she suggests embracing networking for the possibilities it brings in terms of broadening your network to include more interesting and diverse people. Three traits of a lucky attitude are identified:

  • Humility– A willingness to meet and learn from new people)
  • Curiosity– A genuine interest in others makes connecting easier
  • Optimism– Sparks a desire to embrace opportunities to expand one’s network

When feelings associated with networking shift from “it’s something I have to do” to “it’s something I get to do,” you avail yourself to growth opportunities that you might otherwise unintentionally block.

Why and How

Many business books are long on telling us why the topic is important but shed little light on how to become better or more effective. Stand Out Networking stands out (pun intended) in that Clark shares many practical, usable tips for becoming more comfortable with networking. Regardless of your comfort level with networking, you will likely come away with a different outlook and ideas you can implement to become more effective at networking.