By Tim Tyrell-Smith, founder of Tim’s Strategy®, a career strategy website dedicated to helping people succeed in their job search, career and life
A woman stood up recently in front of a networking group to challenge a best practice suggested by the speaker. Her simple argument was powerful and provocative. And, despite its painful truth, the speaker’s advice stands just as true and vital.
Here’s the dialogue:
Speaker: Your attitude matters. It matters to friends, recruiters and anyone you meet who works for a target company. If you are not positive, you will push people away.
Woman (raising her hand): I just lost my house last night. I couldn’t pay the mortgage after being out of work for more than a year. How do you expect me to be positive about that?
The group went completely silent as the eyes of the room went back to see how the speaker would respond.
No matter what you are going through during job search, the emotional residue left with others must be upbeat and positive. And while there’s some amount of emotional or financial pain experienced by anyone who goes through a transition like an extended job search, it can’t define you to others.
You don’t want people to feel sympathy for you. Sympathy is not an action-based emotion. When we feel sympathy for someone, we feel - but we don’t act.
So a better emotion to encourage is something called productive empathy. This is when we know you need our help, but a few other aspects are obvious:
1. You are someone who has a bit of momentum already, are experiencing a few small wins and can share a few encouraging examples with us.
2. You are positive about your situation and appear like someone who I can confidently refer to a friend in your industry or a target company.
So how about an example?
Someone comes up at an event or weekend cocktail party and asks:
“What do you do?”
Here are two very different answers to this incredibly common question:
[Option 1] “I’m out of work”
[Option 2] “I’m a production artist”
If you answer with option 1, you push people away. You’ve defined yourself as a person in need of help. How many of you answer with something similar to option 1?
If you answer with option 2, you invite people to lean in and learn more. They’ll say: “Cool, how long have you been doing that?” And you begin a positive conversation that will eventually lead to a chance to let them know that you are looking for new opportunities, and to ask for help with introductions to target companies. But don’t do it right away and not until you’ve established an equal footing.
So what are the keys to drawing people to you during transition - instead of pushing them away?
- Stay positive - despite any desire to tell your difficult story to new people.
- Pay attention to your small wins along the way and be ready to share them with those you meet.
- Smile and keep eye contact with those you meet. Once we connect with you, we are much more likely to engage in your situation.
Your focus on being positive will spill over to others and, importantly, position you as someone safe to help and support as you continue networking.
What steps will you take to present a positive attitude to your growing network?