By Leslie T. Snadowsky
Susan Edwards, the founder and owner of Forwards Career Services, remembers having a conversation with a friend whose kids attended a Ducklings Early Learning Center franchise. Through that initial casual connection, Edwards was ultimately hired as an HR consultant assisting with virtual training for 11 out-of-state Ducklings Daycare locations.
When turning conversations into contacts, Edwards said networking is key. “If you’re a job seeker, networking is more important than doing the job search itself online,” she said. “The majority of people find their jobs through networking, whether it’s directly or indirectly.”
Edwards is the former HR director for Outside Brands. She now offers career coaching and HR consulting to small businesses with her Hilton Head-based Forwards Career Services. She offers a six-week Career Coaching program to help ambitious mid-career professionals. She said it all starts with making meaningful connections.
“It is so important that when you go into these networking events and enter into these conversations, you want them to be authentic,” Edwards said. “You have to have a genuine interest in the other person and get to know them so they’ll reciprocate and have the same genuine interest in getting to know you. When you do that multiple times, you build your network of people, and eventually you’re going to run into somebody to whom you might be able to provide value, or they might be able to provide value to you. It’s equally as important to share information if you have it as it is to be given information.”
Not so fast…
Edwards recommends following up with new contacts, but wait a few days. Then you can send a message reminding that contact about the conversation you shared and what was said.
“Those who followed up with me one to two days after initial conversations always stood out to me more than those who followed up right away with an email or a LinkedIn connection request,” Edwards said. “In the moment, you forget. You start to do other things and then by the time you get back to the office, you forget all of those numerous conversations that you had. It’s better if a day or two later I get a reminder from somebody that tells me they’re thinking about me and that our conversation stood out to them so much that they remembered it a few days later to follow up.”
Edwards is president of The Low Country Human Resources Association (LCHRA), whose members represent various regional businesses, educational facilities and government agencies. The chapter is an affiliate of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM). She said handing out business cards is not an outdated networking tactic and can even help you stand out in the crowd.
“Business cards are imperative, even if you don’t have a job right now,” she said. “If you’re going to these events to network and maybe meet somebody to help you find your next role, it’s important that they have something tangible to take with them.”
Edwards suggests your card should showcase the basics but also something cute like an aspiring job title on top.
“Just because you may not have a job doesn’t mean that you can’t network the same way than those who do,” she said.
What if you’re shy?
For introverted networkers Edwards suggests standing in the center of the room and networking like it’s a job you’ve been assigned to do. Listen in on conversations before joining, and set a goal of how many people you want to meet.
“If you walk away having made two solid connections from a networking event, it’s better to walk away with those two connections than nothing at all,” she said. “And you can do this in a way where it’s more of a group conversation versus a one-on-one, if that’s more comfortable for you.”
Edwards said to nurture those relationships after the events, and stay in contact even if it’s once every three or six months, just so they don’t forget about you because you never know when that opportunity might come up. “When you meet people that you can have good conversations with in a professional way, those are the relationships that develop further, and those are the ones that are easier to grow,” she said. “That’s really how you build your network. It’s not about the number of people that you meet necessarily, but it’s the quality of the conversations that you’re having.”
While turning conversations into contacts can be an effective way to help your business, Edwards said second- and third-hand connections can be just as valuable.
“When you share your resume with your friend or former colleague or family member and they share it with somebody, that’s also a network connection,” Edwards said. “That’s a way to build your network, and you don’t even realize it sometimes.”
Edwards said you should always have at least one or two people in your network who like to connect people with other people. In her case, Edwards said she’s the connector, and it’s a job she loves doing.
“I’m constantly sending people that I think would be good at a position to my fellow HR friends in the area when I know they have an opening, and I definitely have a network of folks that I could share for those specific positions when they are open,” Edwards said. “That is something I enjoy the most when networking. It’s matching people with other people and helping to make those connections.”
Edwards’ podcast, “The Christian Career Coach,” focuses on helping Christians discover their true purpose and land meaningful careers. From resume tips and how generational mindsets affect the workplace to top 10 interview questions that should be asked, overcoming workplace conflicts and imposter syndrome in the workplace, weekly podcasts topics are designed to help job seekers and small business owners.
“I try to keep my faith, as a Christ follower, central and keep it at the center of everything I do and make sure that I give Him all the glory when it comes to the blessings that He provides me in my business,” Edwards said about her focus of her podcasts that can be heard on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. “God has given us certain talents that we can use, and whether you know what those talents are or not, your God-given talents are what are going to help you in your career journey.”