Why You Need to Schedule “Career “Dates” for Job Advancement

Women are great at scheduling and planning “stuff.”

Stuff for our kids, for our family, for our employees.  We make time, come hell or high water, for our hair appointments, nails, and of course wine “dates” with girl friends.

But, and there is a big “but” (and I cannot lie… to borrow a line from a catchy song and author Kathy Rausch) …

How often do we schedule “stuff” really beneficial to our career growth?

Consider this interesting finding:  A Fortune 500 company with an internal “Women in Technology” leadership initiative surveyed the 150 women selected to participate in their New York City program about their career ambition in 2014.  In their responses, 90% of these mid-level, top talent women indicated a desire to advance in their career.  According to 67% of these women, their management indicated support of that career advancement- great news for the 67%, right?

In spite of all this career ambition and obviously hard-working talent desiring to advance, the survey revealed a conflict with their desire to advance and the behavior to get them there:

Less than 20% of these ambitious professional women did any type of networking within their work confines or outside of work.  Said another way:  This means that over 80% of these top talent women chose to stay head’s down at work on a daily basis, which is a kiss of death for career movement.  

As Kim Eisenberg of Careerealism wrote:  “Not so many years ago, it was a safe bet that if you showed up, worked hard, and were willing to learn, you could expect a long and fruitful career. All bets are off now. Going to work, keeping your head down, and ‘just doing your job’ guarantees that you’re backing yourself into a professional corner.” What does Eisenberg suggest?  Relationships.  “Talent is a prerequisite for getting a seat at the table, but if you want to keep that seat, you must focus on cultivating relationships.”

What is the magic elixir to overcome being head’s down?  The secret weapon that is guaranteed to re-energize you and expand your network within your own city?  How do you build relationships that also benefit your career development?

A career date!

A career date is where you find time during your work day – yes, I said during- to step out of the office for a few hours and support other initiatives with your attendance, and invite colleagues or customers to join you. According to President and CEO Barb Smoot of the national non -profit WELD that provides professional development programming and networking opportunity for women of all levels, the number one mistake women in particular make in their career, is not investing in themselves by either joining a professional organization like WELD, or attending events to grow their network outside of work walls.  Amen.

I have seen the magic happen by smart professionals actively attending and engaging in events, and I have seen many a promising career get stuck for lack of engagement outside of work.

How do you avoid this common career mistake? 

By scheduling a career date with one or more people from the office to attend a professional event being held in your community, which helps you to establish invaluable ties and creates a time to talk about things other than work, which in turn connects you with others on a personal level.  Relationships are personal.  That personal connection is one of the most critical factors in your career engagement, movement and even advancement.

Scheduling a career date is a great strategy for those of you who are introverted or who hate the word “networking.”  Make a career date and leverage the social company of a work colleague to help you expand your circles and grow your business acumen outside the office.

As Meredith Liepelt, a branding and marketing expert and CEO of Rich Life Marketing says, “If you can’t invest in yourself, why should anyone else?  It can seem like you’re wasting time if you leave the office, but in truth, it’s a high-value activity. Your career satisfaction and advancement  opportunities are largely determined by who you know and who knows you.  And guess what? Those people aren’t in your cubical or office.”

Here are some places you can take your “date(s)”:

  • Local Chamber of Commerce events featuring a business speaker
  • Any type of fundraiser held over breakfast or lunch hosted by the YWCA, Girl Scouts, The Women’s Fund in your city
  • Awards events- scan your local paper or business publication for ideas
  • University or Community College events featuring  speakers or topics of interest
  • Coffee date or lunch date with a small group to simply relationship build
  • Organizations that offer regular monthly programs or speakers like Toastmasters, WELD, or if you own your own business as a woman, NAWBO in your local major city
  • Internal company programs offered through Business Resource Groups or Affinity Groups
  • Business publication events such as panel discussions and focused business topics by local leaders

What is the payoff for you? 

  • You are better connected to your community and the community “movers and shakers”
  • You expand your knowledge of topics and current information outside the confines of your company walls
  • You bring back that knowledge and share it with co-workers
  • You are then considered a person in-the-know for finding such events and being so knowledgeable
  • You are inclusive and considered a “connector” by inviting others to join you
  • You gain new ideas on how to approach your jobYou are surrounded by like-minded, forward- thinking individuals
  • You will most likely head back to work reinvigorated and ready to tackle your job in a new way

“We all know building relationships are key and connecting with others is so much more than meeting in that moment or obtaining a business card to use at a later date.”  Says Diana Westhoff, a leadership consultant who heads up her speaking and facilitation firm called Speak 4 You.  As Westhoff advises, “Connecting with others is:

  • Truly to learn about them
  • Who they are
  • How and where they bring their “game”
  • What can I learn from them
  • Most importantly, where can I help and/or support them

“That is true connection that causes a relationship to sustain itself and build on so much more than a simple, ‘Hello my name is Diana and what do you do?’  So I love lots of “Career Dates” and usually schedule way too many!”

As Pat Gibson, owner of PMG Communications says, “The best time to network is when you don’t need to.” In other words, when you need to rely upon your network for advice, career advancement, or even a job in some cases, you better have a network in place outside of your company as well as inside, or it’s often times too late to establish that in a crisis.

Skeptical that scheduling “career dates” really works?

  • I have created 10 out of 13 job positions over my career- that’s 77% of my jobs I have had the opportunity to create because of my relationship building with the manager over that job who saw my talent first-hand prior to me taking the job, or because of my networking opened the door for the opportunity.  It was always through “career dating” that this was possible.
  • I invited a new acquaintance on a career date and she so loved the organization I introduced her to, she joined as a professional member. This has led to her being a featured speaker for that organization, elevated her brand in the business community, and assisted her in key customer relationships being built for her company.
  • My company has been a finalist for two major business awards in my community resulting in invaluable publicity and credibility being established in broad circles- these nominations came about from networking– one from someone who was almost a total stranger I met at an event.  We scheduled coffee, and she so liked my business she nominated me out of the blue.  True story.
  • My company hosts an annual career development and career re-energizer event that benefits a charitable organization.  We have had multiple people report new business as a result of networking at those events and having attended the event with a “date.” Job interviews have surfaced, and new customers have been found.
  • My husband experienced a sudden career change during the economic downturn in 2007. He landed on his feet in a new job with another company within only 3 weeks through his network.  Two years later, through that same network, he took his career to the next major level with yet another company.   Men rarely go to lunch alone and they typically don’t attend events alone either- they are masters at career dating.

Don’t wait to build your network, act now! 

  • Find an interesting event in your community and schedule a career date before the end of the month.
  • Invite some colleagues to join you.
  • Have fun building your relationships, re-energizing your career, and helping others to expand and build upon their relationships as well.

To your continued success…

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