May 18 2012

Networking Your Way to a Better Job


Carlos Portocarrero

This is Day 3 of the 39 Days to a Better Job series, where we review actionable tips to make you better at your job.

Neuron pattern

Networking: when you hear the word you immediately picture some lame event in a high-school gym with nervous people in suits pressing other annoyed people for a job.

With all the social-networking tools out there, you can do all this from home!

Seriously, your network is one of your most important parts of your career. Consider that:

  • You take it to every job you go.
  • It can get you a new job even if you’re not 100% qualified.
  • It can bring in new business.
  • You can meet some interesting people.
  • It’s fun to see how high you can go.

Networking events are one thing, but networking in general is pretty easy these days as long as you follow some general guidelines.

Add Everyone

You can sift through them later (if you really feel you need to), but for now just sit down and add every single person you can possible think of. Coworkers, former coworkers, friends, people you were introduced to that one time at the bar, etc.

If you remember a name, add that person. Don’t be shy. Don’t wonder if it’s “weird” that you’re adding them to your network.

Just do it.

It’s not just about having this person in your network, it’s about getting access to all the people in that person’s network.

For example, thanks to @chrisguillebeau, I’m connected to the most powerful man on the planet via LinkedIn:

barack and I linkedin

So if I ever get in trouble I know he’s got my back.

You should do the same: once you have a healthy amount of people added you can start poking around to see who is a few degrees away from you—you’ll be surprised at who you find.

The Sites

Use them all: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. If you work in a field where images and design are a key component, then you might consider using Pinterest.

But for now you should be safe with the big three: most people are on at least one of those three networks.

Facebook is good if you’re trying to get to know someone better on a personal basis (which can help), but you might have to actually know them so it’s not as awkward.

Twitter is great if you want to “listen in” on the things a person is interested in or thinking about at any given time. And the fact that they don’t have to accept your request is a big part of it.

LinkedIn is where you should focus your efforts: it’s focused on work so if someone you just met at a client meeting adds you, it’s not weird at all because it’s business.

Use Them

Don’t just add people to Twitter and never go on there: use it. Otherwise you’re wasting your time. You don’t have to tweet or retweet or any of that stuff, but at least listen to what the people you’re following are saying, the issues they’re discussing, etc.

LinkedIn is my favorite one of these tools: you can search for just about anything on the site. So if you’re looking for a job in publishing but are eager to move to Arizona, you can run a search and see who pops up.

I just made that filter up and guess what? I have three people in my secondary network that are in publishing in the Tucson are.

That was easy.

Always Find an Insider

If you’re searching for a new job, you need to use any and all of these sites to get as much background as possible before you land an interview. When I was looking for a new job I managed to get invited to interview with a company I had never heard of.

But searching through LinkedIn I found that a girl I had gone to grad school with years ago knew someone there. And she actually worked in the department I was interested in. So I sent her a note and she reached out, introduced us, and got me an “in.”

If you can talk to someone on the inside before an interview you can find out more about the company, their problems, what they’re like, etc. And when the time comes to hire, the boss on that side will ask “How did we hear about this person?”

Regardless of how it’s explained, the fact that you came in via a semi-referral bodes well.

Network Away

My advice to you? Don’t wait until you’re looking for a job. Don’t wait until you need something. Start adding everyone you know right now.

And if you find yourself on the other end (someone asking you for help), do as much as you can for them. Karma is a beautiful thing.

Image by Patrick Hoesly


May 17 2012

Don’t be Rambo, Be a Power Ranger


Carlos Portocarrero

This is Day 2 of the 39 Days to a Better Job series, where we review actionable tips to make you better at your job.

power ranger image

If you want to be as good as you can at anything, you’re going to have to ask for help from other people. That’s why professional athletes have coaches that help guide them along as they perfect their craft.

You and I are no different.

We aren’t Rambo—out there trying to beat the world on our own. We should aim to be more like the Power Rangers or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: a group of unique individuals with specific skills that, when joined together, form an unstoppable team.

As lame as it sounds to hear someone say “be more like the Power Rangers,” hear me out.

In the real world, Rambo dies a quick death because he’s trying to do everything by himself. So let’s not fool ourselves into thinking we can beat the world all by ourselves, especially when we’re young and just getting started in our careers.

And anyway, right now we’re living in the golden era of communication and connectivity—so you need to take advantage of it.

The Power of Community

When I started doing Product Management work a few years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. I was a writer with no skills or training in PM-ing (or so I thought). But I was lucky enough to sit next to someone that was very good at it.

He guided me along my way, showed me when to fight for something and when to let things go. Without him, I’m not where I am today.

But I got lucky: I was sharing an office with this guy. What would’ve happened to me without him?

I probably would’ve failed at the new gig because I honestly did not know what I was doing.

But there is help out there, tons of it, and you should tap into it regardless of how confident you are at your job.

Talking to others and listening to their experiences will make you better at your job.

Read that line again…got it? Good. Now let’s take a look at how you can connect with other people.

Where to Go

The Internet is this vast, enormous place, so where should you start? It might take you some time, but you have to find a few sites where “your people” are hanging out and talking about things.

They could be anywhere:

  • Reddit
  • Blogs
  • Forums (my favorite medium)
  • Twitter
  • Facebook

The medium matters less than the simple act of finding them and then joining in the conversation. I would start by searching for “best _______ forum” and “top ____ blogs.” From there you’ll figure out a way to track the people that matter in your field in whatever medium you prefer.

Personally, I like blogs and forums the best for this kind of thing.

Making Contact

My advice is to follow these steps before you start sending private messages and asking for help on any forum or blog (though these steps are mostly for forums—my preferred method of reaching out to others):

  1. Register: Most forums make you register to post. Do this now so people can you you’ve been around for a while, even if you’re not going to post just yet. Don’t forget to add your site to your signature!
  2. Lurk: Get to know the rules, the major players, and the topics to stay away from.
  3.  Post: Now that you know your way around, you’re ready to start sharing your opinions. Start by replying to others’ and sharing your opinion on existing threads.
  4. All in: Now you’re ready to start your own threads and become a fully integrated member of the site.

Forums are powerful and can teach you new skills, so don’t take them lightly. This is the next best thing to sharing an office with someone that has 15 years experience in a field you’re relatively new to.

Visiting a forum and participating in the conversations that are happening will do two crucial things for you:

  1. Give you a place to continuously learn and keep your skills fresh.
  2. Give you a place to vent and ask questions when you hit a wall.
By sharing group knowledge with other, more experienced people in your field, you’ll speed up your growth and become more confident at your job.

Image by kevin dooley


May 16 2012

39 Days to a Better Job


Carlos Portocarrero

Today I’m excited to announce a new series of posts dedicated to helping you boost your career. For the next 39 days I’ll be posting actionable tips you can execute on that will make you a more valuable (and happier) employee—whether you want to find a new job or turn your current one around.

Posts will include:

  • How to work more efficiently
  • Tools and software to help you along your way
  • Automating tasks so you have more time
  • Networking 3.0: how to do it right
  • How to make sure you’re not underpaid

There’s a log of good stuff here, so if you want to make sure you don’t miss any of them sign up for the Ninja Newsletter and I’ll send you a weekly recap of all the tips:

To kick things off, we’re going to start with a basic tip that everyone should do on a continuous basis to make sure you’re aware of how your job is evolving in the marketplace.

Find Yourself

Girl touching reflection in water

You have a job…congratulations! Now you need to make sure you stay up to date on the kinds of skills other people in your field and in your role are developing. If you let yourself become stale, it’s the beginning of the end for you.

And I don’t just mean it for the job you have, but your career in general.

You know that guy who walks into the office and is all excited to announce that he finally saw Lost and wow, you guys should really check out that show because it’s really quite good?

Don’t be that guy.

The tip: Make sure you know what’s happening in your field and in your particular job. It’s not hard, you just have to schedule it.

Timing: This shouldn’t take more than an hour of your time…unless you discover that you’re woefully behind.

Follow the Coders’ Lead

Developers (some call them programmers) do this all the time because technology moves so quickly. I don’t envy them—it seems like a new language comes out every few months that’s all the rage and employers (who don’t know squat about most of this stuff) will always ask about it.

So do you know Ruby on Rails? We love Ruby on Rails! You should know Ruby on Rails…

It’s annoying, but you know what? Every good developer I’ve ever worked with stays on top of these new languages that are always sprouting up…and it’s not easy.

What You Can Do

This tip is called “Find Yourself,” and that’s exactly what you should do: just pretend you’re looking for a job in your role and see what comes up. Browse through Craigslist or an industry-specific job board to see what kinds of qualifications and skills are required.

Take note of:

  • The “must have” skills that candidates absolutely need to have…do you have them?
  • Are you really good at the “must have” skills?
  • What about the “would be nice” skills?
  • What type of software is mentioned?
  • Do you know what all the acronyms stand for?

If you notice that certain skills or software packages are popping up a lot and you don’t know much about them: learn them! There is so much training and documentation online that it is not hard to keep up with this stuff.

And if it’s something super complex that will take a long time to learn, then at least know about it in case someone asks you: better to know about something than to be completely clueless.

Reviewing around 10 job openings that match your role should give you a good idea of the kinds of things employers are looking for in someone like you. Being proactive and keeping up with the hiring trends is something your employer should appreciate.

But even if they don’t, you’ll be better off because if you ever decide to move on (or are forced to), you’ll know exactly what’s out there and you should be in a better place to find a new gig.

Added Bonus

Doing this kind of audit once a quarter or every couple of months should also give you a good sense of what the market is for your position.

If you see a lot of openings, congratulations! You’re in high demand.

Can’t find any postings for your role? Maybe there’s a reason for it.

Again…you should know these things. No one should know your job better than yourself.

Image by Fenanov


May 14 2012

The $100 Startup Review


Carlos Portocarrero

Scroll down to the bottom for a chance at winning a free copy of The $100 Startup!

The $100 Startup

I’m a big fan of Chris Guillebeau’s work.

Chris is the guy behind The Art of Non-Conformity, a fantastic site that publishes great content about travel, life, and doing things that are both remarkable and unconventional. If you haven’t visited his site before, I really recommend you take a look: he has a lot to offer.

He’s also the guy behind The Empire Building Kit, a program I bought a couple years ago that taught people like myself how to build their own empire.

But enough about Chris! Today I want to spend some time talking about his latest project: The $100 Startup.

A Startup of One

When we think of startups, we usually picture some high-tech company with a new app or website that’s all the rage. We associate words like IPO and VC and angel investors.

This is something totally different. This book is about starting a business with almost no overhead at all and doing something you’re passionate about.

I know that sounds like something you’ve read about a million times, but Chris tells his story differently. He focuses on real people who’ve done it, how they’ve overcome obstacles, and what they learned from it.

The early parts of the book are very inspirational and motivating, which is good because it gets you in the right frame of mind.

Value and Freedom

For the skeptics, the two concepts that Chris sees as the basic building blocks of any “one-person” startup are value and freedom.

In order to provide something valuable that people are willing to pay for, you need to create something valuable. There aren’t any ninja marketing techniques here to get people to buy your thing if that thing isn’t helping them in some way.

It’s tough to fully comprehend the idea of creating a business built on helping other people, but that’s what Chris is suggesting.

And I’m totally down with this. That’s why I started over and that’s why I enjoyed the book so much.

Freedom is why so many of the case studies in the book got started. They wanted to spend their time working on what they wanted to work on.

This is the most alluring part of the book: the idea of being able to create a business where you’re the boss and dictate your own hours.

Actionable

While the book offers a good measure of encouragement and inspiration, this is not a feel-good book. It also contains actionable advice and worksheets to make sure you get off your ass and start creating.

The amount of case studies he has in the book are so varied that you shouldn’t have trouble finding examples of how you can create your own business and how to grow it.

And if you need more help, Chris has tons more resources on 100startup.com.

Don’t Forget: It’s a Business

There’s a chapter at the end of the book called Show Me the Money. I’m glad it’s in there because I can see how some people might read the book and start feeling all positive-energy-ish and happy and mushy and the possibility of starting their own business.

Of being empowered and being their own boss. Of helping other people around them and doing good things.

But if you’re going to call yourself a business you need to remember: it’s about making more money than you spend.

It’s about the money.

Helping people and making money isn’t mutually self exclusive.

Win a Copy!

Leave a comment with an idea for your own microbusiness and you could win a new copy of The $100 Startup.