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Students Learn Secrets of Getting Ahead, Networking

By Leon Rubis  6/27/2010
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Student conference  speaker Catherine Fyock, CSP, SPHR.

SAN DIEGO—Alan Collins learned the hard way what it takes to get ahead in business. After being “passed over three times in two years for HR promotions that should have been his,” Collins had an enlightening talk with his boss.

Collins, now president of, claimed he had achieved results, competencies and knew the business. “I thought I had that stuff nailed. My performance reviews were strong. [My boss] didn’t disagree but was disappointed that I had neglected” other important elements.

“When I left the meeting, I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. I didn’t know what to do with that information, but I embraced the feedback.”

Collins, who flourished in a 25-year HR career culminating in executive positions with Quaker Oats and PepsiCo, then told 150 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) student members at the 2010 SHRM Student Conference here on July 26 about what he called the ‘three Bs” of getting ahead: “branding yourself,” “building relationships” and “bringing out your greatness.”

Branding yourself. Collins’ boss explained that he had not differentiated himself from other HR colleagues; he did not make himself stand out.

Using a recent client as an example, Collins told of an HR manager who described herself as having a master’s degree, five years in talent management and expertise in social media. That ho-hum resume became more enticing to employers when she learned to say: “I can help you fill jobs 25 percent faster with better candidates because I can find people who are not looking for a job.”

Such a description “translates credentials into something meaningful for an employer,” Collins said.

Building relationships. Collins recommended having three types of people in your network. “Godfathers” (who can be women), “operate behind closed doors, have influence and clout, and can make things happen on your behalf.” Headhunters should have their calls returned, even if you’re not currently looking for a job. And advisers are experienced people to consult for issues and problems you will face.

Bring out your greatness. “Flying under the radar is only a good strategy for geese,” Collins said. He recommended promoting yourself by having a detailed profile on LinkedIn, which has 70 million users, joining LinkedIn groups, and writing articles for in your areas of expertise. These activities will cause your name to show up in Google searches, he said.

Collins endorsed the networking tips offered earlier Saturday by lunchtime speaker Catherine Fyock, CSP, SPHR, who got the students moving and meeting in a highly interactive session.

Fyock, director of recruiting/client service for Resources Global Professionals, an international professional services company based in Irvine, Calif., acknowledged that many people don’t like networking, which she prefers to call “connecting.” But, she said, most people like meeting people, learning gossip and potential job opportunities—among the benefits of networking.

Fyock led students through a variety of hands-on activities that got them out of their seats and interacting with each other. In a ”scavenger hunt,” they sought and gathered contact info from attendees who lived in certain states, were a chapter president, had an HR job, or had other qualities or information. In other activities, they told someone an interesting fact about themselves and practiced giving a “30-second commercial” about themselves.

“I can tell you’re getting better at this,” Fyock said during a later exercise when attendees dithered at sitting down again. “It gets easier. You can practice and get better at it.”

Between the practice sessions, the long-time SHRM volunteer leader and frequent speaker at SHRM national and chapter levels provided a wealth of tips to ease the work of networking, including:

  • Get involved in SHRM chapters and other volunteer efforts.
  • “When you go to a meeting, have an agenda”—something you’re learning about or working on that you can ask others about. Asking what other people are doing about something is a “good way to start a conversation with a stranger.”
  • Have some questions ready: Where are you from? Where do you work? Are you active in your chapter?
  • “Be willing to share an interesting fact about yourself” that will help them remember you. Fyock said many people remember her after learning that she is a singer with a musical background.
  • “It’s not enough just to meet someone. You need to keep in touch, maybe with LinkedIn or an occasional e-mail or text message.”
  • If you ask for help, “always ask, ‘How can I help you?’ Be willing to help back.”

Leon Rubis is editorial director of SHRM.

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