Those that know me, know that I’m not a coffee drinker. I am, however, a fan of the ‘coffee catchup’ and good networking. It’s why I host the annual ‘coffee lucky dip’, pairing up people for random coffees across Australia.
And for those seeking ideas on what to do next with their careers, networking is my key advice.
So, when Susan messaged me late last year to say “I’m on the hunt for something new (job wise)”, it's no surprise that I recommended networking.
Now, I recommend this advice to a lot of people. But Susan took it on with gusto. Each week she met with a different person. I’d get messages every now and again about progress: “Bit of an update. Had a good chat to MF this morning. These coffees are a brilliant strategy!
I asked Susan to be my guest blogger this month to tell you the story. Read on …
There are, of course, many benefits to coffee. A morning kick start or warming your hands on a cold commute to work. Just the smell could is a benefit. (I have heard it said that no coffee tastes as good as it smells!). This year, I discovered an entirely new benefit of coffee thanks to Helga Svendsen.
Instead of a New Year’s Resolution, I started this year with a 'word': connect. My aim was to spend the year increasing my networks and making a conscious effort to stay in touch with people. It was a word that I would use to remind myself to reach out and re-engage. Admittedly I was also considering leaving my job as a consultant with a Big 4 firm - where I had safely been for the past 14 years. So 'connect' also felt like a word that represented getting in touch with what I wanted to do next.
As the poster child for networking, I reached out to Helga. I knew Helga would give me some advice on transitioning to a new role, helping me think broadly and on how to network. And here is where the coffee comes in.
Yes, over a coffee, Helga suggested a brilliantly simple approach - a coffee each week with a new connection. Through my various roles and consulting jobs, I had a contact list that was pretty long so I was nervous. It was daunting to call up someone to meet without a real 'purpose' - no agenda, no 'outcome', no obvious benefit for the person I was talking to.
Nevertheless, I took the first step. I arranged a coffee with a woman that I’d worked with professionally but didn’t know well personally. I was open about the fact that I was working on a 'connect' strategy and that she was my first victim. The response was incredibly positive. The coffee was great, the conversation was insightful but it led to nothing in particular. What it did show me was that (a) people don't knock back a free coffee and (b) you don’t always need to have a “purpose” for a professional catch up. Feeling super charged (from the caffeine?) and positive, I reached out to a client who I had only met once, but saw again at a conference. This person worked in an area that interested me, so I sent him a LinkedIn request. It was promptly accepted. I then suggested a coffee catch up and again - got an immediate response of “Sure, I'd love that”. And so it went on.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, while I was focusing on 'connect', the job opportunities opened up. After such a long time with the one “institution”, I had limited my view of my next step to moving to another big four. Coffee connections grew my confidence and the range of job opportunities! A recommendation led to a new connection, that led to a conversation, that led to an interview. Then another. Not every opportunity was right for me. But talking with a bigger group of people - all incredibly willing to engage - helped me to understand what I wanted. I broadened my mind, and considered career paths I had never even contemplated.
Six months later, I can report that I have left the comfort of my Big 4 firm. I am about to start a new role with an NFP in the Human Services sector - a sector I’m so excited to be moving into. My career options have opened up and I’m so much more aware of what I’m capable of and what I have to offer. I’ve got an amazing new network of colleagues and most importantly - coffee buddies. It's not the caffeine that I’m addicted to, it’s the benefits of connecting over our very-Melbournian habit of a warm, fragrant coffee.
Guest Blogger, Susan Staples Senior Project Manager, Disability Royal Commission at Scope (Aust). Get in contact with Susan here.