By Dana Whatley Smith, Manager, Learning & Development, Duquesne University
Does the idea of walking in a room and talking to a group of people about yourself make you cringe? Does sitting across the table from a stranger having coffee make you feel uneasy? Does calling someone you just met make you feel uncomfortable? Don’t worry – you are not alone in how you feel.
Networking, while it is important, is pretty darn scary. In fact, it ranks as the number one most common fear that people have, with fear of spiders coming in at number six. And yes, spiders do make me cringe.
Once you become an adult however, the idea of “stranger danger’ becomes a fallacy. Networking is the new ‘playground’ and it is how we adults build relationships and make connections. Networking really is a fun, enriching, career-enhancing and thought-provoking experience. For those of you that prefer to keep to yourselves: start your engines, as I share with you seven tips to help you get started with networking.
1.Introductions are awesome. When I first started networking, I had a mentor who would introduce me to people. This is called an ‘informational interview.’ Trust me when I say, this is half the battle. Having someone make an introduction for you, is essentially like starting the engine. You don’t have to wonder what to say to make a good impression, because the work has already been done for you. You just need to get the courage to talk about yourself, listen and ask good questions.
2.Go to a networking event. Take a buddy, but then diverge. This is the next step, after you’ve gotten some practice talking to people you’ve been introduced to. Networking events can be fun, and there is nothing wrong with taking a buddy, as long as you diverge from the buddy and meet new people. It’s easy to want to stay in your comfort zone and talk only to the people we know, but try it out…step out of your corner and step into a small group of people. It will get easier the more events you attend.
3.Give a compliment. Start with interesting small talk. Sometimes the best way to start a conversation is with a compliment, as long as it is an honest one. Small talk works too, as long as it is relevant and something that most people will know about. It might feel cliché, but you really can talk about the weather, or about the networking event itself.
4.Plan to talk about yourself. Isn’t this the hardest thing to do? Take the time to really think about what you want to share about yourself. Write it out and practice it, in front of a trusted friend. This is known as an ‘elevator speech.’ You have about thirty seconds to make that first impression, so make sure it’s thirty seconds of time well spent.
5.Meet, move on and meet again. Once you find someone you enjoy talking with, you may want to talk to them all night. But that’s not fair to the other networkers. This is where you gracefully thank them for their conversation, exchange contact information and agree to continue the conversation. And then, move on to the next interesting person to meet.
6.Reach out to your contacts. Perhaps the most important part of the networking experience is actually building the relationship. Networking isn’t over when you leave the event. Not everyone you meet will be a lasting contact, but some will. So either call them, or email them, to say hello from time to time. Meet up for coffee or lunch and continue to expand your network.
7.Pay it forward. Share the joy of networking. Networking takes time and lots of practice. As you start to see the benefits of networking, share your experience with others, who were once like you. Offer to connect them to other contacts. Keep it going, and keep networking.
Let me tell you a secret. I was just like so many of you before I first started networking. I could not figure out why I would torture myself in a roomful of strangers, just to get a few contacts that I would probably never reach out to again. I didn’t understand its benefits, nor was I willing to invest the time to find out. It was only after a mentor shared with me just how beneficial it could be that I decided to make an effort. I am grateful to my mentor for taking the time to coach me, to take baby steps with me and to encourage me to share my experiences with others. Now it’s your turn to give it a try!
By Courtney Moran, Control Specialist, BNY Mellon; PA Women Work volunteer
Studies have shown that when you look your best, you feel your best. When you feel put together, you exude confidence and make a great first impression. Contrary to what you may think, looking and feeling great does not have to be complicated or break the bank. Here are five simple ways to build a professional wardrobe that works for you and stays within your budget.
1.Wear neutrals. Wearing neutrals is a great way to make the most of your work wardrobe. If you stick to shades such as black, white, beige, tan, and grey, you can maximize your number of wardrobe combinations – the possibilities are endless! And you can always add your own personal flair with an accessory or two.
2.Invest in good basics. A white button-down shirt, a pair of black trousers, a classic blazer, black loafers or flats, a chic pair of heels and a smart black dress are essentials to building your professional wardrobe. These will be your tried and true staples for any type of work event that may come your way. Since these are items you will be getting the most wear out of, you want to ensure you select options that will last and are good quality, even if it requires spending a bit more money. However, TJ Maxx and Marshalls often offer great options at affordable prices, so I recommend checking there first.
3.Shop end of season sales. An important point to consider when shopping for work clothing is that you may find good deals on items that can build your closet when those items are not in season. One of the best times to go shopping is during “End of Season” sales. You can take this opportunity to stock up on items to wear in the future, once they are back in season.
4.Behold the power of the coupon. Coupons and discount codes are really great tools to help you get the most bang for your buck. If you know you’ll be purchasing clothing from a certain store or website, subscribe to their email list. This way, you’ll be privy to the latest information about upcoming sales and offers, and you’ll often be sent coupons or discount codes to use toward your first purchase just for subscribing.
5.Get “thrifty.” You can find incredible buys at your local thrift shop if you have the time and patience to look. If that’s not your thing, you still have options. I suggest the popular apps/websites Poshmark or Thredup. Users sell their new or gently used items for steep discounts. I have shopped items on Poshmark countless times – you can find real treasures. This is also a very eco-friendly option, as shopping second-hand helps to lessen your carbon footprint. If you’re interested in signing up for Poshmark, use my referral code CHEEKYWOLF for $5 off your first purchase.
Building your wardrobe doesn’t have to be a daunting task – it should be fun! If you follow these simple suggestions, your closet will be filled with professional, affordable options in no time.
By Erica Maloney, Data Evaluation Manager, PA Women Work
Hunger in the U.S. may look different than it does in the developing world, but struggling to put food on the table is a serious challenge for nearly 40 million Americans each year. Here in the United States, hunger might look like a mom skipping meals so she can feed her children, a senior who rations medicine in order to have money to buy food, or a child whose parents get behind on school lunch payments. In fact, hunger can even look like obesity because fresh fruits, proteins, and vegetables are expensive and hard to access, while cheap, unhealthy, processed foods abound.
SNAP is a lifeline program that ensures a basic level of nutrition to Americans who struggle to feed themselves and their children. Contrary to popular belief, the overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work, do work, and the benefits are modest, at $4 per person, per day. At Pennsylvania Women Work, the overwhelming majority of our clients are eligible for SNAP, which helps them sustain their families while they work hard to develop skills that will empower them to secure new or better employment. However, more than 200,000 Pennsylvanians, including some of our own clients, are at risk of losing their benefits due to a new SNAP rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
At PA Women Work, we serve hundreds of people each year who are struggling to find work and put food on the table. This new rule would prevent states from modifying income guidelines to allow people to more gradually exit the program as they increase their income from employment We often work with clients who have to decide between taking a pay raise or losing benefits such as childcare or healthcare. We have observed that hardworking women often lose benefits faster than they increase income, driving them and their children off of a sort of benefits cliff where work no longer increases a family’s spending power. This broken system creates a disincentive to work.
Additionally, this rule would prevent poor families, seniors, and people with disabilities from saving money or keeping their savings (which is almost always a good idea), because the rule would mandate an asset test disqualifying them for benefits. This rule would especially impact seniors and people with disabilities, requiring them to eliminate their savings to access nutrition assistance, leaving them with no safety net. It can also prevent families who are trying to get on their feet from saving money which could help them to break the cycle of poverty.
These mandates proposed by the USDA will expand the poverty trap for millions of Americans, yet they only save taxpayers 2.5 billion dollars, about6/100ths of one percent (you read that right) of total budget spending. This proposed cut will make it even harder for our clients to support their families while they try to find work, and we hope the administration will reconsider enacting this rule. If you would like to have your voice heard on this issue, you can make a public comment here.
By Jill Patterson, Key Account Executive, ZipRecruiter, and former Board President, PA Women Work
Jill Patterson was Pennsylvania Women Work’s Board President for more than six years and has been involved with our organization for even longer. During her tenure as our president, Jill helped us transform thousands of lives, introduce a variety of new programs and initiatives, reshape our organization’s mission and vision, and so much more. She has given countless hours of her time and dedication to helping women find family-sustaining employment.
As Jill’s time as our Board President came to a close at the end of June, we asked her to reflect on her time with our organization.
Q: Why did you first get involved with PA Women Work? I was introduced to Pennsylvania Women Work through a colleague, and it was – as some say – love at first site. The mission, vision and values of PA Women Work fit exactly what I was looking for – a way to give back to the community in a meaningful and dedicated way while still holding a full-time job.
Q: What are you most proud of during your tenure as board president? We’ve accomplished so many different milestones as an organization over the last six years – it’s hard to pick just one. We’ve expanded services; we’ve changed offices; we’ve diversified funding. But, during my tenure, there are two events that truly come to mind as monumental:
1. After an executive director change, we launched a search for the next PA Women Work leader. During this time, we had more than 40 quality applicants. As the leader of the search committee, I conducted phone interviews with every qualified candidate and assisted in the process until the final two applicants presented their plans to the board. Ultimately, Julie Marx-Lally, our current CEO, was selected. While I didn’t have a final vote in who was hired, we have reaped the benefits of having an amazing leader from so many quality candidates.
2. Secondly – as many nonprofit organizations – money is always an issue. When I started my tenure, funding was isolated to a single grant from the government. This year, our line item was in the Governor’s budget – not added after the fact. Not only that, we actually received increased funding for the first time in more than two decades. I am extremely proud to have played a small role in this huge accomplishment.
Q: What’s your favorite memory? There are so many memories that come to mind, but one that stands out happened in the last few years. We were meeting with a funding organization who asked us to have a client and board member present.
At the beginning of the meeting, our client entered the room and seemed annoyed to be there. Her body language was not welcoming, and she was rather silent for most of the meeting. Then, out of the blue, she asked if she could talk, and her somewhat distracted demeanor turned into a beautifully told story about failure-to-success.
She explained how PA Women Work changed her life, and the impact was felt by everyone in the room (some tears were even shed).
It’s hearing stories like those that always provide a gentle – but GREAT – reminder that the work we do changes lives – and changes generations to come.
Q: As a professional who has worked for several large online job-search companies, what are some of the biggest mistakes you see people make? There are three main mistakes that job-seekers make over and over again.
Mistake #1: Thinking a one-size resume fits all. With today’s technology – it’s important to take the time to understand a job and customize your resume for the position in which you are applying. If you don’t, you could be eliminated before you even begin.
Mistake #2: Applying for jobs in which you don’t meet the minimum requirements. By law, companies that post minimum requirements cannot review candidates that don’t meet the minimum requirements. Don’t waste your time, or a recruiter’s time – only apply for jobs that are relevant to you and that you meet the minimum requirements.
Mistake #3: Ghosting employers during the application process. If you are offered an interview over the phone or an in-person meeting, attend the interview. If, for some reason, the job is not a fit, you can always call and let the interviewer know – be honest and communicate well – doing nothing should not ever be an option.
Q: What is your top tip for job-seekers? Network and show appreciation along the way. Why wait until a desperate situation to ask for referrals and recommendations? You should continue to look for growth and development options and find examples of your work before you are in the job market. And, if you appreciate someone’s work, recognize them for that even when they don’t need it.
Jill will remain a volunteer with PA Women Work and will serve as our Board Ex Officio for the next year. Leslye Herrmann, our current Board President, looks forward to working with Jill and the PA Women Work team to continue to make an impact on thousands of women across Pennsylvania.
By Erin Weber, Financial Advisor with The Weber Group at Hefren-Tillotson, Inc., and PA Women Work volunteer and supporter
“If you want to be rich, be financially literate.” -Robert Kiyosaki.
A lack of financial literacy among women can affect their ability to accumulate and manage assets, and secure a promising financial future. The basic problem is, we don’t know what we don’t know, until we don’t know it. Learning the basics of saving, budgeting, and investing, will set you up for financial freedom and prevent disasters from occurring.
Below are five simple steps that you can take to help lead you to financial success. As Warren Buffet states, “The most important investment you can make is in yourself.” The time is now. Put your needs first, and everything else can follow suit.
1. Put yourself first - A man is not a plan! Take the time to learn and educate yourself to become financially literate. Having basic financial knowledge will allow you to guide and plan for your OWN success.
2. Set SMART goals - Don’t be a dummy, be SMART by setting goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely. This will allow you to set the foundation for future success, both personally and financially.
3.Budget - Don’t live the rosé life, on a Miller Lite budget! Budgeting is a physical practice, not mental. Identify what you value most by creating a budget sheet. This will show you how much money is coming in, and how it is going out. Your budget sheet will give you the opportunity to evaluate your true needs and wants to ensure that your values are in line with your beliefs and your budget.
4.Pay off debt - Paying off debt can be very liberating. Pay off your most expensive debt first, the debt with the highest interest rate. Once you are debt free, you can shift and start saving even more for your future.
5.Save…save…save! - Pay yourself first! If you want that Louis Vuitton tomorrow, you need to save today. Start saving from day one: your first paycheck. This will allow you to learn to live without that income. You never saw it, therefore it is like it never existed.
The sooner you start planning and saving, the better off you will be. However, it is never too late to take hold of your finances. In fact, it is better late than NEVER. Putting off until tomorrow, for what you should be doing today, is a recipe for disaster in all aspects of life. Stop the storm, and create the sunshine for your bright financial future today.
Centre City Tower, 650 Smithfield Street, Suite 520 | Pittsburgh, PA 15222 | tel: 412-742-4362 | fax: 412-904-4739
The official registration and financial information of Pennsylvania Women Work may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll free, within Pennsylvania, 1 (800) 732-0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.