Early on in Build Your Dream Network, I introduce you to Jennifer Johnson Scalzi and share her networked career story, from arriving in New York City without knowing a soul (other than her new boss) to growing a business around the professional relationships she made by, well, rolling up her sleeves.
You see, Jennifer’s approach has been to get involved, particularly with professional organizations in her industry. And as my summer intern Nika heads off to college this week, I’m musing on the array of on-campus clubs, organizations and activities she and her classmates can choose to become involved in. Jennifer’s career story (granted it is about building a line of business) has lessons for those entering college. Her enthusiasm to soak in everything and learn from those around her, along with a “be helpful” attitude wherever she was invited – are two initial lessons that stick out.
I recently reached out to Jennifer with some follow-on questions to the insights she previously shared (her story starts at page 26 of Build Your Dream Network, in case you’re reading along). Once again she comes through with details you can put into action in your own career:
- Pay particular attention to her answer to the second question if you’re seeking to network into a leadership role on a committee or within an organization.
- Wondering if all the time devoted to your volunteer activities will result in a career-advancing job offer? See what Jennifer (a recruiter!) has to say in her answer to question 3.
Q: Your own career has benefited from being involved in industry groups or professional associations. Describe how that started?
Jennifer: I had just moved to NYC to begin a new career path and very quickly diagnosed myself with an acute case of “imposter syndrome” both in terms of being new to the City and also new to the industry I worked in. To remedy the latter, I went to an industry gathering and found a group of people who were warm and welcoming and I used the “I’m new here” angle to my advantage. As it turned out, New Yorkers (and I am sure the same is true is cities across the world) were very eager to help a newbie. I decided to become an active participant in their world by learning about their jobs and the things that were challenges and opportunities to them.
Q: How did you move up from being “just” another member or volunteer into your first leadership role?
Jennifer: When an industry event has an educational event, it’s pretty easy to slide into a chair and learn and then scoot out without engaging. One thing I learned quickly is that nobody wants to work the name tag table at an industry event. So, I volunteered to arrive early and check people in – it offered me three things: 1) a purpose for attending; 2) an opportunity to put faces with names; and 3) visibility to leadership who otherwise would be manning the table themselves. It was a win-win. I helped them and the role helped me. I was consistent in my offer to help (and I showed up!) and members of leadership suggested I vie for a role on the Board. About a year after attending my first industry event I was attending a Board leadership retreat.
Q: Beyond making new connections, what skills or knowledge did you develop from being in these volunteer positions?
Jennifer: I’m a recruiter and I am often presented with this scenario: “I have the requisite years of experience to be a Manager, but I haven’t managed anyone, so I don’t qualify. So, how do I land a Manager role if I’m not given the opportunity to manage?” Working with industry groups is the perfect way to bridge this gap. If you become involved and ultimately become a Committee Chair, then you will have the ability to put on your resume that you’ve managed a team of volunteers to achieve X goal. You can also use your volunteer experience to leverage your project management experience.