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Relationships Matter: How to Influence the Influencers

Q. I’m a recent graduate with an economics degree and a minor in IT. So far my work experience is an internship with a political campaign, and a part time position in customer service which is where I am now. Things aren’t going very well; the relationships I have with co-workers and customers is poor. There are no opportunities for growth. I would like some advice on how I can make a move and find a job so I can gain field and office experience. I'm open to various entry-level opportunities. I'm confident that my skill set is applicable to any sector. I can be flexible with the schedule and start date.

A. Before you can find what you are looking for in a job and career, you have preparation work to do. Much of success at work, and in the job market revolves around having successful interactions with people and being able to influence them. You need to be capable of building positive relationships with customers and co-workers. Since this is not currently the case, you need to identify why, and develop the skills you need to have successful relationships.

The lack of effective interpersonal skills has derailed many people at all levels in their careers, and since you are just starting out, you have the opportunity to strengthen your abilities with people. Read the classic “How to Win Friends, and Influence People”, by Dale Carnegie. If you can take the same Dale Carnegie course I strongly recommend it. You have the opportunity to change the course of your career for the better if you invest in yourself at this early stage.

People with more experience who are not able to build strong relationships with colleagues and customers will get disappointing feedback on reviews, and most often do not advance as quickly as people with strengths in these areas. This holds true even when qualities like, ‘technical skills’ may be the most important skillset for the job. Coaching and management development opportunities can be offered by the organization and should be welcomed by any employee hoping to move ahead. More senior leaders who have received any similar feedback should seek out coaching support as a developmental need.

In a job search, every hiring manager and networking contact is a potential customer and your goal is to influence them to buy or recommend your product – you! Recognize that you are in charge of the process, and that a passive approach of being open to jobs will not work. Practice your new skills with every customer interaction, and win these people over. Do the same with as many networking contacts as you can, so that you build a group of people willing to recommend you for jobs. Develop a target list of the kinds of companies and roles where your skills will be valued. Perhaps political organizations are a passion and you might want to start in a related environment. Own the job search process. Consider it a graduate level course, and plan out a semesters worth of work to get an ”A+” offer.

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