Connections help kick-start a career

On the Job

Networking is as important to your career as location is to real estate.

But not everyone knows how to network effectively, especially ifyou're shy or you're just starting out in a career.

That's where structured networking groups could come in handy withorganized meetings and events where you could meet people without feelingout of place.

Take your pick among the numerous professional and businessorganizations in Baltimore. Some are defined by geography or industry ormission. Many have breakfast get-togethers or brownbag lunches, whileothers have informal happy-hour events and career management workshops.

I asked two professionals to share their strategies for groupnetworking.

Eric Brotman, a certified financial planner in Timonium, is alongtime member of the Baltimore Junior Association of Commerce. The grouphas about 100 members who are in the financial services, mortgage and realestate industries.

Limit your membership to one or two organizations. Otherwise, "you'respread too thin," Brotman says.

And set realistic expectations about what you're going to get out ofthe organization, especially in the beginning.

"You're not going to do business the first time you show up," hesays. "It takes a while to build any relationship."

Instead of handing out countless business cards to everyone you shakehands with, Brotman suggests developing a relationship with one person at atime. It's hard enough for you as well as others to keep track of oneperson, let alone 20.

"None of the 20 people are going to spend enough time with you toremember you," he says.

For newbies, Lovey St. Pellicer-Stofko of Owings Mills advisescontacting the membership coordinator of the group and introducingyourself. That way, the coordinator could start introducing you to othermembers so as to avoid that awkward I-don't-know-anyone-here feeling.

In 2002, St. Pellicer-Stofko started Koffee Talk, a networking andprofessional organization for sales and marketing professionals aroundBaltimore. She was switching careers from marketing to corporate sales andwanted to develop a customer base. So, she and two friends met for coffeeevery week to exchange leads.

Today, the group holds breakfast meetings, business roundtables andhappy-hour events. (True to its name, Koffee Talk even has its own coffeeblend.)

At organized events, members have a chance to introduce themselves toothers with two-minute promos.

Make it short and sweet, and include an interesting fact aboutyourself.

"So many people come and go, you want to be remembered," St.Pellicer-Stofko says.

If you can't find what you want in a group, start your own like St.Pellicer-Stofko did.

"All you need is a group of people who could bring someone you don'tknow to the table," Brotman says. "You don't need 1,000 members to make ita worthwhile thing."

On another note: Did you know today is National Boss's Day? (OK, stopsnickering.) It's hard being a manager these days, so we should celebrateand appreciate the good ones.

If you're not happy with your boss, well, you can't fire him or her.But you could create the ideal manager -- at least a virtual one.

Development Dimensions International, a talent management firm, hascreated a Web site where workers can create the perfect boss, or the onewho makes you want to scream, in cartoon form. Workers may choosepositive or negative characteristics to create a boss from scratch

What are your networking strategies? And what is on your mind about life at work? Send your stories, tips and questions to Please include your first name and your city.

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