This is my kind of town, Chicago is…and every day, people make the decision it’s their kind of town, too. They pack their bags, leaving jobs and hometowns behind.
Back in the days of a better economy, it wasn’t unheard of to leave a job, move, and figure life out when you got there. Ideally, finding a new job before you give up your current one is the best plan, but sometimes that isn’t always possible. If you’re new to Chicago, how can you connect and network when you don’t know anyone?
Allison Schwimer, of Mansur Realty Corporation, a privately held real estate investment firm, knows what it’s like to relocate and find a job quickly. By planning ahead and being prepared, she landed a job on her fourth day in Chicago. Ms. Schwimer grew up in a small town in Georgia and set her sights on the Midwest. She eased the transition by creating an agenda and timeline.“Having a plan was so much less stressful,” Ms. Schwimer says. She advises setting an overall strategy as well as a budget; learn as much as you can about the city and secure housing or know the neighborhood you want to live in before you move.
Job seekers also need to research the market so they know where the jobs are and who’s hiring. This includes contacting companies before you move; Google staffing and search firms to vet the best from the rest before setting up meetings. “Don’t wing it or think you can do the footwork when you get there,” Ms. Schwiner advises. “Taking care of the basics allows you the freedom to focus on your job search and making connections.” Her most important piece of advice is old fashioned networking: make a list of family and friends, ask for introductions and referrals, and follow up with face-to-face meetings.
Every introduction is an opportunity to gain knowledge and build relationships. Ms. Schwiner is happy in Chicago, but she also dreams of New York and writing for Saturday Night Live. And she’s already begun to think about the steps to get her there.
The key to connecting quickly is getting to know people – really getting to know people – and being a good listener. Don’t expect to gain something from one handshake or collecting a bunch of business cards and not remembering anything about the person.
Kim Davis is a computer programmer by day and a networking expert by night…and weekends, too. When Ms. Davis first moved to Chicago, she found it hard to break into career-boosting social circles and felt frustrated by the process. But instead of feeling sorry for herself, she took matters into her own hands and started a networking group, called P.O.S.H. Events Chicago (Planning & Organizing Sensational Happenings).
What started as a one-night event to help local business owners in her Lakeview neighborhood cross-promote their boutiques turned out to be a true calling. “POSH is now a group of approximately 60 members who get together bi-monthly to exchange ideas, have fun and help people connect,” Ms. Davis boasts. “By organizing events and activities, it’s easier to get to know people when the topic of conversation isn’t geared just towards business.”
Ms. Davis also sits on two boards, with the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Steppenwolf Theatre. “Participating on a board is an untapped resource for someone new to a city,” says Ms. Davis. “It’s an immediate connection, because everyone has something in common.”
Relocating and beginning a new chapter in your life can be stressful. Staying connected, even after you land your dream job, will continue to be an important element to a successful career. Whether it’s personal or professional, Main Street or State Street, life is about building, developing, and sustaining relationships. So when it’s time to make a change, don’t reinvent the wheel, lose the blues and have the time of your life.
Kim Davis’ tips for networking in a new town:
1. Attend networking events that are of interest to you. It’s easier to start a conversation.
2. Focus on meeting people, not collecting business cards.
3. Make it a point to meet and really get to know one person per event.
4. Follow up within a day; don’t waste valuable connections.
5. Know what your goals are and how to articulate those goals quickly.
6. Join a group or club that offers an opportunity to highlight your expertise.
7. Don’t be afraid to walk up to a group of people. Share that you’re new to the city; it’s a great ice-breaker.
8. Use online resources like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, but don’t rely solely on these avenues alone for networking.