In 1992 I moved, as a young mother and dependent spouse, to Guatemala City the capital of Guatemala in Central America. I tell you these details because I was asked a lot of questions before we relocated. Where is it? What language do they speak there? Why do you want to leave the US? I still remember the sound of the 3 year olds voices, and the reverberations of their feet as they jumped around the 40 foot container that pulled up in front of our apartment building about six weeks before departure. My son’s pre-school class took a field trip to see what our moving container looked like as a way to say good-bye and understand what moving meant. I’d taken seven years of French and studied for a semester in Brussels, so wasn’t quite prepared for a Spanish speaking country. Some days I’d pinch myself to see if this was really going to happen. Other days I wondered why we were doing this. Bottom line, I wanted to get out of the horrible economic situation of the late 90s, and I wanted my kids to have a cross cultural experience.
The five and half years we spent in Guatemala City were formative. I arrived with a 14 month old and a 2.5 year old. They mastered Spanish in about six months, I took quite a bit longer to adjust to my new home. I didn’t know enough to pack my toolbox with my career skills. I hadn’t given much thought to how my knowledge of talent acquisition might enable me to work in another country. Things started gradually. First, I had a crash language course. Next, our belongings finally arrived and then we moved from temporary housing. As we got settled, the kids entered school. Then I was able to pick my head up and consider my options.
With five years of headhunting under my belt and a four year degree, I wasn’t sure what I could do in a country where we didn’t have a bi-lateral work agreement. It turned out my years of playing soccer and attending a summer camp were my first skills to be used in the new place. I started a summer camp for American kids who were on the opposite school schedule to their peers. Eventually we started girls soccer teams in the middle and high school for the American school. It caught on in several of the major private schools. I coached and helped organize the first Central American girls soccer tournament amongst American Schools. This was contract work and my second taste of entrepreneurism.
It was a random call from a Peace Corps Volunteer while I visited my spouse’s office that changed everything. He wasn’t available to talk, so I took the call. This conversation led to several others. Eventually I was referred to the Deputy Director In-Country and we started to discuss a three day workshop for the volunteers. The goals of the workshop would be to bring closure to their 2.5 years of service and help them think about how to re-enter the workforce in the US. I leveraged my 5 years of experience as an executive recruiter to develop the various pieces of the three day workshop. Did I have any previous experience as a workshop facilitator? No. I had recruited and trained people to work on my teams, and trained to be a camp counselor. Plus, I had knowledge of the US business world, but formally I did not have direct experience.
I just did it.
Five years later, I had run 3 weekend workshops per year, plus started a full semester class at one of the private universities. These workshops became the back bone of my training and coaching in the US. One in particular struck a chord with the Peace Corps Volunteers, it was about building networks. They felt very cut off and back then the internet was just coming onto the scene.
Often I’d hear a volunteer say, I built effective wood burning stoves to stop deforestation of the Guatemalan forest, how does this have value in the US?
Or another volunteer might share that they built latrines to reduce the contamination of the water supply and reduce water borne disease. Why would they care about this in the US?
Los Tres Anillos workshop was born. The Three Rings.
The term referred to the rings of influence that surround each of us. Some are more obvious and easy to tap, others are harder to build. Returning to the US, the volunteers had to revive their existing networks and needed to be taught how to do this. I had to teach them the skills to build a powerful story and to realize they had the responsibility to translate their experiences into terms others would understand.
The volunteers thought they had it tough, but I have seen other populations have even bigger obstacles to overcome. The refugee, immigrant and American born women-entrepreneurs-to-be that I delivered these workshops to for Empowered Women International, worried about the same thing. They weren’t sure how to translate what they had done elsewhere into something that would be valued or understood in the US economy. Plus, they didn’t have networks to revive or fall back on, they had to build from scratch.
BUILDING LOS TRES ANILLOS
Los Tres Anillos starts with you. Each person has family and friends in their inner circle. Each of these different members have different educations, different professions and different spheres of influence. It’s much easier to start these kinds of discussions with people we know and hopefully will want to help. Begin a conversation with family and friends by letting them know you are trying to learn about what kinds of professions, companies, and options exist. By creating this list you can then reach out to them for informational interviews or conversations.
WHY BUILD THE RINGS
The goal is to learn about the person, their role, but also more broadly about their field, and where they think the economy is strongest. Practice and share some of your experiences that you have translated into what you feel are valuable skills in today’s market. See if they agree or if you need to retool the statements. Ask if they can refer you to others who might be interested to speak with about what you have discussed. Sometimes, you have to make suggestions to help trigger ideas about who they might know; former colleagues, classmates, etc. Start recording who you have had conversations with and the outcomes in a tracking tool.
Take this exercise seriously. This doesn’t mean don’t be yourself, but do prepare for the meeting like it is an interview. Follow up with a thank you note, post conversation. Make sure you add any suggested contacts to your tracking sheet. Keep notes and schedule follow up on whatever calendar you use regularly.
Once you’ve exhausted the inner family and friends circle, the next ring is still people you know. Colleagues, classmates, and people you know through professional channels. This ring should be easy enough as well. You have an existing relationship or connection with each person. Don’t be concerned if you haven’t been in touch for awhile, reach out and let people decide if they are willing to help. Remember, it takes several attempts to connect. Don’t be a pest, but you will need to be persistent.
The third ring is the one where you are building a relationship without a previous knowledge of the contact. Before the internet this was much harder. With the availability of information from Google or other engines, you can find almost anything with a keyword search. Through professional networks like LinkedIn, association membership, reading business papers, you can gather information about almost anyone or any company. This requires a different kind of effort from the other circles, but with research you can create potential links to almost anyone. There are no cold calls anymore. I’d call them warm informed connections.
Networking is imperative to find the right opportunity. During these discussions, you will learn about opportunities or roles that you may not even know existed. It’s a wonderful time to gather information about requirements, skills, and education needed for an industry or specific role. You can start learning the jargon of a sector. Gather details about what industries are strong or skills that are in higher demand. A network can lead to many things, internships, jobs, referrals, and more. Even though you may think you don’t have one, don’t give up! You can build one-all it takes is effort.