If you were to grab coffee in downtown San Francisco, there is a good chance you will run into Maria Gianotti. She is always out and about and knows the value of being a genuine networker. She currently serves as the San Francisco chapter president of the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA), the largest Latino non-profit organization in the U.S. and formerly the vice president of Special Events of the San Francisco American Marketing Association (SFAMA), two prominent organizations in the Bay Area.
Gianotti’s life story began in Chile. However, she didn’t live in Chile for long. When she was six years old she immigrated to Norway with her mother due to political problems in Chile. Moving from South America to Europe at a young age was a challenging experience, as she practically had to move from everything that was familiar to her, but it helped Gianotti understand the value of diversity. In Norway,, she was able to experience how it was living in a diverse environment with children from all over the world that also had left their countries in search for a better life in another country. This has made her appreciate and embrace people from different cultures and mindset.
As a world citizen, Gianotti knew early on that she wanted to study abroad to continue her life’s mission of interacting with and learning from people with diverse backgrounds. She started her college career in Spain, but the level of education was not what she had expected so she decided to look for her next adventure. She had some Norwegian friends who told her about the possibility of studying in Hawai’i; and, in 2004 she moved to the U.S. to attend Hawai’i Pacific University.
After she completed her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, with a major in Corporate Communications, she decided to leave paradise for the mainland.
Gianotti explains,“It was a small island, and I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to grow my marketing career how I had envisioned if I stayed.”
Throughout her career she has had to adjust to complex work cultures for both startups and enterprises, and to challenging economies. She was recently laid off (in May) and took that opportunity to reflect on herself so she could plan her next career move.
“I had never taken the time to think about what I really wanted out of my career,”explained Gianotti. “I had always been working, pretty much from age 16, moving from one job to the next in a very fast-pace without looking at the bigger picture. iI didn’t really know where I saw my career going. As a marketer, I find that I have many strengths, but defining exactly which of my strengths would help me achieve the career of my dreams was difficult.”
Since her career took an unexpected turn when she got laid off, she decided that this was the perfect time in her life to spend time doing some self-exploration so she could assess what she wanted out of her career and the steps to get there.
“I spent time building my personal brand, such as creating an online portfolio, improving my social media accounts and building a new resume. By doing these exercises I was able to identify which of my strengths were the ones that I should focus on to be in the best position to find my next opportunity,” Gianotti stated.
Gianotti mentions that it was not a fun experience getting laid off for the first time in her career; however, it gave her time to reevaluate her career path and make significant life changes. She believes it is important to remain positive when life throws you a curveball.
After re-building her own brand, she started tapping into her network—as she found this to be the best way to get a job. She attended a variety of networking events that she found on Facebook groups, meetups and through her involvement with various organizations in the community.
Gianotti shared enthusiastically, “I love networking and going to events. I find that I don’t go to events to look for an opportunity but that I actually go because I love learning from others.
During networking events people tend to share stories about their day-to-day life and passions, and I have learned so many things that I would never have known about nor considered, such as other career paths, companies to explore for new opportunities and industry trends had it not been for meeting these people at networking events. I find myself genuinely interested in knowing more about them because I find people fascinating.”
She said that many people miss the mark when networking.
“I never make it about business. Even if I meet someone that can help me in some way, I save those asks for later, and rather focus on building a relationship with that person by getting to know him/her,” stated Gianotti.
Afterwards she establishes a relationship and connects with that person through email or social media, and ask for a coffee/lunch meeting.
As for networking advice, Gianotti recommends to not be afraid of beginning conversations. Everyone is there for the same reason as you and most of them are equally afraid. If you still feel nervous and do not know who to approach, she says to start by talking to a person that is standing alone. If no one is standing alone, then approach a group that looks friendly to you.
For Gianotti, a friendly group is one that looks like they are having a lively conversation. Also, you want to come across as genuine so make sure to ask questions to learn about the people you meet. Don’t spend too much time talking about yourself.
Earlier, I mentioned that Gianotti is an amazing networker. She makes it a point to connect with people on a personal level. Her confidence has helped her in the workplace, which at times can be very male dominated. Since she works in the technology industry, Gianotti is well aware that men climb the corporate ladder faster.
“Throughout my career, even though I feel like a confident person, I have held back on speaking up because I know I could be perceived as being difficult,” stated Gianotti. “Unfortunately, as women, we tend to have to watch how we come across more than men. As I have gained more work experience, this is top of my mind, and speaking up and standing up for my opinions and beliefs is something I’m really working on improving.”
Her final piece of professional advice is to get a mentor early on in your career. The mentor, she says, will be able to guide you through work/life challenges such a negotiating and career choices, and recommend personal and professional development opportunities.
Now, let’s all give Maria Gianotti a big hug for her new position as director of demand generation at RadiumOne.
Hugs and Smiles,