Developing savvy networking skills is one of the keys to career success — especially in a down economy.
To learn from a master, you should meet Lars Leafblad. He has been dubbed the “most networked man in the Twin Cities” by Minnesota Business magazine.
Leafblad, a principal with the Mill District-based executive recruiting firm KeyStone Search, is also the brains behind Pollen — a valuable resource for people looking for career tips and opportunities to serve on boards and get involved in community causes.
It started as an email Leafblad sent out to friends and family in 2008 during the height of the recession and has now morphed into a new website — BePollen.com.
Jamie Millard, co-founder and executive director of Paper Darts, created the website. She met Leafblad at a Young Nonprofit Professionals Network event in April of 2011 and they started talking about creating a partnership between Pollen and Paper Darts, a local literary magazine. Eventually, the idea for BePollen.com emerged.
“The vision for Pollen has always been to provide a platform for our members to share opportunities within one another in a timely vision,” Leafblad said, adding the community has become a “talent co-op.”
Millard has been a member of the Pollen community for a couple of years and hopes the website will help spread the word about the innovative and creative work done by members.
Leafblad’s career-tips email was initially called Larsifesto. It quickly attracted a following of 600 to 700 people. Now the Pollen LinkedIn community has 4,300 members and more than 1,500 connected to the Facebook page. Roughly half of the members work in the nonprofit or government sector, the other half in the private sector.
The major demographic Pollen has attracted is women between the ages of 25 and 34.
A recent visit to BePollen.com had a feature story on the rapid rise of freelancing, a story on a Twitter-based fundraising contest called “Twive and Receive,” and an interview with Kate-Madonna Hindes, editor-in-chief of Minnesota Business magazine — a piece that included a clever illustration following Hindes’ unique career path. Meghan Murphy and Matt Beachey of Paper Darts have also been involved in launching BePollen.com.
The site also has a “Pollen Picks” section highlighting local job opportunities, “Props” about member awards and career updates and a rundown of community events. The content is crowdsourced — generated from information members pass along.
“There is a lot of cross-sector collaboration that’s happening in the Pollen community that’s not really happening in other parts of the Twin Cities,” Millard said. “You have an overlap of the nonprofit sector, of the arts and business sectors. You have all these circles converging.”
Millard hopes that Pollen members will get inspired to work with one another to tackle community projects.
One of the major goals of Pollen is to go beyond digital networking, which can be impersonal.
“We have a networking abundance and a connectivity shortage,” Leafblad said.
“Connectivity is different. It comes down to a shared experience that allows there to be a nugget to start a conversation or a relationship.”
He would also like to see Pollen-like communities pop up in other cities.
“I would love Pollen to be another facet of ‘look what Minnesota helped launch’ — a new model to connect with one another, to share jobs, ideas and opportunities,” he said.