Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The power of networking

I may be writing this too soon.  I may be unemployed for much, much longer.  However, I am going to tell you a little about what I'm doing to find a job.

First, I am obviously applying for jobs.  That should go without saying.  I'm applying for everything I possibly can, because frankly, being unemployed stinks.  Anyone who thinks that I should be taking stock and doing some sort of philosophical retreat where I find myself needs to pull their head out of the hole it's stuck in.  I'm not retired.  While I've got a cushion, it isn't infinite. I'd rather have a steady income coming in, and a job.

What I'm also doing is networking.  When I was a newly minted college graduate (over 20 years ago), I wasn't sure what networking was.  And people made it sound so complicated.  One friend was talking about contacts and tiers and whatnot.

I've been in my field for about 14 years now; I've been networking the whole time.  I didn't realize it at first, but after my first layoff I saw it.  All it is is getting in touch with your contacts--friends, former coworkers, colleagues, etc. You do it if you're working. You do it if you're unemployed. And you do it for various reasons.

Through friends, coworkers, colleagues, and former workmates, I have been able to learn about places where I'm interested in working.  They've given me a candid and honest assessment of the department where I'd be working, the organization overall, and the people. They've let me know who would be good to talk to and connected me with them (you know, like a network. Weird, I know). They have let me know about job opportunities or upcoming job opportunities.  They have let me know who the best person to talk to about an open position would be.  They have forwarded my resume and gotten me in touch with people, who got me in touch with other people.

Here is what networking isn't:

It isn't your buddy getting you a job. That isn't how it works.  My friends and colleagues can put in a good word for me, but they don't say "Hey, can you do me a favor and give Pamela a job?" Maybe in some situations that happens, but don't bank on that.

It isn't going to conferences and events and handing out your business card frenetically.  I mean, yes, conferences and events can be quite helpful. And they can also be a great way to meet people and make connections. But you want to know who it is you're contacting. If it's just a name in your contacts list and you know nothing about them, then you're not doing this right.

It isn't being best buddies with everyone you contact. It's isn't about being anyone's buddy, though I'm certainly friends with a lot of people I've worked with.  The thing is, if someone I used to work with several jobs ago contacted me because they wanted to know more about a place where I was working or job opportunities, I'd do what I could for them.  It doesn't matter if we hadn't been in close touch, or in touch at all, in several years.

It isn't going to an event and complaining about your job search.

Talk to people you've worked with (either at jobs, volunteer activities, professional activities, etc.).  Talk to people you've met along the way (from conferences, seminars, school, etc.). Don't get pouty if they haven't talked to you on the regular since you worked with them, since people get busy and it's nothing personal. If you mix this up with being BFF's with someone, it will complicate things.  The fact is, the people who are currently rallying around me all have lives and spouses and kids and busy jobs and aging parents and homes and volunteer commitments. We weren't in very close touch. But when I reached out, they weren't all "OH MY GOD PAMELA YOU HAVEN'T CALLED ME IN SO LONG I WILL NEVER HELP YOU BECAUSE YOU AREN'T A FRIEND." They said "Oh, I had no idea! I'll definitely keep an eye out for you, and yes, call me if you want to ask me about any place or person I may know something about."  These include people I do consider friends, and people whom I like but who are more colleagues.

Just letting people know you're in the market for a new job (or for a job) can be helpful. Here is what my friends and colleagues have done:

  • They've passed along job opportunities.
  • They've forwarded my resume to a hiring manager.
  • They've let me know who I should send my resume and cover letter directly along to.  In a couple of cases, they talked to those people and those people contacted the hiring manager, and I got interviews.
  • They've passed my resume along to people they knew, and asked them if they'd talk to me about job opportunities outside of my field.
  • They've introduced me to people who work in my field and who have a lot of connections.  Those people have, in turn, put me in touch with other connections, have put in a good word for me at different places where I have applied, and have given me some good advice on various organizations I am applying to.  One went over my resume and gave me some great advice on how to structure it for different jobs.
  • Anyone who was a supervisor in the past has said they'd provide me with a good recomendation.
  • They've given me an idea about the lay of the land at a place where I'd be interviewing--what the office culture was like, what the people I'd be interviewing with were like, etc.
  • They have sometimes tempered my expectations, put things in perspective, or encouraged me.
  • They have caught things that I have done that would be appealing to hiring managers.  Sometimes you don't know that you've done something notable because, well, you've done it and it seems mundane to you. But a couple of people have pointed out I did a few things that would be quite appealing.
  • They've clarified things for me.  I thought I wasn't going to be a good candidate for one place, but a friend who worked there said they'd be interested in talking to me. 

Don't be afraid to network.  And don't stop doing it, even if you're employed.  Sometimes, talking to someone else you know in your field about an issue can bring some new ideas to you.  They can really help.

And don't forget to reciprocate. And by reciprocate, I mean, if anyone you know needs your help, help them to the best of your ability. Don't scorekeep. (Remember, just because someone in your field or worklife universe isn't your BFF doesn't mean you don't help them out.) If you don't think they'd be the right fit for a job, tell them--it's going to save them time and trouble (it was very helpful to me in the past). If you can give them information they need or help them if they look for a job or help them with some ideas with an issue they're having, you'll be doing them a great favor.

I have to say, I am humbled and gratified by the support I've gotten. I had this the last time I was laid off, and I can tell you that is why I will not refuse anyone help.


  1. Hi Pamela,
    I think you're on the right track. Reaching out to people can provide so many opportunities, sometimes in areas that you hadn't thought of.

    Sometimes, people are ashamed that they've been laid off, and instead of reaching out to people, they've shrunk back, and tried to keep their work situation under wraps. Big mistake. As you've found, people are so helpful. They give you support, referrals, information, but also keeping you in a "work" frame of mind.

    You'll do well and land something great.

  2. Oh good, you're back! :)

    You've had a LOT of challenges the past few months. Wow.

    I think you are right on track with networking. I think many times an insider in an organization knows of job opportunities before they are made public. I was a supervisor at one time and I always valued my employees opinions on potential new hires, especially if they had worked with them previously. Hiring new people is always somewhat of a risk and if I could have an insider's scoop on that person, ("Oh, I worked with them at blah-blah organization and they really went the extra mile") it was so helpful. Best wishes to you.

  3. That's great that you're able to utilize the contacts you have in your industry! I hope you find a job soon =)