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9/6/2020 - How to use your network to survive a bad job market

You may already know that successful job-searching requires networking, but how extensively should you reach out?

During an international pandemic and economic recession, it is a historically bad time to find a job. Hungry job searchers need to get creative.

Nevertheless, this can be a great time to find the job you didn’t expect. Many companies are reinventing their businesses and expanding the skill sets they’re looking for.

An important component of job search success is the strength of your network. You won’t read advice about getting hired that doesn’t include networking, but you may not know if you need to cast your net widely. Typically, new jobs don’t come from your primary network (those who know you best and with whom you speak most often), since you and they probably have similar knowledge of the opportunities available. New opportunities normally emerge from your secondary and tertiary networks because those are the contacts who have access to markets and people you don’t. By definition, they will know of possibilities that are new to you.

So, to find success in your job search, stay connected with those who are close to you, but reach out to those who are more distant.

The creation of new links is key to building your network. Tap into these secondary or tertiary networks by asking to get introduced on LinkedIn or by reaching out to people you know from a distance but with whom you don’t normally interact. Perhaps there is a college friend you haven’t seen in years, but with whom you can rekindle a connection. Or maybe there’s someone you met in a previous role who can be helpful to you.

While it may be tough to put yourself out there, it will be to your advantage to be open about seeking work. Resist the advice to keep your old title on your LinkedIn profile until you find something new (instead, be clear in your moniker you’re on the hunt). In addition, consider reaching out to a wide breadth of contacts, casting a wide net, letting them know you are open for new opportunities, and asking them to keep you in the loop if they hear of anything fitting.

Offer value. Rather than simply asking people for a networking call or an introductory conversation, offer them information they may find useful or give them feedback on something you’ve seen them do or say on social media. The most fruitful connections have an element of reciprocity so consider how you can add value for them since you’re asking them to add value for you.

Ask for help. People typically love to provide advice and input, so don’t be afraid to ask for it. Resist the temptation to launch into a desperate monologue of all your skills and talents, and ensure the conversation you have with a contact is two-way and allows them to make suggestions and provide you with assistance in your search.

It is helpful to keep in mind, you can network when you’re not in need. Too often people only reach out to their more distant network when they need a job, a contact, or a reference. Stay in touch with people regularly, especially when you’re not asking for anything. Share an article or just let them know they came to mind. This will keep your relationship with your contacts fresh and when you need help, they’ll be more likely to assist because you’ve stayed in touch over time.

Perhaps one of the most challenging balances to strike is that of being persistent without coming off as a nuisance. When you reach out to someone you may not hear back right away, but keep at it. Knock on the door (or ping the inbox) at least a few times before letting up.

You also want to be creative in how you distinguish yourself. Amid the current atmosphere, many people are busier than usual. You will not be their main priority, so be gracious about asking for their time and, before connecting, express gratitude for their potential attention.

To network, you have to make yourself visible. Sociologically speaking, familiarity leads to greater acceptance. If you’re visible and your contact has seen your posts or heard your virtual voice through social media, they will be more likely to take your call. So write a blog, speak at a virtual conference, and be active on multiple social media platforms. Also, manage your persona. You may be frustrated or cynical, but people typically want to hire and work with people who are positive voices and influences, rather than negative nellies. Be authentic but lean toward the positive in your public interactions.

Finding a job is challenging today, but tapping into your current connections and creating new links is the first step.

Go broad and be sure you’re delivering value as well as asking for help. Stay in touch with people, be persistent, and find ways to be visible with your network. Tapping into your primary network is good, but expanding your secondary and tertiary networks will bring you one step closer to landing a job. Even if the job market isn’t on your side right, you can build a network that is.

Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.