The Way to Work

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The Way to Keep Working: Networking During the Recession

April 06, 2009
by Rachel Balik
Networking is the best way to get jobs during flush times; it’s still an essential during the recession, although you may need to tweak your methods and your attitude a bit. FindingDulcinea tells you how to establish useful job-seeking connections with your friends, acquaintances and colleagues.

Get into the “Gig”

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Early in 2009, The Daily Beast named this era the “Age of the Hustler.” All the people who thought they had steady jobs are now scrambling to accrue enough work to pay the bills. For some, that may mean taking on several part-time jobs; others may balance a lower-paying full-time job with additional part-time and/or freelance work.

Unfortunately, as the blogger Creative Person Seeking Creation notes, “bouncing from gig to gig can get really tiring and frustrating.” But if today’s hustler wants to keep food on the table, she’s got to be ready, willing and able to find that next piece of work. It’s time to network like crazy, and in a whole new way.

Get LinkedIn

The key to networking success is having a large network. As the ratio of job hunters to available jobs increases, that is truer than ever. You never know who you might meet that might lead to you a better opportunity. Thankfully, it’s a basic truth that you can gain fast access to many more people by using the Web. CNN Money argues that that’s why the online business networking site LinkedIn is doing extraordinarily well in this troubled job market. Many people are finding that the best way to reach the most people is by being quite active on the networking service. LinkedIn puts you in touch with former colleagues and potentially valuable new contacts who can read your references, assess your qualifications and alert you to relevant job postings.
One useful online networking technique is participating in discussion groups. It’s an informal way to share ideas, show what you know and gain mutual support. But since so many employers do research employees online, remember to be careful about what you say. Quint Careers offers a guide to networking in Online Discussion groups. Be particularly careful to avoid shameless promotion. Find subtle ways of showing your expertise, without sounding like spam.

Know Yourself

You also need to remember that in tough times, you don’t want to limit your networking to your area of expertise. Entire industries are collapsing or shifting focus. Now is the time for you to figure out exactly what your skill set is. Make a list of intangibles, or skills that you would bring with you, regardless of your original profession. Are you incredibly task-oriented? Do you have a knack for motivating your team? Can you streamline workflow better than anyone you know? These are the things you want to keep in mind when you’re meeting people and getting your name out. Take every opportunity to remind yourself what you’re good at, and when you meet someone, consider how they might be able to utilize your skills. If you can portray yourself as someone who’s a good fit for a broad range of openings, you’re in better shape.

For example, Jill Geisler, the head of Poytner’s Leadership and Management group, lays out “Ten Reasons You Should Hire a Journalist.” Geisler argues that most journalists possess such talents as loyalty, a work ethic, ability to meet deadlines and a “solid moral compass.” If you stop to consider it, you surely have skills that will transfer across industries. Your first task is to realize that. Then, you can convince everyone else.

The Softer Side of Self-Promotion

Feeling like you constantly have to prove or advertise yourself can certainly be exhilarating, but it can also be exhausting and demoralizing. But there is a less aggressive side of networking, and that is simply learning. As the Creative Person Seeking Creation blogger notes, she has the opportunity as a sound designer for theater productions to meet “more experienced, better-connected designers and colleagues” who offer advice and apprenticeship positions. Networking isn’t easy, but desperate times call for “banding together.”

Everyone is the same boat today: we’re all trying to get or stay employed. That means there is a lot of creative thinking going on, a lot of exploration and a greater willingness to teach others. Just because your contact at that big firm got laid off doesn’t mean that it’s not worth it to have coffee with him and get some advice. The Chronicle of Higher Education explains that the informational interview is most helpful when it’s casual; make it clear that you’re not looking for a job. Do your research beforehand so you can ask intelligent questions and be more prepared to learn about your contact’s field.  Interact with him as a person and not as a potential employer. When the economy shifts, he’s likely to have a positive memory of you, and he may give you that vital assist toward a new job.
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