How to Network When You Are Unemployed: Just Put on a Happy Face!

by Cathie Ericson

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So, what do you do?

Every unemployed professional dreads this question. Even though they know they should be - have to be - networking, the very thought can be painful if you are feeling discouraged or negative about a job hunt.

But the more you get out there, the better the likelihood of landing a job. Here are 7 tips for networking - even when you’re not working:

Have a Positive Statement at the Ready

You know you are going to be asked the question so be prepared with a succinct explanation of why you are job hunting. Whether you got laid off, passed over or are changing industries, there are ways to describe your job hunt that can seem as positive as you want.

Update Your Spiel as Needed

Are you running into a former colleague whom you've seen repeatedly during your unemployment phase? Make sure you don't sound like a broken record. “Yep, I’m still job hunting!" Though it’s wrong, they might start to wonder what’s wrong with you! Instead share some new information about what you have been up to. Maybe you've been taking courses, doing volunteer work, working part-time or researching more about industries that interest you, downshifting to take care of the kids, or explore a hobby. Anything you've been doing, besides job hunting, is a great way to emphasize that you are an interesting person who is making the most of this journey. Staying upbeat is key to appearing as though you are the type of "winner” that they in turn want to recommend should they hear of something that becomes available.

Ask for Help

It’s perfectly fine to admit that you are looking for connections. Most people want to help, but they don't know what sort of help you are looking for, unless you ask. The more specific the ask, the better. For example, do you want to meet with them to talk about their industry or job function? Is there someone in their company whom you'd like to meet? Would you like to attend a meeting of a professional group they are a member of? Is there a LinkedIn connection they have who would be valuable? Whether you want to ask them on the spot, or follow-up later with an email, remember that most people truly want to help if you tell them what you need.

Get Out There

While it's tempting to stay home and surf the internet for job listings, you know that’s not where most jobs are. The hardest part of any event is getting there and walking in the door. Truly, it gets easier every time! Be creative with the different events you attend or groups you join. Here are some ideas:

  • Job hunting groups: While these are helpful for support, they might not be the best source of job leads, though you never know if someone has a lead in an industry where they don’t work – but you do!
  • Local industry trade groups: This is a perfect place to make important connections or reconnect with people you already know. Find out what trade groups are local and attend those meetings.
  • Chamber of commerce meetings: Sure, you might not want to work right in your own backyard, or you might feel that there are no perfect target companies there, but these are still valuable gatherings of professionals, all in one place, and all looking to network. Every time you meet someone new, you are exposed to their circle of potential contacts which can open doors that you might never have considered.
  • Alumni groups: Your college career center is another great place to mine for appropriate contacts. If you don't still live in the same city where you went to school, find out if they have local alumni events, which again, widens your circle of potential professional contacts.
  • Toastmaster groups: Brushing up on your speaking skills is always a terrific idea and many Toastmaster groups feature a camaraderie that can be hard to replicate. And, did we mention, they are full of professionals!
  • Volunteer activities: Volunteering can be a super way to expand your network while doing something that keeps you active and involved. Find a group that aligns with your personal interests, and make sure you are doing a function that will help build your skills set, resume or connections. Walking dogs at the Humane Society might help you feel valued and purposeful, but even better would be to help with their donor outreach, if you're looking for a job in communications, or update their purchasing guidelines if you are a procurement specialist.
  • Online groups: Today’s wired world means you can network literally anywhere. Even if you don't work remotely, everyone knows someone. Being active in groups related to your profession will expose you to a huge network of professionals you wouldn’t otherwise know. As you become more active, you can see who the "helpers" and "thought leaders” are in the group. Connect with them and check into their connections to see if there's an introduction they can make for you. They're not liable to introduce someone they don't know, so be sure it's someone with whom you have interacted so the request doesn't seem random.

Give as Much as You Take

You might think that as a job hunter you are the supplicant, but there are many cases where you might have contacts or information you can share with someone you meet. Go the extra mile to make connections and offer advice and contacts whenever you have the chance. You'll be amazed how good it feels to be the one "giving" when you're in a place where you feel like you are currently taking.

Have a Genuine Support Group

Job hunting can be exhausting and defeating. While it's important to show that upbeat attitude and positive face when you are out there, you have to have an outlet where you can express your frustrations and your emotions. Sometimes your family might not be the best audience -- they might be as worried about your job situation as you are. Finding a trusted cadre of friends whom you can open up to can be incredibly beneficial. But read their mood. They might seem tired of hearing about your struggles as you are. Sometimes you need a new listening ear, as well as an old listening ear.

Return the Favor

And, when you get that job...which you inevitably will...remember everyone who has helped you on your journey. Make sure to reach out with genuine appreciation as you share your good news. And then remember what it feels like when you meet someone in your shoes.


Job hunting can be a lonely road - no doubt about it. But if you approach networking with the positive attitude that THIS might be the day you make the connection that will change your fortune, you'll be able to get out there and make that wish a reality.

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