By Liz Ryan
If I'd heard it once from a job-seeker, I've heard it a million times: "But I don't have a network – I don't know anyone!"
Now, every now and then you read about a person who's been living like a hermit out in the woods for years, but if you have not been featured in one of those news stories, then you do know people. You just don't think you do – you don't think about the people you know. But you know people – it's almost impossible not to, these days!
My advice is to sit down with a pen and paper and start writing down names. You know people you used to work with, and you know people in your neighborhood. You may know people at your gym or your place of worship. You know people through your family and through your friends. Here are some other groups of people you may have met, although these folks may not be top-of-mind for you right now:
I always challenge job-seekers to list 100 names, and almost all of them can do it! We know more people than we think we do. That's one reason that modern life is so complicated – we lack the time to keep up with our friends. But that's okay – when you are job-hunting, you have a license from the job-hunting gods to get in touch with people you haven't seen in ages. You have to inquire ahout their health and their families, of course – that's only polite. You can also let them know about your job search.
You don't want to send a resume to a person you haven't seen in years. That would be presumptuous, because it signals "I'm only contacting you because I need your help." Rather, send a quick email or surface mail message to inquire about what your old colleague or friend has been up to. In that same message, you can say "I was at XYZ Corp until last month, and now I'm on the job market." Invite a response by adding "I'd love to catch up by phone or over coffee if you have time."
As a job-seeker, you will find that refreshing your network and re-connecting with old associates is a very good use of your time. It's energizing to check in with people who know you outside of your current job-search role and who shared good times with you on the job, at the ice rink, or anywhere else.
These friends may have useful job leads for you, but your purpose in re-connecting isn't just to serve your own job-search ends. It's to cultivate your network, ask what you can do for each person, gain some much-needed fellowship and moral support, and give some in return. The job-search-related benefits will come, and your friends' unique perspectives will help you work through your most vexing or frustrating job-search challenges.
You will find that by visiting with your network of friends, you'll enroll your network in your job search in a way that really isn't possible over email. People who sit with you and drink or eat with you (or take a talk with you, if you're overcaffeinated and over-lunched) will engage with you in a completely different way to solve your problems. This is a great thing.
There is nothing more important to a job-seeker than checking in with the network on a frequent basis – at least one lunch or coffee or walk a week is a great target. There are only so many hours a day you can spend in front of that monitor, after all. The human connection helps us in ways we can't even process – it's essential. Go plug into your network today!
Liz Ryan is Job-Hunt's Networking Contributor. Liz is a former Fortune 500 VP and 25-year veteran of corporate human resources departments. In addition, Liz is the author of Happy About Online Networking and an internationally recognized expert on careers and the 21st century workplace. Find Liz on LinkedIn and on Google+.