When Your Network Fails:
Do You Need to Rebuild Your Network After Major Layoffs in Your Career Field?
by C.S. Clarke,Ph.D.
Career counselors and other employment experts consistently remind us that about 70% of jobs are found by referral and recommendation, that is, through your network of contacts. In the beginning of our careers, we don't have much of a network; we build career-related networks as we advance through our years of work. We develop ties with colleagues, former employers, friends we've made on the job, peers we've met at professional meetings and so forth. All of these folks are great contacts for finding employment in our chosen fields. But what happens when there are commercial collapses and/or massive layoffs in a particular industry or profession? Not only have thousands of jobs simply disappeared, but also, there are thousands of competitors for extremely few remaining positions. And your career network contacts now may be your competitors.
So, among the many new actions you will need to take, you'll need to redevelop your network. You still have a network -- a larger one than you think, once you take a moment to redefine it. Furthermore, you have a number of opportunities to add to that network.
Where did you start developing your network when you first entered the world of employment? Your list could include family, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, recent school-mates and faculty and fellow members of groups you belonged to such as sports teams, political activity groups and volunteer groups. Over the years you've lost touch with some of those on your original list, added some new people to the categories and added new categories. However, if you are like most people, you've come to rely primarily on your list of contacts specifically relevant to your particular career. The good news is that while those contact are not very helpful to you now, the basis of your original network is still there -- and more.
Let's look at who you know that can form your new career network and get you back to work.
1. As with your original beginner's list, there is family. Depending upon your age, the list might still include one or both parents, who also still have plenty of contacts. If you have siblings, there's a good chance they are in different careers and so have different professional contacts. What about aunts, uncles and cousins -- have you kept in touch? Somewhere along the line you've probably added a spouse and even children to your network. Regardless of their age, children bring in contacts through school (and their teachers, PTA, etc.), sports teams (and parents of team mates, coaches), school friends (and parents of those friends). Well, you get the picture. Hey, are you still just reading? Get a pen and start writing down some names.
2. What about your friends? Are they all in your career field? Have you specialized in friendships as well? And if your friends are all in your career field and have just become your competition, what about your spouse's friends?
3. Neighbors both current and former seldom have the same career as you. If you have good relationships with them, they can surprise you with the people and other resources they know.
4. If you haven't kept up with your past school chums, you'll probably find your alumni association on line. Get back in touch and renew some old but good contacts. Or make some new ones. What about former teachers or mentors? Were they helpful and knowledgeable at the beginning? They might still remember you and be able to help.
5. Are you involved at church (or other religious or spiritual group), or do you volunteer for a good cause? Start using some of the valuable connections you've made there.
6. Are you on LinkedIn or another networking website? Fabulous opportunities abound.
Please remember as you redesign your network that the same old basic rules of beginner's networking still apply.
1. You do not ask for a job directly from your contacts or their contacts.
a. You ask for information and for informational interviews or advice.
b. Or you ask them to keep you in mind if they hear of something and let you know about it.
c. Or you ask for a reference if you know someone who knows the person with whom you are interviewing.
2. You ask for permission to use your contact's name when following up a lead he/she has given you.
3. You write a thank you note to contacts who have made referrals, given references or provided leads. And you include a brief update of the outcome of that referral, reference or lead. Regardless of how good the outcome.
4. When your contacts share their contacts with you, treat the new contact with great respect and courtesy, regardless of how that person behaves or treats you. You are representing not merely your own reputation in the encounter but that of your original contact as well. If the referred contact is unpleasant, you can "grin and bear it" for the brief period that it lasts. And please be objective and descriptive rather than judgmental and complaining when you give feedback to the friend, neighbor, family member or other contact who made the referral. It is unlikely that your contact anticipated anything but a helpful meeting.
Also remember that some of your old career network probably still functions. Former employers who once said "If you every want to come back..." may still want you and find or make a place for you. Employers in your current field do want the best and if you have a good reputation, may hire you on even while laying off less productive employees. The jobs in your current field may be much tougher to find, but there will be some. Keep trying for those while rebuilding your network for other opportunities.