I wrote this article for The National Networker, where I’ve been a contributing columnist for over a year (on the right of this page you can see all my previous articles). I rarely put my articles from there as blog posts, although this one in particular has come up in all of my presentations since I wrote the article.
I really, truly believe that people want to help us. Even though we (as job seekers) feel like lepers, losers, and even as if we’ve lost our place in society, people want to help. In fact, I doubt they think we are the loser that we think we are… I hope you enjoy this article. If you like it, you can subscribe to The National Networker for free here.
When I first got laid off I was sure there were people who would want to help me land that next gig. I heard that networking was key, and there were people I already knew who would be willing and anxious to help me.
However, the help did not come. Not the way I expected it. I didn’t understand that as a job seeker, people would walk on egg shells around me. They would politely ask how I was doing, or how the job search was going.
But the discussions never got past superficial. It got tiring repeating “we’re fine, things are going good,” and things like that. And people usually left it at that.
I was neglecting a key aspect of networking: asking. Not because I wasn’t asking for help, but I was asking the right way.
I, like you, have certain responsibilities in helping people help you. In reality, they want to help you. They don’t want to walk on eggshells around you, but they might not know how to really help you. Here are some ideas to make this work better for you and your friends.
First, make sure they know and understand what you need. You have the responsibility to go beyond superficial, which might be a little uncomfortable at first. It’s about as uncomfortable as bragging about yourself. It’s about as uncomfortable as selling yourself in an interview. But it’s as necessary!
You need to know what you need and be able to clearly communicate that to your contacts. When they ask “how’s the job search going?” it’s better to respond with an answer that helps them help you. Instead of saying “fine,” how about saying “it’s going well. I’m looking for people who work at American Express or eBay – do you know anyone who works there?”
I found that asking for specific information really helps people think for you. Instead of saying “I’m in accounting,” let them know where you want to work, and ask if they know anyone who works there.
Second, make it easy for them to help you. They walk on eggshells because they don’t quite know what to say. It’s about as uncomfortable as asking someone about their cancer treatment, or the death of a loved one. People don’t want to dig into a fresh wound, so help them be comfortable around you. Even if you have known them for years, you have to help them feeling comfortable getting past that “fresh wound” issue.
How do you do this? Stay light-hearted about your situation. Show them that you are optimistic. But don’t put on a façade… remain genuine. Just don’t cross the line and whine and complain. I remember an HR manager who I was close to, who I felt I could vent to. I’ll never forget, towards the end of our discussion, he said something like “Jason, never forget something. HR can smell blood a mile away.” Even though we were close, he helped me understand that I needed to maintain the proper brand, which was that of a professional, not a wounded animal.
Third, be quick to thank, quick to forgive, and quick to reciprocate. You are a professional, right? You are not a beggar, or a leper (no offense intended, of course). Professionals are thankful, and express gratitude. As a professional, you can’t afford to hold a grudge, and you recognize that people aren’t out to spite you. If they cross you, or don’t follow-up on something critical to your job search, give them the benefit of the doubt. And finally, make sure you reciprocate. But don’t wait for your contacts to add value to you – be the first to give value to them!
Your friends want to help you. New network contacts want to help you. You just have to help them, make them feel comfortable, and let them know what they need to do to help you. I’d love to know how you invite others to help you – please send me an e-mail and let me know what you do!
That’s it – I hope that helps you readjust your perspective, and understand what role others can play!