When Unemployed, Never Stop Networking

By Vickie Elmer
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, May 31, 2009

Jon Rothenberg, left, has found many ways to strengthen his skills and keep himself engaged during seven months of unemployment.

He volunteers at the nonprofit 40Plus of Greater Washington to keep his job-hunting skills and training talents sharp. He goes to think tank discussions on Afghanistan. And he has started working on friends' Web sites to build his Web development skills until he finds a full-time job.

"I have a very wide skill set, and I widen it whenever I can," Rothenberg said. He worked for seven years for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, mostly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and most recently as a consultant to the Afghan government. Now he'd like to stay in Washington and focus on Afghan policy.

He's employing many techniques and tools that will help anyone who's been jobless for months -- including the 3.7 million Americans who have been actively looking for work for 27 weeks or longer. Experts recommend that people in similar positions stay active and keep networking.

"They need that moral support, that accountability," said Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University's business school. They may find that in a job hunt group or by getting out and networking or volunteering. Volunteering "does wonders for the self-confidence," which can plummet as unemployment wears on, she said.

It's crucial for seasoned job hunters to eliminate "disgruntled and defensive" tendencies that creep in, Sarikas said. Build your self confidence, too: "In a job search, you're the product. If you can't wholeheartedly believe in you, you're not going to be successful."

Career coach Carolyn Thompson suggests candidates come up with "their own pitch on themselves." Prepare ahead and rehearse telling your talents and "what sets you apart from other people," she said.

Then create a list of companies, nonprofits or other employers where you want to work, based on commute distance, preferred industries and keywords that describe your career. Target 20 or 25 companies -- or even 50, said Thompson, who runs CMCS, a D.C. staffing firm.

Once you have established your list, seek people or events that will introduce you to decision-makers. Spend time every day reaching out to people at four or five potential employers, she said. Don't get worn down and stop going to events or coffees.

"People unemployed for a long time don't spend enough time networking," Thompson said.

After months of job hunting, they may grow tired of looking all day and want to enjoy warm afternoons or head to the gym. But Thompson reminds job seekers to exercise or go to the gym at 6 a.m. or after 6 p.m. so they bump into people with jobs -- and job leads.

After you've adjusted your attitude and schedule, you may need to adjust your marketing materials -- résumé, online profile and cover letter -- especially if you're not getting many interviews. Ask a friend in management to review the résumé to see whether it's effective, Sarikas suggests. Or seek feedback from a former mentor or a recruiter whom you've helped in the past.

Establish some targets and goals for the next months of your search, and make them goals you can control and achieve. It could be meeting five new people at a networking reception or asking 10 people a week for advice and referrals, Sarikas said.

Rothenberg knows he's accomplished a lot, yet the hardest part, he says, is when the blues hit. He's combating them by adding exercise and by getting out to museums, embassies and other low-cost fun events.

"I have to keep busy," he said.

He's also busy on his Plan B -- developing his Web design skills and a small Web company.

And as he helps out at the 40Plus events each week, he learns new skills, assists others who are unemployed and draws emotional support. Rothenberg is impressed that with the economy as dark and scary as it is, "there's a lot more support from people" than the last time he was jobless.

"They're afraid it will happen to them," he said.

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