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Keeping Up Appearances After a Layoff Can Be Hard Work

One woman who has attended Brinton's group said no one but her children knows that she and her husband are jobless, their savings shot. When she walks her dog around her neighborhood of $600,000 homes, she'll tell neighbors she is telecommuting for the day. She and her husband use fictitious commitments to put off friends' invitations for dinner out or weekends away.

"I don't want people to know. They feel sorry for you, and that's a bittersweet thing," she said. "It's just easier to fib about it."

She recently put $1,000 worth of dental work on hold for lack of insurance. The pain of her cracked crown gnaws at her, a daily reminder of her predicament.

Career counselors and others trying to help the unemployed say suffering in silence is counterproductive. Experts say most people find jobs through informal networks of friends and family rather than Internet job boards or want ads.

"Engineers and the other introverted professions often say to me, 'I cannot stand networking, and I won't do it.' I say to them, 'If you won't do it for yourself, then do it for your kids,' " said Ardell Fleeson, who runs a support group for "in transition" technology executives in Tysons Corner. "You can't come up with what you want to do next by sitting at your kitchen table thinking about it. Or doing Internet research."

Sworn to Secrecy

When Herndon resident Dave Lotocki was laid off from his job in human resources in the spring, his wife, a federal employee, swore him to secrecy, because she did not want neighbors to know their woes.

About two months later, a neighbor asked a simple question: "How's work?" He couldn't lie.

"I'm not a person who misrepresents reality. I was unemployed," Lotocki said. "I felt -- let's not hide behind anything anymore."

He and his wife now talk openly about their situation.

Cole, who worked in federal business development locally for more than two decades, realized he needed to start telling people about his job search when he began attending Fleeson's roundtable. There, group leaders warned he would gain little ground if he stayed in his spider hole.

So he started to talk at church dinners and to neighbors. To his surprise, everyone reacted with offers of help and leads, not the cold shoulder he had feared. "If you just let them know, people will go out of their way to help you," he said. "They also think, 'Gosh, what if it happened to me?' "

A Dozen Interviews

Since then, he has had more than a dozen interviews but no offers.

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