I am not sure if I am really old (I hear my kids saying, “Duh, dad”) or if it is just being in the youth-oriented business of Internet marketing, but I am noticing lots of 50-something people out of work right now. Maybe I am noticing it because they are constantly reaching out to me–sometimes people that I don’t know and sometimes people that I do know but haven’t heard from in a long time. That’s the kind of thing that makes you notice, I guess. And many of them say the same thing to me: “LinkedIn just isn’t working for me.” I don’t have the heart to tell them why, so I will tell you.
This isn’t true for everyone, but I think it is true for a lot of people who are frustrated that LinkedIn isn’t working for them: They waited until they were unemployed to start using it.
Now, I want to be sure that this doesn’t come across as me placing the blame on the victim here. If you are “in transition” right now (only old people like me say “unemployed” anymore), you have a lot of company. Clearly there are major things going on in the world economy–most of them bad. It’s not your fault that you are out of work.
But I want this post to be advice for everyone else. Networking is not optional just because you have a job right now. We’ve changed into a permanently transient economy where few people are as lucky as I was to spend 30 years at one company. But I always did a lot of networking both inside and outside IBM and I believe that I could have landed on my feet if the fickle finger of fate pointed at me during one of the many IBM downsizings that I lived through.
And if you are in transition now, and you don’t have the network you wish you did, you are stuck reaching out and building it now. That’s not great, but you have to do what you can do. I have some advice for you, too. Don’t make networking a one-way thing. Instead of flagging everyone you know and asking for help with nothing in return, offer something. Someone reached out to me this week and asked for help finding a job, but also asked me to give him a one-liner that describes what I do because he thinks he knows someone who might need my help and he will introduce me. I will go further out of my way to help him–it’s just human nature. If you are in transition, you probably don’t have 40 hours worth of stuff to do, so why not reach out and help people to build your network–you have more time now than ever.
Now that I am working as a profesisonal speaker and consultant, I am always looking for new clients, so I have even had to step up my networking from where it was before. But I don’t really feel like a natural networker. I have to work hard at it. There are times that I’d rather not take that phone call. Or times that I’d rather be home having dinner with my family than meeting someone new. But it’s my job.
That’s the real secret. Networking is your job. Connecting with people on LinkedIn is your job. Letting people know you’ll be in town is your job. Business breakfasts, lunches, dinners, coffees, drinks–you get the idea. Don’t wait until you need your network to start building it. Networking is career insurance. Buy it before you need it.