After we've read all the advice, listened to the Job Fair lectures, and heard what our friends and co-workers tell us, it is still terribly difficult to go out and do things that are really uncomfortable. Mailing out resumes and submitting applications on line is so safe. We're not risking ourselves because it is impersonal and anonymous. We know, deep down, that the chance of a positive response is minimal but we tell ourselves that we're doing something positive about our situation. The real key to finding a great position is networking. We've all heard it a thousand times and we know in our hearts that it's the most fruitful route to pursue.
But unless you're a super-gregarious and thick-skinned sales type, it is much harder to do than it sounds. Beyond the comfort zone of friends and family, reaching out to acquaintances and circulating at meetings and events is highly personal. We are putting ourselves on the line, making rejections or just plain disinterest far more difficult to brush off than a standard "Thanks, but no thanks" form letter after a resume submission. We justify our actions when we see a card that says they are keeping our resume on file for future openings - there's still a chance. My company alone boasts of having 80,000 resumes in their database. If you're in there, what are the chances of rising to the top? Somewhere between winning the lottery and picking the winners of every race on a day's card! Any job loss leads us to question our value and our competence.
Our self-esteem and confidence are shredded or, at the very least, fragile. We feel terribly vulnerable and defensive. Yet we are being told to go out into the world, relaxed and confident, and approach people we barely know with a plea for help. No wonder so many of us spend weeks registering with agencies and hours poring over the classifieds, anything that looks as if we are doing something positive despite the lack of results. I, and anyone else who is trying to help you find work, can only go so far. We don't live in your shoes and don't have the same fears and anxieties you have because we are already working.
At some point, after the listening and the learning and the practice, you are on your own in a frightening and indifferent world. How can you survive and reach some level of comfort in your attempts to connect with people who may hold the key to your future? Try reframing your perspective and instead of looking at yourself as an unemployed applicant, think of yourself as a professional job coach. Your mission is to assist someone in finding work. Luckily, you have only one client to devote your time and effort to: YOU.
Talk to yourself, encourage yourself, and support yourself with the empathy you so genuinely feel. Help yourself get ready for the task you've set yourself. This time, your job coach will be perched on your shoulder everywhere you go, whispering instructions in your ear, reminding you of things you have forgotten, feeding you positive reinforcement on everything you do.
Before you go out there, change your perspective one more time. Remind yourself that people love to help other people! How often have you yourself worried and fretted over a friend or family member, trying to help in some way. Giving a hand to someone in need makes us all feel better about ourselves. Instead of viewing yourself as someone intruding on someone else's time with a request for help, see it as your way of providing them with an opportunity to feel good about themselves. A good place to start is your local Chamber of Commerce.
A majority of them have biweekly or monthly mixers: an hour or two set aside for local business people to meet each other, exchange ideas, and make valuable contacts. If you can afford it (and many online firms offer an initial few hundred free) have a business card made up. All you need is your name, occupation or skill information, and where you can be contacted. It is far less intrusive to exchange business cards when you meet someone new than to expect them to walk around a social gathering clutching your entire resume. Take a deep breath before walking into the function and let your little job coach stream positive thoughts into your ear as you dive into a group where you feel out of place and possibly not completely welcome. Listen to the encouragement and support and concentrate on your performance rather than worrying about what other people are thinking about you.
Talk to strangers, even if you have to force yourself to open your mouth, and ask as many questions as you can think of. Don't feel that you have to ask for a job because networking is all about making connections and starting relationships. The kind of work you do will naturally come up in any conversation and you can explain that are currently "between jobs" which carries a more positive spin than saying you are "out of work." Explain that you are exploring as many options as you can, give them your card and get one of theirs.
If you find that you are talking with someone who is in a field related to your work, ask them who would be the contact person in their organization if an opening should occur. It may very well be the person you are talking to (small businesses usually predominate at such local functions). If a different name is given, write it on the back of their business card. Later, after you get home, you should have a stack of business cards for follow up. Some of them may not be pertinent to your occupation but some should be related even if only slightly. It is far easier to call an employer about possible openings when you can ask for someone by name and either remind them that you recently met or that their name was given by the individual you did meet.
Effective networking doesn't require that you be a super-salesman or the life of the party. It just means being yourself, being friendly, and being pleasant - qualities that often fail to come through in an interview or employer call because your nervousness and anxiety stifles them. Of course, reaching out to others always involves the risk of indifference or rejection. We all encounter that throughout our lives. Remind yourself that you're not asking for a date with the person of your dreams, nor starting a relationship that you hope will last a lifetime, it is merely one more required task in your current job of getting a job.
A Licensed Psychologist and Rehabilitation Counselor, Dr. Bola developed emotional coping strategies and job search skills for clients and has served as a recognized Vocational Expert in court. Visit her at: http://www.unemploymentblues.com