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Advice to Out-of-Workers: Read This Before You 'Network' With Me

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For several months I've been asked almost weekly to help someone who's just lost a paycheck to find their next one.

(I don't say "lost their job" because that's like saying "stay-at-home mom"—they're still working, often very hard. When unemployed, people must work to get re-employed... only now there's no employer-sponsored paycheck.)

Unemployment is the new social disrupter. Never do I recall so many friends of friends losing their jobs at the same time. So, naturally, one can understand the scarcity mentality that kicks in. It is frightening not to know how you're going to feed the family and pay the bills.

As a result, most people have a fight (urgency or desperation) or flight (denial or flash-frozen) reaction. Both are apt to lead to dead ends.

I can't help but compare some smart, unemployed former executives to what I call the "new-waiter phenomenon." Have you ever noticed how bad the service can be from a new waiter or waitress? They'll ask, "What would you like to drink?" and then bring nothing. Or they hover and drive you crazy in the beginning of the meal, and then are MIA when you're ready for more coffee and the check. It's as if they've never eaten at a restaurant before in their lives!

Everything these waiters ever knew when they were diners went right out of their heads once they became servers. They're missing a sensitivity chip (to quote Jennifer Aniston, commenting on a different behavioral change); they're oblivious to connecting what they liked and what drove them crazy when they were being served to how to take care of their customers.

Forget more training: They're just too focused on themselves and their own discomfort level.

Here's my point: Contacting everyone you've ever known in your life and requesting they rally everyone they know to help you find your next job is the equivalent of recruitment spam. You never cared about me while you were employed; why do you care about me now that you're not?

"Networking" like this may have worked last year or last century, but it's not going to work in our current environment. There are just too many of you... and I have a business to run.

So here's my advice before you ask for my help.

Build yourself an online reputation (aka brand)

If you can't be personally "googled," you might as well not exist. Open a free account and spend time on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and give of yourself to the community. Even if you don't know how or why yet, just do it.

Open accounts on all the bookmarking and RSS sites

I'm referring to Digg, Stumbleupon, FriendFeed, Feedburner, etc. Doing so will not "get you a job." But it will help you to be visible within your field when you comment on other people's posts.

Create a personal Web site for yourself

The intent is to show off your expertise and professional accomplishments, testimonials, recommendations. No pictures of friends, family, cats and dogs. Business only. You can use your LinkedIn profile as a "Web site," but a standalone Web site that ties back to your LinkedIn page is more impressive.

Blog regularly

As a prospective employer, I'll learn a lot more about who you are via your Web site and blog than I'll ever know reading your resume and interviewing you. That helps me reduce the risk factor in hiring you—or interviewing you.

Offer to volunteer

Volunteer for social media projects, copywriting assignments, or project management with respected employers in your field. In the old days, we called this "working on spec."

There are only so many jobs to go around right now. What are you willing to do to stand out from your out-of-work competitors? Volunteering your expertise puts you on the hiring radar and gets you visibility on great projects. (I just referred one of my volunteer copywriters to a paid position with a client because I knew and trusted her work.)

When you contact me, show me that you know who I am, and respect my time

Why do I get asked for help so often? Because I am known. I've earned an online (and offline) reputation as a business connector. I already do all the things I'm suggesting you do. I've invested many unpaid hours of my own to research, understand, and master personal branding. When you call to "pick my brain," I take offense. This brain is not free. Offer to do something for me. Money may be tight for you, and I don't have time to "go to breakfast" (plus, if you read my blog you'd know I'm not a morning person). But I'd be impressed if you read my blog, then commented or submitted one of my posts to a social media site.

* * *

Before you ask me to go to work for you, go to work for yourself. When you've implemented the suggestions above, I'm more receptive to helping you connect with your next job opportunity. But I don't have time or inclination to work with job-seeking networking spammers.

Heed the lesson of the online social networkers: "It's the relationship, stupid." You won't stay unemployed forever. But the work you put into documenting your accomplishments online and taking an interest in others in your field is a long-term investment in yourself.

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Lori Feldman is known as The Database Diva ( She works with business leaders and sales professionals to squeeze every drop of profit out of their customer database.

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  • by Jason Tue Apr 14, 2009 via web

    Awesome. "This brain is not free" -- love it; of course you can't always say that to all comers. I have a ranking system: personal, professional, and acquaintance, to determine my response to the "Can I pick your brain?" question. I reserve a little "pro bono" brain picking for folks who establish or maintain the relationship you're talking about, plus it works as a marker when you need something from them in the future.

  • by Kevin McIntosh Tue Apr 14, 2009 via web

    Lori...this truly is the best advise you can give people. Harsh truth it may be. as a former Executive Search professional turned IT Biz Dev guy, I am plagued with the same scenario. Worst part is how many people would actually let me buy that breakfast with the mindset that "they are the ones out of work"! If I can add one more nugget to your well written article it would be "Don't wait until you are out of work to start taking Lori's advice...START NOW!" Too many people are like deer in the headlights when they lose their "employer sponsored paycheck" and as you pointed out, you invested time and effort to brand yourself. it could take months to create the brand identity "YOU" which if you are addicted to that paycheck, you really don't want to be starting from scratch upon receipt of your pink slip!

  • by Todd Nelson Tue Apr 14, 2009 via web

    Great advice, Lori. I can't count the number of times I've been asked to help write a resume or create an online profile for someone who's just lost a job. My advice to everyone is that you owe your employer a full day's work but you owe it to yourself to go above and beyond chillin' on the sofa once the timecard has been punched at 5pm. If everyone would invest just 30 minutes a day into crafting their personal brand, there would be far less road kill at the side of the road to the next job.

  • by Kyle Hendren Tue Apr 14, 2009 via web

    Great post Lori. I would agree with Jason on ranking his network of relationships. Then, when asked, you have a better idea as to how much time you want to invest with them. But people need to start creating their brand now. It doesn't take much to reach out each day or week to a few "acquaintance's" to begin building a "professional" or "personal" relationship. Relationships need nurturing lest they wither and die.

  • by Tara Holling Tue Apr 14, 2009 via web

    This is fantastic advice, Lori! I'd like to add that these steps are key for business-builders as well as job-seekers. There is almost nothing more important to entrepreneurial success than creating that personal brand and building strong relationships.

  • by Rob Adams Tue Apr 14, 2009 via web

    Lori, thanks for the on-target post. As a creative professional, I realize that I and my colleagues can easily forget to promote the most important brand we know - ourselves! And with all the touch points at our fingertips, building a relevant personal brand has never been easier.

  • by Kevin McIntosh Tue Apr 14, 2009 via web

    Simon (Jean)...sometimes people need to hear the harsh truth about themselves. This is not being rude. It is doing them a favor. I am not one to quote the bible, but isn't there a line in there that goes something like "Help those who help themselves"? Or how about "Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." You are absolutely right about making time to help people in these hard times, but with so many to help, invest your time in those who are serious about helping themselves.

  • by Jason Wed Apr 15, 2009 via web

    We have all spent a lot of time investing in our chosen specialty. It's hard to give it away for nothing or feel taken advantage of when all of our effort has been to put food on the table. It's a small step from expecting someone more fortunate than you to help you out to blaming them for your problems. No thanks. I got the same thing out of this post that Kevin did: networking helps those that help themselves.

  • by Polyanna Wed Apr 15, 2009 via web

    Here are a couple of thoughts (I'm also not one to quote from the Bible and I don't drive a pink Cadillac):

    "Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ''Make me feel important.'' Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life." --Mary Kay Ash

    "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"

    "Pay it forward"

  • by Teresa Wed Apr 15, 2009 via web

    Lori, being direct brings the risk of being perceived as rude or mean. I find value in it. Your audience should know better, so go ahead and give it to them directly. You're doing them (and many of us) a favor by taking your time to write this.

    Polyanna, thank you for a simple reminder. Pink Caddy or not, Mary Kay's success speaks for itself. I'll be "seeing" those signs around many necks today!

  • by Lori Feldman Wed Apr 15, 2009 via web

    Thanks everyone for your validation and disagreement. I admit to caving in to the moment when I wrote this after a particularly frustrating conversation with someone asking for my help. I make no apologies, however. I do more than my fair share of paying it forward, as those who know me will attest.. In fact, last year I found 4 people jobs. What's your score Pollyanna and Jean? Please don't assume that because I sound harsh that I'm kicking people when they're down. I wouldn't still be in business if that were the case. But if you're unemployed and doing what everyone else is doing to find a job, you need someone to kick you in the rear. Is it Tony Robbins who says, "Interrupt your pattern" ?

  • by Marita Greenidge Thu Apr 16, 2009 via web

    Great advice Lori! Although I must say that networking has worked for me quite well so I can't knock it. But I've usually put in a lot of extensive research before I go knocking on someone's door asking for time. Hence I don't have broad-based questions but rather I'm trying to get some clarity in particular areas. However these are some awesome points and as an MBA student about to gradaute I think I'll go implement the ones I'm not already doing.

  • by Veronica Modarelli Fri May 1, 2009 via web

    I'm a little late in chiming in - this article was just tweeted to me.

    Good advice on first helping yourself before you ask others to help you. People do need to hear the truth but it doesn't have to be harsh. It's harsh enough when you're facing loosing your home or scared you won't be able to feed your family. No exaggeration.

    You say, "Please don't assume that because I sound harsh that I'm kicking people when they're down." Without hearing the tone in your voice or body language, assumptions are made with the selection of the author's words. It's not what you say, it's how you say it.

  • by SandyJK Mon May 4, 2009 via web

    Great advice and spot-on insights Lori. Your article contains what I'd call some seriously needed tough love for many right now.

    During most of '08, and now into '09, I've been surprised at the increasing and serious one-sidedness of most of the "brain picking" or requests to connect I've had come my way. I never expected there would be a need to explain some of what you did in this post, or what I did in a white paper I published called "12 Rules of Networking for 2009," but it's clear -- desperate times call for desperate measures.

    Things are definitely tough out there, and any advice we can offer the uninitiated, we should! For the curious, my white paper can be found via this link: pword: network9

  • by Tina Gonsalves Mon May 4, 2009 via web

    There's a key point that hasn't been made here, although Sandy does mention it in her article "12 Rules of Networking." That is the person asking for your help today could be your boss, best customer or friend tomorrow. It's always in your best interest to be as helpful to people as you possibly can. It only takes a minute to refer someone to an association or blog that might be helpful to them.

    If you are getting frequent requests for help and find it too time consuming to offer advice to all who ask, be specific on what kind of help you can offer and the best times and ways to approach you. Post this on your blog or website (even LinkedIn has this ability). If you want someone to read your blog before they contact you, say so. Or, ask them to email you 5 questions they'd like to ask before you schedule a phone call. Or announce what networking events you are attending and ask people to connect with you there. This not only makes the time you spend more productive, it eliminates most of the “spam” networkers who are simply looking for a quick connection.

    Also, if you start to feel like a connection is only "it in for them" I'd suggest you ask the person what you'd like from them in return for your time. For instance, if you are looking for a new email vendor, ask them for recommendations. Most people would like to give back but don't know what they have to offer (this is especially true if they are looking for work). Tell them what you are looking for and see if they can help. Good networking works both ways!

  • by Shannon Brown Thu Jun 4, 2009 via web

    Great article! Can i just say I recently joined an online dating site to find...well...dates. I've had two guys picking my brain over how to design a nice user interface for their businesses. They asked me out to drinks JUST TO PICK MY BRAIN! How tacky!

    No worries, I shot them both down. Gotta pay for this brain!

    Kudos to you :)

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