Networking is the key to job search success, and it’s difficult even under the best of circumstances. But networking while unemployed can be especially uncomfortable. When people ask where you work, what do you say? Are they all just feeling sorry for you? Are they worried that you’ll shove resumes at them and ask them for favors? Surrounded by happily employed professionals, it can feel very isolating to be unemployed.
If this is a struggle for you, have no fear! Networking while unemployed is not as hard as it may seem. In fact, here are a few simple things you can do to make the whole process easier and more productive.
Tips for Networking While Unemployed
Get your story straight
One of the most difficult parts of networking while unemployed is describing your current situation. Most people want to explain all the gory details regarding why they’re unemployed—the company went through a reorg, the boss was a lunatic, the job was a dud, etc. If your unemployment is a relatively new thing, you may also have some pretty intense emotion about it. If you’re not careful, that could spill out onto some poor, unsuspecting person who just asked where you work.
Before you head out for a networking event, get very clear on how you will answer questions about your present circumstances. It’s best to be brief and unemotional. It’s fine to simply say, “I’m currently in the job market.” If people want to know what happened at your last job, come up with a quick, simple answer to appease them, but then move the conversation forward. Do not dwell on it, and do your best not to cast your previous employer in a negative light. Otherwise, you may come off looking resentful, and you never know who you’re talking to.
If you’ve been unemployed for a decently long period (6 months or more), it’s probably smart to also come up with a concise description of how you’ve been using your time. To tell people you’ve just been job searching can make for awkward conversation. Instead, share some stories of time spent volunteering or working on passion projects or engaging in professional development activities. This will do more to propel the conversation forward and inspire connection.
Be specific about what you offer and what you want
Those who are unemployed often want to cast a wide net in their job search. This is especially true for those who have been unemployed for longer periods. They start to feel anxious and want to position themselves for any available role at any organization. When people ask what they do, they provide a laundry list of skills and talents. When people ask what they want, they say, “Anything!”
This kind of approach makes you appear desperate and unfocused. People in your network don’t know how to help if you can’t give them specifics.
Also read: What to Do If You Lose Your Job
Instead of asking people to share leads for “anything” that might fit your vast array of skills, share the specific kinds of roles you’re looking for and the companies you’re targeting. This takes the work off their plate and gives them clear instructions. Remember: You want to make it easy for people to help you. The more specific you are, the easier it is for them.
Finally, try to remain positive in your conversations. Being unemployed can be a difficult time—everyone knows this. Sharing your frustrations and grievances regarding the job search process might feel cathartic, but it’s not actually helping your cause. People enjoy being around those who are generally happy, and they want to avoid complainers—especially at networking events. These are meant to be enjoyable affairs. So, keep the conversation light and optimistic. This will help you appear more confident and pleasant to be around.
Networking while unemployed isn’t all that different from networking while employed. Follow these simple strategies and you’ll avoid the most common missteps.