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Networking is key to finding new job

Robin Hamilton

Amy had heard rumblings at work, but couldn’t fathom that it would be her.

“It was just sprung on me,” she said. “ It was a shock.”

Two years after leaving New York to work at a local university that had actively recruited her, she got the call into the office. Her services were no longer needed.

 “With all of the publicity about the university’s financial standing,” said Amy, who asked that her last name not be used nor her former employer be named, “it wasn’t that surprising, but still, I didn’t know what to do.”

According to the most recent data provided by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate is 8.1 percent. That means roughly 12 million people in the United States are out of work.

The numbers are worse for people of color.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008 the unemployment rate for white men over 20 years of age was 4.7 percent, and jumped to 6.8 percent by 2009. Compare that to the unemployment rate for African American men in the same age group: 9.2 percent in 2008 and 14.1 percent by January 2009. The numbers weren’t much better for African American women, with an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent in 2008, and 9.2 percent in 2009.

Those unemployment statistics became all too real for Amy — she became one of them.

According to career coach Kathy Robinson, Amy’s feelings of being blindsided are not uncommon.

“Sometimes people know a company is in trouble, and that there will be layoffs,” Robinson said. “They’re just surprised it’s them.”

Robinson runs her own Boston-based firm called Turning Point. Her company helps professionals identify their strengths and transition into more fulfilling careers.

In these tight economic times, Robinson encourages her clients who have been laid off to let go of the feelings of shock, anger and rejection. She believes these emotions can cloud the job-hunting process, resulting in people searching for jobs at home, in isolation.

“People shouldn’t conduct their job research in their living room,” she explained. “It makes you question your abilities.”

Searching purely online, she added, is a likely recipe for disappointment.

“By the time a job is posted,” Robinson said, “it is almost too late.”

She also emphasizes that paying for access to job boards won’t make you stand out either: “It gives you a perceived sense that you are proceeding in your search, while not proceeding in your job search.”

If anything, she encourages people to use such options strictly as a guide.

“Any job board … [can be a] spectacular resource to see who is hiring and finding key words you can use on your résumé,” Robinson said.

Her strongest suggestion? Start networking.

“People know where the open jobs are. You just have to be focused when networking, and know what you’re saying,” she said. “If you see a job is posted online, go through your network and see if someone in your network works there, or knows someone who works there. … Apply through a person. That is great.”

Amy said she has adopted that strategy in her search.

“I never send an anonymous résumé,” Amy explained, adding that she pools resources available through social networking sites.

“I’ve been online,” she said. “I’ve been adding people to my LinkedIn network. I’ve been making a concerted effort to put everyone’s info in a centered space.”

Robinson likewise encourages clients to use their resources through LinkedIn, which she called a solid resource. She also listed a number of local networking groups that people can go to in order to find leads, such as Wednesday is Networking Day, or WIND, CareerMoves, ExecuNet and MarksGuide. All of these groups have Web sites and are worth checking out, she said.

There’s another strategy that Robinson encourages her clients to employ — if they can muster the emotional strength.

“When my clients call me and tell me that they are about to get fired, I tell them when that conversation comes, say something like, ‘I know it’s tough for you. Can I call you in a week and ask about using you as a reference?’” Robinson said.

While it may not sound like an easy thing to do, Robinson stressed that leaving gracefully is the first part of moving forward in a positive way. (Of course, it is easier to do this if you are leaving on good terms.)

After spending years as a human resources manager before running her own company, Robinson has firsthand experience of what it’s like to be on the other side of the firing line. Believe it or not, she said, the person doing the firing is likely having a difficult time too, so making the conversation a little easier is a smart move.

“Say something like, ‘I understand this is a business decision. I know this must have been tough,’” she said.

The reference that might result could come in handy down the line.

Amy did not employ the strategy herself, but her own methods of networking seem to be working out — she already has two upcoming interviews with potential employers and said she is keeping her fingers crossed.

To learn more about Kathy Robinson’s career coaching services at Turning Point, visit her Web site at www.turningpointboston.com.