The Great Recession was brutal for professionals across all age groups and industries as more than 8.8 million Americans lost their jobs between 2007 and 2009. However, the demographic that may have been affected the most is the 55+ crowd. Even though the unemployment rate for that age group is lower than the national average, once they did lose their job, they were much more likely to remain out of work longer. And unfortunately, what may have worked for more seasoned job seekers in the past may not work in today’s environment.
So what does this mean for you if you find yourself in the 8th inning of your career, under- or unemployed, bored and looking for a major step change in your work life? One common thread we often see with professionals in their forties of fifties who seem to have an easy time finding new opportunities is that they have a wide and deep network of friends, co-workers, colleagues, and even casual acquaintances who they rely on to help them locate and land a new gig.
The old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” often rings true in the professional world. Who you know can mean the difference in whether or not you end up landing a new or better position. Whether you want to stand out from the crowd during your job search, rise up the ranks at your current company, or just have a good support network to be there for you when you need it.
Many professionals make the mistake of thinking that networking is something that only people who work in sales need to worry about. Even though this is a common misconception, the fact is that it just is not true. No matter what line of work you’re in, it’s important to cultivate relationships with likeminded professionals that you can help, and who may also be of assistance to you at some point in your career.
What does it take to be an effective networker, especially if you haven’t had to do much of throughout your career?
Four easy tips to start building a stronger personal and professional network:
- Consistently maintain business relationships/contacts with individuals with whom you no longer work. An occasional email to say ‘hi’ and to keep people updated on what’s happening in your life/career can go a long way.
- Be engaged in the community through volunteerism, advisory councils or neighborhood leagues. You never know who might end up being a link between you and a great opportunity.
- Be open and honest about who you are and what you want to do in the next phase of your career. The single biggest networking mistake I see people make is failure to “tell their story” when the opportunity presents itself.
- Think outside of the traditional work realm for networking opportunities. Some of the best referrals come from the least likely places: your children’s friends’ parents; the neighbors; the high school coach; or that long lost water cooler friend from twenty years ago.
Although it may require you to step just outside of your comfort zone, networking can be a very natural and effective way to approach both old and new relationships. That doesn’t mean it will be easy to reap the rewards, but with focus, persistence and optimism, the fifties (and beyond), can, in fact, be fabulous.
Thomas Wolff is an executive resume writer for Resume Mastermind, a boutique resume writing and career planning firm in Kansas City, MO. He works with clients across the globe to help them identify and communicate their unique value in the workplace.
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Good luck in your search.