Over the past few weeks, unemployment skyrocketed and more than 22 million people in the U.S. lost their jobs, mostly as a result of the pandemic. Once the shock wears off, many will join the ranks of job seekers who are currently refreshing their LinkedIn profiles and poring over job ads. The smart ones are also taking a strategic approach to reaching out to their networks.
Having a strong base of contacts can be enormously helpful when searching for a job. A 2016 survey by Hiring Learning Systems found that 85% of respondents found their jobs through networking.
But before you start spending your days reaching out to dozens and dozens of people, take a moment to collect yourself and approach your contacts strategically, says career coach Tim Toterhi, author of The HR Guide to Getting and Crushing Your Dream Job.
“A lot of times people will rush out to go try to talk to headhunters or you know, just blanket the web with résumés. Probably a better way to handle it is to kind of look at it as a career review 360,” he says. In other words, reach out to the people who have the potential to deliver the maximum benefit in your search. Here are the ones you should contact first:
Your favorite former bosses and colleagues
Assuming you left former positions on good terms, the managers for whom you worked in the past can be a great resource. “A lot of times people will say, all things, people would join companies and leave managers, but the reverse is very much true. And a lot of times people will follow really good managers to new employment,” he says.
Think about the people with whom you’ve worked in the past and where they are now. Reconnect with those people and let them know that you’re looking again. Those are warm connections who may have their fingers on the pulse of opportunities in their organizations or others. Because they know you and your strengths from having worked with you, they may be more likely to see a good fit for you than someone you’re just meeting.
Over the course of your career, you may have made purchases, worked with independent contractors or service providers, or have had relationships with other third-party vendors. Those folks likely sell to other people in your industry or sector and may be a source of valuable contacts and information, Toterhi says. They also have a vested interest in keeping you employed—and in a position to buy from them again.
“All of the products that you’ve used and the people that you’ve interacted with that were outside of your company, a lot of times they would like to see you land in another place so that they can do business with you [again],” he says. Even if the relationship is somewhat indirect, you can use those connections as lead generators. Reach out and let them know you’ve been let go and that you’re actively looking for new opportunities and welcome referrals.
Think about the people in your life who always seem to know everyone. They’re just naturally plugged in and have wide networks of contacts. Whether it’s the outgoing colleague at your networking group, the head of your house of worship, or even your hairstylist, “everyone has at least one of those people in their network who is very well connected and has a very broad network of their own,” says Jenna Richardson, founding partner of Career Cooperative, a boutique career consulting firm.
Reach out to those contacts and give them specifics about the types of opportunities you’re seeking. They may require a bit more briefing on exactly what you do, but their wide networks could be an important resource, Richardson says.
The people who have given you wise career advice and counsel over the years may be able to help you now, says career counselor Roy Cohen, author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide: Success Secrets of a Career Coach. They’re typically more senior in their roles and may have contacts with whom they can connect you. Ask for advice about how to approach your job search now. They may have valuable insights about how to proceed, Cohen says. Plus, if they’ve acted as mentors, they may be invested in your well-being and inclined to share information or make introductions.
Your “built-in” contacts
Whether it’s your college or high school alumni association, industry group, or other sort of “affinity” group with which you share common ties or experiences, these “built-in” groups can also be a good place to spread the word about your job search, Toterhi says. Because these people share ties or experiences with you, they may be predisposed to helping you if they can.
With these groups, however, it’s best to start from a place of giving as well as asking, Toterhi says. Offer to mentor younger members of the group or offer help or advice in the ways you can. If there are online message boards or groups, participate and share your knowledge. “If you’ve been contributing, it’s much easier to say. ‘Hey, here’s where I’m at,'” and then make your ask. These contacts may not be well-acquainted with you, but you can create goodwill by being generous with your own time and knowledge, he says. Plus, when you’re at your most vulnerable, being of service to others can make you feel better and remind you of all that you have to offer, he adds.
Your personal contacts and advisers
Keeping your job loss a secret can create additional layers of unnecessary stress, Cohen says. He’s seen people keep their unemployment from spouses and family members. But that may get in the way of you doing the work you need to do to find a job and deal with income loss and other issues in the meantime. “Secrecy is enormously dangerous, and you can’t hide this sort of thing. It has to be shared, and it needs to be dealt with collaboratively,” he says.
Think about the people whose help you might need to create a game plan while you’re unemployed. That may include your accountant and/or financial planner to help you make decisions about money. If you have questions about a severance agreement, you may need to consult your attorney. Keep in mind that these people may also have contacts who can help in your job search, so remind them that you’re looking for a new opportunity too.
Losing a job can be a traumatic event. Be thoughtful about reaching out to the people who can help and approach them the right way to give yourself the best opportunity to find the people who are hiring.