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NetworkingAccording to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobless rates in metropolitan areas thoughout the United States have approached, or in some cases exceeded 10% in May 2009. To those who view their glass as “half empty” the statistics are devastating, leaving the unemployed clamoring for a smaller number of new jobs among hoards of potential applicants. On the other hand, if your glass is “half full” the rate means 90% of the work force has steady employment- which can only mean jobs may still be plentiful as natural churn in business makes positions regularly available. Whichever viewpoint suits you, the truth is jobs are out there, but they are no longer a simple phone call or post-marked resume away.

For those out looking for a job and thinking the age of internet technology will offer greater speed in the search process, wading into the waters of unemployment has become more like stepping off an underwater cliff than taking a stroll in wet sand. Gone are the days when online applicants were considered among tens of other job hunters- now literally thousands of would-be employees are clicking “apply” and finding their online efforts lost in cyberspace. The natural outcry of the oppressed has been to seek other methods of standing above the crowd by getting their face in front of their resume, and rightly so. According to authors like Frank Danzo who penned the book, “People Hire People, Not Resumes,” networking has hands down become the most proven method to find that illusive job. But there’s a catch- the networker has to get the attention of the networkee.

Job hunters start by talking to family and friends- the origin of a good networking campaign. From there, the idea is to spread the love and meet friends of friends, then acquaintances of those third parties and so on, and so on. The rub is that many are finding a major hurdle just beyond taking the first steps with family. Friends with great intentions, high accolades and “can do” attitudes never call back. Third party acquaintances send networking emails to the spam folder. Those pals who once handed you a plaque for your office overachievements ignore your every attempt to buy them coffee.

I can only guess at the reasons for this unwelcome phenomenon. Perhaps the vacating victims of the economic downturn left in their wake an overworked majority. Now standing in the gap where two or three individuals once pulled a full load is the remaining worker, expected to handle not only his/her own responsibilities, but those of the other two counterparts now missing. Another thought might be a “keep your head down” mentality has pervaded the once lighthearted office environment making the remaining widget-makers far more focused, less conversational and more structured in their down time so that non-essential calls or meetings are just that- non-essential.

Whatever the reason, something has gotten lost in our work culture- compassion. Before my own downsizing adventure, I was one of the uncaring masses who rarely gave a passing thought to the voice on the other end of the phone who was charming me with compliments, courtesy and gratefulness for that moment of my time which seemed to me more coercive than constructive. Still I always appreciated the gesture and returned the politeness, but rarely the call. Now my looking glass has changed.

It took a wake-up shout down the halls of my own unemployment to bring compassion back to my conscience. I now see the truth about networking from both sides of the door. Some would say, “what goes around comes around” and “paying it forward pays you back,” but those maxims are merely words unless they are lived out through deeds. Rest assured, my next office role will be one of better understanding for those on the outside looking in and a few minutes of my time might make the difference in someone else’s week.

So remember, the next time you hop in the car and head out into your own fast-paced, mocha latte-infused, jungle of calls and meetings, ask yourself if the networking relationship is something you should nurture or ignore. If your career is stable now, remember, we’re all just one conference away from the unemployment line. So make sure you nurture networking, lest someday you too find yourself ignored.

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