Life & Work Skills

How to Network in a Tough Job Market


Networking in the best of times can be stressful and difficult, but adding on the pressures of a rocky job market and a huge influx of people doing the same thing means you need to stand above the crowd. It’s a good time to network regardless of the position you’re in, but if you’re in the job market because of the COVID-19 crisis or suspect you might be soon, you need to be extra sharp in your outreach.


Help them help you

This sounds obvious, but it becomes much more important to take this thoughtfully in a down job market. Hitting up your network and letting them know you’re “in the market if they hear of anything” is JV-league networking—it isn’t going to get the job done. Instead, craft and customize a note in the same way you would any job application.

Start with a sincere ask, maybe even passing along an article or recent event that made you think of them. Attach your resume, and let them know you are on the job hunt. (Be straightforward. Your most helpful contacts likely a have a lot of people vying for their time right now.) Suggest one or two open positions that you see at their company that you may be a fit for. (Of course, you’ve already done this homework.) Nothing available? Suggest one or two people in their company or social network you’d like to meet. If you have no other options for specific asks, outline the titles of jobs or skills you’re looking to bring somewhere new. See if they know of any roles that might be soon coming open or companies you should consider contacting while you are job hunting.


Avoid the advice seeking email

Networking for a job can feel uncomfortable. When it does, we sometimes default to generic asks that leave our network feeling overburdened, or like they don’t know how to help. Especially now, as we care for families, stay on top of jobs, and just try to navigate this new normal, time is the greatest of all resources. Be specific with your network. Have an ask that is easy for them to deliver on. Try to stay away from inquiries to “pick their brain” or “get their advice.” Most people will naturally return with a bit of that anyway.

If that is your only ask, it can put the entire burden on them to structure a conversation, help you think through options, or match your skills to roles. If you really need that level of assistance, be incredibly selective and tight on the time you ask for, and plan to share a list of questions in advance. These should be questions that could only be answered by this very person.


In an effort to be open, don’t be vague

Yes, now is a great time to be OK with Plan B. For many of us, a tough economy means that our dream job might be a bit out of reach while we prioritize stability and our livelihood. Sometimes, however, being really wide open to opportunities won’t deliver us results if we don’t know how to frame our skills and our “ask.”

We’ve all been in that position at coffee with a colleague where you want to scream, “No really, I’ll take any job at your company.” But instead of, “Yes, I’d be open to anything!” We can do better. Try, “I’m very good at X, Y, and Z skills. I am less interested in roles that do A, B, and C.  What that has meant in other discussions I’m having is that roles like 1, 2, and 3 seem to sound like ones that fit with my background. How do those functions get done at your company? Based on the skills I shared, are there other things you think I should be considering?”


Think along the supply chain of your industry

In a great job market, networking your way to a more successful competitor is often a way to go. In a tough one, that could look a little different. While you may definitely have opportunities across the street at similar companies in your industry, you might have to widen the funnel.

Instead, start to think about the “supply chain” of your industry. Who are your clients? Who are their clients? The same goes for suppliers or adjacent services that you might know a few degrees of separation away. Thinking inside your industry “ecosystem” is one of the most successful ways to position yourself as having valuable skills in a new role. You can not easily more easily strike that balance of selling a fresh and diverse perspective, but also of having a great foundation and perspective in another part of their business.


Tap back into the alma mater

Career services offered by your school aren’t just for recent departures. A number of colleges, trade schools, and universities today offer lifetime career assistance through resume review, job forums, and networking events. And, while the top echelon of schools seem to have alumni networks that persist over years, some of us have really fallen off in contact with our alma mater.

Now is a great time to reach back out to career services or even former professors to learn about what might be offered to graduates. And, if you happen to be in the fortunate position of being in a stable job right now, think about what you can offer. Could you share a webinar on tips to get into your industry? Could you offer to help with critiquing graduate resumes? Paying it forward now could help build out your own network down the line.


How are you finding success networking in this time?