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Contacts and developing a personal network

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Many 50+ jobseekers will have been developing their personal networks for a good many years. Now is the time for them to use their networks, but you may find that when you mention networking you are told:

  • “I really don’t know anyone useful”
  • “I’ve tried those I know but they’re all looking, like me”
  • “I don’t like appearing needy”.

This seems to be especially true of men, most of whom want to be seen as independent and able to look after themselves; women generally seem to be far more natural networkers.

If your customer is going to go after the ‘hidden job market’, the jobs that never get to be advertised or placed with an agency, then one of the main supports they will have is their network. Job studies in the past have shown that for vacancies in any sector or at any level, at least 25 per cent are obtained through contacts. Even in the public sector, angled adverts that appear for a very short time can ensure that only the contacted applicant gets a real chance.

If your customers have access to peer group support such as job clubs, this can be a good forum in which to focus on networking techniques. Ask any group of 50+ jobseekers if they have ever got a job through a contact, and it would be an abnormal group that had no-one. So strongly encourage your customer to spend time developing their network. Here are some suggestions on how you can help them.

Developing a personal network

Encourage your customer to use the phone, rather than write or email, and, if possible, arrange to meet the person for a short while, for a coffee or a drink or at their place of work.

If they say they don’t know anyone, challenge it. How many people did they know at school, at college, in their first job, second job? What about relatives, friends, neighbours, sports clubs, social clubs, churches they went to? Are they on Linkedin.com – try it! Even people they met on courses or at social events are all contacts.

When your customer says, “But I don’t have any contact with people from my old school”, ask them if they can remember someone, because the chances are that person knows at least one other.

And when they say, “It’s years since I saw them. It’s too long ago”, get them to try the telephone test. If the telephone rang, and it was this long-ago friend, how would they respond? If it’s along the lines of, “Hello, how are you? It must be ages since we saw each other. What are you doing now?”, then the long-lost contact will probably respond the same way if they call.

What they are after from their contact is not a job! It’s help, advice, suggestions. Often, if they get a job through a contact, it will be through someone that contact introduces them to, and sometimes even further down the line.

Get them to think about the ‘hooks’ they are going to use:

  • I was talking to Anne and she suggested I give you a call because …
  • I was looking at some old photographs of when we were all together at …
  • I’m making a change of career and thought I’d give you a call because you always seemed to know someone who could help
  • I remembered that you were an expert on ... , and wanted some advice ...
  • I’m thinking of getting a job in a warehouse, and as you’ve spent many years in that area, I wanted to get your angle on things

The important thing is that you encourage your customer to try this approach. They might even find it enjoyable. These case studies illustrate how people used their personal contacts to find a job.

Case study 1 (Reading Job Club)

James is in his early 50s and lost his job as Head of Logistics and Supply Chain at the end of 2008. He had redundancy insurance and initially was not too concerned about finding a job, and did very little job searching for the first few months. However by the time he joined Reading Job Club in September 2009 he was starting to get a bit desperate. He was mainly scanning the internet, and contacting recruitment agencies and while he was getting the occasional interview, and even two with the companies themselves, never managed to win through.

After discussing the 'hidden job market', he was encouraged to make use of his quite wide range of contacts, and in particular to find reasons to 'keep in touch'. It was suggested sending Christmas Cards to contacts, and he 'carded' his network. This led to a meeting in February and a job offer in April.

Case study 2 (Age UK Milton Keynes Employment Services)

After 44 years of unbroken employment as a mechanic, Graham Sibbert, aged 64, had been made redundant three times since the recession hit, with garages and motor manufacturers being among the first casualties. To make matters worse, when he lost his third job, Graham also knew his time was up in the commercial vehicle trade: "It's very physically demanding and there's a time limit to what your body will take."

So, he not only needed to find a new job in a recession, but also take a new direction in his mid 60s. "I felt my age was like a monkey on my shoulder and I was really lacking in self-confidence."

A one-to-one interview with Age UK near his home city of Milton Keynes, followed by a series of workshops to improve his job searching skills, gave Graham new self-belief. He says: "I realised that, far from being a
disadvantage, age is actually a measure of someone's knowledge, experience and reliability."

One of Graham's workshops was about ‘networking', using everyday contacts to seek out job opportunities. So he mentioned he was looking for a new job to a rep for an accident management business, which was dealing with damage to Graham's motorbike, and learned that the company needed pick-up and delivery drivers. "I now have a job I really enjoy, which also means I get to ride some great bikes," he said.

Case study 3: (The Foundation for Jobseekers)

Grant's role as a software development manager was made redundant in early 2010, when he was in his late 40s. He decided to take six months off to travel and pursue his interests in rowing and sailing, returning in September 2010. He then started to make internet based applications and used a number of IT focused recruitment agencies, expecting to find it hard, but not impossible to secure his next role

Grant was immediately dismayed by how few interviews he secured, and discussed the issue at one of The Foundation for Jobseekers executive job clubs, which he had started to attend after being referred by a friend. He considered the possibility of looking for a job at a lower level, but discounted this approach because it was important to his self-esteem and family circumstances to find work at the same level, or better, and he had adequate funds to allow him to look for work over the medium term.

The advice from the volunteer advisers at the job club was unanimous - if Grant wanted to find work quickly, he shouldn't discount looking for work at a lower level, although the approach carried no guarantee of success. However, to secure work at a similar level, the bulk of his efforts should be spent on networking and targeting companies where he believed his skills would be compelling.

He should start by minutely reviewing how he was spending his jobseeking time,, an exercise which revealed that Grant was spending a mere 10 per cent of it on networking.

The hurdle Grant needed to overcome was his view that advertised roles were real and immediate and that networking did not guarantee results. However, what convinced Grant to try a different approach was the number of job club attendees and volunteers alike who could point to a wide range of individuals who had achieved their next role through networking.The statistics indicate that only 47 per cent of vacancies are either advertised or appear with recruitment agencies, leaving the remaining 53 per cent to be found by the networker.

The volunteer adviser reminded Grant that there was no suggestion that he should abandon using agencies and the internet, but that they should only account for half his activity.

The volunteer adviser gave Grant some practical networking advice - he should adopt a simple strategy which would involve developing his existing LinkedIn profile immediately, starting with broadening his connections base. He should then join LinkedIn groups focused on his areas of professional interest, take part in online discussions, and update the recommendations on his profile.

At one of the group presentations covering networking, Grant saw the value in joining other networking groups which had face-to-face elements, such as Ecademy ; taking up the opportunity to attend Chamber of Commerce networking meetings on the basis of seeking advice and information from the range of business people attending; and going to trade fairs associated with his work.

It was also pointed out that family and friends should be part of anyone's jobsearch network.

Grant became more positive as a result of embarking on networking approaches in a consistent way. He was talking to people again rather than looking at a screen.

In discussions, Grant could see that building his network of contacts was not difficult. He was advised to contact previous customers, previous suppliers and previous competitors. He followed the volunteer adviser's suggestion that he should try to use the telephone as much as possible, contacting managers and reports from his two previous roles. The volunteer advisers and jobseekers all agreed that phone calls would be more likely to bring about a meeting than leaving all the communication to emails.

The volunteer adviser had seen some managerial jobseekers succeed through carefully researched and highly targeted direct approach letters, perhaps one a week. Grant was advised to send a letter rather than an email, because these are often opened and considered by the "target", whereas an email from an unknown individual may be ignored.

When Grant started to secure interviews, his volunteer adviser suggested that he should focus on explaining how all his transferable skills would work well for the new employer. "This is what I've done..........and this is how the experience applies to you.......... because in your case I can..........." Grant also needed to articulate why he was the best fit for the role.

The process took almost six months, but Grant achieved his goal - a role as chief architect, software engineering, via a networking contact he had approached who had managed him in the job before last. Grant is very pleased, although he would have given careful consideration to a role with less status, responsibility and pay, if that had been easier to achieve.

He felt that his volunteer adviser and the other jobseekers had played a key role in encouraging him not to give up and in helping him to maintain the positive frame of mind essential to any chance of success over a long period. He had also been careful to develop other interests to stay positive: learning a language and keeping fit.



This site is for help and information only. It is not meant as an authoritative guide. It is not meant as an authoritative statement of the law, and future changes in the law and other programmes and initiatives could make it less accurate at times. TAEN, the Department for Work and Pensions and the European Social Fund take no responsibility for your use of the information. You should always take professional advice on any specific legal or financial matter.