By Ruth Winden
Imagine ... you have been working for the same company for 20 years. You have made the most of the opportunities presented to you, mastered challenging projects and achieved steady progression. You enjoy your growing responsibilities and the perks that go with it. You are convinced that you have managed your career well.
And then, one day, it happens. You are told that you will be made redundant. Your job is gone. After the initial shock, disbelief and anger, you meet with a career coach to discuss your options. The first thing you hear is that the most promising way of finding your next job is through networking. "Networking? Me? I don’t have any networks! I’ve been with the same company for two decades – how am I supposed to have any networks?" I have heard this response many times from my clients. They literally cannot see and feel how they are linked to others. However much I promote the idea and outline the benefits of networking, they'll stick with the overused, ineffective job search methods like trawling Internet job sites for hours and hours. I need to challenge their view that the length of service with one single employer can only be a disadvantage (i.e., limited and fewer contacts).
To help my clients overcome this sense of hopelessness and increase their chances of identifying new opportunities, I know they need to see some results. And quickly. To shift their thinking, I work with them to identify the networks that they have developed over time, not despite working for one employer, but because of it. And help them appreciate that the quality of these long-time contacts can be powerful, even if there are fewer of them.
Finding the networking riches in long-term employment: First, we classify the different categories of people they have met and worked with through their entire time with their organization. These are the six categories we start with:
1. Internal departments & functions worked in and with
2. Internal (cross-functional) projects & specific initiatives
3. Internal & external customers/clients/service users
4. Internal/external suppliers
5. Professional development activities & internal and external training courses
6. Previous colleagues
Next, we draw a networking map with a section for each category. Then, we work in reverse chronological order, filling in all of the names. Seeing their networks evolve in front of their eyes like this seems to make all the difference. In black and white, their networking possibilities just seem more real. Moving on, we use different colored highlighters to identify their strongest personal working relationships (e.g., orange is for the "warmest" contacts they feel most comfortable reaching out to). This is where they will start. Once they can see that there is a way forward, and they start to get positive responses, we expand their network maps with other obvious categories, from professional associations to university alumni and personal contacts.
We also pay attention to the colleagues who have left the organization in previous years, in the hope that they have settled into new positions elsewhere. Getting back in touch with these contacts is not nearly as challenging as my clients fear, thanks to the online networks such as LinkedIn. In one instance, a client who had worked for the same employer for 28 years told me that news of his redundancy had spread like wildfire among previous colleagues who had lost their jobs. They all had the same message for him: We know what it's like to rebuild your career. But we’ve come out of it the other way, and so can you! Get in touch and we’ll introduce you to our new networks!