Let’s face it, the market is tight and jobs are at a premium. While I do encourage you to use any and all resources available to find a job (job boards, associations, company websites, news ads, social networking sites, etc), I encourage you to be more self sufficient and proactive and tap into your network. One of the things I ask of the corporate folks in my networks is to let me know when they’re on the market or about to be. It helps me to better determine who I should put them in contact with. And sometimes, I might even be working on a position that I can recommend them for. This is why I tell people to get proactive and start the search before you get the axe.

I always recommend reaching out to your network when you are passively or quietly exploring opportunities before you actually need to look. I’m pretty sure the folks on Wall Street (the top folks who had ample warning that is) started reaching out to people they knew because they saw the writing on the wall. Starting before an impending threat of lay off or your resignation is the best time because you are not under as much pressure and you already have a job. It is easier to find a job when you already have one. Chalk that up to the law of attraction. When you’re passively looking, you are in a better position to see what’s out there and shop around without any pressure to make a quick decision. Start by targeting the companies and industries you want to explore. Then check within your network to see if there are any direct people you know who work at these companies that you can reach out to. In this instance, I would recommend picking up the phone and making a call to catch up with the person and suggest meeting. Whether you meet for coffee, breakfast or lunch it doesn’t matter. You want to get that face time. Ask for a time and location that is convenient to them. Remember, you don’t want to inconvenience them.

When you meet, keep the conversation light on business. It is an informational meeting not a job interview. Ask your contact about the state of the industry (which you should already know) and how it affects their company. Let them know that you may be considering a change and ask their opinion about what direction you should take. This leaves an opening for them to tell you about opportunities they know of in their company or with other companies where they know someone. And if there aren’t any opportunities now, at least you’ll be in the forefront of their minds when one does come up. Be sure to highlight a few of your best accomplishments and how you feel they translate into being qualified for other roles. Have a clear idea of what it is you want to do, otherwise you’re really just wasting your time and theirs. If you have a specific goal, then you can have a focused meeting.

Keeping up with what people are doing is in your best interest. Suppose you know a Recruiter who works for a Fortune 100 company you’d love to get into. And you know talking with her will at least get a foot in the door for you to meet the IT Director. But she has changed gears a couple of times since you spoke to her 3 years ago and is now the Director of Communications for the company. Technically she is still a ally, but she is no longer in the same capacity to get you any face time with the hiring manager. Sure there’s a small chance she may know this person and could help you somewhat. But you haven’t kept in touch with her so you don’t know what her relationships are within the company. By keeping up with people in your network, at least annually, you can better plan your approach when looking for leads.

Updating your resume at least annually is critical. Even if you’ve been with your company for 9 years, you never know what might happen. Ask the folks on Wall Street who lost jobs at their 100+ year old legacy companies. Nothing is guaranteed. Even if you don’t want to do a formal resume (which I think you should) keep a journal. Note any projects, accomplishments, promotions, increase (or decrease) in responsibilities, project outcomes, training, etc. Keep track of conferences, continuing education or workshops you were required to attend. All of this helps build the foundation of your resume. Also keep note of salary increases, bonuses and reviews. By keeping a journal it makes it easier to put together your resume the correct way. Remember, a resume is not a regurgitation of job descriptions. It is a tool to show your best professional self.

Finally keep your brand fresh. Continue aligning yourself with projects, volunteer work and events that are in sync with your authentic self. If you do not create or define your brand, someone else will. You always want to be in control of your brand and how people see you. Position yourself as a subject matter expert (SME) by using the appropriate forums and mediums to display your knowledge.

Career management is a long term thing. You can’t just focus on it when you feel you may lose your job or want to quit. The more time, effort and thought you put into it, the less time you will have to look for a job or be unemployed. Keep your network warm and it’ll be easier to pick up the phone when it’s time to look. If you only contact them when you need a job, don’t expect a warm reception. Build those relationships and make them work for you. I promise you will love the return on investment you’ll receive.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham