They may have more experience, but job seekers over 50 are unemployed 5 to 8 weeks longer than 30 to 49 year olds. That’s according to a study by Professor Connie Wanberg at the University of Minnesota. We may immediately think the reason is age discrimination. Although that may be a factor, it is also true that this group is more selective in maintaining personal and professional networks. Researchers found that older people on average have smaller social networks than younger people. I am sure that news is not surprising and it implies we become more discerning about who we associate with as we get older. On the other hand, the connections we have are critical as we launch a job search. Therein lies the dilemma.
No matter what your age, what can you do to expand your network and boost your chances of landing that job?
- Actively seek out new projects to learn something new. It stretches your thinking and enhances your knowledge and experience base, but also introduces you to new people and expands your network.
- Reach out to former co-workers and college friends. LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media tools make it easy. Rekindle those friendships now rather than waiting until you need to ask for a favor.
- Join a professional association. By attending events, you will gain more knowledge and perspective about your profession. If you actively participate, you will also grow your network and be seen as a leader in your field.
- Make yourself accessible to mentor others. It doesn’t take that much time and in the long run, you may find the relationship to be just as important as your mentees do.
- Join a non-profit board whose work resonates with you. Not only can you apply your experience to help a good cause, but you will also learn something new as well as expand your network.
- Ensure you have a robust profile on LinkedIn. Other professionals may “find you,” and at the same time your presence on LinkedIn shows you are savvy about using technology.
- Accept an invitation from others to network with you. Taking just 30 minutes out of your day to help someone else might turn the tables down the road. Plus, it’s always beneficial to hear other perspectives about what’s new in your field in order to keep yourself current.
Looking for a new job is not easy for anyone. It can be difficult to put yourself out there, but it will be more comfortable if you build a broad network to draw from. The bottom line is that it is critical to make an ongoing effort to build and expand your network, rather than wait until you need to take advantage of it. Others will naturally want to help you – especially if you have helped them. At the same time, it feels good to help others and play a role in seeing their careers blossom.