Networking For The Unemployed Mom
Like millions of other Americans, I have recently been laid off (no, I was not Dooced). There are pros and cons to being temporarily unemployed. The benefits include taking my son to school (allowing me to get to know other moms and the operations of the school); spending more time with my baby girl; doing the things around the house I’ve never had time to address; creating CareerMama; and introspecting about my career plans. The most obvious cost is the lack of a paycheck. Other costs are missing the excitement of working with a team to make an organization profitable, the thrill (and stress) of sales and business development, and the daily adult interaction on topics that are totally unrelated to diapers and potty training.
Within the parent community at my son’s school, I’ve had the opportunity to network with a lot of stay-at-home moms and a few moms who are now looking for work. Attending birthday parties, school functions, and play dates give me the opportunity to build relationships that could turn into long-lasting friendships for my children and me.
Networking with professionals is not totally unlike networking with parents. In both cases you want to make a good first impression, and in both cases you might be a bit nervous to meet new people. Of course, when you attend professional networking events, you are looking for someone who will ultimately employ you. Such events can be very stressful if you have not attended them in a while or have only attended a few in your career. It can be especially hard if you have been working for the same company for a while and haven’t had the opportunity to hone your networking skills. As someone who is involved in sales and business development I have attended many events, but I am always nervous about meeting new people and presenting myself in the right way (especially when I am meeting potential employers).
I recall driving to a recent networking event with a lump in my throat, wondering if I was going to meet my future employer that night. I remember thinking, “What am I going to say when I get to actually talk to the person with whom I most wish to speak?” When you are in a sales role or work for a smaller company, you have to know the company’s elevator pitch. Likewise, when you are looking for a job, you have to be ready with an elevator pitch about yourself. If you are out of work, you will inevitably hear the same question over and over, “So, what do you want to do now?” You are probably thinking, “Anything but look for another job”, but you have to answer that question. You’ll get similar questions when networking with other moms. You don’t want to seem wishy-washy, as you never know whom that person might know. Doing some introspection and becoming knowledgeable about companies in your preferred industry will help you with your “pitch”.
Trying to stay focused at networking events can also be difficult. You will most likely have arranged to have your spouse, partner, or babysitter watch your children. You have to have intelligible conversations with people and keep your focus. It is hard to resist entertaining momentary thoughts about your kids: what are they doing, did someone have an accident, are they being fed properly, did they go down to sleep without a fuss? While mingling and making small talk, you are tempted to check your phone every now and then to see if you have a missed call or a text message, especially since you often can’t hear the phone ring feel it vibrating. It can be difficult, but you must try and concentrate on the task at hand and not worry about whether or not your spouse, partner, or babysitter remembered to put a nighttime diaper on your baby. (Others will probably notice the physical signs of your drifting off to Kidsville.) I am generally able to regain focus by reminding myself that my full attention is necessary if I am going to be able to pay for all the bills those adorable children (and I) generate.
If you have a young baby, you have the added stress of those crazy hormones that cause you to be an emotional wreck. It may be a good idea to abstain from drinking at these events, as you never know what you might say or do when you are completely plastered after half of a glass of wine. And what do you wear when you are in between sizes? How do you come across as confident if you are unhappy with your appearance? Do you invest in a makeover? Do you splurge and buy a “networking” suit? Given today’s economy, there is a bigger pool of people looking for fewer available jobs, so these niceties are important things to consider before you dive in. You definitely don’t want to be preoccupied at the event with the way your hair looks or spend all night futzing with an ill-fitting dress.
You also want to be as knowledgeable as possible on the companies attending and/or sponsoring the events. If you are lucky enough that your conversation goes beyond small talk, you may enter into a discussion that employers use to weed out the people who would not interest them. In that case, you’ll need to be ready to discuss what role you want to play and how you can help that company succeed. Potential employers seem to be a bit more skeptical about the reasons a prospective employee might wish to work for their organization, as many have been burned by poor hiring decisions in the past. Most companies are also affected by shrinking budgets, so they have to be much more careful when making their hiring decision. It is interesting, however, that it seems to be the exact opposite at personal networking events. Perhaps the success of Twitter and Facebook has regenerated interest in personal networking. Maybe many of us are unemployed and have more time to network online, and/or we just don’t want to feel socially isolated during hard times.
If you have the chance to discuss employment opportunities in more detail, or if you are able to arrange a follow-up meeting with a potential employer, here are some things you’ll want to keep in mind:
-How much travel would I be expected to do (translation: how much time do you expect me to spend away from my family)?
-Is the office close enough that I can still drop off my child(ren) at school?
-Will this employer be OK with a flexible working arrangement?
-Even though I have already started economizing, what is the lowest salary I can accept and still afford the essentials such as school, the nanny, day care, etc? Employers are not as willing to part with their money as they were a year ago.
-Am I overqualified for this position? Employers are wary of overqualified candidates. They may be able to hire an overly qualified applicant for a much smaller salary than before, but the last thing they want is to hire someone, only to have her quit six months later after she finds a job that really meets her skill set. Be sure you are not going after a job just to have a job. Potential employers can spot this type of candidate a mile away.
-If you are not already using it, get an account on LinkedIn and keep it current. LinkedIn is marvelous for business networking, which probably explains why so many recruiters use it as a recruiting tool.
What are some of the things you do to prepare for a networking event? Are there specific websites or online groups you prefer?