How Networking Brought Us Our Unexpected Fairy Tale Ending

My husband just celebrated his six-month anniversary at his new job and since several people have asked me how it's going for him, I thought I'd provide an update. But first, here's a quick recap: After 20 years at the same company he was laid off out of the blue on a Monday in November of 2013.

At first, he experienced the feelings of relief and the euphoria that come from shedding the mantle of responsibility and knowing never again will you have to see the manager who sent you confusing and condescending emails for years. But, unfortunately, as months passed, those positive emotions gave way to fear and anxiety as his job search extended well beyond when his generous severance package ended.

Thankfully, in March, after networking with just about everyone he'd ever been within 50 feet of, he received a job offer that seemed too good to be true. In fact, it still does. His commute, which was 90 minutes door to door each way (on a good day) has shrunk to just 20 minutes. Whereas he'd grown accustomed to reporting to a poor communicator who also exhibited tyrannical tendencies, he now works for an easy-going mentor who's quick to provide support.

If his former job was really like the portal to hell (complete with really shiny escalators and free granola bars), what made him stay for so long, you ask? Ironically, he believed it was secure. (Insert rueful laughter here.) With a mortgage and three kids, it seemed safer to suck it up and stay put rather than risk making a move only be shown the door at any time at a less stable and established company. And did I mention the dental insurance? He had really good dental insurance, which is important when your two youngest children have teeth resembling Dracula and Michael Strahan’s, respectively. 

And we were lazy. When you work full-time and endure a long commute, the last thing you want to do in those few evening hours before you collapse is start job hunting and networking.

But ... when his former employer laid off the majority of the co-workers who were still left in his department a few weeks ago, it reminded us how tenuous employment can be and how fortunate we are to not be facing that situation right now. 

When I tell people that he’s so much happier, the work is much more interesting, and he feels like he’s actually acquiring skills he could take with him in the event of another layoff, everyone agrees it seems like it worked out for the best. While you are in the thick of it, if someone has the gall to try the "When one door closes, another one opens!" on you, you may be tempted to flog them with the stack of resumes and cover letters you're constantly revising. 

But for us, it has proven to be true and we're thrilled, but it wasn’t without some very scary moments when we thought we might be forced to eat our neighbors’ dog food or camp out in my parents' family room while my mom cheerfully reminded us that every fast food chain within a 20-mile radius was hiring

In addition to my constant nagging, one of the biggest challenges my husband faced was networking. Knowing the job boards could only do so much -- especially when you don't fit into a specific category like "accountant" or "web developer" -- he struggled with figuring out the best way to reach out to people he didn’t know well to ask for help. Yes, social media makes it incredibly easy to find anyone, but what do you write once you’ve found the email address that has the power to change your destiny?

I like to think it’s the virtual equivalent of crossing the high school gym to ask someone to dance. It requires courage, a little bit of swagger, and all the right lines. You want to give off the old: "Hey, I'm interested," but without emitting the desperation and neediness that have become your signature scent. 

So just how do you compose an email that doesn't convey the subtext: "My Uber application was denied because my van can't pass inspection. Help!"

We muddled along trying to sound professional but not over-eager. And, ultimately, it was an email to a former colleague who put my husband in touch with another former colleague that led to his new career. 

Recently, a tool that could've saved us a lot of time and unnecessary writing, deleting, and rewriting was brought to my attention. Sidekick by HubSpot offers a 5-step framework for composing networking emails. Once it's installed (it's free, did I mention that?) and you've typed in your contact's address, a sidebar will pop up allowing you to see his or her social media profiles. This can offer you the perfect ice-breaker if you find that you have something in common. (Let's be honest: The more information you have, and the more accurate it is, the less your email feels like a cold call.)

Another good piece of advice is this: Keep your email brief and highly focused. If you're going to ask someone to "hop on a quick call," as they say, or meet for coffee, offer some dates and times and express your willingness to come to where it's convenient for them. Also, let them know how much time you're looking for, and keep that on the short end as well, so they know they're not going to need a hostage negotiator to get away from you. 

In his emails, my husband would state why he found what they did valuable, then ask if they could spare a few minutes for a call. Though I'm sure he was tempted, he didn’t come right out and write, “Listen, I saw there’s an opening for X on your site. I need to be considered because my once-laid-back wife now has a seizure every time I don’t turn off a light because last month’s electric bill was in the triple digits and …"

The many times he asked for someone's time, he was always surprised at how willing people were to help. No one turned him down. While some meetings were interesting and informative but led nowhere, others turned out to be connectors pointing him toward the next person who was also willing to assist. 

During our mutual search my husband and I would often attribute the “radio silence” (his phrase) we were met with in response to our emails to some sort of cyberspace glitch. And we’d actually say the following cringe-worthy things to each other as we’d hunt under the couch for the coins that could spare us from canceling Netflix one and for all:

“I bet my writing samples ended up in the spam folder!" 

"Do you think that email went through? Wasn’t it windy that day? Check your draft folder! Maybe it’s stuck?"

"I bet they just overlooked it. Everyone gets a ton of email these days. Send it again."

We egged each other on, careening toward full-blown stalker territory. 
While it was embarrassing, we were in the same boat (which was quickly taking on water) so we deluded ourselves. But for those brave enough to face reality and find out if their email was read, this tool will allow you to do that. (I totally admire you!) Sidekick will let you know if your email has been opened and when. So kiss those denial strategies good-bye! 

Another helpful thing it does is allow you to schedule emails. Many times when I’d lay awake with the insomnia that comes from knowing your unemployment is running out, your kids need new shoes, and your ancient fridge wheezes like an enthusiastic smoker, I’d think about running downstairs and composing an email to someone I’d remembered who might be able to guide us. But the thought of them realizing I’m up at 2 a.m. composing desperate missives by the light of my laptop made me stop myself. When you get an email from someone at 3:30 a.m. no matter how killer the subject line (and this guide offer tips on those too) what your message really conveys is: "I’ve just hit a patch of boredom between infommericals and internet porn. Thinking of you." With Sidekick you can still put together your middle-of-the-night message, but you have the ability to schedule to be sent at a reasonable 11 a.m.

So the point of all this is that, yes, one door closed, and after a while, another opened. Hopefully, if you find yourself in a similar position, these tips will help you craft the eye-catching email that opens doors for you as well. 

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