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by SixFigureStart | March 30, 2009

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I’m the former Editorial Director for Special Interest Media. I’m currently unemployed, but I’m looking for an opportunity to use my passion for innovation and my management skills to help a company build new media products.

That’s what I should have said. But I didn’t. I chickened out. I claimed I still had my old job and because of that, I missed a golden opportunity. Let me explain.

I recently visited my former university as a member of the Communications Committee. It’s a cozy, relaxed group of about 20 media and business professionals who convene twice each year to evaluate and comment on the school’s various publications and web sites. We come from all over the country for the chance to stroll around campus, drink beer at our old college hangouts, and have some active participation in our alma mater.

On the morning of our meeting we were visited by none other than the Chancellor himself, a man so thoroughly brilliant and witty that excess smarts ooze out and puddle around his ankles when he talks. He’s also a genuinely nice fellow. Being gracious, the Chancellor thought it a marvelous idea for us to go around the room, introduce ourselves, and mention what we did for a living.

Yikes! I had imagined I could ease into the meeting, make my usual astute and occasionally jocular comments, and depart without saying anything about being laid off. I just wasn’t ready for that kind of public confession. But now I was about to be exposed as a disgrace to my journalism degree. I had failed the very institution that had allowed me a diploma—the foundation of my career—and now I would be shamed and emasculated in the presence of the Chancellor!

So when it was my turn at the wheel I took a deep breath—and lied my ass off.

All right, maybe it wasn’t a big lie. No one stood up and screamed, “J’accuse!” But the truth is my fib made me feel terrible for the remainder of the meeting, and in fact the entire day. But here’s the worst part: by not being completely honest, I missed the opportunity to leverage my network and to reach out to the very people who could help me.

“You need to be honest with people you know, and people you meet,” advises Connie McKeen, a consultant for Right Management, an international career services firm. “People can’t admit they’ve been laid off for a variety of reasons, but one of the most frequent excuses is that they don’t want others to feel sorry for them. I say, What’s wrong with that? What, are they supposed to feel happy for you? Their sympathy can be a useful tool. For the most part, people are willing to help. If your approach is honest and direct, not whining, you can let people be part of the essential network you need for developing your job search.”

Network is the operative word here, and of course the bigger and more qualitative your personal job search network can be, the better your chances to snag an interview. That means making sure your friends and colleagues are aware of your situation. According to McKeen, more than 60 percent of successful job searches comes from personal references, not from shoveling resumes into online job search engines.

In this regard, it’s ineffective to feel intimidated or remorseful about your situation. Instead, use day-to-day encounters—especially with other professionals—to tactfully reveal your job hunting status. To help you overcome any reluctance, try these simple strategies:

Be matter-of-fact about your situation. Remember that language is important, so avoid colloquialisms such as, I got canned, axed, dumped. Instead, say that you are “in career transition,” and that you’re looking for new opportunities. If you need to, practice your lines out loud until you’ve gained the confidence to be forthright.

Carry business cards. In the era of the online profile, a business card may seem quaint, but a business card puts all your pertinent info right at your contact’s fingertips. It helps you appear professional and prepared. You may no longer have an official title for your card, but you can underscore your expertise—Jack Smith, Sales and Marketing Professional. Ask for a card in return so you’ll have follow-up information. You’ll find inexpensive card services at VistaPrint.com and Avery.com.

Ask for information, not employment. Remember that day-to-day encounters aren’t job interviews, they’re networking opportunities. Know the difference. Your goal is to make contact and get the word out. If the conversation wants to stretch out a bit, ask your acquaintance about his or her business, and what kind of work goes on there. Ask if there’s anyone at the company that you should contact for more perspective. Always express your gratitude for any information.

In this economy, everyone is sensitized to the plight of the unemployed. That doesn’t make being out of work easier, but it is the pervasive reality, and people do care. You may not have a job, and you may not have your former status, but you do have your integrity and honesty. Use them.

--Posted by John Riha for Recessionwire.com

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