Finding a new job right now can seem daunting.
As the COVID-19 pandemic sparked one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression, Americans faced historically high unemployment, with weekly jobless new-claim figures totaling more than one million for nearly four months so far. That’s why Jennifer Lynn Robinson wants to help people navigate the new normal of finding a job virtually.
A lawyer-turned-business owner, Robinson is now CEO of Purposeful Networking, which offers speaking engagements, one-on-one training, and consulting services on how to build a professional network. Since the start of the pandemic, Robinson has been offering her services virtually. She recently gave a TEDx talk about how a serious car accident forced her to embrace change in her life. She will host an information session Tuesday night with the Philadelphia chapter of the Public Relations Society of America on job searching during a crisis. The Inquirer spoke to Robinson before the event to get some tips on networking and job hunting.
What inspired you to start your own business in networking, and why did you think that was such an important skill?
My story is very atypical. I was a litigator and I had a near-death car accident in 2008. I had very serious physical and mental injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, and it took me out of my career. I never thought I’d start my own business. But I saw, really, how quickly I was able to grow it with the benefit of networking. All of my network was in the legal community when I was a lawyer, and that was very shortsighted. When I started a business, I saw how important it was to have a network that was outside of the legal industry, not only for resources as a new entrepreneur, but just to get to know people who could help me grow it. I started feeling like this was something I could really help a lot of other people with.
What is you advice on how to build a network?
The two major things I would say, whether we’re in a pandemic situation or not, are just to stay connected and to stay visible. People are feeling so isolated, and you can be somebody that’s very valued from a relationship standpoint if you’re the kind of person that even just checks in with people. It’s very easy. You don’t have to have an agenda. For the first few months of the pandemic, I would just call and ask people how they’re doing. Now that we’re a few months in, it’s better to ask questions that are open-ended and conversational. For example, what’s been the highlight of your week? Or what’s something that’s come out of quarantine that’s a positive you didn’t expect? There was one week of COVID where I just picked 10 or 12 girlfriends and sent them inspirational quotes on post cards and just asked how they were doing and reminded them I’m here if they need anything. Those things can really go a long way.
It’s also really important to stay visible and consistent with your social media and look for ways that you can publish things. I happen to love the LinkedIn publishing platform because those articles live in your profile. So for anybody that’s going to look at your social media and see what you’re about if they’re considering you for a job, they’ll see all of the things that you have expertise in or that are important to you by seeing the things that you publish and comment on.
It’s really all about relationships. The business conversations will come, but you have to have that base. Think of the things that you already enjoy. Is that a running club? Is it knitting? Think about things that you can join where you can build relationships.
How do you start those business conversations once you’ve created a solid base of connections?
Start asking people what their pain points are. What are you dealing with in your business right now or your career that I could help with? Is there an introduction I could make, or a resource you’re looking for? Any way you can be helpful to people, it’s a great thing for you to establish that relationship. People will remember that. I always think of that as networking karma. People remember that if you can be a resource for them for something that’s totally unrelated, they’ll remember you when it comes time for something that could help you grow your business.
Beyond improving your network, what general advice do you have for finding a job?
Try to get a warm introduction to submit your resume. That’s so important with all of these sites when you think of all the people right now that are competing with everybody getting laid off. You need an in. That could be somebody at the place you’re applying to, or someone on LinkedIn you find through a second- or third-degree connection.
Another big thing is the virtual interview. A lot of people, even those used to technology, are not used to having to make such an important first impression virtually. If you’re going to have a virtual interview, test your technology, your lighting, your background, the way you present yourself. Make sure your camera is at eye level, that you have talking points, that you’re dressed for a job interview.
Use the time you have. There are definitely days where you have this sense of uncertainty and that’s OK, as long as you feel like you’re moving toward your goals. I’ve done a couple free certifications and classes while I’ve been in quarantine, and that’s something that can help job applicants. Some are free. Think about either the skills you want to perfect more or new skills you want to learn. Think about ways you can better yourself and make your resume stand out.
How is the job hunt different for a 25-year-old compared with a 45-year-old? And how is it different for 60-year-olds?
When I deal with people in their 20s, I get a lot of questions about finding mentors. For older groups, learning new skills is so important. You see people that are middle-aged or older who feel like they can’t get out of the path they’re on. Since I’ve had to do that in my own life, I feel like I am such a cheerleader for that generation to really pursue what makes them happy.