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Volunteering Expands Network, Reveals Jobs

When Brian Clark needed to extend his network, he turned to volunteer work.

By Patty Orsini
Job Search

Working for a startup requires long hours and a lot of dinners away from home. When the startup Brian Clark was working for — a mobile e-mail platform company — ran out of financing in February 2008, Clark saw it as a chance to take some time off, relax and recharge. At that point, the economy was in relatively good shape and he felt he could afford to spend time with his family. “I was relaxed about the job hunt,” he said. “I thought I should enjoy some time off, because I didn’t know when I’d get the chance again.”

He ended up with a longer hiatus than he expected. A year longer.

His first instinct: Go to his network.
His second: Expand that network.

“I was working on the assumption that your network lasts about four months,” he said. “After that, you’ve tapped that contact out. So, you need to keep refreshing it.”

Clark’s strategy: to volunteer on local government committees, in Thousand Oaks, Calif., the suburb of Los Angeles where he lives. He used his business-development expertise to assist the investment committee as well as a few nonprofits in the area. This helped the city government make decisions about which events and groups the city should provide funds. “We’d go over applications, make sure applications were complete, and discuss the various options,” Clark said.

In doing so, he said, he was able to expand his professional network. “I made a lot of business contacts; people who owned or work at local companies or in Los Angeles,” Clark said. “My goal was to stay in the L.A. area, so it was important to make contact with people in the community.”

Clark found that working on community committees helped in other ways.

Avoid isolation

“Expanding my network was not only healthy from a business standpoint but from an emotional standpoint as well,” he said. “Being unemployed can be isolating. But volunteering, having social interaction, having a full schedule and places to invest your time, is invigorating.”

Joining SalesLadder in August 2008 was another part of Clark’s strategy to keep his network up to date. “When I applied to a job on TheLadders, I often spoke to recruiters and HR people,” he said. “I was able to add 20 to 30 people to my network that I kept in contact with.”

Clark, who was looking for a position in new business development that was either director level or above, was also expanding his options in the working world. “My initial resume was focused on digital entertainment,” he said. “But then, realizing it was getting tougher to get a job, I came up with two other resumes, one for platform sales and another for channel sales. I went in thinking I didn’t need three resumes. I thought my network would come through. But as I had interviews and companies were not hiring, I realized this was a daunting task, and I needed a little more strategy to accomplish this.”
Clark said he worked six to eight hours every day on his job search, contacting people in his network, crafting cover letters and doing volunteer work.

From media to technology

He had good response to his resumes, but the economy wasn’t cooperating. “I had final interviews with 10 or 12 companies over the past several months,” Clark said. “I had a final interview with Warner Bros. the day they announced layoffs. They put the position I was interviewing for on hold. It was frustrating.”

Frustrating, but not debilitating.

He continued doing volunteer work, contacting his network and honing his cover letters. In April, he heard from a recruiter with whom he had developed a good relationship after applying for a position he found on TheLadders. While that initial position didn’t work out, the recruiter had another job that she thought would be a good fit.

“She contacted me about a business-development role,” he said. “It’s technology based, and they needed a lot of the skills that I had. It’s not content, but it’s setting up client partnerships.

“The experience that I was going to be able to leverage was my ability to go out and deliver the core value proposition to clients and get them to sign up,” Clark continued. “It was exactly what I had done in the past, just with different clients. Same process, same sales cycle, same methodology.”

And, after going more than a year without a job, it took just one month from first interview to offer. He is now the director of business development for Answer Financial, a division of White Mountains Insurance Group Ltd.

A year-long search

While Clark was eager to take time off after his last position, he hadn’t planned on taking such a long break. He said it’s good to be working again. But he hasn’t let all that he accomplished while he was looking for jobs fall by the wayside. “I’m still doing the committees. I can’t spend as much time as I used to, but it’s great, I love doing it. I feel more rounded.”

Clark said if there’s anything else he’s learned, it’s that during a job hunt, it’s easy to lose confidence in your abilities. “You need to be conscious of doing things to build confidence,” he said. “Joining committees, sitting down with someone who needed help with a business plan, was a good thing for me. It’s important to put yourself in situations where other people value what you say.”

Otherwise, he said, it can be hard to go on interviews and convince other people you can offer them something of value, and it causes a downward spiral of confidence. “You’ll begin to wonder, ‘What am I doing wrong? I must not be as smart as I thought.’ It’s not a good place to be.

“So, if you’re unemployed, don’t spend your time inside. Get out there; talk to people, and find out how you can be of value. Being involved in my community is the silver lining to being unemployed. But it did take me a long time to see that silver lining.”

Patty Orsini is a general assignment reporter for TheLadders.

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