When Wade Vann, former CIO at Simmons Bedding Co., was laid off in the summer of 2008, it was naturally a difficult time.
“When you’ve been working 60 to 70 hours a week and that goes away, it’s a big deal,” Vann says. “There’s a lot of stress you’ve never had to deal with before, including your own sense of self-worth.”
What cushioned the blow, he says, were the networking groups he joined that not only helped him maintain a routine, meet people he otherwise would never have met and fine-tune the logistics of his job search, but also provided a generous helping of emotional support and specific job leads.
“I was amazed at the amount of help,” says Vann, who recently accepted a CIO position at Augusta Sportswear Inc. in Augusta, Ga. In one group, he says, to be accepted as a member, you had to have a pay-it-forward attitude in terms of helping others — not yourself — find a job, even though other laid-off CIOs (i.e., competitors) were members as well.
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To Vann, networking is the key to most successful job searches. “It takes a lot of work to spend a major portion of your day making cold calls, but it does pay off, and I’ve developed relationships with people I will stay in touch with for the remainder of my career,” he says.
“That part of the transition has been a true blessing.”
Generally, networking groups for executives in transition meet once a week to once a month and provide a variety of services, including expert speakers on career transition topics, job leads from affiliated outplacement firms, and group meetings for networking.
As Vann found, the number of such groups is growing, as are the ranks of the jobless in networking groups intended for both employed and unemployed executives. He says a couple of the networks he was in outgrew the facilities they used for meetings.
Case in point: the Executive Network Group of Greater Chicago. A nonprofit organization that’s been in business 19 years, ENG has seen its membership more than double since the beginning of the year, to 366 members, according to Executive Director Chris Campbell.
Attendance at ENG’s monthly meetings has substantially increased, to the point where the group has to turn away some people because the room holds a maximum of 200.
If there’s a silver lining to the rampant layoffs from the recession, it might be the support that displaced executives are providing to one another, both online and off.
“Most of these executives have never had to figure out what it’s like not to have a job, but everyone has a pay-it-forward, ‘we’re all in this together’ attitude,” says Ryon Harms, who was in transition for four months before accepting a position as director of Internet marketing at EFI Sports Medicine in San Diego.
Harms also co-founded a networking organization called Pacific Executive Network and runs a blog advising executives about using social media to expand their networks.
“It’s interesting to see everyone helping each other out with no real expectation that the person would help them back but that somebody else in the community would,” he says.
This expectation is written into the mission statements of some groups.
At the Technology Executives Networking Group (TENG), for instance, members are expected to share at least three job leads per month, including leads they are actively pursuing or for which they could be a candidate.
Many Canadian organizations use these and other creative collaboration strategies to help their members – find jobs, contacts, resources, new business opportunities and more.
If you’re thinking of joining a network, here’s some advice from other laid-off executives who have either found new jobs or are otherwise reaping the benefits.
Some Canadian networking groups
The groups listed below could help Canadian line of business professionals – whether currently working, seeking new career opportunities, or even to launch their own business – in their quest.
BNI (bnicanada.ca) – This is a professional marketing organization specializing in word-of-mouth referrals.
BNI has more than 250 chapters across Canada located in most major communities. Each member carries business cards of other persons from their chapter.
When a chapter member meets someone who could be of help to another member, they pass on that member’s business cards and testimonial.
BNI says the process is tantamount to having a team of sales people working to promote your business. In addition, members have many opportunities to network with each other through regular meetings, social events and workshops.
BitNet (Business Information Technology Network) –BitNet offers networking opportunities to individuals, businesses and organizations in Southern Ontario.
The focus is on helping members:
- Opportunities to network with business leaders, technology providers and others
- Access information and training on relevant topics
- Advocacy – providing input on issues and concerns important to the IT industry in this region
The annual membership fee is: $ 50 per person for individuals; $100 for a business with up to five employees per business; and $250 per for businesses with more than five employees.
Conference Board of Canada (conferenceboard.ca) – Conducting, publishing and disseminating research is a key focus area of the Conference Board.
However, this non-profit outfit also offers Canadian executives opportunities to interact via networking councils, full service centres and research-based working groups.
The Conference Board also offers leadership and professional development programs. Each year they host around 250 meetings and 80 leadership programs that could also service as excellent networking opportunities.
Canadian Association of Women Executives and Entrepreneurs (cawee.net) – Toronto-based CAWEE is one of the more well-known groups catering to Canadian women executives and entrepreneurs from a broad range of sectors network.
It helps them build their contact base, share referrals and develop the skills to build their business.
To accomplish this, CAWEE offer many networking events, free listings and membership directories, learning forums such as breakfast panels, monthly lunch and learn workshops and online information and support. Annual membership fees range from $159 to $265.
It’s not all about a job
When Tom Siko was laid off in 2007 from Covansys Corp. after it was acquired by Computer Sciences Corp., he had spent 25 years in IT, the majority in consulting. He’s a member of two networks — ENG and the Technology Leaders Association, in which about 40 per cent of the members are in transition at any given time.
Both networks, he says, are great support groups, above and beyond their job search benefits. “You see people in the same situation you’re in, sometimes even people you know, and they all have a positive attitude, which helps a lot in this situation,” he says.
“You have very little control over this process, and that’s a difficult thing,” he says. For instance, it’s easy to sit in your home office and get discouraged, especially when you go through a period of not getting any leads. But if six other people you respect say they also aren’t seeing opportunities, it provides perspective.
“If I was at home, with no one to talk to, I’d get real concerned. But by listening to others, I can think maybe it’s not so bad after all,” Vann says.
Go beyond the unemployed
While it’s important to network with unemployed peers, it’s equally important to network with employed professionals, particularly hiring managers. Vann recommends spending about one-third of your time networking with unemployed people and the rest with people who have jobs.
“If you’re working on a particular company that seems to have opportunities, try to find people who work in that organization who can help you better target open positions,” Siko says.
Diversify beyond your field
It’s not unusual to belong to more than one network, and it’s important to expand beyond those that are specifically for IT.
When Vann was laid off, he already belonged to an Atlanta-area IT industry association, but he also joined several other group, including the Kettering Executive Network, a private network for senior-level professionals in Atlanta. About 140 of KEN’s 750 members are in transition, Vann says.
Meetings are once a week, and there are additional special-interest groups that meet every two weeks. Members help one another develop personal marketing plans, prepare for interviews and target companies with opportunities that best match their experience.
Vann also created his own eight-member multifunctional work team, which meets every two weeks and includes a CEO, a CFO and vice presidents of operations, sales and human resources. Within 110 days of the group being formed, five of the eight members had landed a job, including Vann.
What Siko likes about ENG is that it is made up of a diverse set of people, including lawyers, sales managers, accountants and marketing executives. “If you’re just in an IT-specific organization, you don’t get the perspective of companies you’re out there looking to get employed by,” he says.
With files from Joaquim P. Menezes, ITBusiness.ca