Everybody is a Thought Leader, Right?

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Social media has given rise to the age of the self-proclaimed thought leader. Maybe they style themselves ninjas, disruptors, innovators or change agents. Whatever the moniker they are out there and there sure are a lot of them. Should you choose to believe the hype, they are the biggest of the big thinkers, the Star-Bellied Sneetches of thinkers if you will.

For a time I immersed myself in networking hoping to meet the big thinkers, the gurus and the rule breakers. I wanted to learn from the best and brightest. I dashed from meetup to meetup, panel to panel, conference to conference, soaking up all that big thinking. My dance card was full almost every night. I tweeted. I hashtagged. I namechecked. I played the social media game to the hilt. I basked in the glory of all that thought leadership mere steps away.

After months of aggressively pursuing networking opportunities I started to notice a few things.

The same people spouted the same tired opinions on panel after panel. There would be an occasional blast of truly original or even radical thought, but all too often everyone was reading from the same script. The law of diminishing returns set in. The more I went, the less I learned.

With so many panels, conferences and meetups there just weren’t enough brilliant minds to go around. Somebody had to fill those chairs up on those stages. Every event seemed loaded with a bunch of inexperienced speakers selling boilerplate conventional wisdom or just showing up to pitch their company or product. Everybody gets a trophy!

The audience was often bored. More eyes were focused on smartphones than on what was happening in the room. All the onlookers looked as if they were thinking, “Hurry up and let’s get to the part where we exchange business cards.” It wasn’t that much fun.

The end of the night scrum to hobnob with the speakers was always awkward. Business cards sliced the air like throwing stars and the rules of civility were tossed aside by the rabble. Plus, there was always the added bonus of chatting with someone while they half listened and kept a vigilant lookout over my shoulder for someone more important.

What did I learn? I became an expert in buzzwords. I shook hundreds of hands. I made a lot of small talk. I ate a lot of pizza. I collected bushels of business cards. Yes, I did meet some great people and even made a few friends, but it was usually too much work for little reward. In the end, I mostly got bored and wanted go home.

The real lessons are simple. Choose the right networking opportunities with an emphasis on quality over quantity. Make sure the speakers are really at the top of their game and have something brilliant to impart. Try to make a few genuine connections at an event instead of working the room. If in doubt, go workout or head home instead. There are plenty of better uses for yout time.

Sure, some days I want to dust off my business cards, polish up my hashtags, get out there and shake some hands. Then I look at the choice in front of me. This week’s alleged thought leaders or spending time with family and the things I really love?

Yeah, I am heading home.

Weekly Roundup: The Power Of Your Professional Network

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You know what would be awesome? If I could sit on my couch eating bear claws and watching cartoons while the perfect job just knocked on my front door, that’s what. Seriously, how great would that be? Cartoons, doughnuts, couch. Alas, the world is never going to beat down the door with job offers. So I must ignore the seductive lure of the snacks and warm beckoning glow of the television and go find opportunity. Therefore, I must network.

I wrote just how critical your professional network is to career success right here at AOL Jobs.

Weekly Roundup: Mastering The Art Of LinkedIn

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How to tweak your LinkedIn profile from good to great. Here’s something I wrote for AOL Jobs.

Weekly Roundup: Networking Part 2

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Connections can make or break your career. Here are a handful of great networking strategies and tactics that you can use to establish and expand your circle that I wrote about for AOL Jobs.

Weekly Roundup: Networking Like A Pro

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Making connections starts with hello. Here’s some expert advice on networking in a piece I wrote for AOL Jobs.

What’s New In What Color Is Your Parachute?

What Color is Your Parachute 2014

Still Looking Good After 44 Years

Is the definitive book on job search still relevant in 2014? I wrote about Richard N. Bolles’ iconic book on job search and career change for AOL Jobs

Fighting the Unemployment Blues

Keep moving and follow these steps on your jobseeking journey. Here’s something I wrote for AOL jobs.

Apps To Supercharge Your Job Search

Conduct an expert job search from your smartphone. Here’s something I wrote for AOL Jobs about making your job search mobile first.

How To Crush That Networking Event

You say you hate to network? So did I. Not anymore. Here’s something I wrote for AOL Jobs about maximizing the networking experience.

You’re Fired! Seven Steps to Survive Unemployment

Fired. Downsized. Laid off. Restructured. Not sure what else the kids are calling it these days, but it happens to everyone at some point in their career. It happened to me and I found seven steps that have made the transition easier and (almost) enjoyable.

1 Don’t take it personally
This is the toughest step. You will probably need to focus on acceptance on a daily basis at first. It may have been politics, performance, economics, or something else, but the reason you no longer have a job is irrelevant. You are now unemployed. Yes, you will grapple with anger, shame, fear, denial and sadness. This emotional cycle is crippling. Let it go. It isn’t good or bad. It just is. The sooner you remove the emotion, the sooner you will free yourself to take on the next challenge.

2 Be Prepared
Update your resume. Complete your LinkedIn profile. Get business cards. Sharpen your job pitch. Treat your search like a job. If your former employer took back your technology, get a new phone, laptop, iPad, blackberry or whatever works for you. Your new workspace will likely be the local coffee shop, so make sure you have what you need to function as a mobile office.

3 Call/write/contact everyone you know
If you are not a natural networker this is hard. Think of it as an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and coworkers. Go through your address book and reach out to everyone. Those first emails and phone calls are painful. Set a goal every day and stick to it. Write 5 emails. Make 5 phone calls. It is a numbers game and the more contacts you make the more opportunities you will uncover. Plus, you won’t find a job online. You will likely find it through your extended network. Your contacts are one of your biggest assets.

4 Don’t take it personally, Part 2
You will get blown off by a lot of people. Job search can be a daily beatdown of unanswered emails, unreturned phone calls and cancelled meetings. Yes, even your friends and colleagues will ignore you. Your timeline isn’t the world’s timeline. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t give up. Keep reaching out. Follow up. Ignore the bad and focus on the good. The best part of this process is discovering how amazing some people are. You will be touched by their kindness and make some great new friends along the way.

5 Get Up. Get Dressed. Get Out
Do not stay at home. Staying home is a giant time suck, plus you will wind up talking to yourself. Get up and out. Dress like you are going to work. Create a rhythm and a daily routine. Your time is yours, but use it wisely. This is your new job until you find a job.

6 Keep learning
Take classes. Sharpen your skills. Go to conferences. There are tons of great free webinars and online classes. Keep up on what’s happening in your business. Work your social media profiles. Job search is a full-time job and consider this on the job training. Try to get a little smarter every day.

7 Enjoy the Time
This is tough too, but critical to the process. The anxiety and uncertainty of unemployment hinders the ability to appreciate the gift of not working. Yes, it is a gift. You will find another job and you will work long days and get caught up in the challenges, stresses, demands and politics of that job. So enjoy this time to reevaluate, reinvent and recharge your life and career. Take time to enjoy every day. Go for walks. Hit some museums. Spend extra time with your family. Do the things you never had time for when you were working.

I hope these help anyone who is looking for work and I would love to hear your ideas on surviving job loss and unemployment.