by Regan McMahon
Those in the know tell me that all the electronic applications I’m filing are useless.
A highly successful financier told me he could have a stack of 100 applications on his desk, placed there by the HR department in response to an ad, and if one of his staffers popped his head in the guy’s office and said, “You should interview my buddy Jim; he’d be great in that job,” Jim will not only get an interview, he’ll have the edge on being hired. “What’s going to carry more weight with me,” my friend asked rhetorically. “The 100 strangers in the stack, or the proven quantity recommended to me by a person I trust?”
Makes sense. My problem is I don’t seem to have a network to nudge. I worked for years at the same place, and most of my colleagues in the media are either employed at a place that’s experiencing layoffs or unemployed and competing against me for the few jobs there are. I managed a stable of freelance writers, but none I can hit up for a job.
The key is said to be setting up informational interviews. But when I know in advance there are no openings at a place, and that a hiring freeze is in effect, it seems pointless. If the theory is that the guy will remember me weeks or months down the line when the thaw comes, is that a realistic expectation?
A former colleague of mine has been diligent about setting up these kinds of interviews, but she comes away from them more depressed than before, with a sinking feeling that she was wasting her time and the staff member’s. The rosiest scenario is when that person suggests another person for her to contact. But each time she’s contacted that next person, the answer has been the same: “Sure, I’d be happy to speak with you, but we have no openings and I don’t know when we will.”
All of us print journalism refugees are trying to think outside the box and be open to exploring other fields where we could use our skills. I had an informational interview with a news editor at a public radio station, who warmly and generously recounted his transition from print to broadcast journalism a few years earlier. After he outlined the areas of the industry I might pursue, given my background, he asked if I’d like a tour of the place. On the way to his office, we passed series of empty cubicles. “This is where my staff used to sit,” he noted. Recent layoffs had taken such a toll on his department it looked as if tumbleweeds were about to blow through. I appreciated his time and encouragement, but I went away feeling discouraged. If experienced radio professionals were being shown the door, what hope was there for me?
An employee of a premier state university where I would love to work, and which happens to be my alma mater and is located 12 minutes from my house, tells me to keep checking the job listings on the university’s website. Then she adds that unfortunately, for nearly every job posted, there is already an in-house candidate who has the inside line on it, and the posting is just a formality.
A former newspaper colleague got hired at one of the university’s publications thanks to the recommendation of another colleague of ours who got there a few months earlier—after an insider recommended her. That’s the beauty of networking. Unfortunately, the state budget crisis has meant deep cuts to the university. So now not only is there now a hiring freeze, but my friends who work there are living in fear that any day their jobs may be eliminated.
Since networking isn’t working out for me, maybe it’s time for a new strategy: creating a job where none exists.
Read the previous installment: Job Search: It's a Jungle Out There .
Read the next installment: Job Search: Taking Matters Into My Own Hands. 
Regan McMahon is the author of Revolution in the Bleachers: How Parents Can Take Back Family Life in a World Gone Crazy over Youth Sports .