The Buddy System for Job Seekers

When I was in Girl Scouts many years ago, we practiced what we called the “Buddy System.” It was simple: you never went anywhere away from the main group without a buddy. Whether it was a regular meeting, a day trip, or a weekend at camp, you took a buddy along for safety.

Now comes evidence the same thing works for job seekers. If you want to get a job, it helps to have a job—but if you don’t, you definitely need to have friends who are employed.

The first evidence came from Italy, but now American researchers have reached the same conclusion. (There’s a $5 fee for that article, so I haven’t read it.) Naturally, there’s a certain advantage to having employed friends when you’re looking for a new job: they might know of a position with their own employers and recommend you. But I suspect there’s a bit more to it.

If you’ve been out of work any time in the past four years (and many of us have), you’ve probably been to at least one so-called “networking” event for the unemployed. I went to two, then called it quits. I still go to networking events, and to events with networking potential that don’t advertise themselves as such. But networking for the unemployed? I’m done with that.

Both events I attended turned into gripe sessions, with a side order of can-you-top-this. “How badly were you treated by a recruiter? Oh, sure, but let me tell you what happened to me!” If you hadn’t been humiliated or hit on in an interview, you hadn’t had the full experience. It wasn’t networking, it was group therapy. Maybe that worked for some, but I’d already vented my frustrations (to an employed friend) over a few beers and was ready to move on.

The Italian researchers acknowledge this.

Mr Rosalia and Mr Cingano control for this by examining employees with equal qualification levels, made redundant by the same company at the same time. Those with more employed friends still tend to find new employment faster, apparently due to the informational advantages of having friends in jobs who learn about vacancies.

It wasn’t about qualifications, it was about having friends who work. It might be about referrals, but even on that they are fuzzy. What it comes down to is that if your friends work, you have a greater chance of finding work. Maybe it’s connections, but maybe it’s mind-set. Maybe it’s acquaintances who have the right attitude and can give you a shoulder to cry on or a kick in the rump, whichever is appropriate at that moment to make you send out one more resume or go to one more networking event.

In an online article, the Italian researchers offer an interesting possibility:

Contacts’ employment status plays a stronger role if they recently searched for a job, and thus collected useful and up-to-date information, and if their current employer is closer (spatially and technologically) to the unemployed. We rule out that this evidence reflects a referral mechanism… [emphasis mine]

So it’s not just their current job that friends are drawing on; it’s the whole network that working friends built to find their current position that they might share with a friend who’s looking for work, and possibly some up-to-the-minute job search techniques.

Last week I tried an experiment. I’ve been looking for a job for a while, but in the meantime I’ve been doing temporary and contract work. That’s given me connection to quite a few recruiters and staffing agencies—especially as some of those recruiters have change agencies over time. So when a friend who is currently working told me she wants to make a change, I e-mailed contacts at five agencies (seven contacts in total) and mentioned it.

Within ten minutes three of those contacts e-mailed me back and asked for my friend’s resume. Ten minutes! Even though one recruiter admitted he doesn’t have a lot of direct hire openings right now, he wanted to see my friend’s resume in case anything came along. That’s pretty powerful.

Two employed women. Seven recruiters in five agencies. Three requests. Ten minutes.

We’re magnets. Even I was amazed.

It’s early yet. I don’t know if any of these connections will lead to a job for my friend (or, for that matter, if my current temp gig will lead to a permanent position for me). But it’s encouraging. Maybe that’s the real secret: get just enough response to make you send out the next resume, dress up for the next interview… and keep on going until you land that better job. It only takes one “yes” to make the whole process worthwhile.

Bring a Buddy/Be a Buddy

Here are some lessons based on my recent experience:

  • If you’re unemployed or underemployed, spend time with friends who are working and go to some events about fields that interest you in your job search (even if they’re not specifically advertised as “networking” events). Don’t spend all your time with other people who are unemployed—and especially be wary of frustrated job seekers who complain a lot. On the other hand, if you can find a job search buddy for mutual support and encouragement during your searches, that might be a good idea.
  • If you’re employed, buddy up with an unemployed friend (or two). Be alert for openings that your buddy might be a good fit for—with your employer or another—and introduce them to professional acquaintances who might be helpful. If appropriate, give your buddy a recommendation on LinkedIn or help your buddy improve his/her profile and online presence.
  • If you recently got a job, stay in touch with your job search contacts. Update them on how you’re doing. Recommend an unemployed or underemployed buddy. And if anyone directly helped you find your new job, treat your job search buddy to lunch, or at least a cup of coffee, and be sure to connect on LinkedIn so you can stay in touch professionally.

As for my experiment in recommending a buddy, I’ll keep you posted if and when anything happens. And good luck!

2 thoughts on “The Buddy System for Job Seekers

  1. barryk21 September 13, 2012 / 12:06 pm

    Interesting … we should talk sometime about the job hunting. Thanks for following my site. If you head back there, under Articles you will find some posts on job hunting. Let me know what you think. Thanks again!


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