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[whitespace] Without Getting Fired

Just don't call it networking. "That sends a schmoozy message," says Mary-Ellen Mort, project director for JobSmart.org, a Web site that offers tips for job seekers throughout California. "But you need to talk with people, stay connected," Mort says. Or as career counselor Clara Horvath puts it: "You've got to be plugged in."

For most Silicon Valley employees, squeezing a job search into a 12-hour workday is a job itself. But email and phones provide a way to hit the employment line without becoming unemployed--if the job-seeker is careful.

Donald Asher, a career coach and author based in San Francisco, says one of his clients got fired after speaking with Asher on the phone. "They traced the call and escorted him right out the door," he says. "Brutal, huh?"

While a quick boot out the door isn't quite a catastrophe in the current job boom, getting fired doesn't help. Most employers want to hire someone who's currently working. "Then they know you can function," Mort says. "Because the reality is they all want a self-reliant employee."

But while maintaining the job that is short of your dreams, she says, "the key is you're always marketing yourself--and managing your own career."

The trick, says Mort, is to always be on the hunt. Go on an interview once a month. Sign up with a professional group and stay in contact with people on the same career track. Talk to the former boss, now at a new company. Get a private email address and join Internet job-search mailing lists. While there, she says, get involved--don't just shadow the list, participate in it.

Yet savvy job-seekers need to be careful during their job hunt, says Asher, a 15-year career coach and author of The Fool Proof Job Search Workbook. Suddenly closing an office door during the day to make calls, or scheduling several lunches out when brown-bagging has been the norm, will send a quick signal to an employer.

"You've got to have an alibi," Asher says. "Have a friend pick you up at your office, but let them eat while you work the cell phone or pay phone making calls."

When an interview is secured, make sure the alibi for getting there is legit. "It's the first thing a recruiter will ask you--how did you get time off for the interview?" Asher warns. "A recruiter will look for a nervous answer. So stay calm, and don't lie."

Horvath recommends targeting a specific company: "Who do you know at Sun? At Intel? People find jobs through people. It saves employers time. They don't have to take out ads."

"I'm not a big fan of the want ads," Asher says, though she notes that creative job-seekers have trolled through old listings. "See which company was hiring managers six months ago," Asher says. A manager will spend the first three months making new plans for the department and "spend the next two months firing people. Within six months a new manager will start looking for new people to hire."

Asher's quick tip for job-seekers: "Contact your employer's top competitor. Then be careful about references. Approach someone who's left the company and knows your work. And someone close to you."

But be warned. "The rumor you're looking for work," Asher says, "will spread faster than an office romance."

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From the March 5-11, 1998 issue of Metro.

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