For many job seekers, the search for a new place to work can feel like a long, lonely march.

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For many job seekers, the search for a new place to work can feel like a long, lonely march. So much of the hard work is done in solitude — filling out applications, making phone calls, reaching out to strangers, sitting in an interview room facing one or more hiring managers. Alone.

These days, however, no professional with a network is truly alone. Some just might not realize how much people are willing to help.

Earlier this month, some neighbors of mine learned, in dramatic fashion, about the importance of connections within their network. On the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving, my next-door neighbor had tied the last ribbon on all of the Christmas presents for her family. She and her husband are very organized and had done all of their shopping early for themselves and their 8-year-old son.

A few hours later, a spark of still-unknown origin started a small fire on their front porch and quickly spread to the outer front wall of the house. Eventually, the small fire hit a natural-gas pipe, which ignited and turned into a blowtorch. Within seconds, the entire front half of the house was engulfed in flames.

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Fortunately, all three in the house escaped quickly and with only minor smoke inhalation. The fire department responded to the two-alarm blaze in less than five minutes, but all of the family’s possessions, including the Christmas presents, were either consumed in the fire or ruined by water from the fire hoses. Their insurance will replace it all — eventually — but in the immediate aftermath, they had nothing but the pajamas on their backs.

Within seconds, however, they realized that they were far from alone. Families up and down the block sprang into action, providing shoes, coats, warm beverages and whatever they had available in the early-morning hours. After dawn, neighbors lent their cars and their credit cards to go on a shopping spree so the family could have dry clothes.

A family they knew through their son’s school offered their empty furnished house to stay in, rent-free, while they were traveling abroad. Kids on the block held bake sales to help replace the gifts. A secure website was set up inviting friends and neighbors to donate to a fund to help with family’s living expenses. A 90-day goal of $10,000 was set. Within two weeks, the total shot up past $12,000 and continues to rise.

All of this giving affected the rest of us on the block as well. Families we used to give a polite nod to on the street now have names. We take time to stop and talk to each other a bit more and have exchanged contact information. As a result, a block-wide holiday party was arranged quickly so my neighbors could recover a little Christmas cheer that was stolen from them. We are all a little stronger because of it.

It’s hard to compare the devastation of a house fire to the loss of a job. A fire is obvious and seemingly random, and it can affect an entire block; the loss of a steady income is silent and personal, and can be easily hidden. But the shock and fear that these events generate are certainly similar.

People are no less willing to help their neighbors out after a job loss than they are after a fire, but they have to know about it first. Far too many job seekers — out of a sense of pride or shame or guilt — feel that they have to go it alone, that they have to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. But it is during a time of crisis, like a layoff, that network connections can be most useful.

So on this Christmas Eve, as we celebrate the warmth of family and the spirit of giving, remember to reach out to your friends, neighbors and colleagues. Don’t be afraid to ask for help while looking for work. You never know where the next good job lead will come from. Sometimes it can be found right next door.

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at