Finding a Job These Days: A Practical Guide to Unconventional Job-Hunting
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One of the most common questions I receive from this site is: “How did you find your job?” “How can I find one I love just as much?”
Here is my attempt to answer this question with as much step-by-step practicality that I think is more or less universally applicable whether you are hunting for your first, second, or fifth job, have a PhD or a high school diploma, are an engineer or a fashion designer.
It’s also focused on social and slightly unconventional job-hunting.
Hey, you asked how I did it. This is what actually WORKS!
First things first, it is important to begin a serious job hunt a minimum of 3 months before you’re looking to make a move. 6-9 months is more realistic, and also ensures that you’re going after and accepting the right opportunity, not merely the first thing that comes up.
Remember, you should be looking to stay in every position for a minimum of 2 years, so you want to allocate the right amount of time at the onset to find a position you see yourself loving and growing in for 2 whole years or more.
Two Kinds of Twenty-Somethings
When it comes to our careers, twenty-somethings generally fall into two categories: ones with an “end-game” in mind and ones who don’t have a clue about their ultimate career goal. Both are TOTALLY OK, but employ slightly different job-hunting strategies.
If you are in the former group, you should focus on getting to know people who are already in your dream role, seeking out mentorship, researching companies or organization in your field, and applying a laser-sharp focus on jobs that teach you the skills that make you as qualified as possible for your long-term goals.
If you still are relatively clueless (it’s OK…me too!), the goal is simply a kick-ass next step. There should be no pressure to figure out some complex 5-to-10 year trajectory. The goal is simply to make sure your role teaches you new skills, provides universally relevant experience, introduces you to a lot of people you can learn from, and exposes you to maximum levels of inspiration for discovering a more far-reaching path.
In either case, it is vital to begin your search with a strong summary sentence nailed down, one that positions you for your ideal job. It should sum up where you have been, where you are now, and where you want to go next. For example, mine reads: “International sales and marketing professional from a management consulting background looks to leverage Mandarin language skills and extensive experience in emerging markets in a business development capacity for a Chinese company.” This kind of clarity at the onset allows you to conduct a focused job search and helps people help you.
Write Your Own Job Description
Photo credit: Monster.com
The most common challenge I find us twenty-somethings facing when we begin the job hunt is an overall sense of listlessness over how and where to begin. Many friends come to me asking, “What kind of job should I be looking for after two years in investment banking or consulting?” “What kind of opportunities are right for someone finishing a Master’s in International Affairs?” The answer is: you tell me.
In our twenties, we are still relatively blank slates with regards to our careers. I have literally seen people go from banking to the NFL, from computer engineering to film production.
My advice is to create your own job description before you start looking. This prevents you from being swayed by the serendipity of whatever jobs you stumble upon, and allows you to focus on the opportunities that come as close to your already-specified ideal as possible.
It is important to spend time thinking about what you want and critically analyze your past experiences, interests, skills, and education to understand what makes you relevant to your ideal position. Remember to separate skills from experience: skills are what you can do, experience is what you have done.
For example, I recently landed a position that I seemed completely unqualified for on paper. The company was looking for 25-30 year old professionals experienced in sales and marketing, preferably with a Master’s degree. I was a management consultant with no sales or marketing experience, no Master’s degree, and 2-7 years younger than their ideal candidate. However, I argued my relevancy through previous experience in their target market and extracted my sales-relevant skills, which could be pooled and refined as I learned their methods on the job. This, and an expressed eagerness to learn, got me hired.
Stop Submitting Resumes
This seems counter-intuitive, but bear with me.
Most people fill out online application forms and frantically email their CV to contacts, hoping this lands them a job. Occasionally it does, but unless I know that the person wading through resumes submitted through an online portal is specifically looking for mine, I don’t bother. If I have to apply online, I do so only after I have a human being at the company on my side.
Instead, my recommended method of securing this human advocate in today’s digitally-driven employment universe is to start with a few emails.
Make a list of everyone you know who you feel comfortable reaching out to and send them a brief, personalized email with what you are up to now, the description you’ve created of your ideal next step, and a polite request for any ideas or introductions that could help. Don’t forget to ask how their work and personal life is going, as well.
This process allows you to inform friends, family members, former colleagues or mentors about your interests and and secure relevant leads. Even if nothing comes out of the email exchange, you still had an excuse to say “hello” and check-in with that person.
Pursuing Contacts and Leads – The Mentorship Approach
With the contacts you receive from your first round of friendly emails, you can reach out to these individuals with a basic self-overview (a less formal version of your summary sentence) and a suggestion to meet for coffee or have a 15-minute phone call at their convenience to discuss their career in the field and what advice they have for someone interested in doing what they do.
3 rules here:
1. Don’t ask for a job (yet). You are just focused on learning about them and their career and indicating a general interest in considering new opportunities. If you happen to make a good personal connection and have casually sprinkled in your qualifications, you can then later inquire about a job you see on that company’s website or ask for the introduction to a third party they mentioned. Otherwise, it’s more natural to wait for them to suggest a next step if they see you as a fit for something they know is available.
2. Never send your CV unsolicited. After you have connected on a personal level and it is determined that you’re a fit for something, they will ask for your resume.
3. Nurture the new relationship. Keep in touch with these new contacts after your conversation, send them links to relevant articles you think they may enjoy, offer to do something helpful for free, or just drop an email to say hi now and then. Always keep the lines of communication open with successful, interesting people you admire.
This method is beneficial on multiple levels: you nurture and expand your network, learn about different careers, solicit personal and professional mentorship, and (ideally) secure direct, human links to employment opportunities that prevent you from tossing your CV into digital black holes on the Internet.
As far as I’m concerned, the personal email method described above and LinkedIn should be your primary tools for finding leads and making connections. I’ve already written quite a lot about how to effectively use LinkedIn during your job hunt. Basically, LinkedIn allows you to see second and third degree connections, so you can ask your first-degree connections for specific introductions to their friends or friends of friends. Applying the same principle of making a personal connection with these interesting individuals and taking a mentorship approach will also open doors to opportunities.
Smart Google Searching
Come up with a list of keywords from your ideal job description and extensively Google this list plus the terms “company” or “organization,” looking not only at the first and second pages, but the tenth, twelfth, twentieth pages of the search. While doing this, maintain a spreadsheet of relevant companies, their contact information, interesting positions and requirements, and if they are actively hiring.
If they are not actively hiring, do not despair. The focus is on gathering a database of companies and organizations, not the roles they may or may not be advertising. You simply want to know about interesting companies so you can research them on LinkedIn and repeat the process detailed above to make connections with individuals working there. In fact, they may not even advertise many positions, and the only way you will find out they exist is via a real, live human being.
After searching for an international position for over two years – and finally landing the one I wanted – I can provide a few techniques for successfully navigating this added layer of difficulty to becoming a gainfully employed individual.
First and foremost, resist the temptation to “pack up and go.” It’s essential to have a job before you leave, even one that isn’t 100% perfect. A job of any kind integrates you into society, the expat community, and a network of people and places that can get you hired into a better position later.
In order to find that first job, it’s important to narrow your focus to one country (and one city if possible). This was a mistake I made once upon a time, looking for jobs everywhere from Rio de Janeiro to New Delhi to Beijing. Such a scatter-brained search inhibited my ability to strategically do what is necessary for any successful job hunt: build a network in that location and spend time understanding what is available to do there.
You are probably thinking, how can I build a network in Beijing if I live in New York?
You can start by employing all of the above strategies – personal emailing, strategic use of LinkedIn, Twitter, etc – to connect with people in your field of interest in the specific location of interest. This is where having a focused destination comes in handy.
Imagine someone saying, “I want to leverage my accounting background to try something different in an emerging market.” I don’t even know where to begin to help this person. But if you tell me, “I want to work for a local bank in Lima, Peru because I have 3 years of experience in accounting, speak Spanish, have previously visited Peru, and minored in Latin American Studies in college,” I can try to think of who I know in my network who lives in Lima (or knows someone who does), and feel confident recommending you as someone who a.) knows what she wants and b.) is qualified in that space.
Additionally, picking a specific location lets you to use LinkedIn in a sensible way to search for openings and interesting people in your industry in that city. It also enables you to use the previously discussed strategic Googling tactics to find companies of interest to you in that place. “Accounting jobs in developing countries” doesn’t work. “Accounting jobs in Beijing for US citizens” is far more effective.
Lastly, my highest recommendation to the serious international job-hunter is to take a “networking vacation” to your desired location. After you’ve made some contacts and have several companies in mind, it’s not a bad idea to fly yourself over, do several interviews and meet-and-greets that you’ve lined up in advance, post-up in strategic expat bars, and generally sample the market. This is probably the most practical and effective way to get a good job in another country, but requires a lot of preparation to make it worthwhile.
Here’s a few links that I consistently recommend to international job-seekers:
Movingworlds.org: Get matched with global opportunities based on your field of expertise. It costs $99, but you only pay when a successful match is made.
Escapethecity.org: Register for their newsletter and every Monday you’ll receive a list of new, usually paid opportunities on every continent.
Devex.com: Focused on international development and public sector jobs.
Idealist.org: Lots of volunteer-based positions, but occasionally some paid opportunities.
Onedayonejob.com: A great place to browse interesting organizations.
ATLAS-China.com: Fluent Mandarin speakers with previous employment experience can get hired by companies in second or third-tier Chinese cities.
JustBetterJobs.com: Posts for-profit jobs that contribute to a greater purpose. Signing up for their newsletter is highly recommended.
Have a Sounding Board
Photo credit: EmployAdam.com
As you navigate your job search, it is fundamental to have a few people with whom you can discuss the pros and cons of each opportunity that arises, evaluate how to best position yourself in each case, and provide a critical evaluation of which is the best next step.
Sharing the experience of the modern-day job hunt with a small group of people you trust helps keep the ups and downs in perspective and provide support on a personal and professional basis. You shouldn’t go through this kind of major search and transition alone, so take comfort in creating a sounding board for your experience.
How did you find your current job? What was most effective? What wasn’t? What techniques would you advise twenty-something job-seekers to use? Please share ideas and good links in the comments section below.
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