19 September 2013

Take My Advice: Five Principles for Your Job Search

The Internet is full of advice on how to find a job in a professional field. So are your friends, colleagues, and career counselors. All of that advice all boils down to this: 
  • figure out what work you want to be doing and can reasonably achieve;
  • target specific organizations in your field; 
  • build a network of professional contacts through informational interviews; and
  • get those contacts to push your resume when/before job openings arise.

Simple. Effective. Also, difficult. Slow. Frustrating. Makes you want a magic button to press to make it happen now. Makes you scour the Internet for that magic button. 

I will save you the trouble: there is no magic button. From 6 months in the job search trenches, I have learned that much. I proffer instead 5 basic principles for a sane and successful job search.

1. Get something current on your resume. Now.
No one will talk you if your plate is empty. Employers think you are a pariah if there is a blank space for your current position. When I returned to Washington, D.C., in March 2013, I already had a gap in my resume. I almost never got to explain this gap until I got something to fill it (with a part-time opportunity in my field that started in July). After that, responses to my resume were more enthusiastic and my interviews were more successful. 
Even if you are waiting tables or waiting out a big life event, volunteer or consult part-time in your field (or on the edges of it). You will be more desirable if you seem already desirable.

2. Build a deep network.
Advertisements will not get you a jobs; people will. Start your network with people you know and people who have reason to think you are generally competent: friends, colleagues, family, neighbors, and fellow alumni from your school(s). Ask around. Do not be shy. Go to networking events if that works for you. Hold informational interviews and always close by asking for 2-3 further contacts in the field. 
I returned to Washington with a strong existing network of friends and alumni, which I built out through 60+ informational interviews. My networking yielded contacts at the organizations at which I wanted to work; they were glad to push for me at the right moment.

3. Brush off the failures.
When teenage me asked for advice on dating, someone wise told him that you need to fail nine times to succeed on the tenth. Exponentialize that for a job search during a recession: you need to fail 99 times to succeed on the 100th time. I applied for roughly 30 positions before I started getting results. Be persistent, even in the face of the barrage of failure. Channel your frustrations into something constructive like an artistic, athletic, or intellectual pursuit. For the record, I wrote songs.
Nevertheless, do not be a dog chasing cars. Do not apply for jobs you that would make you miserable. You will need your strength to battle for positions you care about. 

4. Brush off the platitudes.
People who like you will often pile on the encouragement about your job search. They mean well when they say you will find something soon. They are genuine when they say with your experience you should not have any problems. Being built up, however, also means you may feel worse when your search gets long and complicated. When the ego-boosting is done, shrug off the pleasantries just as you do with the setbacks. Thank your friends and colleagues regardless. They mean well.

5. Do not get lost in online advice.
Job search blogs and career advice websites love to point out tips and tricks for achieving success. Spending hours trying to process these work-arounds, clever wordings, and self-help strategies will do only one thing: make you miserable -- because your existing, un-wily approach-to-date therefore must explain your failure to date. 
Yes, your cover letter may need some editing, but ask a person, not a website. Friends, family, and career counselors can give feedback that balances the "you can do better" with the "you are already doing well".