Three Steps to Starting your Job Search the Right Way

“I am going to talk with everyone here at this event and ask each person if he or she has heard of a job.”

AptitudesI was at a fundraiser talking with an energetic young woman, I’ll call her Brittany, as we nibbled cheese and crackers. She was there with her mother who had just confided in me that she was concerned that her daughter had been searching for a job for months and had not gotten a single interview yet. Knowing that I teach people how to find jobs, she asked me to talk with her daughter.

“How are you searching?” I asked her.

“Mostly online and by networking,” she said. “I know you are going to tell me I should be networking more, but I can’t get people to respond to me. Everyone is really busy. But,” she said enthusiastically, “I am going to talk with everyone here at this event and ask each person if he or she has heard of a job.”

“What kind of job do you want?” I asked.

“I’ll take anything, “she replied. “I really don’t know.”

In just a few seconds of talking with Brittany I understood a lot about why she was struggling with her job search. Can you figure it out? If you have been reading my blog posts or my book Job Quest: How to Become the Insider Who Gets Hired, you probably already know the answer. But let’s go through three steps together to try to help Brittany have a more productive path to land a job.

STEP ONE: TAKE “AIM”

It is crucial for Brittany to have a better idea about what she wants to do. Starting a job search in the right direction is important. Think of it as an industry, realm, kingdom, or neighborhood you want to find your way to. If you start on any journey but you don’t have a goal in mind, it is easy to get into a state of hopeful wandering but that doesn’t guarantee you will get to a good destination. It also creates difficulties for people who are trying to aid you in learning useful information that will help you find your way. Telling people you will take anything puts the listener in the role of your career counselor. Most people don’t know how to help you figure that out and don’t have the time to do that work with you. Brittany needs to figure out the right industry and job within that industry that fits with her aptitudes (talents), interests, and where there is market need (good opportunity for work or workflow). If she can do that, she can get more help from the people she networks with to find the right job.

How can she figure this out?

Brittany can do a number of assessment exercises. There are two helpful ones, AIMS and Essential Elements, that are in the appendices of my book and well as posted on my Web site. They can help her develop a template that will function as a guide for identifying the right career direction. There are also assessment tests such as the Highlands Battery and Strong Interest Inventory and Myers Briggs that help some people know themselves better. And she can also use networking for informational purposes. That kind of networking is different from the more targeted networking I term rapid relationship and trust building, where the focus is on having a series of vetting meetings with people in the desired industry. Informational networking would help most if Brittany has already created an Essential Elements template. Then, as she learns from people in the field of interest what it is really like to work in that industry or that particular job, she can check what she is learning against the template that defines what she needs from her job/career.

Informational interviews are really the best way to research what it is like to do a job. They are interviews of people who actually do or recently have done the job. Brittany should ask open ended questions to learn about the field or job. Here are a few open ended questions that can get someone talking about what it is really like to do the work they do.

“How did you decide on this career?”

“What have you liked or not liked about your career so far?”

“If you had it to do over again would you still pick this field, why or why not?”

“Who excels in this field? Why is that?”

“Who does not do well in this field? Why is that?”

“Name five things that surprised you about this job that you didn’t expect.”

“Given my background (describe it verbally or show your resume), do I have what I need in terms of skills to land a job in this field? What am I missing? Where could I get that training or background?”

As she gains information she can keep checking her template to see if the fit is likely to be satisfactory for her given her personal needs.

STEP TWO: ARTICULATE YOUR DREAM AND DILEMMA

Once Brittany has figured out a potential goal, the next step is to articulate her dream and dilemma, or goal and problem. If she can tell this to people it will help them to provide the kind of information she needs. Here is an example.

Let’s say that Brittany spends a lot of time on social media. She loves it! Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are her life blood. She also likes popular culture and understands how her generation thinks, shops, and is motivated. She would love to have a job where she could be paid to engage in social media for a company she likes. Guess what. There are jobs like that and the field is a hot, relatively new one: social media manager or coordinator. And almost every single business, nonprofit, association, and would-be celebrity needs this help. Does she have the skills to land this kind of job? Maybe she ran the social media campaign for her sorority in college. Maybe she spent her summers managing the social media for a fundraiser for a nonprofit. These experiences, whether paid or unpaid, can be the building blocks of her advocacy when she talks with people about her skills and experience. They can be front and center on her resume along with other evidence that she is a good student and hard worker.

How should she talk with people about the job she is looking for? How should she articulate her dream and dilemma? How about this?

“My dream is to have a job doing what I love – social media. My dilemma is that I don’t know of places that could use this help. I’d like to talk with people in this industry who do this kind of work. I would love to hear their stories about how they got into the field and how it is working out for them. I would love to learn about places that are busy and growing and might need someone to join their team.”

If Brittany can talk in this way at the fundraiser, she will mine more useful information and set herself up for vetting meetings with people who might actually want to hire her. If not, she can connect her up with more people to meet. This process is the kind of rapid relationship and trust building I talk about in Job Quest.

STEP THREE: UNDERSTAND AND ENGAGE IN RAPID RELATIONSHIP AND TRUST BUILDING

As I write about in Job Quest, the people with the best chance of getting hired are “insiders,” meaning people known and trusted by a workplace. You can gain the trust of a workplace by actually working there and doing a great job as an intern, for example, or as a summer hire. But another way to do it is to engage in brief vetting meetings with a series of people in the industry you are trying to penetrate. In Brittany’s case, if she can find people already engaged in social media work, she will be able to tap into that industry’s grapevine in the city where she lives.

Brittany also has the added advantage that Twitter seems to be becoming a source for job postings, and a social media manager job is one that is likely to be tweeted about because Twitter is an information channel used by people in social media. Even though she has that information channel, however, Brittany needs to work hard at meeting people in person. Relying solely on social media can be a disadvantage. More magic happens in person. A lot more magic! The reason has to do with the way human beings communicate and feel connected to each other. Something amazing – like 90% – of communication is body language, and that includes tone of voice, eye contact, posture, and even smiling, or not.

Rapid relationship and trust building is really about connectivity, and the meetings are actually mini-interviews with people sizing you up, developing a sense of trust in you, and perhaps imagining you on their team. These meetings are also a chance to hear the gossip, create authentic friendships, and become the insider who gets hired. When the job seeker also expresses gratitude by giving back to the person who met with him or her, it contributes to a sense of goodwill and willingness to engage, support, and help the jobseeker in return. What goes around comes around. Gifts of information, support, help, connection, and small tangible gifts don’t have to cost much at all other than time, but really help people to have a positive view of the job seeker instead of feeling used by him or her to get a job.

So let’s go back to the fundraiser and pretend that Brittany has done her job search homework. How will she act differently this time?

She will actively seek out and search for people who do social media or know people who do social media. She will be like a heat-seeking missile in terms of her intentionality. What would she say to me?

She might start out with some small talk:

“What brings you to this event?”

“How did you get involved with this group?”

Then she would move into a discussion about what I do. (People love to talk about themselves.)

“Where do you work?”

“What do you do?”

Then, when I ask what she does, she would say…

“I just graduated from college and I am trying to find my way to the right career. I have a dream and a dilemma. I want to get into social media. But I don’t know enough people in the industry.”

And right on cue I would say…

“Would you like to talk with two people I know who do social media on a full time basis? One is at Sprout Social. Have you heard of that company? And the other works for a magazine that is developing an online presence. I know they know plenty of other people in the field as well.”

What else could she do at this fundraiser?

This is a fundraiser for a successful nonprofit.

Somebody must be doing the social media for this group. Okay, who would that be? How about one of the three women at the front table who are handing out the name tags and checking the list of guests? Small groups, companies and organizations usually need staff to wear many hats. Isn’t it likely that one of those women at the front table is doing social media and marketing and some administrative roles as well? So she could find out. She could engage them one-by-one in a short conversation and set up a time to meet for coffee next week if any of them are in the field or know people in the field.

If she could do this, Brittany would be working her quest by taking AIM, articulating her dream and dilemma, and understanding rapid relationship and trust building to uncover more jobs and opportunities. She would be finding her way to the castles out there and creating more relationships that could make her the insider that gets the job.