The search for new employment can be exciting, filled with imaginings of new opportunities, challenges and collaborations. It can also be emotionally exhausting to market your skills, your ideas, yourself in search of the perfect position. This is a common concern shared in career counseling sessions that is communicated in many different ways: the need for meaningful work, the search for the dream job, the “what I really want to be doing…” quandary. Job searching can take many forms, but regardless of approach, I suggest incorporating two essential components:
- “Hire” yourself.
- Apply for unlisted positions.
“Hire” yourself. You know the type of work you want to be doing. You know what you want to be making, writing, creating, solving. So start doing it. If you’re a writer, write the articles or blogs that would be your dream assignments. Programmers, complete the site you’ve been coding. Similarly, volunteer in your industry of interest to support your own professional development, sharpen your competitive edge and standout even more in the "Skills" section of your résumé.
By doing what we love, we actively enjoy the present instead of waiting for the future. We also extend our work into the world in a way that is likely to encourage important contacts and collaborations. We also provide ourselves with the opportunity to bolster a web presence or online portfolio, sure to wow any hiring manager when applying for a listed or unlisted position.
Which brings us to:
Apply for unlisted positions. As with most professional growth, preparation is the key to this tactic. A dream job can often be wed to a dream employer, and targeting the latter begins with well-executed research. Whether you’re drawn to their mission, corporate culture, product, voice and vision, or any combination of these qualities, it’s time to uncover the daily operations responsible for each. Identify 5-10 dream organizations and hit the Internet with the aim to learn more about each and possibly discover others. The guiding research principle is to discover as much as you can about the organizations and how you might best fit and compliment them. Learn about their history, operations, department structure, staff environment, and compelling initiatives and projects. How have they impacted their industry or market, and why is this intriguing to you? Think of this as intimate professional profiling.
Once you've assessed how your skills might be best utilized by an organization, it's time to reach out to your network. Just as you would grease your connections for a listed position, leverage it for unlisted ones as well. Often departments are looking to hire before anything gets publicly posted. Utilize family, friends, colleagues, past employers, and LinkedIn. Who do you know that works there? Who do you know that knows someone that works there? See if your network can help you unearth an emerging opportunity.
If you get a lead on such an opportunity and land an interview, go in prepared. Armed with your research and a reinforced network, develop your pitch. Consider this the condensed, heavy-hitting version of your cover letter. Speak about your experience in such a way that they start to see your skills as the thing they didn’t even realize was missing from their team. Yet be sure to start your interview by really listening to what the responsibilities of the position are, and how the position will benefit the company, so you know your pitch is relevant and on point. Follow up the interview with a timely thank you. Include a link to an interesting article, video, paper, or conference that connects to what you discussed during the interview. Succinctly reinforce your regards and your resourcefulness.
If you can’t land an interview, try lining up an informational interview instead. The primary purpose of this twenty-minute meeting is to get an insider view of the work being done in the company as well as to gain contacts in the professional market and industry. Although it seems counter-intuitive, an informational interview isn’t to overtly pitch yourself, but to learn about how a company and industry work. However, the secondary benefit is that it provides the opportunity to showcase your initiative, interest, and intelligence, leaving the company’s staff member with a clearer picture of how you might be an asset if something opens up in the future. When bringing an informational interview to a close, ask if there is anyone else in the profession that they’d recommend you speak with to learn more about the field. Now, you have a name to reference when making your next outreach call, and your network is beginning to grow. Remember, that a thank you email is equally important after an informational interview as it is for a job interview.
A job search shouldn’t feel like jumping through a bunch of useless hoops, rather it should give you more experience, ground you in a greater awareness about the field, and grow your number of contacts.