Friday, August 26, 2011

How to Get a "Next" Job?

After posting my job search update earlier this week, I started thinking about all of the jobs I've had in my life. None of them were career jobs, but still ... they served their purpose. They were effective "filler" jobs that helped me make ends meet or just get to the next place I was going in my life (for example, the full-time job I got after I graduated from undergrad, but before I left for grad school).

They didn't seem like something worth talking about in a blog about finding a career outside of academia. But you know what? It's one of these filler jobs that has just about saved me in this process of leaving academia. By deciding to get a part-time job a few years back, I unknowingly made a decision that would make the process of leaving academia a thousand times easier for my future self, because I didn't have to worry about financial stress on top of everything else.

Since I doubt many of you are looking for a job similar to the one I'm doing now or to the minimum-wage food service job I did in college, I hadn't thought about how my job-getting experiences might be helpful for readers here. But ... duh! If you're reading this blog and thinking about leaving academia, there's a decent chance that you don't already have an outside job. And in fact, if you've followed the direct undergrad -> grad school -> faculty track that a lot of Ph.D.s take, you may have never held a job outside academia. So, you might be in need of some tips about how to find a "next" job outside the insular academic world. I might be able to help with that. I've had lots of "next" jobs ... in offices, in retail, in restaurants, in hotels. :)

So, how did I get these next jobs? Well, just like in the world of career jobs, sending resumes out blindly (or just walking in and filling out paper applications to hand to the front desk at random places) rarely works. The job market is very tight right now, as we all know. But even if it wasn't, your chance of being selected for a job is pretty slim when you're just one out of a huge stack of applicants. That goes double if you have no experience, even for the most entry-level job.

But there are things you can do, in my experience, that might help you get hired. These strategies have all worked at least once for myself or for people I know. So if you're thinking about trying to get a "next" job right now? Here are some ideas that might help.

First things first - network, network, network.

Ugh, I hate that word. Doesn't everyone? I hear that, and I start picturing people standing around at awkward social events, sipping cocktails and chatting about business strategies and bragging about who they know. Yuck.

That's not what I mean, though. If you're looking for a next job, you don't need to go to some weird networking event. But what you do need to do is talk to people. Primarily your friends, family, and acquaintances. Both new and old.

We all know the research that shows that most people find jobs through people they know, right? It's true. In my personal history, I've gotten four jobs this way ... and only one was through a close friend. In the other three cases, I happened to mention to an acquaintance (an old coworker, my partner's boss, and a friend of a friend) that I was looking for work, and they helped me out in some way that wound up landing me a job. Strength of weak ties, indeed.

So if you decide to start looking for that next job? Start letting people know. Briefly mention that you're looking for work in conversations, whenever it fits in. Send emails or Facebook messages to people you know who live in the area where you're looking. Let them know directly that you're looking for a job, and ask if they know of anything or anyone who could help. Mention that you're looking for work at holiday parties, happy hours, the salon, church, etc. You never know who will be able to help.

You don't need to go overboard with it, but just make sure to get the word out that you're looking for a job. Most people will try to help if they can. Think about it - if someone you knew and liked wanted a job and you knew of someone who might like to hire them, wouldn't you try to pass along the info? Of course you would. And other people are going to do the same for you.

And hey - it's not that big of a deal to ask. Worst case scenario? The people you ask won't respond, so you move on. But in the best case scenario, you might just land a job.

Second piece of advice - if you do walk into an office or workplace you're not familiar with to drop off a resume or fill out an application? Make sure to ask to speak to a manager. If that fails, at least try to make small talk with the people you come into contact with.

My partner does hiring for a company that doesn't have an extensive screening process for new hires. He'll admit that if an applicant gets to speak to him when they drop off their application and seem to be a good fit for the job, they're very likely to get hired. As he puts it: "why go through the process of calling people in for interviews if there's a good applicant already sitting in front of you?" Use this to your advantage if you drop off a resume/application. Ask for the manager.

But even if the manager isn't there, make sure to chat with the people you talk to while you're there. Don't annoy them, obviously, but be friendly and make some small talk if possible. I once got a job by chatting with the person behind the counter at a retail store while I filled out my application. When I finished filling it out, she told me that she'd make sure to put in a good word for me with her manager. The manager called the next day, and I got the job. A few months later, I paid it forward by doing the same thing for someone else who was chatting with me while filling out an application.

My third piece of advice is to cold call businesses where you'd be interested in working. Ask whoever answers the phone if they are hiring for whatever work you think you'd like to do. Thinking administrative work? Go through the yellow pages and start calling offices, asking whoever answers if they need administrative/secretarial/whatever help. Worst case scenario? They say no and you hang up. Best case scenario? You get a job.

Does this sound crazy? Well, it's how I got my current "next job." I just happened to call the office where I now work a day or two after my boss decided to hire a new person, but before the job ad had come out. And lo and behold, he happened to answer the phone when I called. I emailed my resume to him after we hung up, and had an interview and a job the next day. It probably won't work that easily for you ... but it only takes a minute to make a call, and you just never know. It worked for me!

The final way I've gotten a job was through a job fair for a company that was relocating to the city I was living in. Now, I don't recommend expending tremendous resources to travel to faraway job fairs or anything like that. You may very well wind up being one of a thousand people who show up, and never get to speak to anyone.

But if you hear that a new business is opening in your city and holding a job fair? Or your university career services office is having one? Go to it. Dress up and bring some resumes. Chat with people. Bring a friend to walk in with if you feel awkward. You never know what will happen. Maybe you'll see an empty table and walk over to see what company it is, and you'll walk out with a job. (This happened to my sister). Or maybe you'll just stumble upon a newly opened company that is hiring hundreds of people, and you'll be one of the lucky ones since you showed up. (This happened to me).

There are obviously no guarantees that any of these strategies will work. But speaking from experience, each of these things can work. In fact, they're more likely to work than just blind resume-sending. And if nothing else, you'll at least feel like you're doing something proactive to find a job.

1 comment:

  1. Good advice, especially the emphasis on networking for those of us (like me) who suck at networking.

    I wouldn't discount answering random job ads, though, either. When I gave up on the academic job market around November of last year and started looking for nonacademic jobs in earnest, I landed a total of 4 interviews, all from publicly advertised jobs that I simply sent resumes and cover letters to. Two of them were federal government positions listed on, and the other two, including the one I now have, were -- believe it or not -- listed on Craigslist. And lest anyone think it's only "crappy secretary" jobs that you can find on Craigslist, the other Craigslist job I interviewed for was a writer/editor position with a government contractor. I made the second round of interviews, too, but the contract ended up falling through.

    But, yeah, I think I'm going to have to work on my networking skills for the next "next job."