Monday, August 29, 2011

Sharon Morgan, LA Fellows Cohort 1, shares invaluable job search advice

I really took the advice of the LA Fellows instructors to heart. What I was doing clearly wasn't working...for almost 2 years I was spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. The particular tips that helped me the most were:

1. I stopped spending so much time replying to job ads, and really focused on networking. But my networking was with small groups of people who I could build relationships with, not those large networking events where people hand out tons of business cards. If people can meet with you a couple of times, they are more likely to remember you and think of you when they hear of job leads. And they can be great support when you need a pep talk.

2. Network with unemployed people, and particularly with employed folks. Those who are unemployed can give you a heads up on jobs they hear about, but you're much more likely to get leads for unpublished job leads...and get a leg up in the interview knowing someone on the inside.

3. Be very clear about what you're looking for. If you can't concisely explain the type of job you want, how can anyone help you? Even if you'll take anything, ask for what you want first. Then say "but I'm interested in any position in x area". I met a woman this weekend at a party who is job hunting. I asked her what she was looking for. She said "anything". I asked her for more specifics, and she told me, but I can't remember what she said. I just remember the "anything" part.

4. Everything is a job interview. How you behave, whether it's during volunteer time, networking meetings, or parties, is a chance to make an impression on someone who could potentially be a help. If you're a whiny mess, you're not making a good impression. Save the whining for behind closed doors, and when you're around others, be your best self...that bright, shiny penny. Your friends aren't going to recommend you for a job if they don't think you're up for it; how you perform is a reflection on them, too.

5. Get to work!!! It doesn't matter what you do, but don't do nothing. It's important not only to have something current on the resume, but for your mental health as well. Your best bet is with a non-profit, as you know. They are grateful for the help, and you have at least one special skill that can be very helpful to them. If they won't pay you, volunteer. If it doesn't look like it can be converted into a paying job, find another non-profit where you can at least get experience or learn a new skill that will make you more sellable in the job market. If nothing else, you're getting your butt off of the couch and networking with people who are working. You'll probably get a great recommendation, too. And you'll have a chance to impress the people who are working at the non-profit, who can recommend you to their friends when they hear of job opportunities.

6. Don't be picky with job offers. As wrong and terrible as it is, people are more likely to hire those who are working vs. those who aren't working. I don't care if it's not making as much as you were making, or it's not using your skills as effectively as possible, or it's not geographically desirable. As Lynnette says, it doesn't have to be your job for the next 10 years. Maybe you'll be there for 6 months. Maybe a year. But at least you'll be working, and making yourself that much more desirable when the perfect job opens up. And you won't appear nearly as desperate during your interview for that perfect job, either.

In my case, I took full advantage of my LA Fellows volunteer experience. I networked with everyone I could at the non-profit, and made sure they knew what type of work I was looking for, and that I was open to any opportunity. I also continued to network with my LA Fellows, which turned into a job offer at another non-profit. Turns out the experience I had during my volunteer internship was exactly what they needed help with, too. It didn't pay a lot of money, but the job had benefits (woo hoo!) and gave me the chance to feel productive again. There's a lot to be said for having to get up, get showered, and go someplace every morning. I also picked up a couple of consulting jobs by networking with a small group at my university alumni group, too.

Within a couple of months the perfect consulting job offer came along...because of networking...and I nailed the interview. I was confident (thanks to my not-perfect but perfectly respectable job), didn't smell of desperation (again, thanks to my job), and even felt like I could negotiate with a little bit of confidence...or at least fake a little bit of confidence. Once I got in the door and was able to prove what I could do, I was able to transition from consulting to a full time job. It wasn't easy, or fast, but I finally feel back to normal again. I've got a great job, with a good salary and benefits. I'm even starting to accrue time off toward a vacation! It's taken me more than 2 1/2 years to get to this point...but if I can do it, anyone can! So stop reading this email, and get to to find an organization who can benefit from what you have to offer. Good luck!

Sharon Morgan
LA Fellows Cohort 1

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