January 24, 2011
A job-seeker story you may relate to: 'I don't belong here'
I was shopping at a toy store with my son and noticed an "up to 75% moving sale" discount. I asked an employee which items had the discounts, and he replied, "There really isn't anything on sale at 75 percent. Some items are on sale for 15 percent, some at 10 percent; it's really confusing. Even we don't understand it. Actually, I don't belong here. I have a master's degree and the only reason I'm here is because I can't find the job I want."
Thinking to myself, I remembered those days when I didn't have a strategy or a plan to find a suitable position, and I felt stuck in my career. I remembered how depressing it was to not see the light and know if there was anything better on the other side of the mountain. I remembered working in retail part-time while going to college and having the feeling that I wasn't doing what I wanted to do. When I graduated, I was lucky to hear from my professor that there was an opening in systems engineering. Had I not heard of that opportunity, I was headed for the same situation as this employee at the toy store.
"Tell me about your job search experience," I asked. He said, "Well, I've sent a good 50 applications to different teaching jobs. I speak multiple languages, know European history better than most and am really good with students. Yet, I can't get any school or company to reply to me. It's as if I don't exist."
I told him that I help professionals in transition and write this column. His eyes lit up and he asked, "Do you have any recommendations for me?"
"Sure, I'd probably investigate informational interviews at your stage in your career," I replied. He asked what I meant. I told him to create a list of several good schools in which he was interested and to set up an informational interview with the appropriate dean or administrator. I suggested he tell them that he'd heard great things about their schools and he was interested in learning more about their future and where the department was headed.
"Should I take my resume and find out about their openings?" he asked.
"Haven't you tried that already?" I responded.
"That's all I've done," he said.
"What is your usual response when you try that technique?" I asked him.
"They tell me to go ahead and fill out an application, and I never hear from them again."
So, they treat him like a job-seeker.
I told him that, at this stage of his career, he's up against too much competition and the only way he's going to stand out is to have some strong genuine relationships that can help him. I told him to set up meetings for the purposes of finding out more and then steering the conversation toward the department's needs and future direction. That way he can find ways to align himself with what they're looking for and subtly position himself as a strong resource for them.
If you're not where you're supposed to be in your career, you're not alone. We can all do better. I'd like to encourage you to transform your career in 2011. Instead of self-pity, go out and find ways to connect with decision-makers about your future direction and enroll others in helping you find rewarding employment.
You can do this!
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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