What Do I Do Next?
By Dave Isbell
If there are any “steps” involved in the job search, I’d say they probably look like this:
1. Self Assessment. There will only ever be one of you in all of eternity so what is that YOU were created to do? Think about this-you have a story to tell that, beyond biological inheritance, is filled with personal tragedies and triumphs that have made you who you are. Inventory what you have learned from those experiences and how you got to where you are now. Often, we try to separate our “personal” from our “professional” but that is just impossible; it all makes up the person that is you. Don’t discount the value of the skills and experiences that you have had outside of your paid experience. Take some time to write out the key stories that illustrate who you are and what you have to offer. Then take some time to think through the problem that you are trying to solve with the work that you do. Which leads me to the next step.
(Tip: Pull out your old resume and fill in the gaps between jobs with your motivations for leaving; then pull out your old high school/college/continued ed. transcripts and ask yourself what skill do you now have because of that class, or what you learned since. NOT knowledge-SKILL, the ability to apply the knowledge.)
2. Do your homework. What do you know about the problem that you want to solve? What companies/organizations/people are trying to solve the same kind of problem that you want to solve? Start working on becoming a subject matter expert (or at least conversational) about the topics that connect to the problem by reading articles, books, and blogs. But, go farther than that – share that information with other people and show up (and talk with people) at events/trainings/workshops that relate to the issues. Here is something to consider: You may be limiting your options if the problem you want to solve is too narrow (working in position x at company y), and you are going to be too vague/misunderstood if the problem is too big (world hunger). Furthermore, you are guaranteeing that your job search (and ALL networking) is likely to be long and painful if the only problem you want to solve is your lack of a paycheck or your own “happiness.”
(Tip: Google is a great place to start to map out who the key players are in relationship to your problem. Use Google maps to search for keywords next to your home town and start targeting a specific area of town that has the most results. Spend some time on the ground in that area of town.)
3. Build your team. The purpose of number two was to get to number three. It is not enough for you to build a network. The people you meet have to be able to know who you are, what you can do, and to connect you to an issue that they care about! That is why the first rule of networking is that it is all about the other person. If you’ve done numbers one and two, then you will be well-rehearsed about how to tell your story and about the subject(s) you would like to bring into the conversation. That frees you up to shut up and listen instead of trying to figure out what to say. If the other person has a shared interest, it’s a no brainer -that person can be “drafted” into your “team” pretty easily. However, if there are no shared interests, that’s ok. It’s your job to take an interest in him/her and follow up later with some kind of act that shows you were paying attention. It is only then that s/he is likely to refer you to someone else who may share your interest. Authenticity is key here. If you don’t care about other people, then please do all of us a favor and don’t bother “networking!”
(Tip: Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ all give you access to tons of people. Be a conversation starter and a knowledge leader, as well as a conduit to introduce people to one another in those places; DO NOT be a “networker!”)
4. Lead your team. What makes a person more credible to you, the things she says or the things she actually does? It is one thing to be able to talk about a subject, or to hypothesize about a solution to a problem. It is quite another to actually be a solution to the problem. Too often people think that their resume is the sum total of what they did in the past. But, I’m just going to be straight with you and tell you that nobody cares about what you did in the past. It is what you can do for them right now that matters! You have got to take the things you learned from the past and translate it into your present situation if you are to have any hope of creating an opportunity for yourself. (Notice that I’m not too concerned about finding an opportunity. Instead I am focused on creating one. Think about it. What’s more likely to lead to a satisfying job? One in which you performed a transaction by responding to their expressed need or one in which they called you because you earned their trust by serving their demonstrated need? Put another way, from the employer’s perspective who seems more valuable the person responding to a job posting or the person on their contact list? That feels like a no-brainer to me!) That means you won’t be waiting by the phone or checking your email account every hour. Instead you will be out in your community working next to people on projects that matter to the people who care about the same problems that you do.
(Tip: In addition to using social media tools, try using meetup.com to find people in your area who want to talk about/do something in relation to the problem you want to solve. Be sure to put some thought into how you would like to develop a project and a group.)
5. Evaluation. This leads right back to number one. How do you now incorporate the things you are currently doing into the story you are telling about yourself? Who else do you need to know that you don’t know now? Who do you need to spend more/less time with? What else can you learn about the problem you want to solve? How can you fill the gap between the skills you have now and the ones you need to be more effective at becoming the solution? What projects do you need to say no to, and which ones do you have to focus your attention on the most? If you are volunteering, how can you pull together the appropriate elements of your story to tell the people you are volunteering for that you will gladly accept a paid position for your work? How can you translate your volunteerism into relevant stories for corporations that may need your skills?
(Tip: Keep a journal next to, or on, your calendar. Just jot down ideas/names/places/emotions as they come to you. Review this every so often to gauge your progress over time.)
6. Lastly, this isn’t really a “step” but I would be remiss in not mentioning it and also suggesting that it be incorporated into every step: Have fun! Seriously. How interesting are people who are all work and no play? The things that you are passionate about are naturally going to ooze into every corner of your life. It is interesting what happens when you become a passionate person who is living passionately. You start to stand out as a resource instead of as a commodity. You stop trying to create artificial barriers between your “work” and your “play” and people start to notice there is something different about you. You become a magnet for other people who are passionate, for those who need to be served by someone who is passionate, and for those who wish they could be passionate.
(Tip: Learn to live this way and you will never, ever have to look for a job again!)
Dave Isbell is the Alumni Career Service Coordinator at Michigan State University. He has been a Career Coach since 1999. He is also pursuing a Master’s in Social Work/Family Studies at MSU. When he is not working or studying, he is enjoying domestic bliss with his wife and kids, or playing rock music on his bass guitar. You can find him on Twitter (@helpingspartans) and sometimes he writes about compassion, collaboration, and career for this blog, which he owns and begs other Spartans to write for.