Unless you’re a tech wizard or coding genius, looking for a job can feel like a tough slog. It takes a hearty (and hardy) soul to keep at it, and some serendipity to succeed. And that can be true whether you’re unemployed or currently employed and seeking to move.
Those who know me well recognize that I am an optimist, endowed with a healthy dose of positive energy and a strong belief that the human spirit can prevail. And I’d like to share some of that with those of you who are job seekers, or know someone else who is.
As my father said when my husband and I put our starter home on the market after a shooting in the nearby bodega, “don’t worry, you only need one buyer!” (By the way, we ended up selling to the single buyer who made an offer… just a hair below our asking price.)
Let me share with you the stories of four people who landed jobs and how they did it.
How I found my first paying job:
Having spent most of my high school years doing homework and practicing piano 4 hours a day (I was planning to be the next female Artur Rubenstein until I discovered I wasn’t quite good enough), I didn’t have a job until I went to college. Embarrassing to admit, but true.
Not knowing how things worked, I typed up a resume, walked into BayBank in Harvard Square with it in hand, and asked to see the head of Human Resources. Had I been even a bit savvy, I would have been surprised that he agreed to see me.
We had a chat, he promised to look into opportunities and, a few weeks later, I had a part time job in Correspondence Banking. Not the cutting edge of finance, but it was a job.
It turned out that he saw me out of curiosity. No one had ever marched in off the street and persuaded his PA to let them into the “inner sanctum”.
Sometimes, it helps if you don’t know “the way things are done”. That way, you can make what others think is “a bold move” without the added pressure. And remember to respect the PA – he or she holds the key to access.
How Lisa bounced back from the Lehman collapse:
An acquaintance – let’s call her Lisa – lost her job as a Managing Director along with others at Lehman Brothers during the credit crisis, and took a different approach to her search. Instead of putting together a CV (that’s the UK term for resume), she created a list of skills and strengths. For example, it included things like “I’m really good with clients; I’m good at listening, and finding solutions.”
She then networked her way into meetings with senior people and used this document as part of the process. She ended up getting hired by another firm in a role that she didn’t even know existed, and it’s one that she loves. It uses her special strengths and skills, and she’s adding value to her new employer.
Lisa says that she now has “the best job in the world – I get to meet the most amazing people and use my best strengths to help my firm.”
Understanding and communicating the special strengths that you uniquely bring can trump the traditional approach of applying for publicized roles using a basic CV. The former helps prospective employers imagine you filling gaps within their organization, and opens up the possibility of roles that are not advertised. Plus, these days, most people find jobs through their extended network.
How Tara got a series of jobs leading to her dream role:
Tara had a mid-level job in a large organization. However, it was not the exact job she wanted and she felt she could do more to help the division.
She then succeeded in landing a series of increasingly senior jobs within the division, most of which involved turning around struggling projects.
This created a virtuous cycle: by working on the projects no one else could get right, she gained experience while building a reputation as someone who turns things around and builds sustainable teams.
When I asked her how she got her new roles, she said, “I asked. When I see something where I can help, I ask. I raise my hand.” Also, she was willing to take risk – but then again, she felt she had a way to make things work.
As with most things, the hardest job to get is the first one. But once you succeed, people say yes to you more and more of the time.
You can create your own role by looking for ways to help your organization and then simply asking. Senior managers are not mind readers, so it pays to put yourself forward.
How Mr. G found his job during tough times:
This is the story of a close friend’s father who had just a high school degree and managed to build a successful corporate career and support a family of five. While he started out in the 1950’s, the principles still hold true today. And out of respect, I can’t call him by his first name, so it’s Mr. G.
When Mr. G was 17, he went hat-in-hand looking for work. His father was a butcher, and he didn’t want to follow in the family business. Instead, he went to the big corporations in downtown Manhattan.
At one of the corporate headquarters, the receptionist instructed him to fill in a form. As he was finishing, he saw a tall man in a navy suit and striped tie stride by and head into the corner office.
Mr. G asked, “Who is that?”
The receptionist answered, “That’s Mr. Nelson, the Head of Personnel.”
Without missing a beat, the 17 year-old Mr. G made a bee-line for the corner office. He got all the way to the doorway before the receptionist caught up with him, shouting, “You can’t go in there!”
Having seen the whole thing through the glass wall, Mr. Nelson waved the receptionist away. Someone brave enough to barge into his office deserved a chance to be heard.
Mr. G then made his case, saying he would do any job available, and earn his stripes from there.
He got a job, and Mr. G became one of the most successful sales people at the company, and was one of the sole survivors of multiple mergers.
When I asked him for his secret, he said, “I’m willing to take a risk. And I also take care of my clients.”
The phrase that comes to mind is “He Who Dares, Wins” (coined by the TV character “Del Boy” in British sitcom “Only Fools and Horses”). When it comes to landing that job, it usually pays to take some personal risk. And do it with confidence and sincerity. Then, what keeps you in the job is taking care of your clients, both internal and external.
A common theme running through these true stories is that you’ve got to put yourself out there. And when you do, know what your strengths are, differentiate yourself, be bold and take risk to get in front of people – lots of them. Then, keep going.
The world is full of the obedient and the typical – we don’t need you to be that way too. Instead, dare to be original. Have the courage to ask for what you want. Take a chance and swing out.
And as Woody Allen said, “80% of success is showing up.” So, please keep showing up!
The world needs each of us to contribute our very best – let’s encourage our fellow seekers by sharing our stories.
How have you or others you know created the serendipity to land that dream job?