Make Job-Hunting a Party
So you're out of work—or worried you may be soon. Your impulse is to batten down the hatches and hunker down rather than hobnob, right? It's natural, but as any sportsman will tell you, the most successful hunts are done in a group and infused with equal amounts of purpose and camaraderie. That's why it's best, if only out of pragmatism, to approach your job pursuit more like a party. You should be inviting people in, instead of thinking about it like a painful ordeal to endure in secret.
Inviting others in is the approach taken by Abhijit Shanker, a guy I recently met on my book tour stop in New York. Two years ago, Shanker had all but dumped his in the nonprofit development sector, even though he had worked hard earning a PhD in public policy. His booby prize was a position at a boutique consulting firm in Peoria, Ill., that was making him miserable and depressed. As he tells it, a friend finally recommended that he crawl out of the isolated hole he had dug—and yes, he dug it himself, as we all do—and start building the network that would get him what he wanted. The friend gave him a copy of my first book, Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time.
There's a lot of tactical advice in Never Eat Alone, but the major message—as in my new book, Who's Got Your Back—is that success, and above and beyond that, joy in life only comes by and through other people. And "other people" is the one resource that a recession actually expands your access to, as volunteerism and community values surge and you've got time on your hands to connect.
Found Dream Job Online Painfully shy but desperate enough to give NEA's approach a try, Shanker jumped on the Internet, opened up about his predicament, and started connecting. "I began to network aggressively with people in the development sector," he told me in an e-mail after we met, explaining how he sought to identify a way he could help every person he reached out to. "Before long, help, advice, and suggestions were pouring at my door from all quarters. Over time I developed mentors who have since been a part of my life."
Shanker's new circle didn't just share resources and contacts. They walked him through mock interviews, prepping him in a way that only people steeped in the field could. They invested their time in him, rebuilding his belief that he had a place in a field that had so far shut him out. (He had been turned down several times for a position at the UN.) And finally, they served as references for a dream job he found online—a job he now occupies as the chief of the internal communication section at UNICEF.
With his vulnerability, generosity, and courage to reach out, Shanker had created what I call "lifeline relationships" in Who's Got Your Back—the deep, trusting relationships that have a disproportionately positive effect on your success. "Without a doubt, it was the support system I had created that enabled me to get my dream job," he told me.
Here are some guidelines to help you get that job party started:
Get a Lifeline Group. The research is clear that peer-to-peer mutual support groups are by far the most powerful tool for behavioral change and professional development. Entrepreneurs and executives turn to their exclusive peer organizations, Presidents have their "kitchen" cabinets, and athletes have their cadre of coaches. Weight Watchers is the most successful program for long-term weight loss because peer groups are its bedrock. Alcoholics Anonymous, the first peer group created to contend with a problem, is the most successful model for helping people stay sober.
Likewise, you'll improve your job-hunting process dramatically by creating what I call a "lifeline group:" a circle of three or four people who schedule a regular weekly time to set and refine goals, check progress, and hold each other accountable so progress is made.
"Eat like a bird and poop like an elephant." That's the advice whip-smart author Guy Kawasaki gives to entrepreneurs, and it applies to job-hunters, too. Birds eat 50% of their body weight per day—which is exactly what job-hunters should do with information. Become an absolute expert in, say, everything related to your industry-specific job hunt. Don't rely on others or be passive about it; rather read everything, talk to everyone, be everywhere. Once you've become a hub of this information, don't hoard it. Spread it around—like the elephant. Share what you know. Exude dynamism and utility. Remember, all those jobless people in your field won't be jobless forever—and when they show up at their new jobs, it'll be with your poop on their shoes.
Use your unique currency: Time. That's one thing you've got more of now than you did when you were employed. So use it wisely, obviously, concentrating on your job-specific outreach, but also building relationships more broadly. Constantly seek out opportunities to help others, people you know and people you don't know, with your free time and talents. And don't ruin your efforts by keeping score; it's deeply inauthentic.
Become a social butterfly. You already know you need to network—what I'm emphasizing is the social. Never again will you have more time to build deep friendships, personal and professional. Don't turn down invitations or be passive in planning your week. Catalog all the relationships that you let slip while in the throes of your last job. Then line up a series of dinners—what I call "long, slow dinners," the kind that create space for a connection to flourish, whether old or new. You can be social while still being purposeful, too—i.e., don't feel obligated to reunite with your sixth-generation, twice-removed cousins in Kazakhstan right now, unless maybe you're in oil and gas.
Above all, remember: Your life is happening right now, not the day you're assigned a company computer. So please live it—with others!