As a newly minted member of the growing unemployed masses, I have jumped head-first into my job search efforts brimming over with enthusiasm (ask me in December if I am still so geared up). Things have sure changed from previous times in my career when I was looking for employment. Yes, there is a challenging economic environment, but the tools and strategies have changed as well.
When I saw the writing on the wall about my job several months ago, I was anxious about what I might wind up doing if I became unemployed. Considering how worried I was earlier this year, I am actually surprised that I am enthusiastic and feeling downright excited about the new opportunities that are lurking out there. I don’t claim to have found the magic solution to job searching in the post-modern era, but my hope is that by sharing my strategies, and thoughts, I might inspire others, and perhaps hear suggestions from readers that I can learn from. If nothing else, all the activities, and strategies, I am using have really lifted my spirits.
My current job search strategy is as follows:
1. Network like MAD!
Connecting with old colleagues, friends, and associates, is the cornerstone of my job search. I particularly love using LinkedIn. Several months ago I only had about 3 members in my LinkedIn network and today I have 228. I know that my LinkedIn network is pretty small compared to those who have many thousands, but I have already been seeing dividends from my networking efforts.
I started networking by searching for people I had worked with, both in my most recent, and past jobs. I was astounded to find out how many people I knew were on LinkedIn! I was able to connect to one or two people I had known from a job 20 years ago, and then discovered many other ex-colleagues when I looked at who were in my friend’s networks. Soon, I had re-connected with most of the people I had ever worked with, even folks I hadn’t spoken with in over a decade.
Once I connect to people on LinkedIn, I write them a note telling them what I’ve been up to, and mentioning that I am eager to hear about any opportunities in product or program management they might know about. I have gotten several leads this way, as well as good advice. As a bonus, I rekindled a lot of friendships that had lain dormant for far too long.
I am a BIG fan of using LinkedIn recommendations. In general, I write a short recommendation for anyone I have ever worked with for whom I can think of something positive to say. So far I have written 130 recommendations (some are more verbose than others). In fact, I quite often don’t even ask individuals to connect with me on LinkedIn, I just send them a recommendation. People can’t make recommendations visible on their LinkedIn profiles without first connecting to the person who wrote it, and I have noticed that very few people will decline the gift of showing a recommendation to the world (and thereby join my network). This also puts future conversations (e.g. asking for introductions) I have with my contacts on a positive tone, since I have done something nice for them. There is the added bonus that writing a recommendation for someone periodically inspires others to reciprocate (I now have 26 recommendations written for me).
LinkedIn searches for recruiters who work for various employers I am interested in have also been productive, and not only resulted in requests for my resume, but actual job interviews.
Groups on LinkedIn are also useful as places to look for information, and make new acquaintances in areas that interest me. I have joined a bunch of groups in the Seattle area, as well as some professional communities.
I have also started attending job seeker networking events in my area, and have met some really interesting people this way, who have a lot of ideas to share. Getting out of the house and meeting people is important. There is even a group of job seekers that meets at my church twice a month that has been been helpful as a support group.
2. Applying for jobs
There is just no substitution for the old fashioned slog of applying for jobs. I have been using a variety of job posting internet sites to look for openings, and then sending in my resume. Some of the job search places I have used are: craigslist, LinkedIn, SeattleJobs, and monster. However, it also doesn’t hurt to go directly to the web site of an employer I am interested in and searching for their openings.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any single place to look for job openings. I see jobs posted on Craiglist that never show up anywhere else, and vice-versa.
When I do find a job posting that interests me, I always go to LinkedIn and search for people who work at that firm. Invariably, I usually find that at least someone I know has a friend working at the prospective employer (which LinkedIn makes it easy to see when viewing the people it finds in searches). My goal is to get an introduction to someone at the firm, and give that person my resume. Recently, I even discovered that my next door neighbour was a friend of a hiring manager at a local firm that had a promising job opening. I have asked my neighbor to make introductions.
3. Lending a hand
I am a huge believer in the reciprocal benefits of helping others. Certainly, people are more willing to help me if I have helped them, but there are many other ways that volunteer work can reap dividends. I first picked up many of the skills I use in my career through volunteering. I worked for free at a computer store when I was 13, since the employment laws prohibited me from doing ANY work and that was the only way I could get the experience I wanted. Over the years I have continued to do volunteer work to pick up new skills even while I was gainfully employed elsewhere. I posted on USENET (the early Internet community) back in the early ‘90s offering to setup NetWare 4 servers for free, and found myself working late at night in server rooms of San Francisco area bio-medical firms, setting up their latest systems.
Recently, I have started a community on LinkedIn, called “WorkFree”, just for this purpose. Individuals can post messages about their interest to do free work in particular areas, and employers can advertise their interest in getting some free work done.
I have found other opportunities to lend my expertise, and ideas, to everyone who is interested in talking. Even though a recommendation a good friend made to an analyst firm discovered they had no openings, I took advantage of the contacts to offer my services to provide insights on the technology industry for free. Who knows what the friendships I am building through my conversations with various industry experts will lead to, even years down the road…
I also love helping other people with their careers. One of my friends recently became unemployed himself, and I suggested that he write a paper on an open source IT project he had been doing at his previous employer. I will help edit this paper, and then promote it on newsgroups and blogs that deal with this kind of technology. My friend has picked up a huge amount of valuable expertise, that could get him noticed by many potential employers. We just have to get the word out. This also helps me by making it possible to bask in the glow of my friend’s expertise. It doesn’t hurt me one bit to be seen (and noticed) as someone who finds great new technologies, or people. Hey, marketing is something I do, and being able to successfully promote my friends only helps grow my portfolio of show-case marketing efforts.
I am now actively looking for other such opportunities to help people in their job searches.
4. Becoming an entrepreneur
As if my job search, and volunteer, efforts weren’t taking up enough of my time, I have also taken on the task of helping a good friend with his web startup. He has spent years, and a lot of his own capital, building a very impressive project and business management system. I am helping find beta volunteers willing to manage their businesses on this system, building real-world case studies that will allow us to get more investment.
My ability to make any money from my efforts are slim, but this gives me yet another opportunity demonstrate my marketing skills, as well as create a great way to do more networking.
5. Home grown research
On top of all of this, I have also undertaken the task of starting up my own market research project. I have been keenly interested in understanding how recessions impact technology for many years, and now that I am between jobs I am free to indulge my curiosity to its fullest, in exploring this subject. I had started the “Recession Study Group" club at Microsoft, back in 2005, which has grown to over 200 members, but this was always just an extra-curricular effort and my ability to openly investigate this subject was limited.
Now, however, I have constructed a survey that asks both consumers and IT professionals how the economic downturn has changed their spending (and posting it to newsgroups, and contacting IT bloggers asking if they would be interested in posting it). I am following up with interviews of a dozen or so consumers and IT professionals to flesh out the results. I will be writing up a full report, with analysis, on my blog in the coming weeks.
One of my theories is that deep recessions can act as catalysts for permanent changes in the use of technology. When times are good, people are content to keep spending as they always have, but when times are tough, they will more seriously consider alternatives that might have been easy to dismiss in happier times.
Conducting this research is definitely fun, but I hope it will also further help in my networking efforts, and serve as yet another showcase for my work. It’s not like I can use the research studies I did at Microsoft as examples of my work, since all that data is proprietary.
What doesn’t work
1. External recruiters
I spent a lot of time getting in touch with recruiters, doing searches on LinkedIn and writing template introductory notes to some 200 people in this field. I have had a lot of positive responses from these external recruiters (and even spoken with over a dozen of them on the phone or in person), but almost no solid leads have resulted from all this effort. I get the definite impression that external recruiters are becoming increasingly frozen out of many employers, who are reluctant to pay high fees when the volume of candidates applying for jobs DIRECTLY to their own web sites is so massive.
Some recruiters have given me good advice on my resume, and how to focus my job search efforts, but not a one has come up with promising job openings.
2. Posting resume to on-line job boards or applying to jobs on employer web sites
Just throwing my resume into the mass of CVs swamping HR databases won’t get you anywhere. In my situation, in particular, my lack of official credentials or a college degree almost certainly means I will flunk any automated screening system. The only way to get noticed is to use my network to find an acquaintance or friend who can recommend me to someone they know in a company I am interested in.
From here to eternity…
I am sure that my job search strategy will change over time. I might be biting off more than I can reasonably chew by undertaking all these varying projects, but for the moment I think they complement one another. Ask me again in a couple months how well that is turning out.
There are many other things I need to consider adding to my repertoire. A number of people have suggested I start using Twitter and Facebook as part of my networking tools, but I have been reluctant to invest the time in still more social networking tools. Facebook, in particular, seems to be much more of a tool for socializing than “networking”, and has become incredibly busy with trivia. Still, maybe I should give it another look.
NOTE: I have posted some of my techniques for using LinkedIn as well as a podcast on how to contact people at firms you want to work for and build relationships. Also, you can listen to my series of my "Anatomy of a job search" podcasts where I interview fellow-job seekers about their search strategies and brainstorm ways to improve their effectiveness.