I can identify a job hunter from across a room. That might sound like hyperbole, but it’s not – if I didn’t have this magnetic attraction to job seekers, I’d probably still be doing national security work at the Pentagon. The fact that I kept finding myself being drawn into conversations with people who were looking to change their careers convinced me I needed to make my own career shift into coaching.
Several years later, I’m working as a career coach to entrepreneurs and job hunters, and my radar for both is still as powerful and innate as it always has been.
Last week, however, my certainty about job seekers was temporarily thrown into a tailspin when I caught up with my friend Laura. For the past eight years, she’s been a stay-at-home mom to three young kids. She’s always been the woman that all the other moms admire for her organization, patience, and commitment. So when she asked for tips about getting back into the workforce, I was as inspired as I was speechless.
But once we started talking, I realized that Laura wasn’t so different from the recent grads and seasoned execs I work with. Despite her absence from the workforce, she shared a lot in common with my other clients. She has a degree from one of the top hospitality programs in the country. The intelligence and motivation that helped her succeed in her career before she had kids was evident in her approach to raising them. And yet just like my other impressive clients often do, Laura seemed determined to downplay her strongest qualities. She focused instead on her lack of experience and the negative feedback she imagined she would get from potential employers.
This is another trait my clients often share: projecting their fears on the future to the point that it terrifies them.
So when it came time to give her some job hunting wisdom, I decided I’d go one step further and share my thoughts on this subject with alljob seekers. Without further ado, here is a compilation of my tried and true advice for finding a job and keeping your confidence afloat in the process:
1. You write your own resume. Before she had even reached out to a single employer, Laura convinced herself that anyone with the power to hire her would laugh in her face because she had “no relevant experience.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Job hunters have a duty to tell their own story: In Laura’s case, she could tell an employer that she’s been on playground duty for the past eight years… or she could tell them how she’s been managing household budgets and billing, organizing charity fundraisers, overseeing construction projects, and coordinating care for her ailing parents. A 2011 study found that communicating achievements to prospective employers had the highest positive impact on women’s careers — more so than being proactive, asking for promotions and requesting high-profile assignments. Laura might have a steeper climb than someone whose presence in the workforce has been consistent, but the lesson here is that if you don’t value your own experience, no one else will.
2. Put yourself out there! Laura was embarrassed to tell people that she was looking for a job because, as she put it, “People probably think I have nothing to offer.” She just assumed people would have something negative to say about her. I’ve seen every variation of this, including super-successful businessmen who act like everything is going well at work because they’re too ashamed to admit that they hate their job. People make so many assumptions about how others will look upon for needing a job or even for being unhappy at work. Let go of your ego and your assumptions. Approach every conversation from the standpoint that this person might be able to help, and let them know that you’re looking for a new job. This follows the oldest rule in the book — the squeaky wheel gets the grease!
3. Don’t let your contacts expire. In Laura’s case, it’s understandable that she had fallen out of touch with some of her colleagues from her pre-motherhood career. However, she has plenty of other contacts through her kids’ school friends, her volunteer activities, and her church, to name a few. Don’t assume the only person who can help you is the person with your dream job. Talk to everyone, and as introductions are made, follow up on all of them. Don’t miss the moment! Find time for coffees, lunches, and to send quick emails — even if it’s just to ask if they’ll be attending the same seminar as you. Being on a person’s radar on a consistent basis takes a lot of the awkwardness out of networking when you need to ask for something!
4. Take every chance to make a good impression. In the process of job hunting, you’ll inevitably find that some people think you’re capable of jobs beyond your reach, and others will refer you for positions that flat out insult you. When you are referred for a position that feels beneath you, don’t reject it out of hand. Be open minded, and leave your rules –your pay requirements, job title, or schedule restrictions – on the back burner until you’ve had a chance to communicate with the interviewer, hiring manager, or whoever else has the job in his or her pocket. In other words, take it as a chance to make a new connection! I see hiring managers refer their favorite interviewees for positions within and outside of their companies all the time, so don’t assume that the job you’re interviewing for is the only job on the table.
5. Find ways to remember the people who help you out. This might sound like an afterthought, but it should be in the forefront of your mind every single time you talk to someone about a job. I often say that networking is a two sided exchange. As the job hunter, you might think you have nothing to offer, but that’s not the case. Don’t let the people who are making time for you feel like you’re just looking for favors. Forge a connection on some common ground, try to figure out how you can be helpful, and let them know how they can be helpful – this will make all of your networking conversations feel much less forced.
Fear, scarcity, judgment: I see these emotions in so many of my clients. As a coach, I see the job hunting process as a time of opportunity and abundance, but I can’t just tell them that and make them believe it.
When you do the work, seize opportunities, and present yourself to employers as the confident and capable person that you are, you’ll quickly find that the universe will meet you halfway.
This first appeared in Forbes.