Saturday, September 18, 2010

Finding a Good Job in a Bad Market

A cool career often leads to a bad job. That's because so many people aspire to cool careers: in the entertainment or fashion industries, for example.

The oversupply of aspirants not only makes it tough to find a job in those fields, employers generally pay and treat non-stars poorly because a zillion wannabes are champing at the bit for their jobs. Do what you love and you may starve.

Far wiser for most people to aspire to careers that are not cool, because jobs in them are more likely to provide the attributes that people actually end up valuing more than its coolness:

__ Work that is moderately challenging
__ Work that requires abilities the person enjoys using (e.g., words, hands-on, detail, entrepreneurialism, specific expertise, etc)
__ Good coworkers
__ Good boss
__ Pleasant work environment. For example, being in a noisy cube constantly affects your job satisfaction.
__ An organization you believe in (e.g., an ethical company that makes a good product, a nonprofit that efficiently uses donor money for an important cause.)
__ Opportunities to keep learning, but not so much or so hard that it's overwhelming
__ Job security
__ Good-enough pay. Don't let pay dominate your decision. The after-tax difference between an okay and good salary is less important than most people make it. Nor is a salary than enables you to keep up with the Joneses worth forgoing an otherwise good job.
__ Benefits. Especially if you're older, health care coverage is important.
__ Reasonable commute. If the commute is bad, consider asking for a day or two a week of telecommuting. That can dramatically improve your job satisfaction.

You might want to use that as a checklist in evaluating your next job offer.

Note that I didn't include "interests" in the list. Even if the job centers around something you don't care a bit about--for example, soybean processing--if the job has those other characteristics, you'd probably still feel fine about it.

Now that you know what a good job is, how do you land one?

In a tough job market, good jobs are rarer than Democrats at a Tea Party rally. So when someone knows of a good job opening, she likely tries to help a friend get it, just like a Realtor keeps the best deals for herself or friends. And employers ever more often hire people referred to them because it's less risky than hiring a stranger from a want ad. You want to be that person who gets referred.

So you gotta tell your network you're looking. I know, I know, you say you've already done that. But chances are you only told a few people. Tell 100 people.

You say you don't know 100 people willing to help you? You do. Let's say someone called you and said, "I'm an accountant who was laid off because all the office's accounting jobs were shipped to India. So one thing I'm doing to look for a job is checking my college's alumni directory and I noticed your name. Did you take Econ 101 with Professor Hassenpfeffer and were you in a study group because he was so hard to understand? I was in that study group too. By any chance, might you know of someone who could use a good accountant?"

If you received that call and did know someone who might need a good accountant, mightn't you tell that person? Even though you hadn't seen her for 20 years and didn't know her well then? Today, I gave a talk at KGO Radio's Girls Night Out and asked that question. 90% of the audience raised their hand.

So make a list of everyone who likes or liked you: past or current friends, relatives, coworkers, members of your church, volunteer group, college, your haircutter, a salesman you buy from regularly, even your Brazilian Waxer! The latter three talk to many people a day. Don't you think they'd be willing to tout you or even pass our your resume?

When you do answer ads, you must write an amazing cover letter: a human, honest, cliche-free yet convincing letter. Speak from your heart. That will stand out from the crowd and turn off the wrong employer but turn on the right one.

One more tip: Walk in. If someone called you and said, "I have a baby here. Will you take it?" you'd probably say no, but if you opened your door and found a baby on your doorstep, you'd probably call the police or hospital so the baby can be helped. Similarly, if you show up on the doorstep of a couple dozen potential employers and you're not asking for the moon, at least one is likely to help you.

Yes, the job market is bad and will probably get worse. It takes extraordinary measures to land a good job in a good market but the ideas in this article can give you a real edge.

1 comment:

themotherlode said...

I've been reading your blog for a few weeks now and I appreciate the wealth of wisdom and advice you freely give.

This post was especially timely as my husband (a CPA,) is on the job hunt. I'm referring him to this post.

Thanks so much!


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