Have the job search methods laid out in What Color Is Your Parachute worked for you?
September 28, 2010 4:55 AM   Subscribe

Have the job search methods laid out in What Color Is Your Parachute worked for you?

After taking time off the job market at the end of 2008 to get a masters and make a career change, I'm currently trying to find a job in my new field of choice (archaeology) and not getting much traction, as I'm looking for entry level work, am somewhat older and competing for a small number of positions with a lot of experienced people who got laid off when the economy tanked. I've been able to get interviews in my old field without any trouble, BTW.

So far, I've just been targeting listed positions, while networking for all I'm worth and taking care to write really solid cover letters and a good CV. I've also been keeping my hand in via volunteer projects in the area, have joined the main professional association in my region and gotten other certifications that are often asked for in the field. So far, it hasn't amounted to any interviews.

So, now I'm now considering whether it may be helpful to start employing the strategy suggested from What Color Is Your Parachute - approaching organizations that I would like to work for directly and asking for informational meetings and hoping to find an opportunity that way. I'd love to hear about anyone's experience with taking this approach, especially if it involved a small and somewhat insular industry. The idea of doing this had always given me the vapors - especially as I'd been approached that way in my old career a few times and always found it really irritating - but WCIYP really pushes this strategy hard and claims it works.
posted by ursus_comiter to Work & Money (10 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've read WCIYP and it seems to be full of pretty solid advice as it goes, certainly in terms of avoiding the dead ends of finding a job.

My situation is slightly different because I'm a contractor/freelancer (London, new media), but for what's it's worth, all my work comes from a combination of networking and speculative direct approaches. In my experience, the people who are recruiting are usually pretty pleased to get an approach from a good candidate directly, as it saves them cost of a recruitment agency, and means that they can fill the position quicker than they had hoped. You might worry that you risk irritating them, but 1) it's easy enough for them to take five minutes to look over a letter or email, 2) other people will be doing it already, so you might as well give it a go, and 3) you definitely score points by being proactive. And ultimately, even if there is no work available, if they like the look of you, they will keep your details on file for future. The key thing is to identify the best person to approach. Too junior and they can't act on anything, too senior and they're too busy or it's not their direct responsibility.

That's in reference to direct speculative approaches for work. In terms of sniffing out work via more informal information gathering meetings, I haven't tried that technique, but I work in a fairly specialised position, and I'm always more than happy to help people advance in my field, so (time and effort permitting) I wouldn't object to helping out like that. That said, I work in a field which is currently fairly friendly and uncompetitive, your mileage may vary.
posted by iivix at 5:37 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The idea of doing this had always given me the vapors - especially as I'd been approached that way in my old career a few times and always found it really irritating

FWIW, I'm like you, and I know plenty of people like you, but I also know a surprising number of people who appreciate being approached like this. For some people (gregarious extroverts, natural teachers, anyone who would write a book about their job if they only had the time, etcetera) giving informational interviews is fun.

It seems like iteration is an important part of the strategy. If you do one informational interview with Your Greatest Hero The One Person You Absolutely Want To Work For, there are a gabillion ways it could go wrong — one of which is, yeah, that he finds the whole song and dance supremely irritating. If you do a few dozen of them, then yeah, some will go wrong, but at least one or two will wind up being mutually enjoyable experiences, and now you've got one or two contacts with pleasant memories of you. That's probably better than no interviews at all.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:26 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Almost all the jobs I've ever gotten have come from direct contact, networking, whatever you want to call it. Hiring is risky, and no one wants to hire someone who turns out to be a weirdo, so there is a strong preference to hire people who are a known factor.

How you become that known factor is the question. You can get your foot in the door by volunteering or interning. You can do the "informational interview" thing. You can get introduced by a mutual contact. Or any of a million other ways. But somehow, you need to stop being a random resume and start being the person they know and trust and would be comfortable hiring. One way or another, that will take in-person contact and proving that you fit in and would make good contributions before the hiring process even starts.

In the organization I work now, I can't even think of a hire that was made in the last year where there was not a clear preferred candidate before the search began. In many cases, the position description was written to benefit that preferred candidate. In other words, a bunch of schmucks were sending in their carefully crafted resumes thinking they had a chance, when really the job was all but promised to someone else already. And in my experience, this is not at all unusual -- the key is to stop being the random person sending in a resume, and become the person for whom a position is created.

If the WCiYP methods feel ok to you, then run with it. But whatever you do, like nebulawindphone says, you have to really use it -- doing it once isn't going to help much; the benefits are going to come from all the iterations and interconnections that develop. A lot of industries are super insular, and unless you are perceived as being on the "inside" it can be pretty hopeless standing outside and handing in resumes.
posted by Forktine at 6:43 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes, networking is the way to go in most fields. I'm also a freelancer - just started my own business - and so far the work I've been getting has ALL been through people who know me. For one thing, a known quantity is far less risk, and for another, most employers are ground-kissingly grateful to avoid the whole search-and-interview-and-screen process (it's tedious, time-consuming, and a gamble).

To avoid irritating potential contacts, approach them as a "I want to get the benefit of your knowledge and experience" rather than a "I want to see if you can offer me a job." Most people are happy to act as teachers/gurus/wisdom-dispensers. It makes them feel wise and knowledgeable and needed. That said, if you are in one of those fields which is crazy overcrowded and fiercely competitive, you might want to tread more carefully as higher-ups in these fields have hopefuls throwing themselves at them six ways from Sunday. I can't say if your field is like that, and IME these fields tend to be few and tend to be the more glamour fields (acting, fashion).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:53 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It is interesting to see you ask this question, I’ve recommended to people to implement that exact strategy over and over again here in the green, as a way to find a job (vs hire a general resume writer or career whisperer coach, etc).

Okay, I also switched fields a few years ago and had no idea as to how to break in (all the advertisements said 5 years experience) and I’ve switched fields/job hopped several times now, so I really didn’t know what to do. I had the same reservations that you do, OP and I was worried about bothering people. However, a friend recommended that I approach people in the field doing the job that I wanted and used the following rationale: “By nature, people really want to help. Also, if you reach out to several people, the ones who want to help will respond and the rest will not and not even remember that you asked. Also let them know what you are asking for and put a limit on what you are asking (e.g. can we meet face-to-face for 20 minutes max) so that they know that they will not be overwhelmed” That advice plus the fact that I wanted into a new job/career spurred me on to send emails – I requested that we do whatever he or she preferred (email, phone, in person) and did put a limit (20- to 30- minutes max). I also tried to find a way to connect to these people; I was changing fields and surely other people did, too, and wanted help X years ago. For me, I did a search online and googled terms relevant to my industry, location, and because they would have also changed fields I put the word PhD. You can probably come up with your own search terms and see if there is a way to find if they changed fields (maybe a list from your former university?). Another place that was helpful to find people to for info interviews was forums for professionals in that field (do a search for archeology and association and perhaps you will find something). I put a blurb into the forum that briefly mentioned my background and that I would love advice/recommendations and to meet people or email and ask questions. Got a few great replies, targeted to me/from people who were similar X years ago.

I got great advice and recommendations from everyone that I met. Believe it or not, I found out that I made a CV that was not appropriate for the industry (I made it into a one page resume, and most people in the field wanted several page CVs). Unless I talked to people, I would not have known that (and many people from outside my industry told me I needed a 1 page resume, which is what I developed by listening to generalists and people in the wrong field). People also recommended organizational things for my CV that people wanted to see in this industry. I was also given names of people who would be or are likely to be hiring, the names of internship programs, etc. I did get the job in my chosen industry – not because I knew people, but the info that I was given in feedback by people in the field that led to a targeted CV and way to present myself to companies. One more thing – what was really, really helpful and was something that I learned from info interviews and from ask metafilter, see Tentacle's answer although that applies to my industry and not yours was that there were alternate job titles and names of the type of companies that could/would work with me. So then, rather than searching for job title X, I could search for job title X, Y, Z, A, B, etc, which gave me more jobs and companies to apply to,etc.

Also, in case you haven’t thought of these things and are job hunting – you can find lists of companies for your industry. I use linkedin (I enter the location, topic, and key words) – the company name is spit back out and if you do a bit of googling, I can grab the email and contact the company. Finally, I’ve found list in libraries with …the names and emails of people who are very high up in the company. I send an email asking if they work with freelancers and frequently these people have forwarded my cv to people in the company and they followup with “yes we do and do you also have interest in working fulltime?” I think that you could use a similar strategy – find a list or any companies that work with archeologists, email them with a CV. I don’t think many people try this and your name may appear in front of someone as soon as they need to hire someone yet before they have a chance to run an advertisement. This last strategy, by the way, does not even involve talking to people – just a “Dear X at company X, do you work with [archeologists], are you hiring –bullet points about your background – if you are interested I can forward my CV, etc."

I also tend to be a bit of a coward and don't like talking to people I don't know, including on the phone. The info interviews helped me briefly get over that since I talked to friendly, helpful people in the field who wanted to help before I was thrown into an interview situation. Anyway, that was an additional benefit for me, but YMMV.

posted by Wolfster at 8:45 AM on September 28, 2010 [61 favorites]

I hate to be the guy who brings this up, but maybe the problem isn't you, or your job seeking styles. Maybe the problem is that archeology isn't a booming field. When profits are growing, it's a sign that the business can expand. In such a situation, it's pretty easy to get a job; places are making new positions to fill, and filling positions that opened because someone has left for greener pastures.

The reason I bring this up in a thread asking for successes is that academia operates differently than the private sector. For profit businesses fund themselves from revenues. In contrast, I expect that archaeology funding is either constant or shrinking, meaning the only positions that are open are people leaving the workforce, and many such positions are likely sought for internally as a promotion. So without competitive pressure hiring people away, most positions are already filled by the person holding the job, who will hold onto it until ousted. I'm not sure informational interviews and networking will help you in such a scenario.
posted by pwnguin at 10:36 AM on September 28, 2010

What impressed me when I skim-read WCIYP (years ago, while working in a bookshop between graduation and master's degree) was that it was full of solid advice for being socially aware in the applications process. Ten years later, I'm well embarked on an academic career and I've never gone back to it--but I've never lost the sense that that social awareness is very, very useful when applying for jobs. And I've seen, or heard of, a number of highly-qualified people talk themselves out of a job that was theirs for the taking by lacking that awareness.

So my feeling is that yes, it's useful. It's also useful, if I recall, for giving you some sense of control over the applications process.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 5:15 PM on September 28, 2010

Best answer: I'm going to second Wolfster that the main things I got from informational interviewing and networking were help reorganizing my CV to maximize its appeal to industry employers, confidence in my skillset, and tips on other people to talk to. Now I have a job (just got one, yay!) but I'm still staying in touch with several people who told me to stay in touch because it's useful to be able to continue to share information from them about developments in my (small, but friendly) field.

The other thing it helped with was realizing that, at least in my field, interviews were as much a networking opportunity as a job interview opportunity. I asked both kinds of questions, ended up staying in touch with a few people (who then went out of their way to help me) in places where I'd made it to the last stage but wasn't quite a perfect fit, and just had a better time with the process. I'm not sure if this is also true for archaeologists, but I'd be surprised if it isn't.

Ultimately, networking was what got me the interview that got me the job. Also extraordinarily helpful and I think also mentioned in WCIYP: Going to industry events and starting to get involved in them. I think there's a national conference for archaeologists as well.
posted by eleanna at 6:23 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In contrast, I expect that archaeology funding is either constant or shrinking,

This would be great advice... except that a lot (perhaps most?) archeology work now is done by for-profit companies. You want to put in a new pipeline or highway using public funds, on public land, or in an area considered important by one or more Indian tribes? Better get a contract archeology firm in place (or have that same capacity in-house) to do the pre-project survey work and remain on-call in case the digging turns up artifacts. So a lot of funding for archeology work simply follows the overall infrastructure cycle; when people are digging and pouring cement, there is archeology work.

The piece of this that becomes relevant to the OP is that you need to be ready to look outside of the box, at least slightly. Just because we think of archeologists as being like Indiana Jones and working in universities doesn't mean that a ton aren't working for the Forest Service, Haliburton, and your local county government.
posted by Forktine at 6:56 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yep. I've structured my training from the start to focus on working in either public sector or contract archaeology, with academia something I want to do in the future, but not until I have more hands on experience in the field and at my desk. The tanking of the construction industry is what's been making it harder than it would have otherwise been.

Thanks all! This has gotten me over the hump and I'm going to get on crafting a new strategy for my job search.
posted by ursus_comiter at 5:49 AM on September 29, 2010

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