Looking for jobhunting tips in NYC
November 26, 2012 2:51 PM   Subscribe

I relocated to NYC and am looking for a job outside of my typical role. I think I'm going about it the wrong way - can you suggest good strategies for finding an interesting (and not necessarily tremendously lucrative) job or gigs in an unfamiliar city?

I moved to NYC after living in Washington, DC for over a decade, but couldn't bring my old job with me. I've been having a harder time of finding work than I expected, and I'm not sure how much of that challenge is attributable to the economy or my own shortcomings.

Background: I worked for 10+ years as a technical writer and editor in the IT security industry, with a few years of work as an analyst and project manager thrown in. After some consideration (and previous AskMe questions), I've decided I really do enjoy the editing and writing components much more than the IT analysis/support part, and would love to work more on editing or copywriting (the latter of which I have done before, but not as a primary job role.). I'd really rather not go back to doing tech writing full time, but I am at the point where I can't be too picky about sources of income.

That said, I've been submitting resumes daily through Monster, LinkedIn, Craigslist, and some other sites, and I've been a little surprised at how few responses of any kind I'm getting (and it's been frankly demoralizing.) Is it just particularly difficult to find jobs in the NYC area right now? I've tried contacting two temp agencies, but was told that it was rare to find work for someone with my background.

So basically -

- I need to know how to improve my hustle. Where should I be looking for the best jobs and what can I do to make myself more appealing?
- Is it feasible to try to find employment outside of my traditional background? I'm comfortable starting over in a new industry at a much reduced salary, if that's what it takes, but I don't know if I need to be working smarter by doing something other than blindly submitting resumes and thoughtful cover letters.
- Are there any really interesting opportunities in the area that I might not be aware of? I'd love to find something particularly interesting to do, even outside of what I've described, if it led to more interesting life experiences or helped get me established in a new field.

I'd be happy to clarify any aspect of my background if it helps sketch a better picture of what I'm trying to do.
posted by gyges to Work & Money (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've worked in a field very different from my main experience (though let's be real here -- I never planned to be an opera singer). On one hand, you may run into the old "you're overqualified" chestnut, which is somewhat reasonable to wonder; an employer won't want to have to rehire someone if you magically find a job that is in your more-desired field. But on the other hand, tons of people are doing the same thing in this economy, so... who knows?

One way of getting a start is by taking an administrative position at an organization that does your new field. I wanted to get into writing, so I took an administrative job in a PR office. Now, my office is not like many offices, but I had the chance to work my way up and hop in to do things wherever I could. People were busy, and I had expertise in a certain area, so I volunteered to write a quick press release. Yada yada.

What is your portfolio like? Obviously, places looking at writing samples will want to see published ones, and you're in such a competitive town that you will likely not get in the door without them. So step back: what can you do to GET writing published?

If you don't know where to start on that front, step back again: WHERE can you submit things to get them published?

If you don't even know where you should submit, step back: WHAT can you write? What can you do to create the best example of your capabilities, your passion, or even your ability to wrangle a mass of letters into a passably readable paragraph?

And so on, and so forth.

It will also help you to network with people who are in your aspirational career, to have them be realistic with you about what you'll need to do. Maybe there's a certain organization that doesn't care at all about whether or not you've been published, as long as you can write about XYZ Widgets with flair. But you'd never know that unless you meet someone who knows people at the XYZ Widget Factory, right?

It will also help you to take every opportunity you can to watch, read and learn from your friends and colleagues. Someone needs a cover letter or grant proposal proofread? Do that -- and take note of the kinds of questions the grant requirements address, and how your friend addresses them, and the common problems people have in doing so.

EVERYTHING YOU DO is an opportunity to learn more and become more proficient, to gain trust and to make an impression. I delivered mail in a building. Now I can get past a security door with ease because people know and trust me. Small but mighty, eh?
posted by Madamina at 3:05 PM on November 26, 2012

Two things:

1. Blindly submitting resumes through Monster, Craigslist, etc is unlikely to be successful. It's something you should do to cover your bases, but most jobs are filled through personal connections, whether that's a friend of a friend you meet at a bar one night, or a former coworker or something like that. I recently realized that of the 9 jobs I've had since I graduated, I only got 3 of them though blindly submitting a resume, and with 2 of those I had a leg up because I shared some sort of common background with the hiring manager.

2. Because of this, it's typically pretty hard to start completely over in a new field in a new city, because you usually lack both a social and a professional network that can help you find a job. As an example, when I moved across the country, I started out in a job I was overqualified for in a field I was bored with. That was my landing spot. But within a year, I was able to make a move to a new (though related) field based on the connections I made that first year.

BTW, there seems to be a consensus out there that the job market for straight-up writers/editors is bad. I'll leave it to others with more knowledge of the field to speak directly to that, but you might want to think seriously about your strategy: what's your niche? What can you offer that others can't? Personally, I lucked into a nonprofit marketing-related writing/editing-heavy job based on my knowledge of the area more than my writing skills - I love that I get to write every day, but that was a secondary consideration for my employer.
posted by lunasol at 3:11 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Honestly, Monster, LinkedIn, etc., are crowded fields and employers have their pick of the litter.

Offer your services on oDesk and eLance. Set a minimum rate, create a portfolio of representative work, etc.
posted by dfriedman at 3:14 PM on November 26, 2012

You could do informational interviews and try joining some professional associations in the areas where you'd like to be and the areas where you already have experience. That way you can network (networking is good...) and learn more about these places you're applying to. I would also try to apply directly to places rather than through LinkedIn, Monster, etc. If you use those because of the ease, imagine how many other people are like you and how much they must be inundated.

Do you have any connections or hobby groups in NYC that you can network from?

Do you have a list of organizations you'd like to work with where you would be content taking a slightly different position than your objective? Are you taking steps to watch their job openings and get contacts who can recommend you or mention your name?

Is there any way to practice your skills (the ones you have and the ones you want) by doing free or reduced price work for a nonprofit? That would give your resume a boost.
posted by ramenopres at 3:47 PM on November 26, 2012

BTW, there seems to be a consensus out there that the job market for straight-up writers/editors is bad.

That's the consensus among my writer/editor friends in NYC. The ones surviving have been at it a long time and have developed/lucked-into relationships with people who funnel work their way.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:59 AM on November 27, 2012

Long-time NYC writer and editor here: Yes, the market is tough. The traditional publishing world has been pretty decimated, with many rounds of editorial layoffs at media companies over the past four years. Aside from entry-level jobs filled by recent graduates, jobs that do open up are almost always filled through personal connections, even when they are advertised.

It's a very difficult time to break into writing, at least in terms of it being a regular gig. A decade ago you could expect to make $2/word to $3/word for freelance assignments. Aside from very established writers, that's more like $1/word now, and there's fierce competition for those assignments. Rates fall off steeply for online work, which is where most of the opportunity is...so you see the problem there.

I've always been in the consumer world, so I don't know as much about technical writing, but I suspect those jobs are harder to find too.

It's always harder finding a job at the end of the year. But as long as you're looking, make sure to search the job listings mediabistro, which matter much more than the other jobs sites in the publishing world.
posted by bassomatic at 6:42 AM on November 27, 2012

Thank you all for your detailed, frank responses. I do understand that I have a hard road ahead, but I appreciate the suggestions to freelance, volunteer, etc. to get a toehold in an area I'm interested in.

I do have a network of friends and professionals here, but for personal reasons I've been reluctant to hassle them for job or work opportunities. It sounds like I need to get over my squeamishness, however.
posted by gyges at 11:37 AM on November 27, 2012

When you talk to your friends or professional pals about work, you don't necessarily need to go pester them for job leads. Just start with regular coffee conversations to find out about each other and what you're doing. You can both be more honest and grow more comfortable/familiar with each others' expertise, which will then lead to better quality contacts. And then the other person will be more likely to think of you for an opening.
posted by Madamina at 1:45 PM on November 27, 2012

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