I've been reading the diaries from people looking for work, and thought this might be of some use. Over a decade ago, when my husband lost his job, he got sent to one of the "employment coaching" services, and I tagged along. It was gimmicky, and over-promised what it could do, but there were some useful lessons. When I started teaching professional writing, I tweaked some of the approaches and combined them with other techniques to make a "job search" lesson that differs from the usual approach. Usually this is what students say is the most useful part of the class. Maybe it can help someone here.
The first thing to understand is that even in times like these, people are hiring. Wherever anyone is conducting business, there are jobs and potential openings.
The second thing to understand is that although you might not feel like it, you are a potential asset to an employer. They need you as much as you need them.
The third thing is the one everybody knows, and the thing that initially seems like a huge hurdle to overcome: it's often not what you know, but who you know. When you're unemployed with no prospects, this is what you have to fix.
A few other miscellaneous things: In this climate, it's usually a waste of time to send out resumes. They go to people who can't actually hire you. You want to talk to people who can. So here is what you do:
Step 1: Identify a few companies (start with about 3) who employ people who do what you do. Then identify people who supervise those people. **It does not matter in the slightest that those companies are not hiring.**
Step 2: Polish your resume and, if possible, put together a portfolio of your work. Include a copy of your educational transcripts if they are impressive.
Step 3: Carefully construct a letter to each person you identified in step 1, that says something like this:
Dear Mr/Ms _____________
I'm preparing for a job search in the area of [your profession] and wonder if I might have a few moments of your time. Since you are a leader in [his/her industry], I want to ask your opinion on the most effective preparation for someone in [your field]. Please understand, I'm not asking you for a job. I'm just looking for advice on how best to prepare for employment during these challenging times. Your advice would be invaluable and the meeting would be very brief.
I will call your office next week in hopes of scheduling an appointment. I understand that you are very busy. The meeting will take no more than fifteen minutes of your time. I look forward to speaking with you.
Customize the letter if you can, mentioning anything relevant you might have in common with the recipient, like sharing an alma mater, etc, but don't make it much longer than what you see there. Use professional-looking paper and envelopes--plain is fine--and make sure you have spelled the addressee's name and the name of the companies correctly, and pop them in the mail.
Do not include a resume.
When your letter has had time to reach its destination, make the follow up phone call, and pleasantly request the meeting. Reiterate that you are preparing for a job search and are only seeking advice and feedback. Most people are willing to give 15 minutes. (My students average well over 50% of the meetings they ask for.) If they hesitate, offer to buy coffee at a nearby spot, and remind them how valuable their input would be.
When the appointed day arrives, keep the following in mind:
- Your goal is to begin assembling a network, not to ask for a job. You've told the person you're not going to do that, and for this to work, you really must not.
- Every supervisor is always on the lookout for talent. They never know when they will need someone, so you really are of interest to them.
- The feedback you can get from each person will move you closer to a job, even if it's just a little bit, so no matter what, the meeting will be beneficial.
- Ultimately, people are hired as much because someone likes them as because they are qualified.
- Each meeting has the potential to bring you one step closer to a job.
When the meeting starts, begin by thanking the person for his/her time. Then without wasting any time, show him/her your resume. Explain your qualifications, and the kind of job you're looking for (which should be the kind of job this person hires for) and ask for suggestions. Make sure that each question you ask directs their attention to your qualifications, like this:
I had this internship where I learned to make widgets, and then I ended up teaching a class about widget assembly. Do you think I should emphasize the class I taught or the time I spent on the job?
Listen carefully and attentively to all suggestions, and take notes. Write them on a tablet or notepad and try to leave your resume in the person's hands so that they can continue to browse it as much as possible. Make sure they get to look at the evidence of your good work in the portfolio. Ask questions that direct their attention to the most impressive work.
At the end the the time, make sure to thank them for their help, and finish with something like this.
Thank you. This has been incredibly helpful. I will definitely [do something they suggested.] Is there anyone else that you would recommend that I talk to?
Take down any contact information they give you, thank them, and be on your way. When you get home, immediately write (not email) a thank-you note, and in it, mention specifically one piece of advice that was particularly helpful. If at all possible (without awkwardness) leave the resume. Remember--it is very important that you do not ask for a job.
If you follow this plan and all goes well, at the end of the meeting, you've accomplished the following:
- You've made contact with someone who could, potentially, hire you.
- Your resume is on the desk of someone who could hire you.
- You've made them aware of your qualifications, and demonstrated that you are professional, motivated, and industrious.
- You've gotten another name of someone you can speak with.
- You've started, from scratch, a network of people who know you--who have seen your face and your qualifications--and who can advocate for you.
Often, however, you get more than this. Often the person you speak with will either
- say they don't have any openings, but they know someone who does, and put you in touch with that person.
- say they are hoping to hire again soon, and ask that you leave your materials
- ask if you'd be interested in some part-time work or contract work with the company.
- start a process by which you can be hired (by asking you to fill out an application, talk to HR, etc.)
(Sometimes, btw, this happens after they get your thank-you note, since that is such a rare occurrence in today's world.)
I want to be clear--this is not a magic potion that will land you a job immediately. But it is a significantly better use of your limited job-searching time than sending out resumes to people who have never met you. It is scary, especially the first time you do it, but it really does work. My students used to average about 1 job offer for every 5 - 7 meetings. Things are slowing down now, but they are not stopping.