by Kent Lewis
As founder of pdxMindShare, a networking group and email list for Portland-area professionals, I’m intimately involved with the local job market. Over the past few years, I’ve seen hundreds of resumes, met hundreds of people and talked with dozens of employers. Based on those interactions, I’ve discovered a few simple secrets to getting a dream job (or any job for that matter).
The first step, which far too many people overlook, is to conduct a self-exploration and identify possible careers that truly inspire. Brainstorm, organize and filter dream jobs based on level of inspiration, barriers to entry (i.e. level of education or certification fees) and earning potential. After a fairly comprehensive review session, you should be able to hone in on a few front-runners.
The second step is to conduct additional, in-depth research to determine which one of the careers is the overall winner. Create a matrix to help identify which books you should read, courses you could take, organizations you might join, companies you should follow and people you should meet. Then get moving.
As you learn more about job opportunities within the given industry, it may be appropriate to start a blog or build a Web site to compile your research and share your thoughts. It will help motivate you to stay committed, practice writing and understand technologies that may be relevant to your future job. Be warned that a poorly designed or maintained Web presence can come back to bite you in the ass. The benefit, however, is that it can be used as a marketing tool when done right.
As you schedule meetings and interviews, remember that these people (potential employers, connectors, etc.) may Google your name, so make sure your blog, LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook and YouTube pages contain accurate and appropriate information. Don’t create content or upload images that may be inconsistent with your brand image or core values.
While sending out resumes to target companies and contacts is necessary and can be productive, it’s only one of many critical steps in the path to your dream job. One of the most valuable but least appreciated elements of the job search is networking. Your network is part of your value to an employer, so the larger and more diverse your network, the better. The more events you attend the more people you meet and the larger and more valuable your network becomes.
Networking is all about give and take, and many people tend to network for themselves and tend not to help other people out. I’ve written in the past about referral-based networking, which is the most effective and efficient method of building a network I’ve experienced. Referral-based networking in practice can significantly reduce unemployment downtime and increase the value of your current job.
Being well-rounded is as important as being networked. Everyone has a pet cause, but far too many folks throw money at a charity instead of rolling up their sleeves and get personally involved. Volunteering not only benefits the recipients of your efforts, but also builds your network. Contacts made at non-profit organizations are typically well-connected, influential and are all too happy to help altruistic volunteers with career advice or introductions. Most importantly, it looks great on a resume.
You’ll get old and gray if you wait for a job to land in your lap. With the knowledge gained during your research and networking efforts, combined with volunteer activities, it becomes much easier to request meetings with key contacts in your dream industry. I’ve found informational interviews are the most effective method of securing face time and gaining top-of-mind awareness with potential employers. The low-stress, high value meetings create a level of intimacy and reciprocity that bodes well for future referrals, if not job offers.
To secure a meeting through more traditional HR channels, ensure that your resume is relevant, organized and has absolutely no grammar errors or formatting inconsistencies. I throw out a resume if it has more than 1 mistake, regardless of how promising the candidate looks. Since a resume is a glorified brochure, use the email introduction or traditional cover letter to tell a story of why this company can’t afford not to hire you. Be specific, enthusiastic and flawless.
Once a meeting is confirmed, prepare for the in-person interaction. Always overdress for the interview, as first impressions are everything. Don’t forget to bring a notepad and pen to take notes. Bring printouts of the company’s Web site, job description and questions. Far too many interviewees come to the interview with nothing and I don’t hire them because it demonstrates a lack of preparation, intuition and enthusiasm.
Practice makes perfect. Secure as many interviews and meetings as possible in order to gain experience and feedback from hiring managers. The meetings offer an opportunity to perfect your game in terms of verbal and non-verbal communication style, interrogation and creating a generally strong impression.
Assuming your skills, experience or portfolio is on par with other interviewees, you need to separate yourself from the pack. Prior to the interviews, make sure your documents/portfolio is unique, relevant and error-free. As importantly, demonstrate your diverse and unique background. Highlight unique skills, interests, charity or volunteer work, awards and recognition. Well-rounded individuals typically fit better in a team environment.
One of the most critical elements of a hiring decision is personality fit within the organization. Far too many times, an otherwise ideal candidate (in terms of relevant experience and skills) loses out to someone that happens to fit better with the company’s culture. Beyond demonstrating understanding of a company’s core values, it helps to exude enthusiasm and drive, yet not come off as desperate or flustered.
The meeting isn’t over until you’ve sent a thank you card (yes, through old fashioned mail). For bonus points, follow up with value-add information via email on a regular basis to keep the relationship going and remain top-of-mind (but don’t go overboard or it will have a negative effect). By following the secret steps outlined above, you will land your dream job in no time.