Jul2220095:05 pm

Idealist isn’t always enough, ctd.

Last week I highlighted an international job seeker (a recent college graduate) who I felt was making some great moves when it came to her job search (moves, it turns out, that got her a job about a week after we met). What impressed me was the fact that she was getting out there and meeting people rather than relying solely on the Internet. She was contacting people directly and doing informational interviews rather than simply hoping that an application submitted blindly would be enough. (And I should note that I singled out Idealist in that post not as a slight but rather because I highly recommend it as an online job resource).

Anyway, following that post, a few readers inquired about the specifics of said job seeker’s tactics (apologies, by the way, for the mysteriousness created by calling this person “job seeker” rather than by name—nothing deep intended there, only caution). The gist of the readers’ questions were: How did this job seeker get these face-to-face meetings and informational interviews? Did she have a contact in the organizations? Did she simply call/email and ask for the meetings? Did she make a phone call and ask to see the person in charge?

Rather than speculate, I decided to ask our job seeker how she did it:

Before my move, I narrowed down where geographically I wanted to be (Washington, DC) and in what area I wanted to work (international exchange and global education). From there, I made a list of interesting organizations and located as many contacts of those organizations as possible. I emailed these contacts my resume and an explanation of my professional background and my future goals (working for an international exchange organization).

I received a reply less than 1/3 of the time. I kept in contact with these repliers and eventually met with them in person when I was in Washington, DC. These contacts also referred me to other employees of interesting organizations. I also kept in contact with individuals from organizations where I had been granted an internship/ job interview but was eventually turned down. It was a bit hard to keep in contact with an organization I felt did not want my skills, but I had to remember that they had an overabundance of applications and it was nothing to take personally. [My emphasis.]

From keeping contact with one of these individuals, I was granted admittance to an exclusive meeting with the president of the international exchange organization. I feel it was imperative to be organized in knowing what sort of job I wanted, as well as be perseverant in contacting individuals of interesting organizations.

And how exactly did she find those organizations that comprised her list at the beginning? Certainly searching via Google and Idealist is a good way to get started. Our job seeker also had other strategies for focusing her search:

One way was looking at an [interesting] organization’s partners, affiliates, etc. listed on that organization’s website. I then researched them and weeded out what I thought was interesting. I also consulted career books specializing in international affairs and jotted down the most relevant to international exchange. Rarely, I was given recommendations of organizations.

I was even more impressed by her moves after hearing these specifics. She set herself up in just the right way to hit the ground running once she moved to DC. And her tactic of first generating email contact with people and then, only after introducing herself and perhaps engaging in some email back and forth, asking for an in-person meeting was very well done. When job seekers ask me how they can generate informational interviews at organizations where they have no contacts, I’ll often tell them to do some research, find a contact at the organization doing a job that looks interesting, and then email that person asking for a meeting. And while I still think this can be an effective tactic, I’ll also admit that it can be odd to receive an email from someone you’ve never met asking if she can come in for a meeting and, by the way, can you advise me on my career? (And no, that’s not a veiled reference to not email me—by all means, keep them coming!).

But our job seeker’s method is much better. It still involves sending a random email to someone you don’t know, but it’s a way to start off slow. Instead of barging right in and saying, “Hi, you don’t know me but can I come meet with you so you can help me get a job?!”, our job seeker’s method allows you to ease in. Do what she did and start by emailing an introduction of yourself—your resume and your professional interests—and then perhaps asking one easy question to which that person can respond quickly and easily (such as, “Can you recommend a partner organization that I should also look into?”**). If the person responds and seems interested in helping you, follow up and when it feels comfortable, ask if you might meet with him or her in person.

This whole process might seem much more time intensive and like much harder work than simply Googling for jobs, finding them, and then applying online—and that’s because it is. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve always done it right or that I’m good at it, but ask any professional who’s been in the field for a few years and I’m sure they’ll tell you that our job seeker’s tactics are far more effective than exclusively relying on the Internets.

**The initial question that sprung to my head here was, “Do you know of any jobs becoming available in your organization or related organizations in the future?” And while this may be the more direct route, the question you really want to ask, it seems like a better tactic to start slower, to not be pushy, to show you are not just contacting this person randomly because you want them to get you a job (and if they can’t, then they’re no use). Rather, you are only seeking information and genuine in your quest to seek out and learn from those already in the fields. This takes much more time than asking the blunt question, but in the end it’s much more effective, I think.

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One Response to “Idealist isn’t always enough, ctd.”

  1. Linda M says:

    Thanks for the post. That was incredibly helpful and informative.

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