Part 2 of a Three-Part Summer Series
By Chandra Prasad, Special Contributor
In a tough job market, and sometimes even in a healthy and robust one, finding a job can seem like the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest with one hand tied behind your back. You can send out dozens of résumés without a single reply. You can call scores of hiring managers only to hear irritated responses. The process can leave you feeling disheartened and dismayed.
While rejection is often part of the job search, persistence can go a long way. If you continue to try new tactics and to focus on improving your skills, you will no doubt forge new paths into the workplace. Below are some tips to help you do just that.
Learn from Your Mistakes
Often, you can benefit from seemingly futile efforts. If you’ve had an interview but were never given an offer, ask your interviewer if there was anything you could have improved upon. Many interviewers will be happy to tell you the reason or reasons why you were passed over. There’s no harm in asking; in fact, you can only gain by listening to your interviewer’s insights.
If you can correct a problem or fortify a weak spot, you will be more prepared for subsequent interview opportunities, as reported by one jobseeker who took the initiative: “My interviewer called to tell me that they’d picked someone else for the position. I was really disappointed, but I asked him if he could give me any advice on my performance. He gave me one or two suggestions, which were helpful. I think I earned his respect by asking. Even though he didn’t pick me for the job, I think he saw that I’m someone who is always striving to be better.”
If you’re unemployed, you may feel worried and alone. While maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help you to keep your head above water during this difficult period, so too will sheer optimism. Bear in mind that you will find a job eventually, if not necessarily today or tomorrow. The knowledge that things are bound to improve can be a great source of comfort if you’re out of work for an extended period of time. In fact, hope and faith are perhaps the best elixirs for the unemployment blues.
Like so many professionals, Ben O’Connell endured many rejections before a golden opportunity came his way. “Right after college I looked at every publisher in the San Francisco Bay Area and sent them all letters,” he says. “I received responses from maybe 10 percent of the total. One letter came from a small publishing company that specializes in minority and women’s histories. The president of the company wrote a personal letter saying how much he liked my résumé and experience, but at this time they didn’t have anything available. About four months later, the president himself called me out of blue to say that he had a number of possibilities open now. I went in to interview—and it went extraordinarily well.” O’Connell’s situation is just one example of how one’s employment prospects are bound to improve eventually.
Become an Intern or Volunteer
If you’re eager to work but haven’t received an offer yet, consider becoming an intern. Interning may lead to fresh leads, and if you’re lucky, an offer of permanent employment. Moreover, companies are often more likely to hire interns than full-time employees because they don’t have to invest as much in salaries, health care insurance, etc. Companies generally don’t pay interns very much money, and some interns opt to work for free simply to gain experience and exposure.
If you’re strapped for cash and can’t picture yourself interning on a full-time basis, consider becoming a part-time intern at a company that truly interests you. Any internship experience—as long as it’s meaningful—may help you in the long run. Melissa Walker, an associate editor at a magazine, calls her previous editorial internship “invaluable” because it helped her to get started in her industry.
Like an internship, meaningful volunteer work may persuade a hesitant employer to give you a chance. When scouting out volunteer work opportunities, keep your industry in mind. Try to be a volunteer in an organization within your desired field, or to do volunteer work that requires skills that you wish to use once you’re employed. That way, you’ll be able to add your volunteer work to your résumé. While interning or volunteering might not seem like ideal solutions to unemployment, either is a legitimate short-term band-aid.
Reach Out to a Mentor
In the workplace a mentor is a trusted adviser, someone who will guide you as you endeavor to make the most of your career. Some employers have an official mentoring system, pairing a more seasoned worker with someone who is new to the company. Some companies also have
Nevertheless, the vast majority of mentoring is done on a more informal basis. Often, two professionals will become friends and establish a close connection. The more experienced professional may casually offer advice and counsel to the other. Such a mentoring situation can occur naturally—perhaps the two people once worked in the same department or collaborated on a project together. You don’t necessarily need to be employed to have a mentor, either. Think of professionals you know on a social basis and reach out to them; or, use your college alumni network to contact more seasoned professionals in your industry.
Shawn Jarrett, a manager at Pitney Bowes Inc., an office technology and services company, is a strong believer in the power of mentors. One of his mentors was strikingly candid when explaining to Jarrett how he could improve his professional prospects. Says Jarrett: [With mentors] sometimes you run into the real deal. And if they give you advice, I suggest you take it.”
Coming Next Month
This article has been excerpted with permission from Outwitting the Job Market: Everything You Need to Locate and Land a Great Position (Lyons Press, 2004).