How to get a job in 2009

Here's the reality.  There are a lot of people out of work right now, and there will be more.  Unless you have some kind of technical skill, like brain surgery, web development or you can do some kind of theoretical math that no one else can, chances are there's someone out there more qualified than you or who went to a better school than you do--probably a quite few people in fact. 

The idea that you're going to get a job by dusting off your resume and uploading it to Monster is a pipe dream.  Even worse is trying to apply to the few job ads out there. 

Job ads are like crack.  Applying to each one is like getting a little hit.  It feels good that you're doing something, but ultimately they don't get you anywhere.  I once posted 12 positions for a company and got back 3,000 resumes.   The odds are not in your favor.

But if you apply to enough, someone will certainly see your resume and respond, no? 

Go ahead--apply to all of them.  That's what everyone else is doing--and half of all resumes that get sent to companies, maybe more, never ever get looked at by anyone.  There might not even be a real job behind that ad.  While you're at it, you might as well play the lottery.  At least someone wins the lottery, eventually.

If all you have is a resume, you're toast.  Your resume isn't special and it's not the best one.

Welcome to trying to get a job in the middle of a recession.

Oh, and e-mailing it around to all your friends?  If you look up "wreaks of desperation" in the dictionary, you'll see a page with an attached resume.  When I get unsolicited resumes from people I barely know in my inbox, I feel like I want to treat it like someone just handed me their dirty socks.  "Umm...  ew...  I know a good place for this..."

The problem with that is that the chances that someone you know is looking for your resume is so slim--plus asking them to send it around is kind of like asking them to spam people.  No one asked for your resume, so why are you sending it around?   Instead, take the time to figure out what it is your friends do, target the ones in areas you want to work in, and ask to chat with them on the phone or buy them coffee.  THEN, follow up with a resume, IF they ask for it.  That shows you know how to treat people like people, not like e-mail addresses, and you can go the extra mile to market something--yourself.  If you just blindly e-mail a bunch of people and expect a positive response, am I to assume this is how you'll act on that sales job a recommend you for?

Wake up.

You need to treat this job search like you seriously want the job--and that's going to take a different approach, some serious get off your ass effort and a little bit of time.

First off, let's be clear.  I get that you need to pay your rent and you need a job yesterday.  That's no excuse for approaching your job search like a mindless lemming--rushing to jump over the same cliff as everyone else who is out of a job.

Do what you need to do to take care of your financial priorities.  This is why it's good to have a few months savings built up.  If not, you need sure up your finances.  Immediately cut unnecessary expenses, but be careful not to cut too much--especially not the kinds of things that will de-stress you or get you out of the house everyday.  So, if you're choosing between cable and the gym...you might want to go without the tube for a while.  Sitting idly on the couch will not get you a job and will most likely make you feel bad about your situation after a while.  Besides, most of your favorite shows are available on the web for free now anyway.

The gym, however, can be a place to meet people and an excuse to get out of the house.  You need to get out there and meet lots of people, and looking refreshed and healthy goes a long way.  Get some sleep while you're at it, too... But don't sleep in--hit the sack early.  If you're sleeping in and not getting out of the house until noon, you're missing out on hours of potential job searching and networking time.

As for finances, don't be afraid to take paid work on a temporary basis wherever you can get it, even it's part time or not in your field--as long as you don't take your eye off the ball when it comes to really trying to get a job you want, in your field.  Despite the urgency of your situation, you can set your career back years if you take the wrong job just because you have to, and then give up looking for something else.  You should always be looking for better opportunities.  If you need to tap into savings, sell some extra stuff or move into a smaller place (or get a roommate) do what you can to ease your current financial situation--because being stuck in a hard financial spot can throw on a lot of pressure that will make getting a job (like being cool, calm, and collected on an interview) more difficult.

Ok, now for actually getting a job.  Let's think about supply and demand in this market.  Right now, companies have the ability to get just about anyone they want--so the question is, "Why would someone want me?"  You're probably not going to pick up some new skill between now and your next potential job interview, so the reality is that whatever skills and experience you have is what you're going into battle with.

So what else is there?

How about reputation?  Put yourself in the shoes of the person hiring.  You've probably been around a hire or had to hire someone yourself.  What's the first thing people do when they want to hire someone?  They go to their immediate network of trusted connections and see if there's anyone who might be a fit.  This happens even before they dive into the resume pile of people who are out of work--which isn't a very appealing task for most employers.

So the key is getting your name out there, far and wide, so that when that question goes out, you immediately come to mind.   How do you make sure that key people associate your name with the position you want?

Here are a few ways... and you should try all of them:

1) Be a leader among people just like you.  So you're out of work, or maybe you're just stuck at a cruddy job and you're looking to move up or chance paths.  Maybe you're interested in a hard to get into profession.  Either way, there are lots of people out there just like you, and if you can't just flat out beat them with your resume--then lead them.  You should get active in whatever professional society is relevant to your field.  Professional societies are always looking for more active members, especially if they can help out with events.  If there isn't a professional society, then start a Meetup.  Get other people with similar interests together in one place, and then reach out to experienced professionals to invite as speakers--or just to come to your networking events.  A friend of mine created a group for professionals interested in digital media as it relates to museums and cultural institutions, and in less than a month, it has nearly 100 members already.  What this does is not only places her in the mind of 100 industry professionals as an up and comer and community leader, but also when it comes to interviewing for jobs in this space, she has this unique feather in her cap.  She can say that she runs the Meetup for the very same professionals a company is looking to hire!

2) Informational interviews.  No, this doesn't mean going around asking people to hire you.  It means thinking of this job search as an excuse to get to know a lot of professionals.  If you're out of work, you should be meeting with, at minimum, three people a day for purely informational purposes--to learn about the different areas of your interest.  Don't go into a job interview not knowing exactly what's going on in a field.  Go in having talked to a dozen people over the last week about exactly what's needed for success and how the industry is changing.  Again, that shows interest, ambition, and it looks so much better than the person who can only say they've just been applying to a lot of jobs when asked, "What have you been doing?"   With each interview, ask the person for one or two recommendations of who else to talk to.  Never ever try to push your resume on someone... if they hear of something for you, they'll ask.  Resumes put pressure on people that they need to have an immediate job for you, versus just having a conversation. 

3) Keep your digital presence fresh, interesting, and up to date.  Be where people are online.   I told an out of work friend that she should start a blog about the tools she's using to organize herself online, since she needs to get organized to get her job search moving, and she's looking to be an interactive media producer--a position that demands a lot of organization.  She told me that she needs a job now, and doesn't have time to start a blog.   This is really short sighted, because what happens on the off chance that someone actually does find her resume and immediately googles her name.  Would she rather her smartly written organization blog be up there first, or just her Facebook profile with her silly profile picture--making her look like one of millions of other faces and resumes.  Whenever you get in contact with someone, be it asking for a job or an informational interview, they're going to check you out online, so you need to make sure you have a solid digital presence.  This can accomplish many things for you:

- It makes you seem more savvy than others who don't use these tools.

- It gives you an opportunity to write and share thoughts that can't be captured on just a resume--like a portfolio for a knowledge worker.  If you were a photographer, you'd unquestionably have an online portfolio available, so as someone being hired for your sharp business mind or what have you, where's your portfolio?  Your thoughts and options about your industry, or just about the tools you're learning about, represent an interesting aspect of you that a resume won't adequately put on display.

- It makes you more searchable.  If you use the right keywords, your blog will get a lot of search traffic after a while--and someone searching for an expert on organizing political communities might find your "How to organize a group of politically active people" post, if that's what you're interesting in.

It's also important to make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date, and you've got your real life network on there.   Here's a post about getting started on LinkedIn.  LinkedIn is a great rainy day fund for people.  Use it to seek out informational interviews, find out if you have connections at places you're applying, and see what companies and what professionals are in your space.

A great listening tool (and publishing, if you feel like sharing) to see what professionals are talking about in your area is Twitter.  Twitter is a social network where people share shortform status updates, like where they're going or what they're reading, etc.  Knowing that there's a media exec on Twitter going to a particular event when you know you want to work at that company can be a significant advantage in the job search.  Tools like Mr Tweet can and Twitter search can help you figure out who to follow.

Want other ideas?

How about starting a project--the kind you want to get paid to do--on your own.  If you want someone to pay you to work for their advertising company, how about offering up some of your best thinking around brands and advertising to a startup--or a startup a day on your blog.  By writing up short case studies of what you think certain companies and brands should do, you'll have a good shot at attracting their attention.  Or, if nothing else, you can work on some of these case studies with people you want to do informational interviews with.  I once told a guy who wanted to be an information architect to start wireframing how Twitter would sign up groups of people at a time, and then publishing that on his blog for feedback. 

A project could be managing a fake portfolio of stocks on UpDown, but taking it very seriously and publishing your results and analysis.  It would make for a great discussion with a real portfolio manager--certainly better than, "So how did you get your job?"

At the end of the day, a job search needs to be active, and you need to be using all of the innovative tools possible to help you get what you want.  If all you're doing is sending your resume around via e-mail attachment, well, expect to get a good job...  in 1998.