Guest post by: Kimberly Blackburn
Training/Marketing Coordinator of the Capital Region Maryland SBDC (Small Business Development Center)
Kimberly works as the Marketing and Training Coordinator for the Maryland Small Business Development Center. At the SBDC she coordinates over 100 training workshops a year for small businesses in the DC Metro area. She also has the opportunity to work as the Events Director for an angel investor group called the Washington DC Archangels, helping to plan their monthly meetings and workshops for companies all across the country. In addition, Kimberly coordinates memorable and constructive networking events as the Washington DC Regional Manager of TechCocktail, LLC.
Besides her passion for entrepreneurship, Kimberly loves trying new things in the kitchen, traveling pretty much anywhere and getting in touch with her crafty side.
After my college graduation I had big dreams to move to Washington DC to start my career and a new chapter in my life. So, I packed up my 2004 Honda Civic, drove cross country and set out to start my new life in the big city. I didn’t have a job offer in DC, but that didn’t scare me. I never had a hard time getting a job in the past so why would this time be any different?
It was. After I arrived in Washington DC, my short 1 month projected job search quickly stretched into 6 months! I was forced to move into my friend’s basement as I watched my already small savings account slowly vanish. I’m going to be honest, it was a very discouraging and exhausting time in my life, but looking back now, I wouldn’t change anything about those long, lonely months of unemployment. I don’t intend to make this post a pity post, rather I want to share all the invaluable lessons I learned that helped me so much more than just securing a job.
First off, I don’t want to discourage anyone from applying for jobs on job search sites, but from my experience, I had about a 5% response rate from applying for jobs this way. The most value I got from applying for jobs on jobs sites was learning about what kinds of companies are in the area. Here’s where my first “Job Search Tip” comes in:
Job Search Tip #1: Ask for Informational Interviews
I cannot advocate this enough. I changed my search strategy from looking for open job positions, to looking and researching companies that I was actually interested in. I searched every combination of words in Google to find organizations in the industries I was interested in, that had the values I wanted to work for. I even researched past and future events in my chosen industries and went on to research the sponsors from those events. This was my accelerated course to learn which companies were the front runners in their industries.
After identifying which companies I was passionate about, I really DUG to find someone – anyone – I had some sort of a connection to within the company. LinkedIn was golden for this. You can research companies and it will list everyone who has that company listed on their profile and you can see who within your network has connections to those companies. You might be surprised to find out you are more connected than you think. Don’t ever hesitate to ask someone to introduce you to someone. Business is about relationships and connections and everyone understands that. If you don’t have an inside connection, that’s okay, just search for a contact on the company’s website.
I would then contact this person and I’d ask for an informational interview. Let me tell you what’s so great about informational interviews. There is SO much less pressure. There is no job on the line, so if you’re anything like me, I was able to relax and really portray who I was, what my strengths and weaknesses were and what kind of jobs I was looking for. They may or may not have a job position within their company, but chances are, they know many more people than you do in their industry and there is a good chance that they will recommend, or better yet introduce you to someone who might actually have a job opening. If they don’t know of someone in the moment to recommend you to, you will at least be in the forefront of their mind when they hear of the first job opening, and if you left a good enough taste in their mouth, I wouldn’t be surprised if they contact you for it.
Another benefit from informational interviews is you are practicing and improving your interviewing skills for when you have that one interview that really counts. I believe it was in these interviews that I learned the most about myself and what I was looking for. When someone puts you on the spot and asks you very direct questions about your experience and your vision for the future, you are more able to fine tune what you are looking for and discover what your strengths and passions are.
Job Search Tip #2: Expand your Network
Don’t think of unemployment just as a time to find another job, this is a time for you to put yourself out there and expand your professional network. Talk to people. Meet people for coffee. Go to all types of events. Be vulnerable. I actually kept a list of “go to” networking questions on my phone for those moments I really didn’t want meet new people, but I knew I needed to. Networking isn’t always easy. I think everyone can attest to that. But it definitely reaps its rewards. I actually used an online service and paid maybe $5 to have personal business cards printed so I had my information to give to people when I was networking. Nothing is tackier then having to write down your number and tear off part of the program to give someone your information. Keep it classy.
I will testify for networking, I currently have one full time job and two part time jobs. Each one of those was from networking, not one of them came from applying for a job online. One person, led to another person who led to another person, and not only did it eventually get me a job (or 3 jobs), but it expanded my professional network at the same time.
Job Search Tip #3: Volunteer at Events
This goes along well with “Expanding your Network” but this was my little trick. Attending events is where you will find the most opportune networking scenarios, but let’s be honest, it can get pricey, and when I hadn’t seen a paycheck in months, I wasn’t jumping at the idea of paying out the rest of my savings to spend a few evenings out with a bunch of strangers. But I figured out a trick – if you can find a way to volunteer at an event, you will likely get to go to the event for free. You will probably have to arrive early and spend a portion of the time checking people in, or refilling the drinks table, but after the beginning rush, I don’t think anyone will even notice if you go join the crowds.
Job Search #4: Give Service
Giving service might not seem like it will pay out the dividends you are looking for (aka a job) but I was surprised at the benefits and blessings I received just because I offered up a little bit of my time to help someone else. You never know what is going to come from meeting new people and you never know where you may find them, but I think service is a great place to start.
Help out a mother who needs a short break from her children, get active in your local church, spend time with an elderly person, volunteer at a homeless shelter etc. Not only does this have a positive effect on your attitude and persona (which is visible in your interviews and professional interactions), but this is another great networking tool. I learned of many great opportunities this way and not to undercut the spirit of service, but people are more willing to help you out when they see that you are willing to help them out.
Getting a job isn’t easy and being unemployed isn’t very fun but I truly believe everything happens for a reason and I think it is our job to make the most of it. I might not have been receiving a paycheck during those six months, but I did learn invaluable lessons that I couldn’t have learned otherwise. Now, go out there and face unemployment with optimism and hope, and I’m confident that you’ll secure not only a job that you want, but also a network of friends and professionals that are irreplaceable.