Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why "Job Clubs" Are Bad For You

Not that you need the assist, but let’s make this really simple anyway. If you were desperately looking for a gallon of milk, where would you go? To a place where other people who were desperately looking for milk are hanging out? I’m guessing probably not. You’d probably go where there’s milk. Or at least talk to someone you’re pretty sure would know where to find said milk.

So what’s with this trend of job seekers joining job clubs — groups of other job seekers – all equally frustrated in the fact that they’re having trouble meeting people who might have a job possibility up their sleeve? That is not networking. That is wasting your time.

Does that sound harsh? Surely you’ll meet some very interesting, valuable people in these groups. Of course you will. But meet them under different circumstances (like a local volunteer endeavor where you gather to give back to the community, for instance), not when the only thing you have in common is a sense of expiring hope that somewhere in this world there might be a job with your name on it.

This is why these groups are bad for you:

* The time you’re spending with these people is time you could be actively meeting people who actually have leads and introductions that will eventually land you the job you’re looking for.
* They’re convened based on the commonality that everyone in the group is out of work.
* They often do not benefit from the leadership of a professional, such as a truly excellent job search advisor. A well-meaning one, maybe. But that won’t get you the job you want.
* The loudest woe-is-me’er tends to dominate the group’s culture, sending everyone into the Pit of Despair.
* The people there know less about finding a job than you do (you’re here, after all!). And pretty soon your beliefs will be skewed toward hopelessness.
* You will start to think of these meetings as actual networking events. They’re commiserating events. Commiserating events won’t get you where you want to go. No!
* Job club members are likely to be more interested in handing you their resume than really doing anything productive with yours.
* You’re likely to get a lot of stupid advice on how to create the perfect resume (there is no such thing) or put your best foot forward in a job interview (let’s make this simple too: Blow your nose, straighten your tie, be on time, be yourself, be genuinely curious about the person you’re speaking with, no pat answers, no goofy gimmicks, no begging [even subliminally], remember you’re a grown-up with tons of value to offer the world).
* You’ll feel really bad when you do land your job and you have to leave these folks behind.

So what should you be doing with your networking time? Meeting working people in their offices. Your counterparts in companies where you might like to work, preferably soon. Local professors whose expertise is your industry or profession. The membership director of the local chapter of your professional association. Your peers at companies that used to be your competition. People who work for companies or industries you’ve always been curious about but, up until recently, had been too busy working to really set aside the time to explore.

Stay away from groups – especially leaderless groups – where the only thing you have in common with these people is that you’re all looking for your next gig. You’ve got much better things to do with your time.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Feeling Discouraged? How to Re-Energize Your Job Search

Did you happen to see yesterday’s NY Times article about how the nation is flooded with millions of would-be job seekers who have just plain given up? No? Well. Don’t bother. It’s a bummer. (But I linked this article to the online page anyway, just in case you’re like me and you just have to take a look.)

Probably someone somewhere said something along the lines of “Fate favors those who don’t give up.” That only seems to make sense when you’re flying high and everything seems to be clicking in your direction. But when you’re in stagger, stagger, crawl mode, you’re thinking something else. Probably something that includes words that my mommy taught me to never say.

While I can’t change your life for you, maybe I can help you restore your faith in fate and your own future. The name of the game here is to re-energize yourself and your search. Put faith back in the saddle (hey, I live in New Mexico, what do you want?). Since I’ve been dedicating myself to the issue of finding work in rock-hard terrible times, I thought I’d share these tips with you:

1. Adjust your expectations. Ugh. Not helpful, is that? Okay. So let’s look at this just a little more closely: Depending on how old you are, your internal clock that tells you that you should have some hot prospects by now may have been set during recent boom times when all you needed as a pulse and preferably no prison record. One reason why you might be feeling the gut-punch of discouragement at this particular time could be that your clock is out of synch with the mud-slow slog of today’s job market. Know that it will take significantly longer this time to find that great job that really is out there waiting for you, and you’ll be able to handle that one-day-at-a-time approach a little more easily. Every “no” that comes your way takes you one “no” closer to that ultimate “yes.” Salespeople will tell you that.
2. Keep your funnel full. Salespeople will also tell you about how important it is to have a full and busy calendar of appointments with prospects, networking partners, information sources, etc. Knowing that you always have new opportunities coming up will keep you relatively relaxed as you deal with the one currently on your agenda. A dud meeting won’t feel so apocalyptic when you have more appointments to look forward to. Don’t let an empty calendar catch you flat-footed and discouraged. It’s awfully hard to get that funnel flowing again when it’s gone bone-dry.
3. Lay off the sugar, fat, and booze (I don’t have to mention the other stuff, right?). Comfort eating will suck the life and spirit right out of you. You’ve seen people eat crawfish in Louisiana right? It’s like that when you eat for coping. Buh-leeve me, I know. Plus, glazed-over eyes and gaposis don’t count as business casual.
4. Expand your networking. My coauthor, Duncan Mathison, for our new book, Unlock the Hidden Job Market, says that the first wall of discouragement that job seekers hit is when they’ve handed their resume out to all their friends and business contacts with the request that they pass it along to their contacts. And then they wait for a job interview to come back like a bottle in the tide. As Dr. Phil says, “How’s that working for you?” Bust out of your immediate clusters of social and work contacts and reach out to people you might not have thought of yet. Professors. Reporters. Your employed counterparts in other companies. The membership director of your professional association. Even Mom’s church friends. In our book, Duncan tells the story of one guy who got his new great job because a church friend of his mother’s had a daughter who…. You just never know.
5. Seek out networking relationships with people who truly have something to offer. Now is not the time to be codependent. You don’t to be a heartless user either, of course. (But you wouldn’t do that anyway, right?) Just like the tip from #3, keep your networking diet filled with healthy, positive people who are functioning in society. You might feel like you’re being compassionate and understanding listening to someone’s problems for the umpteenth time. You’re not. You’re being enabling. And look where it’s getting you.
6. Expand your ideas of what a great career and/or industry might be out there. The steam might have run out on your current professional train. Don’t rage against the wind that no one wants what you do anymore. What good will that do you? Think about all the different ways you can put what you do into good use. Perhaps another industry? Another customer base? Another part of the corporate organization? Maybe the government? Strip away all the external contexts that surround your skills, look at what you offer in terms of the value you bring to a potential employer. And speak to that. Who you can be, not who you once were.
7. Always be ready to talk to strangers. If you follow this blog, you know the story about how I met a guy on a plane from Albuquerque to Dallas, found out that his wife was threatening divorce if he didn’t find a job in Albuquerque. When I reached my hotel room in Connecticut that night, I sent off an email to an HR person at a big manufacturer in Albuquerque. Long story short, he got the job. And it wasn’t ever advertised. You just never know who knows whom. By the way: The missus still divorced him. Can’t win ‘em all.
8. Remember that any conversation can turn into a job lead. I once met someone in the ladies room on the 32nd floor of a mid-town NY skyscraper. Why I was in my underwear at the time is beside the point. But I was. She was the office manager of The Cousteau Society. The position of membership correspondent had just opened up. One thing led to another, and soon I was drinking Perrier and eating brie next to The Captain himself. You just never know.
9. Stop relying on the system. Online job boards are good but they should only take up a fraction of your job search time. Maybe a few years ago, they spat out job leads like tennis balls out of those scary machines. But not anymore. You’ve got to be proactive in your job search. You say you are being proactive? Good. Now. Be more proactive.
10. Be grateful that you’re unemployed. Pretty sick, huh? The thing of it is: In this terrible market, you have to use all your time to search for that next great job. This isn’t a spectator sport anymore. You’ve got to be out there swinging. It’s said that 70% of all job opportunities are never published, so plumbing the hidden job market is the way to find that great job that’s out there waiting for you. If you were holding down a job (probably one that you wouldn’t like but would be too afraid to quit), you wouldn’t have the time to meet the people who will ultimately introduce you to the people who will have the job you would really be happy with.
11. Redesign your goals. The job will come. But it probably won’t happen today. But you can still be successful today. How many phone calls can you make today? Can you set three up more appointments? Can you research 10 new businesses or industries that might be a good fit for your skills and values. Of course you can. Every day you’ve got a job. And this is a job you can do. And once you realize how much control you really do have, you’ll start to feel re-energized.

Note from Martha: These principles were borrowed from my new book, Unlock The Hidden Job Market: 6 Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times Are Tough, which I coauthored with Duncan Mathison, who spent nearly 20 years at outplacement firm Drake Beam Morin helping executives land their next great jobs. Please pass this on to everyone you know who is out there hammering away at the job market!