Let’s not sugarcoat it: Searching for a job can be awful. It’s a little like apartment hunting. Or partner hunting. You have to sift through a lot of unattractive options for one gem in the rough. But there are much better, more effective, and sanity-saving ways to find appealing jobs that don’t involve refreshing Indeed or Monster.
Most of these suggestions are about playing the long game and establishing relationships that will serve you well throughout your entire career. Yes, some involve the dreaded “networking” word. But you’ll learn to appreciate networking when it means you can be proactive, rather than reactive, about your job search—and when you can skip past the specific hell of the “send your resume into this black hole” job posting. Plenty of people have done it before you; a few success stories are below.
Here’s how to find the job you want in the new year.
Figure Out Where You Want to Work
Survey the landscape—which companies seem appealing to you? Where do people you admire work? What kind of business do you see yourself at: corporate monolith or spunky start-up? These questions will give you clarity and a place from which you can work backwards. If you’re unsure, think about places you wish were hiring. These North Star guideposts will keep you from being overwhelmed by options.
Tell People Where You Want to Work
Ever gone to a restaurant, refused to look at the menu, and expected the waiter to bring you the gooey mac and cheese you were craving? Of course not. You’re not insane. The same goes for jobs. People can’t read your mind. Talk to your friends about what you’re seeking—be as specific as you can. You will be shocked by what happens. Stuff like “My friend’s brother’s ex works there!” Even if it doesn’t result in a direct connection, putting it in their ear is a crucial step—you’re being clear about what you want, and you’ll be on their mind in the future.
Assess the Work Culture of Your Prospective Employer
If you’re a Twitter person (or work in a Twitter-obsessed industry), search and follow people who work at the organizations where you aspire to work. You’ll get a sense of the backgrounds and interests of people who work at your “dream companies” and soon come to realize that they’re just people. The beauty of Twitter is you can jump into any conversation that you want. You can tweet someone’s article and tag them, or favorite a tweet or two to get on their radar. It’s also a good way to stay informed about who’s getting hired or leaving. Word to the wise: Don’t thirstily over-tweet people or directly ask for jobs—use the medium to hunt and gather info, not be a nuisance.
Meet and Bring Value to Other People
Jobs don’t hire people. People hire people. So… go meet people. Depending on where you live, there are probably networking events, but also bootcamps or classes or talks that can bring you into contact with people who can hire you—or connect you with someone who can.
After a company he worked on imploded over five years ago, Chris Winfield, a New York-based entrepreneur and life coach, decided to get out from behind his computer and meet at least one new person every day—most in person, others through Skype, Zoom, or over the phone. “Instead of thinking about myself and what I could get, I started to think about what I could give,” he says. “What could I help this person with?” Everything changed after he developed deep relationships with people. “I’m also not afraid to talk about my fears of insecurities, and as a result, people will open up more with me, and there’s a deeper level of trust,” says Winfield. “And who does somebody want to refer for a job? Somebody that they trust.”
If you’re looking for a job, you’ll hear about places hiring that aren’t the right fit for you. Don’t sit on them. Pass those tips along to your friends and contacts. (I send many emails with the subject line: “In case of interest to you or someone you know!”) And connect some of the new people you’re meeting if it seems like they could have a mutually beneficial relationship. A simple email can bring enormous value to someone else.
Don’t Fear the Cold Email
Guessing someone’s email address isn’t hard—a few quick Google searches should point you in the right direction. Before she moved from LA to New York in 2014 to work in magazines, Audrey knew she needed a leg up and decided to cold email 40 editors from her favorite magazines (Vogue, Vanity Fair, Elle, New York Magazine, InStyle, Marie Claire, etc.) and tell them she was a senior in college studying journalism and creative writing, and that she wanted a career in magazine writing. “I then listed all the places that I interned at to show them that it’s something I’m very serious about. I ended my email saying that I just wanted to learn about their career path and if they had any advice for me,” she says. Around 18 editors or assistants agreed to meet or chat. But before moving to the city, she stayed top of mind and added value, emailing the people she met with once a month, commenting on an article they had written or sending something they might find interesting. “I wouldn’t ask every time I tried to keep in touch about any job openings because I didn’t want to seem bothersome, but I would ask occasionally,” she says.
Emails turned into coffee meetings, which turned into two internships at New York Magazine and InStyle, because the editors she had met with thought of her when a spot opened up. Eventually, an editorial assistant contact told her she had put in her two-week’s notice, which led to Audrey’s first job as a beauty assistant, and she now works at a beauty site. While she was networking, she was still stalking the career pages of Conde Nast, Hearst, and Time—but never heard back when she applied that way. Her advice to cold-email newbies: “Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back. I now know editors get so many emails a day. They have a job first and foremost, and the ones meant to help you will get back to you when they’re free.” If you operate under the assumption that everyone is just busy, it’s easier not to hold grudges.
At Least Try to Be in a Good Mood
Think about how you’re presenting yourself in social situations. People don’t often want to work with or help someone who’s negative. If you’re not in a sunshine-y headspace right now—and it’s easy not to be! job-searching is stressful!—then at least try not to communicate your desperation for a gig. When you’re talking about your job search, focus on the positive—new people you’re meeting, exciting companies you’re learning about—because this enthusiasm can attract more people who want to help you, rather than having them quietly eyeing the exits of whatever room you’re in.
Email People Early and Often
There are few digital gifts as nice as an email that doesn’t require a response. When you hear a friend or former colleague was promoted, send a quick congrats. When you hear someone was laid off, tell them how much you know it sucks, but that you know there are great opportunities out there for someone so talented. Then, when they do get a new job, send them a “good luck!” email. Do all this with no strings attached. This is how you “network” and maintain ties with your connections without feeling gross. Plus later, you can always ask them what their new position is like—and who knows, maybe they’ll be hiring in the future.
Say Hi to Everyone—Even the Non-Humans
It doesn’t matter if you don’t work with the development team, give ‘em a “good morning” anyway. Acknowledging people—or pets—you work with can pay unexpectedly large dividends. “I was an aspiring writer working as an administrative assistant and receptions at an advertising agency. There was an Executive Producer who brought his french bulldog, Patsy, to work every day,” says Lacey Taylor, a speechwriter. “Our conference rooms were down the hall from the main office so every time he went to a meeting Patsy would follow him to the door and then wait for him to come back.”
Naturally, Taylor started bringing Patsy behind her desk and giving her attention while her owner was in meetings, which led to a friendship with the EP, and eventually with his wife, Patsy’s mom. “When the speechwriting company she worked for was looking for a new employee, I jumped at the chance,” says Taylor. “I’m now a speechwriter and Associate Creative Director at the speechwriting agency, and Patsy’s parents are some of my dearest friends. Had I not been a dog person, I might still be answering phones at the ad agency!” Being friendly—or carrying dog treats—pays off.
Follow Up When You Meet Someone
You really never know what kind of connection can help in the future. Bethany Hill got her current job after being seated at the right table at a wedding. “A few years ago, my boyfriend (now fiance) was a groomsman in his college friend’s wedding in Canada, and I knew no one there besides him and the groom,” she says. “Since both were doing wedding duties all day, I ended up making friends with the folks sitting at our dinner table, and one of them also worked in the tech startup world, at a company called CommonBond.” Hill wasn’t looking for a job, but connected on LinkedIn after the wedding since she was excited about the company’s mission to make higher education affordable. “[A year and a half] later, I saw a CommonBond job posting that matched my qualifications. I figured it didn’t hurt to reach out to my contact and see if he thought I might be a fit, too. He immediately forwarded my resume to our head of marketing, and I had a first-round interview set up within 24 hours!” She’s now been there for nearly a year overseeing communications. Finally, an incentive to make friends during the gauntlet of “wedding season.”
Stay on Top of People’s Minds
It’s incredibly easy to stay relevant and top of mind through social media. This doesn’t mean relentlessly posting memes or filtered selfies, but a few posts here and there about your topics of interest or what you’ve been up to will help keep you in the orbit of your friends and colleagues. As Winfield, the entrepreneur, notes, people are always watching—even if you think they’re not. “Different people who don’t even necessarily interact with any of my posts or my videos will tell me, ‘I saw that you’re doing this, can we talk about that?’” and that kickstarts talk about a new gig.
Join Communities (Both Digitally and IRL)
There are two ways of looking at a job hunt: it’s either a competitive dog-eat-dog world, or there are people who actually want to help or encourage others. It’s your job to find those people through communities like Ladies Get Paid, a workplace network and event series whose mission is to help women advocate for themselves at work. They have a robust Slack group with channels for jobs, gigs, and collabs, salary issues, or other career-related advice. Kerry Drapcho got her current freelance “dream job” as a senior designer at a branding agency working in the social justice space after seeing a job posting in Slack posted by her now-supervisor. Drapcho direct-messaged her; they met the next day.
“This was the FASTEST turn around I have ever had for an interview, and since we were able to communicate in a chatting sort of way, I felt comfortable being candid about my excitement for the role,” Drapcho says, who started her new job a few days later. “I think typically, especially as a freelancer, I would feel a little nervous accepting a role so quickly without getting much background to the company or the vibe of the people, but I definitely felt reassurance that it was a vetted job since it was posted by a member of LGP.” So go find your people. There are hundreds of Facebook groups for writers, entrepreneurs, and people in the tech community, and ConferCal can help you find conferences to attend in your industry.
Consider Short-Term Gigs With Long-Term Benefits
When you’re looking for a full-time job, it’s easy to overlook temp work, part-time gigs, or one-off assignments, but these all have the potential to turn into longer or more lucrative gigs. Plus, staying busy while job searching is another way to maintain your sanity, and stay afloat financially. Maggie McKenna has a background in brand strategy and research, but while applying for full-time jobs, she responded to a holiday gift-wrapping gig on Ladies Get Paid. That one-time gig expanded to a few weeks, and the flexible job allowed her to make money, keep interviewing, and also meet new people before relocating to D.C. for the brand-new full-time job she eventually landed.
A “one-time” job can also expand into something unexpectedly long-term and career-boosting. Jennifer Bryant, a copywriter and content creator, applied to a random Craigslist ad back in 2011, which led to one of her best (and longest running) clients. Bryant had an accounting degree and was dipping into professional writing—she began ghostwriting site content, and that relationship expanded into managing a group of CEO contributors, moderating webinars, and writing video scripts. It’s a testament to exploring all your options. One temp gig can be the groundwork for a fruitful work relationship.
If you’re still tempted by the traditional job-hunting route—and it is generally wise to keep an eye on industry listings, even if you’re searching through other avenues—keep checking Indeed, Monster, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, or company job boards. But at the same time, spending a little more energy creating opportunities and connections will make you feel more active, in control, and empowered in your job search.
Oh, and did I mention to be nice to everyone? Be nice to everyone. Career karma is real.