What’s Next? Job search hacks from the backpack of privilege.
The “What’s Next?” series of blogs follow along with folks who just wrapped up their job the first week of November and want to make their next career move really count. Most of the advice in this series is also applicable for people who are still working at a job they think they want to leave, or people who picked up some work after their last job ended — but it’s not fulfilling work. The goal of this series is to share a process to help you through your transition, give you some homework to help you along, and share resources.
You might just have some ideas that you have a hunch might be right for you, you may be really clear about what’s next, or you might just be fed up and ready to get a different job (or back to work, if you took time off). So how do you actually get that job?
There’s the traditional way.
- Check out the listserves and job boards*
- Write some tailored cover letters and resumes
- Get an interview, do well and get an offer
This is a fine way to apply for and get jobs – frankly, it’s how I’ve gotten most of my jobs (and I love the places I’ve worked). Some of my clients and I walk through this process, but there’s lots of advice out there about how to do this. As someone who has done a lot of hiring, and as someone who has also seen the job market through the eyes of my diverse group of friends and clients, more interesting opportunities sometimes call for more interesting measures.
You can find (or make) back doors. Here’s a glimpse into the backpack of privilege,** as it applies to job searches. It’s easy for people of color, women and/or older candidates to assume you have to follow “the rules” to get a good job. The truth is, most people get hired through networks, and there are plenty of exceptions to “the rules.”
- Apply for jobs even if you don’t meet all the qualifications. They’re a wish list, not an order. Be ready to say ‘yes’ to exploring an opportunity when it comes up, even if you don’t feel totally qualified. You can always decide not to continue later, and don’t have to accept or keep a job. Saying ‘yes’ now opens up a possible pathway.
- Networks are important, maybe the most important thing. Most people get their job through networks, but through weak ties. (People you know, but not well). You want to build connections through people who know your work to those who you want to work with. Volunteering or interning can open up doors, if you can afford to do it. Try taking a class, or going to a training or conference. Ask people to introduce you to others they know. Practice or get help to feel comfortable doing this. It’s important. If there’s a certification you need or want, check out the success rate of people who get it, but also look at the network you’ll be joining. You can work backwards by looking at people you’d like to work with and what kinds of leadership development programs, certifications or other skills and awards they have.
- Play six degrees of separation to get to know someone at a place you’d like to work. Do an informational interview with anyone there. Identify the person hiring and follow up with them in a polite but persistent way. I always appreciated polite harassment when I was hiring, since I knew that person would be able to politely harass others on behalf of our work once hired.
- Assume you’re a competitive candidate and act accordingly. For example, I’ve called an organization and said “Hi – I’m really interested in working with you, and I’m in an interview process already moving at another organization. If you think I’ll be moving forward with you, do you have a sense of the timeline, so I can see if I can hold off the other process?” Sometimes I’m told “Yes, we want to interview you, let’s set up a time.” Sometimes I’m told “I don’t think our process is going to move as quickly as you need it to.” Either way, I have a lot more control over where I put my time and energy after that. If you weren’t competitive, you have nothing to lose by calling.
Create a back door for someone else, especially a non-traditional candidate. This is a public service announcement. People get jobs through networks. There’s been a lot in the news lately about the white maleness of tech (and the lack of diverse leadership in so many other industries, including the non-profit sector). America is segregated by race and class. One of the biggest predictors of whether someone will get out of poverty is whether they are connected to people who are not poor. In the same way that you are responsive to someone like to you asking for an introduction to someone in your company, be on the look out for people unlike you who you can help to connect. You might not be in a position to do this now, but you will be. Prepare to do it. Ok, we now resume our regularly scheduled programing.
Some interview hacks.
Be the best version of yourself, but above all, be yourself. If they don’t want what you bring, do you really want to work there? (Unless you just have to pay the rent, then do what you need to, for now.) It helps a lot to prep for interviews by finding a comfortable, authentic way to walk into an interview helps a bunch. Some of us think “I’ll pitch myself as a really safe character, and then when I get the job, I can do transformative things!”
I encourage clients to try saying out loud what they really want to do in a role, once it’s said, can be very clarifying. During their interview, one client spoke clearly about the challenging things they wanted to do (even mentioning race and class!). When they were hired, this person was told it was because of their clear vision for the work. Even better, they have a mandate for the work they actually want to do, and know they’ve been chosen explicitly to do that. The work they want to do will have a much bigger impact than what they thought they should say. This person doesn’t have to hide, feel self conscious, censor themselves, or fight a system that’s not aligned with their goals.
Remember, you’re interviewing them too. I feel more relaxed in interviews when I treat it as a chance to see if we’re a good fit. Figure out what your most important criteria are for a job, and check to see if they will be met in this role.
Check out Ann Cuddy’s videos about using body language to improve the outcome of interviews and negotiations. Her research started by focusing on improving outcomes for women and people of color. She found that if you strike ‘power poses’ for a few minutes before an interview or a negotiation, you’re more likely to get hired, or will get a higher salary. It sounds hokey, but there is science to back it up. Go science!
My bottom line advice is to be your biggest authentic self. I honestly think that this is the approach that will lead to getting hired into a job that will be the best fit for you. But here’s the thing, it’s your job search, and I trust that you will be the best judge of your own strategy at any given time.
If you just need a J-O-B ASAP, I might be wrong. I honestly don’t know if you’ll be better off saying what you think they want to hear. If you’re a person of color you might be evaluated differently and might not get a job. Women and/or people of color saying the exact same things are often evaluated less favorably than white people and/or men. In that case though, do you really want to work for this organization?
So I might be wrong, but I might be right. I’d encourage you to test this out. What’s at stake is your chance to be fully yourself in your work, have a mandate for the work you actually want to do, and stand out from other candidates. It’s your chance to create some space for others around you and who follow you to do the same. And so far, this is the strategy I’ve seen lead to getting people hired and getting great jobs.
Keep your eye on the long game. Through this process, you’ll probably face a lot of rejection. Keep your eye on the long game, remember that once you have a job or even an offer, you’ll probably forget most of the rejection. Also, remember, it only takes one yes, and just the right one, to get you a fulfilling job.
* For social justice or non-profit jobs, check out my collection of job boards and listserves.
** Check out this recent interview with Peggy McIntosh or her original essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.
Julie Roberts-Phung is a career and leadership coach who works with really interesting clients. If you’re curious about coaching, you can book a free, no-obligation sample session to ask questions and try it out here: booketc.youcanbook.me