How to Get a Job: Part I

Successful young businesswoman giving thumbs up.

THERE may be an unemployment rate of 70 percent among people with disabilities, but my observation over the years has been that some people always seem to be working while others struggle and often give up along the way. The people who are always working use some form of the process I’ve outlined in parts I and II of the following post. For them the unemployment rate is 0 percent because they have eliminated the less productive parts of the job search and concentrated their energies on those activities most likely to yield results.

Like most of you, I started out (thirty years ago) looking for employment in all the traditional ways. I printed up résumés, had people read me the want ads (I’m blind), and went to job interviews. Job hunting was a lottery with very long odds.

I printed up résumés fifty at a time and was out knocking on doors from early morning to late afternoon. Mostly looking for a job was a series of disappointments culminating in the lucky result that with a great deal of persistence I finally found employment. I never felt particularly good about the process but didn’t know any other way to accomplish my goal.

I assumed that everybody did it that way.

Over time I discovered that, although I always seemed to get jobs, they seldom came through the job lottery of résumés and interviews with people I didn’t know. Thanks to teachers like Richard Bolles, who wrote What Color Is Your Parachute, and friends who steered me in the right directions, I’ve turned job hunting into–if not a truly pleasurable experience–at least one that regularly yields positive results.

You can do the same.

First, forget everything you’ve been taught and start over. Below is my guaranteed success formula for finding employment. The only reason it won’t work is if you don’t work it. Well, okay, there are a few caveats. The system will work faster and more fluidly if you are able to do a few things to help yourself.

First, you must know how to gather information through research and good listening skills. Second, you need to be a good conversationalist–listening more than you talk. Third, you should make a presentable appearance in your dress and social mannerisms.  Finally, and this is a big one, you need to know how to be socially pleasant–not abrasive or socially obnoxious.

1. Since one out of fifteen hundred résumés sent to an unknown employer results in a job, stop sending them out to people you haven’t spoken to unless there simply isn’t any other way to reach a specific employer.

2. Since going to job interviews with personnel departments at companies where you don’t know anyone seldom results in employment, stop that as well. If you know of job openings at a particular company, find out who the supervisor or manager is and go speak with that person. Personnel departments can seldom hire; they can only say, “No”–not what you want to hear. Most companies still allow supervisors to hire their own staff, so those are the people you want to see.

3. Since want ads are sixth or seventh on the list of ways employers use to hire, stop reading them unless you use them to help you locate companies with vacancies, but don’t bother answering the ads. There are much better ways to get hired.

The nice thing about stopping all these behaviors that seldom result in jobs is that they are typically the most dreary, frustrating, and painful parts of the job search. The reason they are dreary and painful is that they require you to prepare for a long series of nos.

Regular and frustrating rejection is the name of the game when you use traditional methods of job search. It’s hard on your self-image and, frankly, very inefficient. So now that we’ve removed the most unpleasant aspects of getting a job, what’s left? Below are the ABC’s of locating your ideal job.

A. Do your homework.

Read every article you can find about the companies you’re interested in and the field generally. If articles have been written about key people, read them as well. In other words, become conversant with the business.

Even if you want to become a hamburger flipper, you should know about the business. What are its biggest challenges? What are its rewards? What are its management issues? Tell every friend and acquaintance what you’re interested in doing.

You’ll be surprised how often they know somebody in the company or field of interest and can set you up with an informational interview. More about this technique later, but suffice it to say you should do your research–learn the jargon and other topical issues in the field. You’d be surprised at how many applicants are so interested in their own needs that they fail to do this basic research and demonstrate a true interest in what the employer is looking for.

Here are some things you should know:

* What is the broad history of the field?

* Who are its movers and shakers? What is their philosophy?

* What parts are stagnant or well defined and what parts are in flux or growth?

* Which are the local, state, national, and international organizations of influence in the field? This can include companies, professional organizations, citizens groups, universities, etc.

* What are the primary challenges currently facing the field?

* What is the working terminology of the occupation? Each field of endeavor develops its own acronyms, shorthand, and professional terminology. You need to know the language.

B. The number-one way employers hire is from people they know or referrals from trusted contacts. Your main focus should be on getting to know the people who can hire you. Another thing to remember: employers would rather hire someone who is trainable and easy to get along with than someone with all the skills necessary but who creates problems on the job. If you are armed with these facts, your goal is easy. Begin telephoning people in key positions at companies you may wish to work for. If the company has thirty or fewer employees, talk to the owner or president. If more than thirty, pick an upper-level manager.

Whatever you do, don’t go to personnel. Tell the person you want to speak to that you are conducting informational interviews and would like to meet with them to talk about their company, the field generally, its plusses and minuses, and how they themselves got into it.

You’d be surprised at how easy it is. All of us love to talk about ourselves and our companies. They will conclude that you’re bright, inquisitive, thoughtful, and likable if you prepare a good set of questions and listen carefully to the answers they give. The following question formula is a good starting point:

* What are your duties and responsibilities? How do you spend your day? How did you get started at this company (or in your profession)?

* What do you like most about your job? What do you like least? What kind of person is right for this kind of work?

* How can I learn more about this field? Are there specific trade journals I should be reading or associations I can join?

* How can I meet others in this field?

* What is the best way to get started (in this field or at this company)?

* I’m trying to get in to see people at some other organizations. Who else should I talk to?

* Can you direct me to others in your department/organization/division/company with whom you think it would be appropriate for me to talk or meet?

This should get you started.  Next week in How to Get a Job: Part II we’ll talk about how your disability should be handled and other success formulas that really work.