A Career Misconception

How career changers and others without a top-tier resume can land a good job.

Posted May 02, 2019

Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, Public Domain

A new client[1] came in with a misconception: She insisted that the way to land a good job is for recruiters to tap your LinkedIn profile. (From among the 600 million!)

That strategy, like all job-search strategies, will sometimes work, but it’s successful mostly when a candidate is currently well-employed, doing similar work for a very low-paying job, or for a job in high demand that requires a challenging skill set, for example, data scientist.

This client fit none of those:

  • She wants to change careers (again)
  • She’s tech-light: mainly good at writing, handling details, and motivating people
  • She has been unemployed for a year
  • In her 12 years since she graduated from college, she has jumped from field to field: counselor at a crisis center to sports sales to fashion marketing, with a significant gap in between

Yet she says she requires $120,000 a year plus benefits and flexible hours. I pointed out that landing those rare jobs usually requires an "in" of some sort. Here's how to maximize your chances of getting one:

1. Systematically tap your network:

Make a list of 20 to 40 people who like you, including people who aren’t in a position to hire you—people know people. Before reaching out, choose the appropriate mode of contact for each person: phone, email, an invitation to lunch, a hike, a party, whatever.

Prepare a 30-second pitch. There are two choices: One is to pitch yourself for a specific career. The advantage of that is that it makes clear what you’re looking for. The disadvantage is that it decreases the likelihood of the person having an appropriate lead for you. The other alternative is for the 30-second pitch to list the two or three skills you’d most like to use in your next job. That approach greatly boosts the chances of your networking contact having a lead for you. The disadvantage is that it can make your contact feel you haven’t sufficiently narrowed your target job. You can mitigate that by explaining that many jobs could use your core skill set and that you don’t want to rule out what might be a perfectly good fit. Sure, that might feel too squooshy for some of your networking contacts but, when day is done, you’re more likely to obtain useful leads with that approach.

If your networking contact asks for your resume, ask about the person you're being referred to, their organization, and the kind of job s/he might hire you for, and customize your resume as appropriate.

2. Make a list of perhaps a dozen people in a position to hire you for your target job who are NOT advertising a position. Email and/or phone them, for example, “I’m contemplating a career in forensic psychology, was intrigued by your LinkedIn, and wonder if we might chat for a few minutes.” Sure, most of them will ignore or reject your request, but even one or two yeses is worth the short time it takes to reach out. If you impress and connect interpersonally, the person might create a job or at least a project for you, thereby avoiding your having to compete with the myriad applicants for openly advertised jobs. Or, when a job is posted, you’ll get more consideration than if you applied without an “in."  That's especially likely if you're a career changer. Those applicants usually get instantly tossed out. At minimum, you’ll obtain some information about the field. Some questions to ask are, “How’d you get into this field?” “What’s the best training for this career?” “Anything might surprise me about the day-to-day?” “Why might someone leave the field?”

Whether you obtain such conversations through your network or by directly contacting potential employers, after thanking the person for their willingness to speak with you, making any small talk that feels appropriate, and perhaps asking a few information interview questions like those in the previous paragraph, list your core skills and then ask, “Can you envision a person like me being of help to you?” That opens the door for the person to consider a wider range of possibilities than if you said, for example, "I want to be an organizational development specialist."

For the career changer as well as other people who don't have a top-tier resume and LinkedIn profile, the above approach, on average, more quickly lands you a good job than if relying mainly on answering ads or waiting for a recruiter to pluck your profile from LinkedIn’s 600 million.

[1] Irrelevant details about the client have been changed to protect anonymity.