Job Search

8 Unwritten Rules of Job Searching (

My piece in BrazenLife, from August 1, 2012:

You’re ambitious, hardworking and smart. Your resume is polished, your cover letter is relevant and you’re networking.

Yet, you’re still getting rejected from every job you apply for.

Sound familiar? If so, you may be ignoring one of these unwritten rules of job searching.

1. Be organized

Use a label for all job-search-related emails. Use a program like SpringPad or Excel to track all the positions and organizations you’re interested in, all the resources you use and all the people you meet with. You can also get extra fancy and track other data such as date of application, date of interview and related contacts.

If you aren’t speaking with two or three people about your search daily, you aren’t networking enough. Talk with friends, friends of friends, contacts you find on LinkedIn or at an event, recommendations from your school’s career center (even if you graduated long ago) and recommendations of recommendations. Think strategically about each networking request, and keep an organization doc for that, too, if it helps you stay on track.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask—and make it easy to say yes

Make it easy for your contact to qualify your request and help you. Be specific and strategic about the people and/or organizations you want them to connect you with or the advice you’re asking for.

Write introductory emails or talking points they can easily forward along, and make sure you aren’t asking for too many things at once. And if someone is unable to help, don’t hold it against them. People have to preserve their network and reputation. They can’t introduce their powerful contacts to every person they speak with.

3. Don’t apply for jobs you don’t want

We all do it. It’s easy to get excited for any seemingly good, somewhat tangentially related to what you want to do, open position you can find.

But do you really want this job? Will it be a good fit for you? Be honest with yourself about your strengths, work environment preferences and goals, and do your research on what the company and position offer.

Here’s a test: if you’re not willing to put in the effort for a customized resume and cover letter, you probably don’t want the position enough. (And yes, every application needs to be customized. Even inexperienced hiring managers can tell as soon as they open an application when it’s not customized.)

We sometimes think if we apply to as many jobs as possible, we’ll get a job faster. In fact, that’s just a waste of your time and the organizations’ time. Instead, apply smart.

4. Start somewhere

If a good opportunity comes your way and you’re early in your career or moving to a new field, you need to start somewhere.

Say the position isn’t ideal—do you care about the organization’s mission? Is there opportunity for growth? Then treat the position as if it were your dream job, prove you are an asset to the team, gain new skills and be honest about your career goals at the company. Doing so could also introduce you to new interests and goals you didn’t know you had.

5. Be honest

Be honest in interviews about your strengths, weaknesses and what type of position and work environment you’re looking for. Interviewers can tell when you’re being genuine, and they’ll appreciate your honesty. Even if you’re a great actor, your interviewer can detect when you don’t actually want the job, so you’re just sabotaging yourself.

And don’t forget: interviews are rarely about your skills and almost always about fit for the company and the position.

6. Be observant

Interviews are two-way. Not only is the employer seeing whether you’re a good fit for them, you’realso determining whether the company and team are good fits for you.

How does your interviewer treat you? Was the interview process organized, slow or fast? How do they talk about teamwork, your position and their own work? These are all things to consider.

7. Always help others

Just because the job market is competitive doesn’t mean you can’t collaborate. If you find a job that is a better fit for someone else, share it with them.

Whether you are in the midst of a search yourself or settled in a job, it’s important to give back and share… because what goes around, comes around.

8. Learn

We can all learn during the challenging job search process, so take advantage of the opportunity for personal reflection and discovering more about your industry.

After all, learning is a quality that will help you no matter what job you land in.

10 Most Important Lessons on Working in Your 20s

These tips from Forbes are spot on. Two of my favorites: 

Gain the boss’s trust by mastering the little stuff.

When you’re first starting out, not only are you young and lacking much work experience, you’re also new to a company and team of people. You have to give your managers a reason to trust you. You probably won’t get big projects or responsibilities in the beginning—but if you treat each small assignment with the utmost importance and pay attention to the details, your supervisor will gain confidence in your abilities. When I first started, I tried to nail every little project. Fact-checking? Just you wait while I lay down some accuracy. A 100-word blurb? Those will be the best 100 words you’ll ever read!

Raise your hand for the bigger stuff.

Once you’ve proven you’re reliable, aim for more challenging projects or positions. Usually, these things don’t just happen. You have to ask. I raised my hand by volunteering to take things off my editors’ plates, pitching stories that were important to me and asking to be put on projects that I could learn from. It’s not all external, either. I also pushed myself to delve into topics or situations that were scary in the short-term but good for my career.

10 Most Important Lessons on Working in Your 20s

Understanding Workplace Culture

Bill Barnett has an important piece in HBR: “When Choosing a Job, Culture Matters.

“1. What should I learn? Understand the organization’s purpose — not just what they say they’re doing, but also how their purpose leads to decisions and what makes them proud. Learn how the organization operates. For example, consider the importance of performance, how the organization gets things done, the level of teamwork, the quality of the people, how people communicate, and any ethical issues.

Except for ethical issues, there’s no absolute standard of what’s best in organizational culture. Different purposes and different organizational features can be more or less appealing to different people. When you understand how the potential employer operates, you’ll need to consider how well that matches your goals. Your target organizational culture is an important part of your aspirations.”

It is very important to be conscious of your previous work cultures and expectations, and how you will fit in a new environment and position given your prior experience. For example, is the new job at a large or small organization? There are a number of important considerations to keep in mind when making that switch. Once you learn more about a prospective employer’s culture, you have to ask whether you are truly prepared for and comfortable with the changes the new organization will present. For some, the decision to move to a drastically different organizational structure or culture is important for career growth, but you have to be aware of what those changes actually mean in terms of your responsibilities, expectations, and status. If you are making a deliberate transition, in what ways can you prepare yourself for those changes?

HBR has another interesting article about projects as the new job interviews. This is a great idea, because it provides a one-off opportunity to test compatibility and capability much more so than a traditional interview ever could. It also provides the interviewee with a peek into what the company culture and work will really be like. Working on a project for your prospective employer could be an excellent way to test out their culture before you make a binding decision.

I suppose that consideration of culture is a luxury, not for the unemployed desperately in need of a salary. But to ensure you are making the right choice with a new job, look at the organization’s culture and purpose with a critical eye, be honest with yourself, and consider whether it will really be the right fit.

Considering a Start-Up? Think Again.

This is a very important HBR article on why there is a problem with the founding a start up “bandwagon.”

We’re all susceptible to myths. The new zeitgeist is that entrepreneurship is the be-all and end-all path. But the first step in deciding whether to be a founder is to manage the vanity that’s in all of us, and not be blinded by the herd.

The article mainly discusses the warning signs of vanity in the urge to found a start up. It encourages potential founders, and especially young people, to think about their reasons for wanting to become a founder, and whether the choice is actually right for their lifestyle and goals. 

Having an entrepreneurial spirit is a great asset, and if you do have the psychological disposition (and the new or game changing idea), by all means, found a start up. They can do a lot of good for the economy, disrupt an industry, service, or idea, and change lives.

But entrepreneurship for the sake of entrepreneurship deeply concerns me. It ignores not just personality types, but also the vital need for intrapreneurship and ensuring that efforts are not duplicated or resources wasted because everyone wants to start their own organization instead of working together or improving what already exists.

Considering a Start-Up? Think Again.

On Working at a Small Organization

OnStartups and VentureFizz have two interesting posts on working at big companies vs. startups. I think everyone would benefit from working at both big and small organizations because there a lot of lessons to gain and trade-offs to make that ultimately provide you with greater perspective in your career. I found that the lessons on working for a startup are especially true and useful not just for startups, but any small organization. In particular, #4 and #5 standout.

4.  That you love/hate process.

Regardless of whether you love or hate the processes at your big company you need to rethink your position. If you love the process at a big company then you’re going to hate the freeform day-to-day workings of a startup. If you hate the process with a passion, and you’re hoping life at a startup will be a do-whatever-you-want free-for-all then you;ve got another thing coming. Startups often shun process to innovate, but as they grow process is necessary in order to scale.

It’s your job to delineate between the processes that can reduce time-to-market and the processes that stifle innovation and kill employees’ sense of autonomy.

When you work at a growing organization, you need to be conscious of when to implement processes and procedures, and what type of work requires it. More importantly though, you need to be thinking of process in a sustainable way, so that as your organization continues to scale, you are not reinventing processes continually. (Of course you should always evaluate and adjust processes to make them more effective, but not to the point that it becomes a time management hindrance when you should really be focusing time and energy on execution.) As new staff joins the organization, processes should be easy to explain and executable, even if the originator of the process no longer works there.

5.  The phrase, “That’s not my job.”

When a problem comes up at a big company, it’s often easy to say “Well, that’s not my job, it’s someone else’s job to handle that.” In fact, all of the extraneous process at big companies is designed specifically to make sure that problems are caught and directed to the responsible parties. Whether or not it actually accomplishes that end is a debate for another day, but at a startup, that process infrastructure likely won’t exist. You are the process. When you find a problem, your job description instantly changes from developer or CEO to “cleaner”. Like Harvey Keitel in “Pulp Fiction” it’s your job to get rid of those technical dead-bodies before your customers find them.

At small organizations, everyone needs to be a “window cleaner” every once in a while—it’s part of what you sign up for. Those who excel at small organizations embrace this fact and enjoy the opportunity to take on responsibilities beyond their formal position description. With this increased responsibility also comes the opportunity for many at small organizations to sit at the decision-making table. 

On Working at a Small Organization