So I've been wanting to do a blog entry on job hunting that is specific to me and those who might fit the same profile:
- late 30-something
- woman of color
- nonprofit sector
- youth work/ social services
- middle to senior management level background
- elite liberal arts school education
- master's degree in something (education, in my case, or social work, counseling, humanities…)
- new to a city
- with some degree of connections in other cities (not in the new city)
- wanting a job situation where skills are maximized, where creativity is encouraged and fostered, and where there are other smart, innovative people working together
Pretty specific, but take out some of the items (3, 4, 8), and I feel like I know others who are in a similar boat. Why is it hard for us/me?
How I articulate the difficulties to others is in this way: when you're at the beginning of your working life, your own merit and accomplishments matter more than connections. Connections always help, yes, but if you have a good solid resume with some good experience, you can find a job. It might not be the perfect fit, but you can get employed somewhere. (Well, at least that's how it used to be. Maybe the rules have changed now with unemployment still being pretty high… But anyways…)
If you're at a middle to upper management level and seeking positions, your merit matters less than the connections you have. It's less likely that you'll get a job through the cold contact (i.e. traditional) approach (finding a posting, writing up a cover letter, sending out said letter and resume and waiting for a response) because those doing the hiring don't know you at all, don't know your track record, etc. And if they have a candidate with a similar set of skills and resume (which is highly likely because there are a lot of smart people out there, and it only takes one other to compete with you) AND connections that can positively vouch for him/her, then the person doing the hiring will hire the known entity. Even if it's “knowing through a connection.”
I've sent out over a dozen cover letters and resumes for the last four months, and I've gotten only four first round interviews, and of those four, two were through connections. And I can't believe that I'm any less qualified than others that HAVE been offered interviews. But I think it really has to do with my not leveraging my connections. And I DO have them. We ALL do. It's just about looking at our relationships with a different lens.
I hate looking at my friends with this “different lens,” but I guess if I'm not ONLY looking at them in that way, then it's OK. And this “different lens” involves seeing that person as someone who can help you get what you want. It sounds shady and exploitative, and I guess it's about where you put the focus: on the “help” or “you want.”
If I spin the issue around a bit and look at myself with this “different lens,” then it's easy to focus on “help.” I WANT to help my smart, capable friends and colleagues get good jobs. I want to put in a good word for them if I mean it. I mean, I didn't work my way up to where I am just for myself. I want to get others in good positions and use whatever social capital I have for the benefit of the greater good, not just for myself.
If I look at others in the same way, then it doesn't feel so bloodthirsty or utilitarian. And since often people don't know that you need their help unless you ask them, then you just have to ask them to help and most likely they will!
I've been trying to be better about asking my friends and colleagues for help in this job hunt, and that has only happened in the last month or so. I'm learning how to use LinkedIn better to see who I'm connected to who might be connected to someone at an organization where I want a job. And I'm just making it a priority to put myself out there and ask for help!
This whole job hunting process has put into perspective big picture issues that are sobering and enlightening. There are lots of examples of institutional oppression in so many arenas that I both benefit from and am shafted by which makes for a very complicated analysis.
For example, I am a person of color from an immigrant family. Growing up, I knew about the importance of having a strong work ethic, but my parents were not well connected and did not know about the importance of networking and using connections. Because of that, and because of my introverted nature, schmoozing is really hard for me, and I really don't like it. At the same time, I went to an elite private liberal arts school, and I got access to a lot of resources that could help me climb the proverbial ladder. At the same time, I am physically petite, and I look really young, both of which I have felt give me a different presence in a room than a tall white man or woman. Taking up more or less physical space has interesting psychological effects.
Taking a step back from this whole process makes for an interesting case study in social processes.
The bottom line, though, is that it's hard to find a job. Anyone got any leads for me? 🙂