Job hunting? Don’t just focus on your resume – focus on yourself


Kick your feet up and read; it'll be great for your career. (Photo credit: Gael Martin, Creative Commons/Flickr)

As any job seeker knows, a wealth of information exists about how to write a resume, how to network, how to interview. A component of the job search process not nearly so well-documented — though it truly rests at the heart of any successful search — is how to match your personality with your work. If you don’t know yourself, how can you search for the jobs you’ll find most satisfying? Too many job seekers are shooting in the dark.

Start with self-reflection and research

I know because I was one of them (along with many of my friends). As a true generalist, I always find myself attracted to a variety of interests. In daily life, this orientation is generally a plus, as it keeps me picking up new hobbies, trying new restaurants, and meeting new people. But ten years after graduating college, it started to meddle with my working life: I had been going from job to job, trying and enjoying new things, but not doing much building toward a particular greater end. As I started to want more meaningful work I could really sink my teeth into, I realized I didn’t know where to start looking, because I wasn’t sure what would satisfy me.

So I decided to try beginning from the beginning: 1) who am I?, and 2) what kinds of jobs do people like me enjoy? I cast a wide net at first, trying all of the following:

– Reading “life manual” books. Books such as What Color Is Your Parachute? and Do What You Are can help you clarify and define the aspects of your personality that are the most important to keep in mind as you look for work. For example, personality type testing revealed to me that I am a strong extrovert; I derive my energy largely from other people, rather than feeling drained by social interaction. Acknowledging that fact enabled me to cross job titles like Forester off my list, because although I love trees and conservation, realistically, being alone in the woods all day would soon drive me batty. Solid personal understandings like this are the cornerstones of sensible and efficient job seeking.

– Conducting informational interviews. Aside from the connections you stand to make, it’s illuminating what you can learn about yourself by asking other people about what they do. When I interviewed a psychologist, I realized that, though the communicative and helpful nature of the work appealed to me, running my own private practice would be difficult — I knew I’d miss the more social “water cooler” environment of a job with coworkers. After talking with an urban planner, I determined I didn’t have a strong enough drive for the work to carry me through the higher education degree(s) I’d have to earn to get a good job in the field. Reflecting on conversations with foundation program officers, I understood that I don’t have the academic tenacity to thoughtfully read proposal after proposal, day in and day out; I would need something more collaborative. And on and on.

– Enlisting professional help. When I felt ready to step up my personal-research game, I got a referral from a friend to a great career counselor who really helped me understand my job quest (and myself in the process!). If no one you know can recommend a pro, the National Career Development Association’s Find A Counselor resource explains why career counseling is helpful to many people, and how to go about finding a counselor you like in your neck of the woods. Though I found it to be worth every penny, counseling can be expensive, so if you’re on a tight budget, shop around for counselors who offer sliding scale rates based on your income, discounts for students or the currently unemployed, or who will meet with you the first time free of charge, so you can at least get a sense of your compatibility before plunking down any dough. Colleges and universities with counseling programs can be great for this — like the Center for Educational and Psychological Services at Columbia in New York — and, happily, some practitioners make offering affordable services part of their pitch. In line with the holistic approach, look for a counselor whose aim is not so much to help you refine your resume or soup up your Linkedin profile as it is to help you bring to the fore the aspects of your unique personality that will be most critical to match to your work.

An ongoing journey

The most intense period of my job-and-self finding odyssey lasted about six months. It was a job in itself — lots of reading, lots of note taking, lots of reflection. And it’s an ongoing process, in the never-stop-learning sense. But the knowledge I uncovered in that time, about the ways I operate best and what I really value, will stay with me from here on, and I know it will help me make job (and other life) decisions more quickly and accurately than before.

What role do reflection and self-awareness play in your job search?

Need to do a little more soul searching before applying for jobs? Check out this career mapping exercise in our Career Center.

Tags: , , , ,

Career Corner: The 2009 Nonprofit Career Resolution: Be Intentional!

By Steven Joiner.

It is no secret that 2009 is shaping up to be a tough year all around. Sadly, that prognosis applies all the more to people looking for nonprofit jobs. The job search process, as most people undertake it, is frustrating, difficult, and demoralizing. Throw in dire economic forecasts and general uncertainty as we move into the new year, and you’ve got the recipe for a perfect storm of career frustration. What, then, can the nonprofit job seeker do in 2009? The answer, fortunately, is plenty.

From Flickr user Jérôme (Creative Commons)

Meg did a fantastic job of outlining some of the nuts, bolts, and numbers in her recent blog about seasonal lethargy and the current state of the nonprofit sector. Unemployment is up, nonprofits are wary of new hires, and organizations—from foundations to nonprofits of all sizes—are keeping a closed fist on their purse strings. So, how do you get ahead and get yourself ready for the moment when that ideal nonprofit job comes along? Simple. Create Intentional Opportunities.

Whenever I talk with job seekers about their search, I like to run through a little warm-up activity. I ask the participants to raise their hand if they’ve sent off at least three resumes this week. Most everyone raises a hand. Then I ask who has attended at least one networking event in the last month. Hands, albeit fewer in number, go up. Next I ask who has conducted an informational interview in the last month. Fewer hands still. Finally, I ask, “Who has approached an organization to discuss creating a mutually beneficial, intentional opportunity that fills a needs for the organization while also allowing you a chance to network and work on skill sets that will make you a stronger candidate when you apply for jobs?” To date, no one has yet raised a hand. Let’s change that shall we?

The ability to create intentional opportunities is one of the best ways to get your foot in the nonprofit door. Furthermore, it is a truly unique features of the nonprofit sector. Granted, most (if not all) of these opportunities will be unpaid, but, by the end, you will be further along in achieving your goal of finding a great nonprofit job than you would be if you simply sat at home launching resume after resume into cyberspace. How then do you create these intentional opportunities?

Step One: Know how you see yourself best making a difference and know how to express your personal mission statement clearly and succinctly.

Step Two: Talk to people. Find out from friend, professional and academic contacts, and the career services office at your community college or university (many also work with alumni) what nonprofits they know about and respect. Make a list of organizations that sound interesting to you.

Step Three: Go on Idealist and do an Organizational Search. You can search by geographic location only (which I recommend) by entering the city and state and then “Within 50 miles” or search by geography and area of focus. Once you have a list of organizations, go through them and see what their websites look like. Add 3-5 organizations to the list you started in step two and then prioritize who you want to talk with most.

Step Four: Make contact. Let them know who you are, what you are interested in, and where you see points of synergy. In other words, instead of saying something like, “I’m a big fan of your organization and I think the work you do is really important. How can I help?”, say, “Hi. My name is Steve and I have a passion for education and teaching critical thinking. Recently, I’ve branched out from working only in the classroom to developing my grantwriting and fundraising skills. Given that you are a new 501(c)3 educational organization, I was wondering if there was a way for me to help you research and apply for funding.”

You will likely run into a few organizations that simply don’t have the ability to co-create an intentional opportunity with you and that is okay; you will likely find plenty of organizations that will.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

Tags: , ,

Career Corner: FYI, Informational Interviews Are Where It's At!

By Steven Joiner.

By Flickr user Courtney Patubo (Creative Commons)

Whenever I talk with a group of people about how they are conducting their job search, I like to start with a series of questions. I ask, “Who has sent off at least five resumes this week?” A lot of people raise their hands. “Who has attended at least three networking events this month?” A smaller number of people raise their hands. “Who has conducted an informational interview with a professional in either a field or a position that interests you?” If I am lucky, I get one or two hands raised. Usually no one raises their hands.

After blogging about honing your personal mission statement and rolling out your networking plan, us Career Corner folks (well, Meg and I) would like for you to embark on what could be the most fruitful phase of your job search… the all-important informational interview.

I hope my story about an informational interview I conducted will help you see the value:

I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area several years ago and I’d moved there with the professional intention of getting out of the classroom for a while. I’d been teaching for several years by that point and I wanted to do something different. I figured that, with my background in education and my ability to write, I’d be a great developer, fundraiser, and grant writer for a local educational nonprofit. Problem was that I didn’t really have the experience yet. I did, however, have a good friend who worked for a small grant-writing group as a writer so I asked her if I could connect with her boss Carol.

I started off the conversation by asking, “Given my background as a teacher, what transferable skills do you think I need to highlight on my resume to make me stand out?” Carol then asked to see my resume (which I, of course, had with me… but I let her ask me to see it!) and within fifteen minutes she had marked up my resume with useful suggestions: “Move this bit up here, move this bit down. Highlight this because grant-seekers are going to really notice that. Delete that. Emphasize this experience.” As her right hand was making my resume “grant-writer ready” her left hand was bringing up various contacts that she thought would be interested in talking with me. I knew I’d made a very wise choice to conduct this interview once I started hearing, “Based on your experiences in Japan, I think Tom over at X organization would be interested in talking with you” and “Suzanne at Y organization did this same program. You should chat with her.”

As a result of that one hour, I had four more informational interviews with other organizations in town and applied for two jobs through Carol’s connections. I was offered one of those jobs. Not a bad haul for an hour of work.

So, when I ask job seekers if they are diligently sending off emails into cyberspace and everyone raises their hands, I then ask if they think it might be more valuable to take that hour and talk to someone in the field who can tell the job seeker how their personal journey into their current role, suggest people and organizations for the job seeker to contact, as well as hopefully become one more professional to your networking pool. Most everyone agrees that an hour of informational interviewing is an hour well spent.

To read more about how to set up, conduct, and follow up with an informational interview, check out Chapter Four of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers or Chapter Four of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-Time Job Seekers.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

Tags: , ,