1. Exploit informational interviews.
Wait, what’s an informational interview? For those not yet privy to the magic of a pseudo-professional coffee date, the idea is to contact someone who your admire and just ask her to chat about “the field.” Emails are often listed on company sites, and if that fails you can send a message on LinkedIn. It’s not a real interview, but you should more or less treat it as one. Dress nice-ish, bring a notebook, print out your resume (on nice paper!) and have a few specific questions to ask. Don’t overtly ask for a job (that can be kind of presumptuous)—just say that you’re very interested in her company/organization and that you’re extremely appreciative that she took the time to meet with you.
Why it works: It takes the pressure off of them to actually hire you. At the same time, most people will be flattered you reached out to them and gladly dole out some advice. They’ll give you useful tips and remember you when something opens up.
2. Stay up on industry biz.
The other side of getting someone to meet with you is actually having something interesting to say. Luckily, industry news exists! Trying to be the next Peggy Olson? Read Adweek, AdAge, Digiday, and every other ad journal out there…not to mention the business section of every newspaper in sight. If you want to take a stab at the ironclad gates of high fashion (bless your soul), you best be on every fashion blogger from here to Singapore, including those under seventeen. (Especially those under seventeen).
Why it works: People take it as a sign that your interest is genuine and you know what you’re getting into. (As opposed to like, I watched House/Mad Men/The Newsroom, and now think I want to be a doctor/advertiser/journalist).
3: Act like you’ve already got the job.
Last August, a student at the School of Visual Arts began a Tumblr where he posted 100 ways to improve the New York City Subway. The student has since been written up in New York Magazine and met with members of the Metro Transit Association to discuss his ideas. The guy is a freaking boss. Rather than wait for MTA to hire him, he basically hired himself and just started doing the job. Sure, it’s hard when you’re also going to school/doing something else for income, but sometimes that’s just what it takes.
Why it works: You’re putting your money where your mouth is. It’s a big risk for companies to invest in people with little experience. Of course, how are you supposed to get experience when no one will take the risk on you? The answer. Just start doing the job…
4: Good old-fashioned hospitality.
Any time you meet someone sort of important, even if just for five minutes, email him the next day. Mention a detail from your conversation (“I’m so interested in that EDM festival you mentioned!”) and briefly remind them what you’re about (“In pursuing a career as a Rave Coordinator, I hope to extend my network of ravers and general blackout enthusiasts.”) Also, PAPER THANK YOU NOTES. Nobody does it anymore, so people will think you’re like a Southern Belle just for scribbling a few words in a Hallmark card.
Why it works: Because sometimes, our mothers were right.
5: Talk to everyone who will listen about your dreams.
I know a girl who used to be the receptionist at a Pilates gym. She was super friendly to all of the regulars, and one day, one of them got wind that she wanted to work in PR. Bam – new job. I know another girl who got a year of probation (for reasons I’ll refrain from disclosing) and was required to fulfill a bunch of community service. She always talked to the woman she volunteered for about her dream of working in a non-profit. Eventually, the woman hired her as her personal assistant. These are not urban legends! They are people I’ve met in the flesh!
Why it works: I used to talk pretty exclusively about my lack of dreams… “I don’t know what I want to do!” “I have no marketable skills!” Turns out, no one wants to hear about it. Give them something tangible to help you with, and they will pop out of the woodwork to do it.
6. Use the Internet for good, not evil.
The internetz is good for more than just Kanye tweets, and there are a thousand ways to use it to your advantage. Offer to endorse your ex-coworkers on LinkedIn and they might write you some nice recommendations in return. Follow people in your industry on Twitter, favorite their stuff, re-tweet things you like. Take free online classes on things you want to know more about (Coursera is a great resource). And for the love of all that is decent, LOCK YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS. It’s a pain to figure out how to do it, I know, but at least make it so that you have to approve things before they go on your wall.
Why it works: You’re online all day anyway! Even as we speak! Get on LinkedIn now!