1. Be yourself.
You’ve probably read a lot of advice to clean up your act on social media so that potential employers don’t find pictures of the time you got topless and chugged beers with those Marines in Mexico. Okay, those should get deleted, because ew, that’s just trashy, you’re better than that, and plus, your mom recently started Facebooking. You’re never gonna be her little princess again if she gets wind of those. But, in a perfect job – not just any job, but the one that’s perfect for y-o-u, your boss-to-be would read your Tweets and know that you’re the right match for the position. He’ll love that song you’re listening to on Spotify. He’ll appreciate your sarcasm. He’ll be totally down with the Instagram of the ham sammy you ate for lunch. The Valencia filter is his fave, too.
Don’t water your personality down online if you want to work for a company that “gets” you. They’ll encourage you to be the star that you are. They won’t want you to be a cookie cutter corporate drone. A lot of great work comes from pushing the envelope. Standouts aren’t afraid to do that. You’re meant for exceptional things, right? What’s the point of wasting your life away at an average job that doesn’t make your spirit sing? Ask yourself, if I dropped dead at work, would I be okay with that? Would your friends say at your funeral, “soooo sad she’s gone, but at least, when the meteorite struck her, she was papier-mâchéing a unicorn for the museum, for that was what she truly loved.” If not, you haven’t found your perfect job yet. Keep looking. Finding it is just like finding the perfect love, you feel lucky to have them, and they feel lucky to have you.
2. Target your dream companies.
Most people looking for a job search in the most obvious places – online job boards. For each position listed there, thousands of applications are submitted. Take a trip off the beaten path and improve your odds. Make a list of twenty companies that you would love to work for. Search for the “careers” or “join us” link on their direct website. A lot of companies only list their jobs on their own site, preferring to quietly reach out to their own network to fill positions to avoid the chaos of a public listing.
When I was fresh out of college, I walked into my favorite interior design store, a place where I shopped all the time, and pitched myself for a job to the owner. She wasn’t looking for a new employee, but she hired me anyway because I expressed my passion for her taste and her store. Business owners have worked hard to build their brand, and if you’re a fan of it, they connect with you.
I got my last job when I read an article about the owner in Fast Company magazine. His quotes in the piece made me feel like we’d get along, so I researched his company, loved it, Tweeted at him, and asked for a meeting. We kept in touch, and when he was ready to hire a few months down the road, that hire was me. Which leads me to…
3. Keep up.
Every industry has magazines and news sites dedicated to their particular interests. Here, you’ll find announcements about who’s leaving and joining companies, who’s hiring in waves, and who’s laying people off. Pay attention. Opportunities lie in the details. Be sure to learn the names of successful leaders in your industry. Then read sites like Wired, Fast Company, Lifehacker, and Harvard Business Review.
Educate yourself about the newest programs and skills that people younger than you are learning. If you rely solely on your college education to keep you afloat for your entire career, you will undoubtedly have your ass handed to you one day by someone years younger with updated skills.
Think of people older than you that you know. The ones who have kept up with technology are still relevant and rockin’ it in their fields (I’m lookin’ at you and your iPhone, Dad, well done!). Then you have folks who say things in meetings like “I’m hopeless, I had to get my assistant to help me open the PowerPoint you emailed me.” Announcing to your staff that you’ve fallen behind the times is a bad look, and it’s hazardous to your job security. Don’t ever become that person. Your incompetence is not a cute anecdote. We’re laughing, yeah, but not with you – at you.
4. Be well-rounded.
Remember that counselor in high school who was always harping on you to participate in more extracurricular activities so that you could get into a good college? That was real-world advice masquerading as annoying school-related static. But, duh, employers don’t want to work with boring losers. They spend a ton of their time at work with you. You need to have interesting things to talk to them about if you’re sharing a car to a conference or grabbing lunch between meetings. Any time I’ve been in a position to hire people, I’ve asked myself, would I like this person outside of work? Do I think I might learn something new from them? Do I see something in them that I find inspiring?
The smartest bosses surround themselves with extraordinarily gifted, unique people. The best companies got to be that way because they’re filled with employees who are a who’s who of what’s awesome. If you go home every night and watch TV over a microwave pizza, you’re not going to be able to compete with candidates who have traveled the world, ran marathons, volunteered for charities, and played in a band.
Don’t know where to start adding color to your life? Take a three-pronged approach: fitness, philanthropy, and fun. Do something regularly that involves physical activity. Pick a charity and donate your time. Then think of what you love most and do something with that – take guitar lessons, start a blog about your favorite whatchamacallit, do one thing on a regular basis that you love that makes you happy. Drinking with your friends doesn’t count. We all do that, and “I’m so hungover” is not as fascinating to hear as you think it is.
5. Always be prepared.
If you’ve already got the perfect job, good for you – you’re winning at life…for now.
Don’t take your employment status for granted. No one is immune to change. Anything and everything can blow up in an instant. No matter what page you’re on in the book of your life, be ready to hit the ground running if you need to. Always have an updated resume. Make sure you’re current on LinkedIn, and connect with as many people as you can there.
If this seems silly to you, I totally get it, but trust me, one day you’ll be glad you invested the time in advance. If you need to start a job search in a hurry, you’ll be all set, while the other schmo in your department who got laid off with you spends his first unemployed week emailing everyone he knows asking them to be friends on LinkedIn and typing his resume up over the tears he’s crying into his beer.
6. Do unto others.
We all get emails every now and then from friends, associates, and even a couple of strangers, because exchanging information at the Sleigh Bells concert with that chick in line will always come back to haunt you.
The email says something like, “Hi, I’m looking for work, here’s my resume, would you please keep me in mind if you hear of anything?” Do not ignore this email. This email is a litmus test for whether or not you are a decent human being. Even if you know you’re never in a million years gonna hear of any job opportunity for this person, the very least you can do is take thirty seconds and reply, “Absolutely I will! Thanks for letting me know, and I wish you all the best in your search!” Your reply may be the only reply that sad sack receives that day. That person is having a rough time. It’s not fun to send those emails. No one’s high-fiving themselves over asking their entire network for help.
You can make them feel less lame. You can turn their whole mood right-side up. And it’s very possible that, one day, you will be that sad sack sending out those emails, grateful to get a kind reply. Bank good karma now. What goes around comes around.
Go get ‘em, Tiger.