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Career Planning

Yes, it’s still a really tough job market …but don’t despair. There is hope. Sometimes all you need are some fresh ideas, an energy boost, or a nudge in a different direction to add some extra oomph to your efforts. I hope the following advice will inspire you to keep the momentum going for what you want in your job search or career change. As you may have heard somewhere along the way, “Where there is a will, there is a way” or “You make your own luck.”

Here are ten creative places where you may succeed in finding the hidden jobs.

1. DO AN INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW. These are especially useful when you are changing careers and trying to break into a new industry. Informational interviews are not the place where you are interviewing for a job. Rather they are where you gather valuable information that can lead you to some great referrals to people who are hiring or new resources for your current or future job searches.

Basically, when it comes to setting up informational interviews, find someone to talk to based on your interests and what you are targeting. This could be specific industries, companies, or a particular job function/role.

Use your networking (more on this in a minute) skills to request that someone agree to be “interviewed” by you for information. This can be done in person, by phone, or even an instant-messenger (IM) session. Prepare questions you will want to ask in advance, and keep three objectives in mind. Try to connect with the person you are interviewing—research the field, industry, job function—in order to gain advice about your job search plan or next steps.

Some good core questions to ask in your interviews are: • Please tell me a bit about your background. How did you get your start in the industry? • What do you like best and least about the industry or your company and your role? • Topline, describe your week or year. • What advice do you have for someone trying to get into the industry? • Given my background, what could I do short term to make myself a stronger candidate? • Could you recommend other colleagues in the company or industry I could talk with? • Do you mind if I keep in touch with you periodically for advice?

Key “to dos” are:

• Draw on people you know to recommend people they know in your targeted areas. • Call on your work or school colleagues, family or friends, professors, and others in your “network.” Contact those people to request an info interview. • Be polite, engaging, and brief when contacting them. Let them know who referred you. Tell them that you heard they would be a valuable resource for information and that you are learning more about the industry/company/job function and hope they can share some advice. • Send a copy of your resume to familiarize them with your background. • An in-person meeting in their office is best, but you can also offer to take them out for coffee, meet them in an airport lounge, or offer to give them a tour if they are stopping in your city, or even do a phone meeting or IM session.

2. GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM YOUR FRIENDS. Networking is kind of an outdated word. Today, new age networking is really about building a great base of diverse relationships in which you both give help to others and receive it over time. It’s about expanding your circle of friends and colleagues whom you can also draw on as career connections. Building your relationships means normal, everyday, and ongoing actions such as:

• Making a point to meet three new people at your work-related functions (conferences, tradeshows, training, etc.) • Volunteering for at least one good cause a year (a food kitchen, community event, school function, etc.) • Engaging with the people around you …while browsing in a bookstore, waiting in line at the supermarket check out, attending your aerobics or yoga class. Yes, talk to strangers, but rely on your good instincts to be selective. • At your partner’s work event, getting to know the other partners, what they do, where they work. • Getting involved in your professional or a special interest group.

3. CREATE YOUR OWN JOB. If you see an unmet, enormous need, move to fill it! If there are lots of small companies that you see need certain kinds of services and you have the experience to do it, then productize it and offer it. If you are a frequent flyer and see that all airlines could benefit from a certain kind of online surveys, then come up with something and test it out. If you are often complimented on your ability to pull an outfit together or to entertain or plan events, then why not start with one or more clients and build from there through positive word of mouth. The possibilities really are endless, but are bound by your financial situation and risk profile.

Creating your own job means filling a need. It is providing a product or service that is valuable and that others are willing to pay for. This can be big idea or a small one. Think about the origins of eBay, Amazon.com, or the field of sports agents.

4. GO BACK TO THE FUTURE. Embrace your past. Go back to it and draw on it to move you forward in your future. Who were the managers, the colleagues, the executives in your past work experiences who really impressed you? Were there some you thought were really cool or those you truly enjoyed being around/working with? Did someone wow you so much that you tried to emulate them? Reconnect with those people. Many will have moved to different organizations. This is a good thing, because it means a broader network of connections.

Your former colleagues may not have specific jobs for you, but may prove to be a font of information for areas in their companies that are or will be hiring. Or, at minimum, they can tell you which companies in their industry are doing well and growing. They can also guide you to companies that have the kind of executive teams and cultures that resonate with your own set of values. Going back to the future also means that you may go back to work for a previous employer. People there know your track record. If you did not burn your bridges when you left, they will be more likely give you some flexibility to try something new—a new job in a different group—that is aligned with your current interests.

5. BE TRUE TO YOUR SCHOOL. There is something uniquely special about contributing—giving back—to your school, especially when there is a wonderful community of people and culture that is a fit with your values.

Schools always enjoy their alumni involvement. Many MBA programs also hire many of their alumni for key roles within the school—career management, admissions, and alumni relations, to name a few.

Explore how you can use your strengths to contribute to the community. Start by doing your homework on the school website if you have not kept up with what’s going on. Get a feel for the current state of the school, its top priorities, any significant changes with changes in deans, and the types of ongoing or future initiatives that could leverage your talents.

Call an administrator or professor—someone you were close to—in order to get the scoop and ask for advice on which areas might be most receptive to you and ideas for whom to talk with. For example, connect with those you know in the career center, admissions, alumni relations, or corporate relations. If it’s finance, accounting, or HR you are interested in—all schools have these areas, but you may need to start with someone you know in another group, and be referred into those areas.

If you had a good relationship with the dean or associate deans, call on them. Be transparent about your genuine interest in contributing to the school and ask what specific opportunities may be a fit now or later. Fill them in on your background and have some thoughts on where you think you might be able to make the most difference. For example, if you’ve been on the fundraising committee, then perhaps a role in development is an option. If you’ve been working in high tech since school, perhaps something related to their e-commerce initiatives, including e-learning or IT, would be feasible. If you’ve been involved with admissions information sessions or interviews for school applicants, maybe admissions is right up your alley. If you have managed to get through five different jobs and bounce back from a lay-off, your experience could help the career management center.

6. MAKE LIKE THE MATRIX. Make cyberspace work for you. There are more than 3,000 Internet sites related to work, employment, jobs, and careers. They are not created equal, however, so use your time wisely. Research them, focus, and choose discriminatingly the two to five that will work for you. Post your resume on sites that offer high-quality job opportunities in the specific industries and functions that you are targeting. Use the option to have “matches” with your preferences e-mailed to you if that is available. Three of my favorite sites are: WetFeet.com, Futurestep.com, and careerbuilder.com. (Check out my article Career-Related Websites for MBAs and Other A-List Talent for more top sites.)

7. PLAY SLEUTH. What companies are actually growing? Which are doing well, despite the tumultuous economy? What companies have filed numerous patents? Who is expanding internationally? Which are still hiring or posting jobs on their websites or participating in career fairs? Come up with a top-ten list of companies that are a match with what you want. Visit their websites and look up their employment opportunities. Network in through anyone you know who can help get you in the door to talk with someone. Branch and build from there with your persistence and enthusiasm. If you know no one, then take a chance and write to the CEO or one of your alumni.

8. CONTACT SOMEONE YOU ADMIRE. Has someone recently spoken at your school who really inspired you? Have you been to a conference and been impressed with a panelist or session leader? Did you meet someone at a reception or social event who was an awesome person? Are there alumni from your school (undergraduate, MBA, or even high school) who you have admired from afar? Write to them and genuinely let them know why you admire them (without gushing). Let them know upfront that you would appreciate their advice and wisdom on your career aspirations. See if they will talk with you or let you ask some questions via e-mail. Give them some brief compelling points about your background/experience so they get a feel for who you are and what you’ve done.

9. GET PHYSICAL. Enjoy the great outdoors when you can. It’ll energize you as well as balance all of the intellectual and emotional energy you’ve been putting out for your job search. Go swimming or fishing, walk your dog in the park, play a game of basketball or beach volleyball, or invite a group of friends to a baseball game. Ask your friends to bring their friends—at least two others that you do not know and you’ve instantly expanded your circle of potential career connections. Or better yet, volunteer or inquire about job opportunities that allow you to be outside and physical. Working at the zoo, park, community center, or YMCA, or building a home with Habitat for Humanity are some options. Being a cruise ship activity director, stage manager for plays in the park, or walking tour guide of your historic downtown area are others.

10. PLAY HOST. Start up a book club or career action group. For a book club, focus the books on career- or job-related topics. Use the last ten minutes to share ideas and contacts on jobs. Also, rely on the members of the group to give and receive moral support from each other. At the start of the time, let people update the group on how the job search is going and get advice for any problems they are having.

For a career action group, invite a guest speaker to talk for each session. For example, for each meeting, you could hear from and ask questions of an expert on each of the key phases of a career change or job search: self-assessment, researching industries and companies, writing resumes and cover letters, interviewing, informational interviewing, negotiating.

All the best in your job search. Keep the faith in yourself and your dreams.