If you’re an great engineering manager in a startup city, changing jobs into a similar role is pretty easy. For most people, though, things are a little more difficult. Not everyone has the most sought after position and many work in a job where figuring out what skill set you have to offer isn’t so cut and dry. I would say most of the market isn’t working in a position that is so linear either—so you may be doing something a little different each time, making the searching part of the job more difficult than just finding openings. First, you have to figure out what you’re looking for, which isn’t easy.
Here are some tips on how to go about it:
First, be patient and respect the process. This isn’t like looking for your keys, where you poke around a handful of obvious places and when you find exactly what you thought you were looking for, you’re on your way. This is more like being asked to find “something special” in a stranger’s apartment… in a foreign country. There are so many other pieces of information you’ll need to uncover first before you’re pretty sure you know what you’re looking for, let alone before you actually find it. Try to reset your expectations about how long it should take and what the process looks like. Don’t get too down over yourself over not knowing how it ends before the process starts. You’ll be on a journey. Enjoy it for all that you’ll learn about what’s out there and what you’ll learn about yourself.
Don’t focus on the job—that’s the end of the process. Focus on the next step. If you decided you wanted to get in shape to run a marathon, you wouldn’t start fretting on day one that you can’t run a marathon. You wouldn’t stress out about running a marathon as if you’re running tomorrow. Step one would be about creating a plan, maybe deciding if you need a coach, and talking to a lot of other people how they went from not being a runner at all to running a marathon to feel out the different approaches.
Here’s what your process should look like:
Gather info by activating and broadening my network.
Try to be helpful to people I like working on problems I find interesting.
Make sure my network knows I’m working on these things and show my approach.
Notice none of those things involves searching job sites or applying to anything. Searching a job site is akin to searching on Amazon. You shop Amazon when you know exactly what you want. When you’re not sure, you discover. You browse Pinterest or Instagram, and you don’t stress about not purchasing something at the end of each session. Changing your job is more about discovery for most people than search.
Set goals for networking. Setting and hitting goals is satisfying—which is why you need to set goals in your search that are more than just “Get a new job.” You need week to week goals that are achievable, because it’s important to feel like you’re moving forward in what can otherwise feel like a very stressful time.
How about “Get introductions to three people a week that have interesting career paths in areas I could be interested in” or “work on an panel event where I get to ask someone I admire questions but also position myself as a thought leader in my space.” Those are things you can do this week that have nothing to do with knowing exactly the job you want or how to get it.
Figure out a schtick. The best networkers have a little bit of a routine. They often repeat the same phrases about how they describe what they do, what they’re looking for, and some help they can offer someone else. It’s just easier and less stressful to have a tested set of things you can pull from around how to move a conversation to ways that you can be helpful or how to describe what you’ve done.
Here’s what you should write out and practice for the next connection you make:
What’s a description of what you’ve done that lets someone know what you’re good at. So, instead of, “I was VP of Creative at a Toy Startup” tell them “I build brands—everything from product design to marketing copy—and I’ve done it most recently for a company in the Toy Space, but I can do that for any kind of design oriented company.”
What are the next steps? Do you want to hand out a card. Do you have a newsletter someone can follow? Do you just want to e-mail them a blurb about a working lunch that you offer to companies as an advisory exercise?
Ask who they know who either a) needs help or b) who their go to person would be that most closely resembles something you might want to do.
Find a way to get public in a way you’re comfortable with. Unless you just want to play the job post and resume game, your goal should be to create some inbound—and to do that, you need to be top of mind for people. Maybe it’s a podcast, a newsletter, an event series, or just a monthly small group networking lunch—but whatever it is, you need something others can point to and say “Hey, you should check out this smart person doing this interesting thing.” It’s the equivalent of having sharable landing pages on a website and that’s going to help opportunities come your way.
Once you get ideas, people and your reputation flowing, the rest of the process is much more blocking and tackling, finding openings, doing the interviewing. That also requires a lot of patience—and it can often be made easier for both sides through consulting. Allowing both sides to get to know each other lowers the risk—and the key there is having an offer that results in a deliverable they really want. If you’re applying for VP of Marketing plans, offer to write up a strategy, timeline, and budget first—because it’s something they need anyway and it will show off what you’re capable of before they need to pull the trigger on a long term deal.
And again, be patient!!