Ask Alexis | Networking Not Working | What Am I Doing Wrong?

looking for a friend

Dear Ask Alexis,

My wife has been launching a great career, which unfortunately means a lot of moving. My career has been … err… not so hot.

Five years ago, we moved to Sacramento. I have two degrees, and a few years experience in my field. I applied for over 70 jobs and got nothing. I went searching for answers, and all the advice online says “network, network, network.” So I sent emails, made calls, went out to coffees … and nothing happened. It took me 15 months to get a part-time contractor job. Two years ago, we moved (again) to Madison. Now with fresh time in my field, it should be a snap to get a similar job, right? 14 months of emails, calls, networking events, more coffees than I can count. Eventually got a very part-time job in a field tangential to my focus.

What am I doing wrong? Tailored cover letter and resume? Check. Reaching out to people asking for information (and making it clear I’m not begging for a job), picking brains, asking for recommendations… Everyone says things like “Sounds like you are doing the right thing”, yet it’s getting me nowhere.

We shall be moving (hopefully for the last time), to Seattle in a few months. I’ve already started reaching out to people. The vast majority of my emails have gone ignored. The few replies I get are less then helpful. I’m not looking forward to another year-plus of not eating. Any ideas?

Network or Bust

***

Dear Network or Bust,

First, as much as I hate to do it (because it’s probably just not all that helpful), I need to join the chorus of voices who are already telling you, “Sounds like you’re doing everything right.”

Truly, I’m impressed. Most career experts and advisors (myself included) would be hard-pressed to pick anything out of your strategy and label it as “not quite hitting the mark.” But I’m sorry to hear that it has yet to prove a magical formula, and I can definitely share some additional suggestions.

But as you consider what I have to offer, I’d also strongly encourage you to just keep on keeping on and doing what you’ve been doing!

Freshen up your resume with pro-bono and personal projects

While I don’t know the specifics of your search or your professional experience, it sounds like perhaps the part-time work you were able to find wasn’t necessarily your dream job, nor was it a completely natural fit on your larger career path. It’s great that you were able to add some newer experience to your resume, but maybe what’s missing is newer experience that speaks to you and your specific interests and experience—work that you could really sink your teeth into and feel connected with and excited by.

Since you haven’t been able to find this type of work in the traditional job market, it may be time to look elsewhere. Consider casting a wider net by exploring the possibility of either pro-bono or personal projects. Rather than committing all of your free time to customizing resumes and attending networking events, dedicate a few hours each week to projects that perfectly highlight your skills and expertise.

For pro bono projects

Check out Taproot Foundation, Catchafire, or Idealist.org to be connected with organizations in need of pro-bono professionals.

The beauty of pro-bono work is that you will have plenty of available (and needed) projects to choose from that run the gamut across issue areas and fields. While most organizations in need of pro-bono support will still interview candidates and do their due diligence to ensure that they’re finding the best match for the work, chances are, you won’t experience the same radio silence that you have been dealing with once you have expressed interest in an opportunity.

Pro tip: Before committing to move forward with any pro-bono work, be sure to verify with the organization for whom you’re working that you can share you work (and your results) on your resume, digital portfolio, etc.

For personal projects

In another series of posts here on Idealist Careers, I offer our readers the following advice: if you don’t have the experience you need to land the job, create your own opportunity. Dive into a passion project with the same enthusiasm you would commit to your dream job.

Do you want to be an event planner? Throw a small special event, plan it top to bottom, and create a report that clearly illustrates your results for a potential employer. Interested in copywriting and communications? Create a digital portfolio that allows you ample room to show off your copywriting chops. Want to develop your data analysis muscle? Once you’ve created that digital portfolio, set up Google Analytics and create reports along with analysis summaries and share those on your site as examples of your work. You get the idea.

In addition to all of the amazing work you’re doing researching your new city, connecting, and networking (because spoiler alert: you need to keep doing it!), I’d find some creative ways to add some interesting experience to your resume. Hopefully, this will feel—and appear to potential employers—like a better fit than some of the part-time temporary work you’ve been able to land as of late.

***

Send your questions and comments to me at AskAlexis@idealist.org, and if we plan to publish your question, I’ll be sure to give you a heads up (and I’ll also be sure to keep your info anonymous, of course).

Looking forward to reading your stories and answering your questions!

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As a seasoned communications professional with 15 years of nonprofit experience and 6 years of experience creating engaging content and copy, I love the idea that a thoughtfully crafted piece of content can spark social change. Here at Idealist Careers, I'm eager to offer job seekers, game changers, and do-gooders actionable tips, career resources, and "social-impact lifestyle" advice.
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Comments

    • John
    • June 5, 2019
    Reply

    Network or Bust,

    I ran into a similar problem coming out of law school in 2017. In 2018 after conducting the most networking I have ever done in my life I landed a full-time job in law, but it had no benefits (NONE), the pay was quite low, and I did not enjoy the type of work I was doing. It was a horrible fit. So I resigned and resumed the seemingly endless networking process.

    What was game-changing for me: I took a big step back and looked at the macro picture. What is the job market in my field like? What is the economy like? Am I looking for a job that is not a good fit? Am I looking for a job that is not viable given the market and economy?

    My conclusions were stark: law schools graduate twice as many people as new legal jobs are created every year. I knew this going into law school, but I went anyway because I had a passionate interest in the law. And although I graduated within the top 15% of my class, my school is not a highly ranked one. I am not pedigreed. This matters in my field more so than in others.

    I was also not a great fit for the mainstream of the field. I am not a contentious person and all of litigation is an adversarial process, by design. So I began exploring the margins of my job searches online to see which segments of law have job growth and which do not. While I explored the segments with growth I asked myself if I might enjoy the work there. Compliance jobs seems to be a possible answer for me. Unlike other legal jobs, it is not contentious and there is marked growth in the segment, mainly due to the expansion of corporate regulation. The pay is good, as are the benefits.

    So, I switched up my game, altered my job search agents online, and started trying to land an entry-level position in compliance. That was about a month ago. Yesterday I finished a day-long second (final) interview for a position with a non-profit institution of higher education for an intellectual property compliance role. I finally feel like I’m on the right track.

    Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. So my advice to you is to take that big step back and look at the job market, economic factors, and yourself. Place them all into the same picture. See where you can find that convergence point of talent, joy, good pay, and realistic viability (in market and economy). Hopefully then you will find a way to recalibrate your efforts. Our fault may not be in our efforts, but in where we are focusing them.

    Also, if you happen to be religious, I recommend prayer. I have found prayer to God to be a wildly powerful thing that leads to guidance and peace in this crazy life.

    With Kind Regards,
    John

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