How To Get Hired When All Odds Are Against You

November 22, 2014

2:00 pm

Getting hired in a tough economy is always hard. Life can be unpredictable, and the curveballs sent your way can seem endless: jobs are lost, startups fail, family situations get strenuous, skills become irrelevant. When all odds seem stacked against you, there is a way to get your career and life back on track. I’ve been there, done that. My startup failed, my visa got denied (not once but twice!), I lost most of my savings, my family situation went from bad to worse and I graduated at the peak of the 2008 recession with debilitating student loans, no job, and bleak career prospects.

But I survived. I pulled myself out of the slump and found my dream job after months of slow, steady and purposeful effort. I got rejected multiple times, but all it takes is one ‘yes’ to succeed. I collected the top lessons that I learned through the process, and along with those lessons, some very important thoughts.

1. Learn Continuously

The one thing I never stopped doing, even during the toughest times was to stop reading, learning, and paying attention to the latest news in my field of interest.
The most dangerous thing you can do to hamper your job prospects is allow yourself to stagnate. Keeping abreast of current trends, forming an opinion, having a pulse on what thought leaders are saying will allow you to stand out from the crowd. Not only that, but it will also keep you from wallowing in your sorrow and ensure that you remain intellectually refreshed. In addition to reading blogs and books, I would ask friends if they needed help with their startups/side projects and offer my time for free. Doing these short ‘internships’ not only kept me engaged, but were an excellent opportunity to apply my skills and learn new things. Being able to talk about these experiences and list them on my resume were a bonus.

2. Re-imagine Your Skills

A lot of us go through our careers focusing on a handful of things that we can do or things we are good at or that we get paid for.
We look for jobs that fall in our comfort zone. And while there is value in becoming an expert, sometimes we forget to explore and discover what else we can be good at. I say keep an open mind; there is more you can do than you imagined. Learning continuously allows you to apply your skills in new ways. Are you a journalism major but can’t find a publishing job? Apply to tech companies who need to get a lot of writing done and don’t have the resources. Looking for project management positions? Try getting a foot in the door with a Business Analyst role and slowly transition to project management. A good work ethic coupled with the right skills cant be applied across functions, verticals and enterprises. You just have to to think creatively.

3.Mind Over Matter

This cannot be stressed enough. Keep your mind clear and your spirits high.
Self-pity kills self-confidence, and lack of self-confidence is a deal breaker. It is also very difficult to fake self-confidence. It comes across immediately from your body language, your eyes, the tone of our voice, and your posture. Do whatever it takes to stay in a state of positive energy and surround yourself with the right people. Three simple things that work for everyone are: sleep well, eat healthy, and exercise regularly.

4. Look For Jobs Where No One Does

Everyone is looking for jobs on Indeed, Monster, and Ladders. It is tedious and mind-numbing to look for jobs on these sites.
Plus, the best jobs are not online, and they open and close pretty quickly. So how do you discover these ‘secret’ jobs? Look in unlikely places. Several media and social publishing platforms have job boards, such as LinkedIn and Tech Cocktail. The LinkedIn Job board even tells you how many other people have applied for the same job and how you stack up against your competition. If you are looking for startup jobs, AngelList is a great resource. Finally, don’t do it alone. Reach out to a local head-hunting agency or recruiter and use them to find jobs before they are posted online.

5. Submitting A Resume Is Not Enough

On average, 250 resumes are submitted online for every job opening.
It is a widely known fact that resumes submitted online go into a large, unknown pile somewhere in the trenches of Recruitdom that I like to call the Black Hole. Whatever you do, do not submit resumes online mindlessly. You have to take matters into your own hands to ensure your resume gets to the right person at the right time. The way you do that is to first narrow your search down to a handful of job openings that you really want to apply to. Then dig deep. For each job opening, figure out the associated HR person. Run a quick LinkedIn and Google search on them. Figure out their email address (you may have to guess a couple times) and send them a personal note. If you can’t find their email address, use LinkedIn’s Inmail feature. Send a follow up note in a couple weeks if you don’t hear from them. Do this for each position you are interested in and I guarantee you will hear back from a real person at least once.

6. Get Out Of The House

Emotional health in the context of job hunting is underrated.
It is so important to feel good about yourself and to have high self esteem when you are looking for a job. You will do yourself a big favor if you go out of the house, meet people, have energizing conversations, and come home mentally refreshed. Pull up your address book and get in touch with someone from long ago you haven’t spoken to in a few months. Go get coffee with them. Send a note to old colleagues, school mates, even family and catch up. Don’t go in with the intention of asking for a favor. In fact, offer your help, time, and advice. You will find that dots connect in ways you couldn’t have imagined.

7. Don’t Hide Your Constraints

Seems counter-intuitive to popular wisdom, but it is very important to be upfront about your constraints.
Constraints could include: requiring visa sponsorship, having to work remotely due to commute, flex-time because of kids, or anything specific to your life situation. Take the initiative; address your issues and present options. Job hunting (and life in general) is all about managing expectations. It is critical to make your potential employer feel you are an asset and not a burden: that you will add value before demanding benefits. I knew my commute would be debilitating so I offered to come in very early and leave early in order to be home for my daughter’s dinner and bedtime. I didn’t give them a reason to doubt or second-guess their decision. After it was clearly established on both sides that I was the right fit for the job, it was only a question of dealing with the logistics. So be upfront, and present the answers even before the questions are asked.

8. Own It

Own that interview.
This is true for anytime you are job hunting but specially so when you are down in the dumps and feeling low. You want to drive the attention away from your emotional state to the other fabulous aspects of your personality. Go out of your way to prepare for, and look good for, this interview. Get your hair done, buy comfortable shoes, wear a fabulous, well-fitting dress/suit; in short, look really, really good. Pay attention to details: your nails, your notepad, your folder, the formatting and paper quality of your resume, your stationery. Sit upright, smile, and let that smile shine through your eyes. There is comprehensive research to show first impressions matter and that interviewers make subconscious decisions in the first few seconds.

9. Win Hearts

There is also extensive research to show people love doing business with people they like and want to be friends with.
So make yourself liked. Win hearts. Make a connection. Get them to laugh and open up to you. If you find an opportunity, bring up a common subject (assuming you have done background research on each of your interviewers). Men and women alike love talking about their kids, alma mater, sports, etc. It is an instant and safe way of striking a chord and building trust with your interviewer. Be comfortable and confident in who you are and what you bring to the table. Genuine self confidence is a powerful thing- it shines through your eyes and pours out of your body language. Use it to connect on a deeper and human level with your potential employer.

Life is a series of ups and downs, and it is especially hard when looking for a job during a slump- both in your life and in the economy. Every situation is different, and while some circumstances are harder than others, there is no doubt that determination, a positive attitude, and self-confidence can help you win no matter where you are and what you are facing.

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Zainab loves building digital products. She cofounded and ran TappedIn - a social discovery tool focused on helping people build meaningful relationships - for 3 years and currently heads up the social and mobile suite of products at Fishbowl Marketing. Previously she has managed product design and operations at The College Board, developed enterprise solutions for Capgemini Consulting and worked in ground breaking SAP technology with Satyam Computer Services.

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