Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?: A Crash Course in Finding, Landing, and Keeping Your First Real Job (6 page)

BOOK: Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?: A Crash Course in Finding, Landing, and Keeping Your First Real Job
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Outside your existing connections, you can work to create a professional network by taking classes and seminars, joining professional organizations, and reading professional journals, websites, and periodicals related to your field of interest. Go to career fairs and networking events. You’ll meet people interested in what you’re interested in, and you never know what might happen.

“But I Have No Connections, I Swear!”

Okay. You’re a young job-hunter with few professional connections. How are you going to find that hidden job market? It’s hidden, right? Well, it’s visible to people on the inside—so that’s where you need to be.

If possible—if it makes sense given your finances, schedule, and time frame—take internships, temp, or volunteer
while you’re looking for a job
. You might be thinking, Yeah, right, I did that in college, or I don’t have time for that—I need a job! But there’s no substitute for being on-site in an industry. You have access to bulletin boards with all kinds of job postings, company newsletters, Listservs and annual reports, and industry periodicals. If you don’t know a lot about the industry, you’ll get the chance to identify what types of jobs you might like and to learn industry language and practices.


As you start your search, you should be trying to meet as many people as you can without going on overload. Organize the contacts you already have by creating a master document with contact info for each person, leaving room for notes: when you called, when you have an appointment, background info, questions you have, and so forth. Once you’ve done this, use the Rule of Three. Assign three names to each day of the week: one in the morning, one before or after lunch, one at the end of the day. (You get the weekend off, just like everyone else.) Transfer the names into your appointment book or electronic calendar—it doesn’t matter what you use as long as you’re diligent.

Reach out and offer to meet people at or near their workplace for breakfast, lunch, during the day, or after work—whatever works best for them. See if they’ll schedule a phone call if they can’t meet in person.

Keep in mind: You are simply looking for people to talk to in order to find out more about a field and about what kinds of positions might suit you. You are not looking for jobs. This should help take the pressure off. Because you’ll be asking for new names from each person you talk with, you should always have another three to contact. But don’t overdo it—don’t meet with more than three people per day. You can’t process that much information or do the right follow-up.

But most importantly, whether or not you’re able to identify concrete job openings through your experience “on the inside,” you’ll get to meet people in the field.

Recognize that building your network is your most important task at this time. Make an effort to meet people. Invite people for lunch or coffee (yes, you should pay) for formal or informal informational interviews. If possible, spend a lunch hour in the company library (if there is one); ask if you can borrow and read office copies of industry newsletters and other periodicals; schedule an informational interview with HR; talk to everyone you can about what they do.

Most importantly: Work hard. Prove yourself, make yourself indispensable, and maybe you’ll get hired when an opening appears. You’ll certainly meet people who can steer you to other people and openings in the industry.

Set Up Informational Interviews

, whether by phone or in person, at a company or in a department where there is no particular opening at stake. Not everyone will grant informational interviews, but try: They can be invaluable sources of insider data about an industry or company.

An informational interview is a wonderful way to make a contact. Impress the person you meet, and you may find that she knows of other openings within the company—or maybe she’s so taken with you that she tries to hire you.

They’re also wonderful ways to make a contact. Impress the person you meet, and you may find that she knows of other openings within the company—or maybe she’s so taken with you that she tries to hire you. Or perhaps she’ll think of you when an opening does occur. She might even help you get a job elsewhere.

Think of the informational interview as a social encounter; it should be interesting, if not actually fun. For details on what you may be asked and how to prepare for this kind of interview, see pages 119–120.

Be an Intern

is by interning (often but not always for free) at a company or organization. Competent interns are among the first approached when entry-level positions open up; someone tried and true who knows how the office works and can hit the ground running is enormously valuable.

Internships range from formal to informal; if you are still in school, you can often even get course credit for the experience. Being an intern can give you a sense of the industry and company, allow you to meet people within the company or organization, and teach you concrete skills. Some internships actually rotate you through a company’s departments to give you a sense of how the place works and where you would best be suited.

Don’t be a slave to geography. If, for example, you want to work in a gallery in San Francisco but you don’t live there yet, get whatever experience you can
in your hometown. Be creative. Volunteer to be a docent at a local museum; get to know the museum staff and artists. After you’ve proven yourself, ask them if they know people you might get in touch with in San Francisco.

You should approach an internship the way you’d approach a paid job; see
chapter 8
, You’ve Got the Job, for tips on making the most of the experience.

How Old Is Too Old?

Q. I’m 22. Am I too old to intern? (I interned every summer in college.)

You’re never too old to be an intern. Take it from me: At age 30, I took a summer internship at a new publishing company for $15 a day. I wasn’t looking for a job; I was a teacher and I had the summer off. The internship turned into a fifteen-year book publishing career.


in the wings—there is almost always work for the willing. If you can’t afford to take an internship (some require a full-time, semester-long commitment), see if you can volunteer, even in a place that doesn’t usually take volunteers. But don’t assume you have to work for free; first ask if the company hires freelancers or temps.

If you can’t find a contact through your network, cold-call; you’ll likely get a receptionist. Explain that you’re hoping to find out the name of the person with whom you should speak regarding employment or internships. Once you reach the appropriate person, explain how you know about the organization and that you are looking for opportunities there.

You may be able to come in before or after work, on a weekend, or during a vacation. Though you might not have the full benefit of a formal internship, you’ll still gain exposure to the field, you’ll still be able to list the company on your résumé, and you’ll still meet people and discover which aspects of the business look most interesting to you.

Shadow Someone

him or her for a short period of time, from a half day to a day or more, like a college externship. This is basically an extended informational interview in which you speak with someone and then spend time observing him at
work, in meetings, on the phone. Obviously all confidential content of the day must remain so, but shadowing someone allows you to get a feel for what a job is really like and to see the inside of an organization.

It is also something to mention in a cover letter and interview; even that half day can show your initiative and dedication to breaking into the field. A company name may ring bells you might otherwise not be ringing.

A word of caution: Don’t try to pass off the experience as more than it is—be up front when describing it on a résumé, in a cover letter, or in an interview: “I had the opportunity to spend the day in court with Judge Marshall, a family friend, and he suggested I …” Or: “I met Mr. Singer through my choir, and was able to observe him in his classroom during my spring breaks; this experience confirmed my interest in teaching.”

Networking Etiquette

The thing to remember when networking—or applying for a job, for that matter—is to make everything as easy as possible for the people who are helping you.
People help people who help them help them.
Try saying that three times fast. If someone is doing you a favor, you need to facilitate things for him as much as you can. Be easily reachable, make your intentions clear, and follow up. Don’t hound or pester people, and don’t abuse their good will. Above all, be respectful of people’s time.

Read these nine simple networking rules, and you’ll be well on your way.

1. Communicate Your Focus

, be specific about what you want.

You’ll alienate a busy person who might be willing to help if you say, “I’m looking for a job and I’ll do anything and am willing to live anywhere.” He’ll look at your e-mail or letter and have no idea where to start and no time to figure it out. Give him a lead. Identify a city, an area, an organization, even a job, and he’ll be much more helpful. By the same token, you don’t want to get too specific or limiting in your range. If you’re on the phone with someone who says he doesn’t know anyone practicing entertainment law in Nashville, have some alternate options at the tip of your tongue; maybe that person could introduce you to someone in a legal-justice nonprofit, for instance; or perhaps he’d be willing to review or pass on your résumé to someone in his contracts department.


Though it may seem premature, you should make yourself a business card to carry around with you during your job hunt. It’s professional, and it makes it easier to take advantage of chance encounters with potential employers or connections. Rather than scrawling your contact information on scraps of paper, you just pull out your card.

You can easily get cards made at copy service centers, or you can print them yourself. You’ll need card stock, templates, and access to a laser printer. Your cards must be professional, not cute. If you have one specific area you’re looking into or have experience or training in, you might put that on the card—real estate, graphic design—but barring that, your name, address, and contact information are all you need. You’ll also want a case to protect the cards.

2. Polish Your Elevator Pitch

, but one that is rarely taught. Throughout your life, as you apply for jobs, fellowships, grants—or even as you formulate a brief introduction for yourself in a group meeting or answer the basic “What do you do?” question at a party—you will need to clearly and succinctly describe what you’re involved in. Why don’t we teach people to do this at an early age? Think about how much time we spend teaching children to identify animal sounds. “What does the cow do?” “What does the lion say?” If you live on a farm or in the Serengeti, I can see this being useful information. Indeed, the ability to moo and roar might serve you well now if you aim to work on a ranch or lead safaris. But at this point in your life, you’ll be better off learning how to craft a brief but focused pitch about yourself and what you’re looking for.

When you’re job-hunting, you’ve got to have that spiel at the ready for a variety of media: by phone, in person, and via e-mail or snail mail. It’s also known as the “elevator pitch” or “elevator speech”—what you’d say if you had only a minute in an elevator with someone in a hiring capacity.

BOOK: Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?: A Crash Course in Finding, Landing, and Keeping Your First Real Job
3.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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