Skoll Foundation – How to Find a Job in the Twenty-First Century | June 6, 2015

December 4, 2015


By Roshan Paul | June 6, 2015

Remember the 2009 romantic comedy He’s Just Not That Into You? Early on, one character remarks that although you are unlikely to meet someone special in a bar, everybody claims to know somebody whose one-night stand led to true love.

Likewise, everyone knows somebody who got a job through a regular application process. Since this is the path of least resistance, most people are content with it. Yet the overwhelming evidence is that people find jobs based onwhom they know and how they spend their time.

Since co-founding Amani Institute, an organization dedicated to providing new talent to the social sector, less than 20 percent of our staff have been hired through a regular application process.

The job-seekers I meet are usually ambitious, intelligent and well meaning. But most are just looking for jobs online and conducting a few half-hearted informational interviews. So they are frustrated that their job search is taking so long.

Furthermore, given their CVs, education levels, and self-assessments of their capabilities, their expectations are high. They are waiting until someone sees that, underneath their cover letters and resumes, lie rare gems whom you would be lucky to hire. Frequently, this is also what they have been led to believe by the career services center at their universities, where they learned this approach to job hunting.

This is what recruiters call “post and pray”, the conventional way to look for employment. But we are living in unconventional times. As Sal Giambanco discussed at the Skoll World Forum in 2014, “The demand for smart professionals who are technologically literate, globally astute, and operationally agile will significantly outpace supply over the next 10-15 years.”

Think about that for a minute. Despite all our best universities and training programs, the supply of talent for our workforce is simply not there. That’s a pretty damning conclusion. But therein also lies the opportunity.

Here are my top suggestions for smart, well-qualified people looking for meaningful, values-driven, self-actualizing jobs – which, really, should be everyone.

1. Close your laptop and go talk to people: Become a real person. Use your professional and alumni networks to set up meetings with people in your field of work. Get used to drinking coffee! Don’t hesitate to ask for advice – people love to share their wisdom.

Prioritize reconnecting with former colleagues, especially those that inspired or guided you in the past. They are often your best referrals because they have worked with you before. At first it may seem like you’re going into the wild without a map but slowly you will make new friends, broaden your professional network (the single most important currency of this era), and start to see patterns and trends that you can tap into.

I’m not suggesting that you refrain entirely from online job hunting; but do it as one part of a broader strategy. Spend your days being active: see points #2 and #3 below.

2. Explore your interests and don’t hesitate to follow a hunch: As you talk to people, share what you are looking for and what work you would consider ideal, but be open to learning about things you don’t yet know you are interested in, even if they aren’t directly related to your job search.

A friend of mine (R) is looking for work in corporate communications but his real passion is food. Another friend of mine (C) recently started a food business incubator. It makes perfect sense for R to explore what C is doing, regardless of the outcome. At best, there’s a job for R. At worst, he’ll have an interesting conversation and broaden his horizons.

In many ways, that’s precisely the point. Since we only connect the dots of our life in hindsight, it is by exploring things at the periphery of your interests that you discover new opportunities. In innovation-speak, this is called the Adjacent Possible and it’s where most new opportunities exist. Since we all want work that makes us personally and intellectually fulfilled, then isn’t it logical to look for that work amongst the things we most like doing?

Most important is realizing this: you do not know all of what’s out there. The world is full of crazy, cool people cooking up wonderful new things. I’m lucky because I meet these people everyday. A great website for this is Escape the City but there are many others as well.

3. See your unemployed time as a gift: Since time is the most precious resource we have, you should view periods of unemployment as a gift to yourself and others.

How will you use this time? Research about generative or creative people shows that their periods of unemployment are often correlated with their greatest productivity.

Therein lies a template. You can volunteer with an organization you care about, or support that friend struggling to get her startup off the ground. At the very least, get started on some of those back-burner ideas you have: start that blog or Twitter account, go deeper into a hobby, finish that photo album of your hiking trip in Nepal.

Staying productive helps you build your resume, do things that make you happy, increase your self-confidence, and may also pay some bills. Through the adjacent possible, it may also lead you to your next job.

There are other parallels between job hunting and dating. The equivalent of posting-and-praying is just going out to bars. People who are truly interested in others tend to find being single easier, because they aim to be intellectually and emotionally engaged by everyone they know. Similarly, people who are actively involved in their industries don’t have to hunt for jobs – opportunities find them.

I’m aware that what I’m suggesting goes against the grain, but in the era we’re living in there are no set rules anymore. So please don’t go by what your career services office told you to do.

The author acknowledges contributions by Nidhi Howell, his sister and a human resources professional.

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