September 5, 2020

Want to Make a Move? It’s Who You Know © Cici Mattiuzzi

I grew up in a small mill town where everyone knew everyone. I was the third generation of my family to live there. I knew the doctor, the plumber, the jewelers, the baker, the butchers, the librarian, the postmaster, bank tellers, the telephone operators, the auto mechanics, and most of the teachers. Chances are someone in my family went to school with them or their kids.

In small towns, everyone knows everyone else’s business and they help each other. My dad’s store was two doors down from the union office. Locals came in and out of the store all day long. When he was hiring for the store or his catering business, he would spread the word among the people he knew. When someone or someone’s kid needed help getting a job at the sugar mill, my dad would put in a good word for them at the union office.

Every career move I have made has been through someone I knew – someone who reached out to help me. I have counted on help from others through the rough patches... I am a hiker. When I am on a steep trail I count on someone ahead of me reaching out a hand and pulling me up.

Everyone needs help at one time or another. There is no shame in that. Embrace the fact that you have friends and close acquaintances to reach out to. Most likely, they will be flattered that you value their opinion and will be more than happy to help… especially now during this pandemic, when people feel the need to do something – anything to help.

Cultural Anthropologist, Margaret Mead, when asked what the first sign of civilization was, said: “A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with one who fell... Helping someone else through a difficult time is where civilization starts." Failing to help others is where civilization ends.

Two huge problems faced by many job seekers are feeling embarrassed about asking for help and not knowing what they are looking for.

So, before you reach out for help, define yourself. Work on identifying what you want to do and where you want to go. You need to be able to give job titles and to describe the kind of companies you are exploring. Be prepared to give examples – Apple, Google, Disney, Intel, Adobe, Inductive Automation… etc.

Many people believe that because we are in the midst of a major recession, there must be no jobs available. After all, there are 30,000,000 people out of work right now.

Here is a little secret – if you have a degree, there are tons of jobs available. You just have to focus on what you want. Even in the worst economy, people get jobs.

Those getting jobs today tend to share a combination of attributes. More often than not, they are highly motivated, extremely well organized, and they use their contacts. Serious job seekers are self-starters, open to help and ideas.

Some of the things serious job seekers know ...

Passive approaches to job seeking just do not work. Rarely do people get jobs by exclusively responding to postings on internet job sites, or by applying on company websites. And rarely do people get jobs by waiting for someone to find them on LinkedIn. Actually that would be almost never on both accounts.

Having a very detailed – keyword driven LinkedIn profile can help attract specialty recruiters if you are a lawyer, accountant, engineer, software engineer or medical professional… But do not rely exclusively on being “discovered.”

Employers would much prefer to hire someone who is recommended by a current employee, rather than an unknown from the internet. Most of the top tech firms consider total outsiders only after considering candidates referred by current employees. Why? Because insiders know what it takes to survive and thrive in the firm and they are not about to use their reputation to recommend someone who is not ready for prime time.

Now more than ever, it is “who you know” – coupled with your ability to describe to them what you want to do.

The people I have helped get jobs during the pandemic defined what they wanted to do, set goals, and got help creating extremely high quality resumes and LinkedIn profiles that matched. They set up alerts on company sites, and on Indeed and Google Jobs. Their resumes and profiles used key words and phrases from the job descriptions they were tracking. This was the groundwork. More importantly, they used their connections to get exceptional job offers - only after they did the hard work of defining themselves and identifying their key strengths.

Experienced people typically have solid networks by the time they are looking to move up in their career. It may not be as obvious, but the inexperienced also have networks. Both experienced and inexperienced job seekers can learn how to use their networks effectively.

Getting organized is essential to job seeking success. Before you try to use your network, figure out what your next career move is and do some research on jobs and companies that interest you. What do you want to do? That is the question you will have to answer every time you talk to someone you hope can give you leads and ideas. It is easier to use your network if you are asking for specific help and giving specific information. Don’t make the people in your network figure out what you want. You have to do the work if you are a serious job seeker!

If you are looking for work don’t keep it a secret! Tell everyone, including your mother, that you are looking. Once you know what your next career move is, tell your family, friends, and professional contacts. Send networking email to friends and connections. Tell your people you are “Exploring your options” or “Looking for new opportunities.” Schedule a virtual coffee.

What you are going to be asking for is the names of people or companies they know of that are a good fit, regardless of whether there are current openings. Also, ask them to keep you in mind if they hear of any opportunities. Plant seeds!

I just finished working with an attorney who just started an amazing new job – a job he got in the middle of the pandemic through a childhood friend. He will be working from home in Marin, for a start up in New Jersey! “This is a Covid silver lining. Before Covid, it would never have happened…” He went home in January to help a family member who was very ill. When he was home he connected with his lifelong friend, Steve. They had lived across the street from each other since age five and had kept in touch over the years. Steve was the best man at his wedding...

In January they had lunch and caught up on life. The attorney shared that he was looking for opportunities in employment law. That was the end of the conversation until June, well into the pandemic, when Steve called and asked if he would be interested in shifting from government jobs to a job in the tech industry.

Turns out Steve’s wife is the chief counsel for a company that needed an employment attorney and although they’d never considered having remote employees before, Covid changed everything. “I would never have gotten the job if I’d applied without having a connection. I had two strikes against me – no tech company experience and I lived in California, 3000 miles away, and I didn’t want to move.” “Networking is the most common way to find a job – 70 to 80% of hires come from networking – and the quality of the jobs in the 70-80% is definitely better than the other 20%.”

Another client I worked with got a director’s job in a federal regulatory agency. He learned about the position through a professional contact who is working there. He did his homework. He asked what their main concerns were and what challenges they faced. He dissected the job description and the website for the agency. He asked questions and got information before the interview. He had a totally focused resume and prepared tirelessly for the interview.

One of my all time favorite job seekers is a young engineer who wanted to work in the aerospace industry. He went home for Thanksgiving and at dinner his cousin asked what he was planning to do when he graduated. Rather than crawling under the table and yelling “I don’t know; leave me alone!” he calmly said he wanted to work as an aerospace engineer and listed potential companies – like Boeing in Seattle or Lockheed in the Bay Area. Amazingly enough, his mom knew a VP at Lockheed and promised to call. His sister worked as an ICU nurse in Seattle but didn’t know anyone at Boeing, but the seed was planted. About two weeks later, a heart attack patient she cared for said, “If there is anything I can ever do for you…” She told the patient she had a brother who wanted to work for Boeing, and he handed her his card to give to her brother. A phone call later – no interview, no site visit – the young engineer was made an offer. He got his first job through his ICU sister!

People who get offers are very active job seekers. When they encounter obstacles they figure out how to overcome them. They ask for help and accept suggestions. They don’t give up.

They also have aggressive exercise plans to burn off stress and maintain fitness. They are daily runners, walkers, and hikers, and “used to be” gym rats. They are spouses, partners, parents, and sometimes children taking care of parents during this pandemic. The busier they were, the better the outcome. In this pandemic there are things that bind us all.

Job seeking in a pandemic is no picnic. It is really hard work. The harsh reality for some is that they will become permanently unemployed or underemployed as a result of COVID-19. Some jobs will cease to exist. It is true of every one of the recessions I’ve lived through and coached job seekers through.

Sometimes, like now, job seeking and career growth is dependent on getting help… Like crossing a stream or climbing a rock, it helps if you can find someone to extend a hand to help you up.

Unless you have been under a rock – you know a lot more people than you think you do… you have a network, your people know people.

It is really who you know… you’ve got this!

Cici Mattiuzzi is the Author of The Serious Job Seeker and the Founding Director (emeritus) of the CSUS College of Engineering and Computer Science – Career Services Office.