Most of my career coaching clients are either currently job searching or students who will soon be job hunting. A recent addition to my client roster, however, is a young professional in an entry-level college athletics position in his field of choice. Why does he need me, you might ask?
It’s easier to find your next job if you’ve been planning for it all along
In each position I’ve held, I’ve set goals and gained skills that I thought would make me more marketable down the road. In my first position as an attorney, I was at a law firm I loved. I honestly could have seen myself spending the rest of my career there, so it would have been easy to just sit back and sail along on the well-plotted course you embark upon as a young attorney.
Instead, I soaked up all the knowledge I could about client development. I knew the key to always being employed as an attorney was having a book of business. Sure, it wasn’t something expected at most firms until you were more senior, but I was lucky that my first firm encouraged young associates to market.
Expect the unexpected
Ok, I watch too much Big Brother (fans will get the reference), but you know what I mean. You just never know when the bottom is going to fall out. Maybe the market crashes. Maybe your boss takes a new job and you hate your new boss. Even if you aren’t planning on looking for a job, you need to be thinking about your next one.
One year into my career as an attorney, the bottom fell out (i.e., the “economic downturn” began). Law firms started laying off associates left and right. Those who didn’t implement massive layoffs slashed salaries for the associates who remained. I fell in the latter camp in 2008 but in 2009 I found out I was being laid off. I knew classmates from law school who’d been without jobs for months. No law firms were hiring.
Yet, I didn’t go a day without a job. Luck? Maybe.
Here’s the thing: I like to think I make my own luck. I’d been strategically doing a few things: building up expertise in a niche area of the law (low-income housing tax credits), obtaining my first real client and becoming indispensable to a senior partner. That senior partner fought for my job as soon as he got wind that I was being laid off. When that didn’t work, he called a friend who was a senior partner at another firm in town with my niche practice area and told him he’d be stupid not to take me. That call, combined with the fact that I’d manage to land a client of my own who would move firms with me, got me a new job I started the Monday after my Friday separation date with my first firm.
Gain the skills you need for that next position
Ask yourself: if the unthinkable happened and you had to start looking for a new job tomorrow, are you prepared? Beyond having an updated resume and a carefully nurtured network, have you used your time in your current job to improve and add skills you need to make the next move up the ladder?
When I was at ESPN, I knew I might only work there for two years. Being a contract employee is both a blessing and a curse – you know exactly when the end might come, but that means you can prepare for it. I did a little soul searching about nine months into my time at ESPN and asked myself, what might be next for me? Would I go back to being an attorney? Would I try to get on with another network?
The self-realization I finally gained was that I love to write, and I can be happy in any job where writing is my primary responsibility. First, I was a transactional attorney and mostly drafted documents, then I was a reporter at ESPN. Wildly different jobs, but the same basic day-to-day activity: writing.
Knowing that I would want writing to be part of my next job, I asked myself how I could make myself more marketable. I was already writing for a widely-recognized and respected platform, and I was writing about virtually every sport. What I wasn’t doing was writing about anything unrelated to sports. I knew that was an issue, because there aren’t that many major sports publications where I could write full time and make a living.
So, I started sending pitches to magazines to write freelance pieces on subjects like online dating and professional development. By the time I left ESPN over a year later, I’d racked up clips from outlets like Men’s Health, Woman’s Day and Parents on subjects ranging from how to choose a matchmaker to how to help a family grieving. I had a diversified writing portfolio I could use to seek my next job.
The more you do, the more people you meet
You never know when that next great connection is going to happen. Maybe you volunteer at the Super Bowl or the Final Four and meet someone who later tells you about a job opening and passes along your resume. Or maybe you write a piece for Woman’s Day about matchmaking services and a national matchmaking service you interview likes your writing so much they hire you to do their PR work (that really happened to me with my client It’s Just Lunch). Broadening your horizons will broaden your network.
Get started today
Here’s what you can do today to ensure you’re preparing yourself for your next position:
- Think about what you’d like your next job to be, whether that’s a specific position or a set of skills you’d like to use.
- Identify any skills you’d likely need to improve or gain to obtain a position like that. The easiest way to do this is to check job postings and see what they’re asking of candidates or shadow someone in that position to get a feel for what’s required of them on a day-to-day basis.
- Start working on those skills, whether that means teaching yourself InDesign or volunteering at a donor dinner to learn more about development.
- Keep your LinkedIn profile updated. You never know who’s looking; LinkedIn is becoming a goldmine for headhunters and HR professionals who don’t want to post a job and get 1,500 resumes.
- Identify people in the position you want and follow them on Twitter. If they blog or otherwise produce content, follow that as well.
What are you doing to prepare yourself for that next position? I’d love to hear about it!
Need a coach to help get you in tip-top shape? Email me to discuss my career coaching services for students and professionals.