A Story of Job Search Failure (and how it led to success)
After I finished graduate school in Belgium, I ended up at a career loss. I wanted to stay in Europe (there was a boy and also I loved my access to amazing chocolate), but I didn’t have the right passport, I had no idea what to do with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution, and I had no language skills other than English.
Due to sheer persistence and smiling a lot, I managed to get a lead on a position (unpaid) at NATO, but I needed to get a security clearance, and the timing on that was “awhile.” So I went home, pretty broke and very lost.
I ended up living with my parents, desperate to get a job that paid SOMETHING, and wondering how on earth I was going to figure it out.
I had no DC network within my degree realm, and no real idea about jobs other than I wanted to become a mediator…maybe?
It was not a high moment, and I felt like a total failure. How could I have a graduate degree, some (ok, unrelated) work experience, and still end up in the same place I had been after college – unemployed, confused and desperate. Arghhhhh!!
The job search can lead to desperation
So to recap: No network, 3,000 miles away from where I wanted to be and no income. AND, no matching work experience in the career field I wanted to be in, with the exception of my education. Oh, and I had to tell someone where I was going anytime I left the house. So much for being independent!
Also, at this time a lot of my friends where finishing up their law degrees/Ph.D’s/MBA’s and embarking on clear and lucrative career paths, so I felt even more left behind than I had earlier.
After mooching around looking at the want ads, it quickly became clear that the kind of job I was looking for wasn’t often advertised, and that my network wasn’t going to be able to help me so I’d have to get proactive.
With a lot of trepidation I did something that felt incredibly uncomfortable for me: I cold-called someone and asked to do an informational interview with him, highlighting that I was really interested in his work and his accomplishments.
I reached out to a stranger.
He was a part-time mediator and HR person I found through a network that looked interesting online, and I clearly remember that I was shaking as I left him that original voice-mail. It was so hard to reach out to a stranger and ask for something, even something as small as a few minutes of his time and valuable insight. I sent him a follow up email immediately giving him multiple ways to contact me, and then I sat around and waited.
Fortunately for me, my luck was in because he called me back.
We talked for awhile, I interviewed him about what he did and what he liked about it, and I told him I was new to the field and back at home after years away and wondering if he knew of other people I could connect with to build my network.
He said yes.
Two weeks later, I was having coffee with the president of a small mediation consulting and training firm in Downtown DC and …
Two weeks after that they hired me.
The sense of relief was amazing, and the happy dance I did around my bedroom was more of a full-on arena show. I ended up staying at that firm until my clearance came through, and I had drinks with the owner last year – 10 years after she first hired me.
That experience taught me two valuable lessons:
- If you are willing to invest in people and learn from them, you can create a completely new network out of thin air.
- It doesn’t take very many connections to get you to a hiring manager, once you start talking to real people.
I think the job search is one of the most stressful, ego-destroying, and pain the a** things that we do to ourselves as a society. If you are out of a job or trying to change industries, things can feel overwhelming at times, and the path to a job can feel endless.
So, I wanted to share this story with you to say that if I can do it, so can you. If you are trapped in a job thinking you can’t leave, you can create your own exit strategy by creating a new network. If you are in-between jobs, you can do the same thing.
I’ve left some scripts below for you - and please share some of your own wisdom in the comments. What has worked for you in building your network while trying to change jobs or find one?
Script for Voicemail:
Hello John -
My name is Christie Mims and I found you through the Northern Virginia Mediator’s network online. I’m a recent graduate of an international conflict program, and your work here doing training in small business organizations caught my eye. Your success is inspiring!
I’m new back to the area and I would love 20 minutes of your time for a chat. I would like to learn more about the field here, get your insight on what you love, and any advice you have for someone just starting out.
I can be reached at xxx-xxx-xxxx, that’s xxx-xxx-xxxx and I’ll make sure to send you an email so you have all of my contact information written out. Thank you and have a wonderful day!
Script for follow up email:
Hello John -
I just left you a voicemail and wanted to follow up with an email. I found you on the NOVA mediator’s network and was very inspired by what you do, especially the article you wrote recently for Forbes on Leadership and Conflict. I’d love to have the chance to chat with you briefly, at your convenience, in the next few weeks so I can learn more about the field here. I’m new in town and trying to learn as much as possible!
My number is xxx-xxx-xxxx and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you do have a few minutes for a coffee or a phone chat, please let me know.
Thank you so much for your time,
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