Friday, March 15, 2013

Tips from The Sis

Hey guys, as some of you may know, The Sis is here in DC, too! As she is also living through the intern/extra job/no time cycle, I wanted to bring her in to share some advice. Read on for a guest post by The Sis!

Hello fellow blog-o’readers! I’ll start with two things—first, a welcome/thank you to Aftan and you, her dedicated (yes, DEDICATED—so spread the word!) readers on what may be the first of many guestspot blogs (spogging? Blottings? Hmmm…). Second, is an apology to Twin, since I’ve been promising her I would write a guest blot/spog  for….oh, about 8 months. *Insert wry—I mean, ashamed, very very ashamed face—here.*  Sowwy seester. *Sincere chagrin this time*

That being said, I’ll get write to it (see what I did there?).

I’m going to delve today into that messy, discontinuous, often painful, always transforming, unexpected, surprising, character-building experience we all face after college (or any other kind of school for that matter): getting a job. I know Twin has expounded on this before, her tips and her experience, expertly wielding both realism and hilarity, and maybe only a slight dash of hyperbole. I want to add to this topic, provide some advice that was given to me, as well as my own reflections on the matter now that I have been in this job-hunting underworld for over a year.

I moved to DC over a year ago, taking a stab in the dark and a leap of faith with an internship at an Undisclosed Relevant Organization (URO). To my dismay, the internship had been somewhat (read: a lot) misrepresented to me over my phone interview, and the job was nothing like I was expecting it to be. But I trucked through, despite my disappointment and dissatisfaction with the turn of events, determined to make what I could out of the experience.

Essentially, the experience was a very humbling one that taught me how to continue to give my best efforts for a supervisor for whom I held little to no respect or affability. This is, actually, a very, very important lesson. You may not always like who you work for, whether it’s your direct supervisor, CEO, or a lateral colleague in another department. You cannot let this affect your performance. No one wants a surly, unhappy employee, whether or not they’re justified.

One positive thing the internship did provide was some new connections to expand my network. Since Twin has amply dissected this topic, I’ll only add that she is absolutely right. In this day and age, in this city, it’s not really WHAT you know (although that does help!), it’s WHO you know. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve witnessed obtaining jobs because of who they knew already on staff. It’s important. Do it. You can’t get anywhere on credentials alone anymore—there are too many people with equivalent experience, and too few jobs. You need another foot in the door.

One of the people I met gave me his idea of some valuable fresh-to-the-job-market advice. I found his thoughts particularly helpful, which I will share. First, he recommended getting business cards. It’s an easy, smooth way to exchange contact information, and it avoids the awkward tackiness of “Oh, erm, let me scribble down my email address for you… Do you have a pen?”  You don’t need a job to have business cards

Or a pen. Get a pen.

So where can you pass out these cards? Why, at events of course! Policy events, social events, informational events, you name it! Also, who knows when a chance encounter on the metro can turn into a serendipitous opportunity? Got your business card on you? Sweet, now you look smooth, prepared, AND professional.

At these events will be like-minded people who usually have a job in that kind of field. Be personable! Chat them up! Keep your ears and eyes peeled, and start a conversation with someone next to whom you are sitting!

And try not to be too utilitarian. Beginning a conversation, even though, yes it’s DC and that’s how everyone does it, by asking what they do is obvious and can backfire, especially at such an obvious networking-potential event.

Instead, try to start a conversation through a back door. Show your interest in them as a person, not as someone you hope can do something for you. “Hi, I’m So-and-So. Pretty interesting so far, huh? I like what the speaker said about [fill in the blank]. …What brought you to this event? Oh, really? Tell me more. That’s so neat, I love work like that as well. I hope to work my way to [fill in the blank]. ” This works a lot better than, “So, what do you do?”

At the end of the event, maybe you can ask for an informational interview, to learn more about the kinds of things that person does, and their tips or thoughts on how to accomplish that. People are much more responsive to enthusiastic individuals sincerely interested in a conversation rather than someone who clearly just wants to use them to get somewhere else. Odds are, at the end of the interview, they’ll either offer to be of some help to you or perhaps put you in touch with someone who can. At the very least, they’ll remember you. Especially if you stay in touch with them (depending on the rapport established of course).

Connected to this is the notion of connecting over drinks or other casual settings—people are more relaxed, approachable, and communicative with a beer in their hand. So go to those networking happy hours! They exist for a reason! Whether it’s an organized young professionals happy hour (they exist all over) or just an informal outing with friends, go out. See and be seen. In a city of high stress, high tempo, high workload kind of jobs, most people loosen their ties and hairnets at a bar at the end of the day. Also, be open to events with people you might not know so well; they can connect you to other circles. You know that game, Six Degrees to Kevin Bacon? Yeah, well, it’s true and applicable.

Speaking of alcohol…. In addition to being a perfect wingman for happy hours, I might also recommend alcohol when writing cover letters. Cover letters should be passionate and tell the potential employer about yourself, but not in a boring, predictable, template manner. And sometimes there’s no better way to eschew over-formality and embrace creativity and flow than with a drink in hand. DO NOT BLAME ME IF YOU TAKE THIS TOO FAR. Discretion, people; we’re professionals.

Finally, faithful readers, find out what and who it is that does the kinds of thing you like. Don’t just think of the Big Name Places. Look at littler organizations. The organizations that may not be as well known—competition there might not be as fierce, either. Find those places that are in your field, find their offices, go to their events, talk to them. Be present.

That about sums it up for my first guest entry. I hope I’ve adequately been able to share some of the advice provided to me, and that you can take it and run with it, little peacocks. There is so much I could say on the matter, more heavily weighted in my own personal experiences and tips, but this is a nice start.

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