Holiday hiring slump: how to network & be productive when business is slow

Holiday hiring slump: how to network & be productive when business is slow

December is notorious not only for its icy freezes, but for hiring freezes, too. (Unless you work in retail. In which case, I admire you for your strength.)

And that can be a pain for those of us looking for work. (Though what job-seeker wouldn’t be a bit panicky at the thought of starting a new gig at the height of the holiday season?) If you’re on the market for new employment but aren’t getting a lot of leads, you can still use the holiday season to get ahead on your networking game.

Here are nine ways to polish your online presence, make new connections and maybe even open up doors that will lead to employment. (You know, for when you’re not last-minute Christmas shopping or sipping seasonal cocktails):

Update your bio or about page. So you have a website that you update regularly. But when was the last time you even looked at your bio page? Is it collecting dust? Does it still say you’re overseas teaching English to penguins who are probably dead by now? (First thing that popped into my mind.) Don’t let your first impression give the wrong impression—refresh that bio, and update your headshot while you’re at it.

Revise your resume and organize your clips/samples. If you’re been using the same resume template for years, it’s time for a revision. Have you picked up any new skills or taken on new clients? Can you tighten up the language or remove a position that’s not really relevant anymore? Make those changes. And if your work constitutes having a portfolio or providing work samples, collect links or files and organize them neatly on your computer and website. This is your go-to when potential employers ask for examples of your work.

Breathe new life into a standby cover letter. They say you’re not supposed to have a “Dear X, I’d love to be considered for the X position with X” cover letter, and they would be correct. (It’s so obvious when you just copy and paste positions and company names into a generic cover letter.) But most of us aren’t rewriting each letter from scratch, either. Sit down and write out all the things that make you a great catch and then use that to draft a letter that’s inspired. If you’re stuck, this post outlines a great mind trick for writing a non-sucky cover letter.

Clean up your social media accounts. Unfollow people who annoy you or don’t follow you back, create Twitter lists of your favorites, and read through your latest posts to make sure they’re contributing to an image you want to convey. Do away with any social media sites that zap your energy or merely feel like an obligation. As Sarah Von Bargen says, you only need to be active on two or three sites that you enjoy using and that make sense for you.

Talk to people you’d like to work with online. On the subject of social media—are you following or talking to the people you’d like to work with (or for) online? Find the writers, editors, designers, marketers, public speakers or developers who are your colleagues—or who you want to be—and respond to their posts, share their content and offer up your own thoughts on the same subjects. Don’t kiss ass just to kiss ass. Engage and discuss. People will start to take notice, and you’ll attract followers in your field.

Offer pro bono work. ‘Tis the season of giving. Offer your services free of charge to a nonprofit or organization you’d like to work for or whose cause is important to you. This is especially valuable if you don’t have a lot of experience. Sometimes one solid recommendation is all you need to get your foot in the door for the next paid gig that comes along, and if you do a solid job, you’ll get just that.

Write testimonials for connections on LinkedIn. Endorse or write glowing reviews for current or former colleagues whose work you’re familiar with. It’s not only good karma, but those people will be more likely to think of you when they hear of a job that pops up. (And maybe they’ll return the testimonial-writing favor!)

Send holiday cards or “thinking of you” emails. This is not one of those emails that says “It’s been so long” and “I have a favor to ask” in the same damn paragraph. Instead, try a no-ulterior-motive email like this: “Hey X – Merry Christmas! Hope all is well. I thought of you recently when X. I just caught up with your latest project – impressive stuff!” Warm fuzzies all around.

Keep an eye out—just in case. Hey, new opportunities can come up any time. (There are a lot of good reasons why December can actually be a great time to land a gig if you’re looking.) Just ask Laura or Nicole—they both just started great new jobs they’re excited about! So have your stuff together and be ready for when that opportunity arrives. In the meantime, enjoy the holidays!

Aside from some of the above, I’m working on a brand new site design that I’m really excited about and hope to reveal for the new year. It’s a much-needed refresher that I’ll be even more proud to show off to potential employers.

Are you currently on the job hunt?

On creativity, entrepreneurship & fulfillment with Working Self’s Rebecca Fraser-Thill

get to work

There’s nothing like debt to light a fire under your ass.

At least, that’s what has me more motivated than ever to carve out a career that will hopefully sustain me (and then some). But whether it’s student loans or a desire to break free from our uninspired jobs or something else that drives us, we all chase that elusive “dream” job or career—sometimes we just don’t know what that’s supposed to look like and whether it can realistically be done.

Today, I’m talking with Rebecca Fraser-Thill of Working Self about these things and more in the first installment of a two-part career Q&A series. (I’ll have another guest next week!) Rebecca has spent the past several years crafting a life that’s equal parts fulfilling, attainable and sustainable—the trifecta for success, I’d say. And her blog is dedicated to making sure others can do the same. Today, Rebecca has some words of wisdom for those of you who are creatives types and somewhat new to the workforce.

Check out our Q&A below.

Working Self

Briefly tell us your story and how you came to become so laser-focused on what you wanted to pursue for a career.

I became laser-focused by meandering. That may sound paradoxical but it’s completely true. As I was graduating college, I was so afraid of not knowing what I was going to do with my life that I jumped into a PhD program right away. Wrong move. I had no idea why I was there or what I wanted to get out of the experience, so I high-tailed it out of there after receiving my master’s degree – even though the doctorate was Ivy League and fully funded. That’s when meandering took over: I moved to Maine, the state my creative soul had dreamed about since I was a preteen, and stumbled into a one-year gig teaching psychology at a selective liberal arts college there. That one-year position turned into an eleven year stint, to date, including some amazing opportunities related to my passions that are unfolding at this very moment.

I’ve also had the chance to be highly intentional about how much teaching I take on each year, leaving me room to build side hustles and try other avenues out, in addition to caring for my growing family on an “as needed” basis. Throughout my process of leaping in a panic, stepping back and walking away from something “great” that wasn’t great for me, I kept coming back to the same question: how does a person build a fulfilling life? I became so obsessed with that question that I created Working Self, my corner of the web reserved for considering various possible answers. The pursuit of meaningful work has been at the heart of everything I’ve done, and I love having a forum for exploring the “how” with others.

What myths do young people, particularly recent grads, buy into about jobs and careers? Can you dispel them?

While teaching college, I’ve found the most common myth to be the need to find THE career. You know, the one and only career that will provide lifelong fulfillment and joy. Fantasy alert! That simply doesn’t exist. That myth actually spins off a bunch of related myths: that we need to have a multi-year plan in order to succeed; that it’s better to wait for the “right” opportunity than dive into an opportunity you have at hand; that our major sets our path. These are all deterministic, A-causes-B-causes-C ways of thinking, which are not at all not realistic. Thank goodness! Life is so much more dynamic and exciting and keeping-us-on-our-toes than that!

The reality is that a combination of action, reflection, and serendipity carves most people’s career paths. We can’t see how our life is going to unfold as we’re starting out, but when we eventually look back on the years behind us, all the twists and turns make perfect sense. So after graduating you simply need to reflect on what you think you want at this moment based on your strengths and interests, take the leap and start DOING something, and then be alert to serendipity when it comes knocking. Then repeat the process over and over throughout your life. That’s how a career path actually unfolds – which I find to be a lot less daunting (and more thrilling) than the plot-and-plan approach most graduates think they need to take. My story is a case and point, and just one of many.

By the way, I enjoyed tackling this topic in more depth recently on Life After College – and, bonus, Jenny Blake and I offered a free webinar on the topic that is archived here.

Lots of people aspire to be entrepreneurs, but not everybody’s cut out for that kind of bootstrapping work. How can someone who’s uncertain tell if they’re meant to pursue a path of becoming his or her own boss?

I can certainly relate to this question: I’ve finally accepted that I’m not cut out for full-time entrepreneurship, even though I always thought that would be the right path for me. As far back as age 7, I began selling homemade greeting cards to relatives and neighbors! Entrepreneurship sounds great in theory: complete autonomy over scheduling and tasks; no boss to wrestle with; flexible work setting. In reality, though, you have to be someone who can withstand loneliness, work that grows to fill every single crevice of your life, and a lack of financial security.

I found out that full-time entrepreneurship is not right for me by building side hustles, which is the route I suggest everyone take. Side hustling not only allows you to test out your particular idea, develop a client base, and gain confidence about your potential income, it also lets you try out the less tangible aspects of entrepreneurship, like the hustling itself! While freelance writing and career coaching on the side, I discovered that I love to create but hate to sell, a combo that doesn’t have “full-time entrepreneur” written on it! Thankfully I have had the opportunity within my actual job to carve out entrepreneurial endeavors, which feed my creative needs while letting me off the hook on the sales front. It’s possible to think and act like an entrepreneur without actually being one full-time.

Having a fancy website design, sassy copy and professional photographs are all well and good (and important!) for anyone looking to catch potential employers’ and clients’ eyes, but what are the less sexy, more practical tools everyone should have in their belt?

I could use some of that “sassy copy” you mention! Seriously, at the basis of any job search or development of a client base lies the same thing: genuine relationships. You can have all the flash, but if there’s no substance beneath it, you simply aren’t going to get too far. I love the book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz, which emphasizes the importance of building connections that have substance and are reciprocal. That’s the skill set everyone needs to get down pat to lead a life that’s meaningful and successful.

Networking isn’t about superficially seeking people out when you need something; networking should be done all the time, in every circumstance, with no ulterior motive at all. Those relationships are what yield the vast majority of job offers and client leads – either your own or another person’s. When networking is approached in this way, you become part of a giant web of helping and sharing, which is fulfilling in and of itself.

Are creative types doomed to constant debt and worry, or are there ways we can armor ourselves against falling victim to the unpredictable creative landscape?

I hope we’re not doomed! I actually think we overestimate how much security “regular workers” have. The reality is that we are ALL at the whim of the economy, as we saw during the last economic downturn that left thousands unemployed for long stretches of time (and many still are in that boat). If anything, I think creative types are better equipped to handle economic shifts than people who do not identify as “creative.” We creative types are used to taking an existing “problem” and coming up with a novel solution; that’s our bread and butter. So when the landscape changes, we’re ready to say, “huh, maybe I can make money doing X, Y or Z.” It’s all about staying mindful about the convergence of what the world needs and what we have to offer (and creatives have multiple offerings, by definition), then matching the two together as those needs shift.

Any final thoughts to add?

If you want to create a life you feel good about, you have to be prepared to have people scratch their heads about you. The vast majority of my big decisions have been incomprehensible to everyone but a handful of people who know me extremely well. I used to let that bother me, and sometimes would make the “understandable” decision because of the pressure. I see many of my former students take the easy route, too, and I feel badly for them because I know that while they’ll enjoy others’ acceptance, they’ll never enjoy their own acceptance. And the latter? That’s what really matters.

 

Thanks, Rebecca!

Enjoy what she had to say or have any thoughts of your own? Let us know in the comments. And make sure to come back next week for part two, featuring a Q&A with the founder of One Woman Shop.