Abner J. Mikva, notable Chicagoan, is credited with telling the following story about his introduction into politics:
“On the way home from law school one night in 1948, I stopped by the ward headquarters in the ward where I lived. There was a street-front, and the name Timothy O’Sullivan, Ward Committeeman, was painted on the front window. I walked in and I said, “I’d like to volunteer to work for [Adlai] Stevenson and [Paul] Douglas.” This quintessential Chicago ward committeeman took the cigar out of his mouth and glared at me and said, “Who sent you?” I said, “Nobody sent me.” He put the cigar back in his mouth and he said, “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent.” This was the beginning of my political career in Chicago.”
Often job hunting feels like politics. Doors won’t open unless you know the right people. Employers are looking for people who are the “right fit” for their organization, as well as have the right credentials and skills. It’s not uncommon that in some companies, coworkers spend more time with each other than their own families, so employers have good reason to consider how a new employee will fit in. When a potential employee is referred by a current employee, there is a presumption that “birds of a feather flock together.” And, on a more practical note, recruiting costs are much lower for a new employee hired through referral over one hired through traditional recruiting methods.
So, how do you overcome the “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent” mentality? First, don’t overcome it…work with it. Set a goal to meet two or three new people every week through traditional and non-traditional ways. Put your ego on hold for a while and be willing to ask for help. Understand that 99 out of 100 people enjoy helping other people. It makes them happy to do a good deed. Also understand that 99 out of 100 people cannot hire you. So, you’re not asking for a job at this point, you’re asking for information, advice, resources and support: ask if they can share job leads, refer you to career experts and recruiters, ask for a second pair of eyes to review your resume, ask for introductions to influential people and for any pearls of wisdom that would help keep your job search moving forward.
The first move is yours. The best way to let people help you is to make it easy on them. Be clear in your messaging. Don’t say, “I can do anything,” when someone asks what type of job you’re seeking. Succinctly explain the skills and experience you have, what type of work you are looking for, and specific employers (or types of employers) where you want to work. (If you’re having trouble with this messaging, make an appointment with me. We can quickly come up with a great elevator pitch crafted specifically for you.)
Assuming your intro message or elevator pitch is ready for prime time, here’s how to make it work for you:
- Let everyone know on Facebook that you are job hunting with an upbeat post based on your elevator speech. (I get it. You want FB to be happy and friendly. You don’t want all of your FB friends to know your ‘private’ business. Get over it, because cat videos are NOT more important than your livelihood. Everyone you know on FB has their own network. The only way to tap into that network by asking your way into it.)
- Conduct Informational Interviews with people who already work in your desired industry, and at companies on your ‘hit list’. Read my February 4, 2015 blog entry to learn more on informational interviews, The Power of Informational Interviewing Can Not Be Denied!
- Get away from the computer and meet people where they are. Fill your calendar with professional networking events and social activities that give you a chance to meet people with similar interests. Here are a few ideas: professional association meetings, volunteer work, fundraising events, job search clubs, Meetup.com events, recreational learning activities, park district classes, non-credit courses through your local community college, sporting lessons, self-awareness/improvement seminars, foreign language instruction, afternoons spent with your 4-legged best friend at a dog park, etc.
Becoming the somebody that somebody sent will work for you as it did for Abner J. Mikva, who enjoyed a career as a Chicago politician, a judge, a federal judge and a U.S. representative. (In 2014, President Obama awarded Mikva the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.)
And as your career evolves, you can pay it back by becoming the somebody who in turn helps the new pack of ‘emerging’ somebodies.