Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How I Got My Job: Preparation

I’m currently working at the organization of my dreams. Just a few months ago, I was unemployed and had no experience at all in my current field of work. How did I get from there to here?

I’ve decided to create a short series of articles on “How I got my job,” to be posted once a week for the next 5 weeks. I’ll describe what I did during my job hunt, and what was useful, easy, and ultimately successful in finding this new job.

Today’s entry is about preparation—what I did right after I found out I was being downsized.

Preparing for the Hunt.

I was downsized at the end of December 2008. We found out mid-December, and I was lucky enough to be kept on as a consultant through January, so I had a month and a half’s head start to job hunt while still receiving income. I used that month for self-reflection and career planning.

Getting laid off can be a blessing in disguise. Just read some of the quotes from these recently-laid-off folks over at Career Builder. Losing your job forces you to take a step back and evaluate your career path—is this what you want to be doing with your life? How can you put your skills to best use and combine them with your interests? What is your dream job? Getting fired can give you the opportunity to transition into a better job. So in December and January, I thought about all of these questions and did a ton of reading to focus my job search. I wanted to choose one industry and target organizations working in that field.

To figure out what field and what types of jobs were right for me, I used these resources:

1. What Color Is Your Parachute? This is the single best book on job hunting and career planning that has ever been written. Need I say more? If you haven’t read it, you should. If you’re unemployed, you need it.

2. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook: This entire resource is available online, and offers descriptions of most jobs you can think of. It holds a wealth of information, providing what a typical day is like, necessary training, salary ranges, and growth projections for people in that field.

3. The Princeton Review Career Quiz: You have to register to take it (make sure to de-select the 2 boxes for receiving spam emails from them), but the quiz is pretty good and will provide a whole bunch of suggested careers based on your personality. It also offers profiles of each career, much like the BLS.

4. Columbia University’s Center for Career Education: This is my alma mater so I used them a lot—-you should definitely check out your own school’s career center and see what resources they offer alumnae. Even so, the Columbia CCE has pretty excellent resources for the general public, including a library of tele-seminars and PowerPoint presentations that provide great information on finding a job. My favorite of the bunch was Connie Thanasoulis’ “How to Effectively Handle a Job Layoff,” which was chock full of so many great tips I had to pause several times to take notes.

5. Blogs: There are some great blogs out there, and I don’t just mean The Frugal NYer! Penelope Trunk has fantastic articles on networking, career planning, and using your time wisely while unemployed (the best article she wrote on this is 5 Things to Do When You’re Unemployed)

All of these resources guided me in my own career planning and in figuring out how I was going to get there. Thanks in particular to What Color Is Your Parachute? I reflected on my own values, skills and interests, and ultimately chose to focus on the field of Human Rights work, an area I am passionate about and in which I can see myself pursuing a career for many years to come.

Of course, while I was doing this research and soul-searching, I was also browsing the Web and applying for any full-time job I was qualified for. But few people would recommend that as a good job-hunting strategy!

Finally, before my last day at my old job, I made sure to take the following steps:

1. Updated my work product folder: I emailed to myself every document I had written, every project completed, and proof of all my accomplishments. All of these items I could present to potential employers as evidence of my skills.

2. Took all of my contacts with me: any connections you make on the job will be invaluable during your job search and career, whether you continue in the same industry or not. I emailed myself full contact information for everyone I had connected with.

3. Asked my colleagues if they’d be willing to act as references, and asked them to write recommendation letters: especially since I’m a young worker, it was really important—and ultimately valuable—to get recommendation letters from everyone who was above me in the organization. I also got their OK in advance to serve as references, and offered to serve as a reference for them in return.

4. Deleted inappropriate content from my computer: I have a nasty habit of venting through the written word. I kept a locked document on my hard drive of all the things that irritated me at work…you know that had to go stat. I also deleted all personal documents and bookmarks.

All of these tasks kept me busy through the end of January. In February, I began to job hunt full-time. I’ll discuss how I approached my job search in the next series entry, “Narrowing down the search.”

How I Got My Job Index of Posts:

1. Preparing for the hunt: before unemployment
2. 5 ways to survive unemployment
3. Narrowing down the search
4. The hunt: job applications and networking
5. Interview preparation
5. Lucky break (expect the unexpected)


  1. wow! this is some great advice. i keep meaning to read "what color is your parachute". thanks for the other resources. :)

  2. Thanks so much! And yeah, it is definitely worth the read. In addition to impressively-researched advice on job hunting, it also has great exercises on choosing the right career for you.