“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and other advice I got during my year of job searching

I quit my job at a media company more than a year ago. I loved working for my boss and liked the work I was doing, the money was decent, the position was my dream job (I even had a say in what I wanted it to be)…but I stopped having fun at one point. And after a few months of that I resigned without having a job lined up. I thought I would take a couple of months off to travel, start my search and land a new job 6 months later. As of June, it has been longer than a year and I still don’t have a “job”, at least not one at an established company with a boss, a salary, a title, and an 8–7 day. During all these months a ton has happened, I had to deal with investors, a failed startup, interviews, started writing a book, became politically active, joined a non-profit, experimented with being a “mom” for a couple of months, met 47 new cool people, lost weight and gained it back, started tweeting, stopped instagraming, depleted my savings, and did that traveling I wanted to do. I also learned a few things:

All or Nothing is an Illusion

Decisions in life are rarely binary. The choices we have are almost never black and white… when they are it’s because we either don’t have all the information or we are being hasty. I was told by many that looking for a job is like a full time job, so for the first three months after my vacation that’s all I did. I spent 14 hour days, including weekends, sending emails, resumes, interviewing and catching up with my network. I wasn’t successful. The job I wanted, with the pay I wanted was not available or offered to me. This all or nothing approach to finding my new job didn’t work and it made me feel miserable the whole time. Finding a job is not a job and if you can’t enjoy it, do other things at the same time that you enjoy.

Don’t Listen to the Nay Sayers

The biggest nay sayer out there and the hardest to shut out is probably yourself. Unlearn everything you have learned about risk, fear, limits and what it means to be a loser. If I knew then what I know now, I would have started sooner and failed sooner, and saved my self so much worry and lost time. My eventual action only happened because I got sick of my excuses and because I had nothing to lose. In fact, 12 months ago I would have looked at the list of everything I did (and didn’t do) over the past 12 months and would have given my self a big fat L on the forehead. Loser. This is how I look at it now:

  • Started writing a book: I have always wanted to write a book. It has always been one of those things in back of my mind that I thought about at least once a month since I was 18…I am 34 now. I would fantasize about plots and twists and characters and scenes and real life people and situations to include…But when it came down to it, I spent three months doing research, writing outlines, and paragraphs and rewriting…but as you might have guessed from reading my post so far, I am not a good writer. I suck at it. I might get better eventually. Who knows. But most likely I won’t for at least another ten years and I should focus my energy on what I am good at.
  • Failed startup: startups fail for many reasons. In my case a lot wasn’t right from the beginning. The business idea, the contract, the investor, the investor getting cancer, and the most important one THE PRODUCT. I didn’t believe in the product from the start but I believed in the business model and I thought that would be enough. And it might have. But I am not the kind who could look a customer in the eye and successfully sell them a product unless I believed in it. I never had confidence in my sales abilities anyway. Back in the day when I worked at a management consulting firm and had to meet multi-million sales goals every year, the only way I succeeded in doing that was by teaming with other colleagues or actually delivering excellent work that lead to additional sales. And I crushed those goals every year. But I never could say I was a great saleswoman. What I learned this time around was that the sale is half product, half attitude and I had neither. But I could build that skill if I wanted to.
  • Experimented with being a mom: I won’t tell you whose kid it was, but suffice it to say, I love that baby like it’s my own…but I don’t want one of my own. It was a great experiment. While my mom might view the results as a failure, I on the other hand thank God every time I sleep-in because I don’t have a baby I need to wake up for.

Elimination is a Step Forward Too

Moving onwards and upwards is an American obsession. So don’t give me that weird look when I say that a lot of my self-worth is wrapped around doing something that moves me towards my goals and ambitions. I feel it every time I check off an item on my to-do list or arrive at a meeting on time, deliver a project on time and on schedule, or eliminate an obstacle for a friend or a colleague. I know it’s messed-up to have my self-worth wrapped up in that…I am much more than a to-do list… but that’s not the point I am trying to make here. The point is, sometimes life throws me a new to-do list or a new opportunity that takes me on a different path. Like writing a book. That path can lead forward or it can lead back to where I started. And there is value in that. Eliminating an option, or a path is just another valuable way of advancing.

It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know

Fact: if your friend is hiring and you meet 50% of the qualifications there is a 99% chance that you will get the job. Fact: your qualifications might not even matter if you have the “attitude and aptitude” because you can learn the rest on the job. The exception, or that 1% is to account for three possibilities: 1) an even closer friend applies 2) your friend is that rare ethical breed that tells HR of your relationship and recuses themselves from the selection process and 3) their boss has the ultimate say and has their own horse/jockey in this race.

That 99% chance changes based on how close you are with this friend. On one end is your weekly golfing/tennis/long run/drinking/swimming/mentor buddy and on the other is that kid you met a networking event you went to two weeks ago. The people you worked for, worked with, and those who worked for you are your best possible network. Nurture it, keep it fresh and use it when you have to. Of course I didn’t do any of that when I was “so busy” and “working 90 hour weeks”…What I did back then was decline invites, cancel last minute and ignore emails. I am not a big fan of the whole “work-life-balance” trend, but I do believe this: if I can’t manage to network with people I genuinely like and care about because I am “too busy,” the truth is: I am either not right for the job or the job is not right for me.

Here is another fact: the likelihood of getting a job because you applied on the website decreases the more senior you get. Most of those jobs either get taken up by internal advancement (kudos) or they don’t even get listed because the manager has someone in mind for them. The more senior you get, the more important your network is.

Listen to All The Advice You Get

….but then throw half of it out the window. Including the one I am dishing. Advice is inherently prejudiced by the person’s experiences and view of the world. Your experience and view of the world is yours, unique and irreproducible. Not all advice is right for you. You know what you need to work on but forcing your round self into a square hole is not the way. There is a place between where you are today and where you want to be that is just right for you. I have goals/dreams/aspirations, we all do, but that doesn’t mean we should not be content with where we are today, this moment. I am where I am meant to be and I accept that.