My post in today's "Shifting Careers" at the NYT.com
Despite the prevalence of technology in our lives, career progress requires real interaction with real people. Technology is a helpful tool but you can’t shake hands over the Internet.
But what happens when you put yourself out there and the world doesn’t respond?
You apply online for a job but get no response (or worse, an automated “no thanks”); you send a flurry of emails to contacts close and distant, but your own inbox remains a forlorn and empty place; you invite people to lunch or coffee yet they can’t manage to tear themselves away from their busy, employed lives.
Career shifts always contains an element of isolation. It’s your journey, not someone else’s. As Herminia Ibarra has written, you often leave one work identity behind before you find the next one. But everything feels worse when you are waiting for the phone to ring or the inbox to chime.
People find new opportunities in recessions, but not people who spend a lot of time being depressed, whiny or angry. You need all the positive energy you can get. How to get past the non-responding negativity hurdle? A few recommendations:
Act like a human being. The best antidote to feeling disconnected is to connect with people. The end of the year is a good time to do this. So get out into the world. Yes, you should try to go to professional events, but also take a class, see friends, go to church, make it to yoga, call your mom. This is especially important for people whose work includes an element of isolation, including consultants, lawyers, writers and stay-at-home parents. Manifest as a person, not as an email address.
Lessen your dependence on the internet. If you are focusing solely on online applications, your job search hasn’t begun yet. The quantities of applications that pour in to company and recruiter websites make it very likely that even highly qualified applicants escape notice. Many job seekers get wrapped up in the idea that companies “should” notice them if they are qualified. Well, they might not. It’s a lot harder to make contact with a relevant person than it is to fill out an online application, but it’s infinitely more useful.
Assume that other people are busier than you are. A non-response isn’t a “no.” It’s just a non-response. Sometimes when people don’t respond in a reasonable time to your calls and emails, it’s because they are busy. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to help, it just means . . . that they are busy. So remind them. Send another message, ideally one that won’t make them feel guilty or irresponsible for not having responded sooner. I would try to attempts at one medium before switching to another (e.g. two emails followed by voicemail).
My rule of thumb is that, as a whole, you should assume a 5:1 ratio in job-search communications: five calls or emails going out for each one that will come in.
Improve your own communications. Maybe you are not coming off as well as you think. A good networking communication is direct without being pushy; confident without being entitled; and friendly without being forward. And it always contains correct spelling and grammar. Consider asking a friend to read some of your draft communications or listen to your oral pitch, and to give honest feedback.
Make connections for other people. Whatever barriers you are facing in the employment markets, you are probably in a position to others in their job searches, whether through advice, referrals, or just being a friend. Helping others make progress is a good way to remind yourself that you do have an impact on the world.
Try Fedex. Two people I know managed to break through the interview gates by sending letters by express mail to the people doing the hiring. Boldness sometimes pays off. Just don’t everyone do this at once.