Look up and smile: It’s going to be a fun and exciting ride.

Summing up all the career articles I’ve been reading for about a year now, plus personal experience on the tricky and nuanced world of career planning and jobhunting, it would be the following:

1. Be proactive.
Ask for help.
Follow up

Let me elaborate:

1. Be proactive
Looking for a new job, eyeing a new career, or simply considering changes in your current work situation starts with a DECISION and a MINDSET. You have to prep your mind, body, and heart to attract new opportunities, and be willing to do the paperwork and logistics to make that happen. It also helps to have a positive attitude. If you start thinking defeat when you haven’t even started, you might as well stay exactly where you are.

In the span of two (or three) years, I’ve submitted many many emails and résumé packets containing clips and many many permutations of a cover letter. Some, with the help of former colleagues, and a bigger percentage, simply by looking at mastheads and articles. Some have resulted in actual meetings, some have emailed back with their regrets, and majority have not even bothered to get back to me.

Should you be disheartened by this, or in any form of rejection? No. The process of updating your CV, printing letters, sending them out, puts you in that mode wherein you become extra-receptive to opportunity. So when that coveted moment comes, you’re alert, awake, and ready to grab it—quickly!—versus sulking and wondering why no one has called you back yet.

2. Ask for help

And when you do, strive to be specific. An example I’ve read that perfectly illustrates this is paraphrased as follows: If you have the option to pass along your résumé to a faceless HR person or massive and countless online job boards, versus targeting a SPECIFIC person with a clear title and influence in an organization, why wouldn’t you go for the latter? And, if you know someone who knows someone who knows that particular someone, then by all means ask for a little nudge to get your toe in the door. What have you got to lose? What’s the worst thing that could happen? Rejection. See #1.

3. Follow up.

After you’ve asked for someone to point you towards the direction of an influential person, it’s now ENTIRELY up to you to do the work. You have to walk the walk, talk the talk, do the phone calls, send handwritten notes, WHATEVER it takes to capitalize on that initial push. Make it worth everyone’s time. And, at this point, it’s your obligation to not make the person who recommended you make a fool out of her/himself by being flaky or unreliable.

Of all three tips, this is the one I’m guilty of not following through 100%. True, I’m proactive. True, I don’t hesitate to be kapalmuks [thick-skinned] to people I barely know and I don’t hesitate asking friends and former colleagues for names, email addresses, and even simply putting it out there, to “stay on your radar.” But following up? This is perhaps the most challenging part—because more than anything, life gets in the way: there are other emails to answer (on a side note, try to answer EVERY email you receive. I know that’s like shooting for the moon, but it helps to set the bar high), Facebook messages to respond to, chores, laundry, D.I.Y. pedicures… Here is where it’s best to be organized about the whole process. How organized? Think: Excel sheets, checklists, calendars, written plans…whatever will help remind you that you’ve promised to touch-base and finally send that application in.

When I moved back to NYC this year, I’d asked a former boss to help forward along an email I’d planned to send to an editor-in-chief of an inflight magazine. I charted the names and dates relating to the emails that ensued, and made sure I kept in touch, and saw the conversation through and through. I didn’t get a job at that particular office, but, sending that first email started the ball rolling that resulted in 28 other people I’d contacted. That’s a small number compared to the 100 I’d aimed for, but more importantly, I know that I can always pick up that initial email exchange down the line and send a “refresher” hello to whomever was in the loop, in the event I have to be on job-hunt mode again. Even better, I have an Excel sheet to go back to and add to (I only hope not in the near future!).

On the flip side, don’t be desperate. Desperation tends to repel people. This advice was given to me by Ok! Mag EIC Frances Sales right at the beginning stages of this year’s jobhunt. I know it’s a delicate mix and balance of being thorough and diligent, versus being makulit [annoying/repetitive]. Here’s the gist of what Frances said:

“Mariel, just be chill. Sometimes you give off this vibe that you’re nervous and eager to please. I will tell you about Steve Carrell, who found success when he was 40. He said, ‘I immediately started getting more work when I became a father. I just auditioned differently. When you audition and you really need the part, a producer or a casting director can smell desperation. It is an immediate turn-off and you probably won’t get cast. But if there is a confidence, not an arrogance, but a sort of nonchalance about it […] you get it.'”

Frances pointed out: “It’s the same with all jobs: people like happy relaxed people especially in a bad economy because they want that energy.”

All of that said, I never hesitate on helping people, unless I sense a lack of conviction and desire…or find an inclination to want to be spoonfed. Actually, the spoon-feeding part isn’t that big of a deal as I don’t mind sharing and passing these tidbits along (i.e. pay it forward). I actually put more weight on being positive and proactive. You have to want something really bad, decide you want it, and get up and start moving. It’s not up to me to boost your morale (although I’d be happy to point out your good qualities and give a pep talk every now and then); that is a decision you and only you can make for yourself.

And when you become successful, please don’t forget me. I am happiest with a bar of ridiculously good premium chocolate.

Image courtesy of Andrews University.

A Reason for Every Setback
No-nonsense Career Advice