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So…You’re Professionally Qualified But Still Can’t Find a Job?
April 22, 2021

So…You’re Professionally Qualified But Still Can’t Find a Job?

“How am I going to get a job after university? The economic landscape is challenging, so why are you talking about tracking expenses and saving money for the future?”

I was delivering a financial wellness session on Zoom to about 200 university masters and PhD students. This student, in particular, seemed despondent.

I like it when people ask, “How can I land a job?” But it’s best posed as a challenge…something they plan to overcome. The world, after all, is a competitive place. Earning a degree, creating a great LinkedIn profile and applying for jobs online won’t always be enough. I’m not a job-seeking expert. But as we walk down the corridor of our digital world, we often pass several doors that we don’t think to try.

When I was in my early 20s, a friend of mine gave me a dusty, early edition of Dale Carnegie’s book, How To Win Friends and Influence People. Much of it seemed dated. But one story in particular caught my imagination.

That story took place in the 1930s during The Great Depression. Jobs were tough to find. An unemployed, educated gentleman chose not to ask people if they could give him a job. Instead, he walked into businesses and asked prospective employers questions. He wanted those people to talk about themselves. He asked them for advice. Eventually, they began to ask him questions. As a result, he found work.

I was a university student when I first read that book, so I wasn’t looking for a full-time job. But I set aside a week, one summer, to conduct what I called, “a social experiment.” Armed with a notebook and a novel, I walked into several corporate buildings and asked if I could speak to the company’s CEO. Every office gatekeeper asked the same question with each conversation going something like this:

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No, but if, at some time today the CEO has a spare 90 seconds, I would love to ask for some professional advice.”

“Well, the CEO is very busy. You won’t be able to see them.”

“That makes sense. I’m sure they’re swamped. But I’ll try my luck, and if it’s OK with you, I’ll sit and wait with my book. If it works out, super. Maybe I’ll be lucky. If the CEO has a meeting that ends a few minutes early, that would be amazing. If they have just 90 seconds for me to ask one question, I would love that.”

I did this five times at five different businesses. In each case, the office gatekeeper suggested I go home, or try to book an appointment. But each time, I sat and waited. I read my book and sometimes, the gatekeeper became pretty chatty.

To my amazement, that 90-second window appeared every time. Sometimes, I saw a CEO. Other times, I met with the head of HR. But each conversation began the same way: “I only have a couple of minutes,” they would say. I thanked them and then asked for advice. I explained that I was in my final year at university. I expressed my respect for the person’s experience (which was genuine, and not flattery). I then asked, “If you woke up one morning and you were me, what would you do to increase the odds of landing a good career? What opportunities do you see? Where would you look?”

Dale Carnegie was right. Given the right circumstances, people like to talk. None of those 90-second meetings lasted 90-seconds. One of the CEOs even re-scheduled a business meeting so we could keep chatting. We talked for almost an hour. One HR director suggested I apply for a job. Two of the CEOs asked if I had any long-term interest in working at their firm. But here’s the fascinating part: I didn’t say much. I didn’t sell myself. Once they got going, they did almost all the talking.

At the time, I wasn’t looking for anything. It was just an experiment. But I used this strategy to land my first high school teaching job. It allowed me to apply for positions that weren’t yet posted. At the time, many of my peers were saying, “I earned great grades; I have a strong resume. I even have a master’s degree, but I still can’t get a job.”

I don’t know everything about finding work in a really tough market. But I’ve learned one thing: someone could have great references, an amazing resume, a fabulous education and a stellar profile on LinkedIn, but dozens, if not hundreds of job applicants will have the same things.

That means, if you’re seeking a job, it’s best to stand out. Be creative. Find a different angle. Don’t wait for jobs to be posted. And if you land an opportunity to speak to a corporate CEO or head of HR in a non-interview setting, try to get them talking. It’s human nature, after all, to prefer people who will listen.

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