Becoming a Leader On the Job (Search)
Like thousands of young people across the country, I am a little over a month away from graduating from college -- and entering a downright hostile job market. It would be an understatement to say I feel panicked, in spite of having worked hard for years to build an impressive resume for future employers. No one envies the class of 2009.
Although job searching is exhausting, I've realized my search may actually be teaching me some valuable leadership lessons -- perhaps more than any entry-level, "real" job ever could. Read up on the five ways that looking for a job is making me -- and can make you -- a better leader.
1. Venturing out of your comfort zone
Sitting around and waiting won't make jobs come running your way. The past few months have forced me to be more "social" than I've ever been. Once I got over the initial fear of emailing an alum, calling up a potential employer, or sitting down with a supervisor at work, the boundaries of my comfort zone expanded infinitely. Here are 12 different ways of using social networking to land a job.
2. Managing panic and staying positive
One recent evening, I sent out no less than 30 emails to alumni in the journalism industry. "Dear Mr./Ms. _______, I am interested in hearing about your experiences in journalism...." Almost a dozen alumni responded that same night, but to my dismay, almost half of them said they were no longer at their previous jobs. "I'm not in a position to offer any advice to you," one alum wrote to me. "Maybe we can talk again when the financial crisis eases off." It occurred to me that I needed to cut myself some slack: This recession's hitting everyone, no matter how good their resumes. Not everything is under my control.
In her article "High Spirits + Energy = Better Job Search," career coach Diane Costigan advises, "You need patience to play out the waiting game; perseverance in the face of rejection and bad news; persistence to keep moving forward when motivation may wane; and, perhaps most important, a positive perspective to keep your motivation high."
3. Evaluating your next boss
I am beginning to see just how easy it is to get completely consumed by the "Please, hire me!" attitude. This is especially the case now, as times are difficult and being extended even one job offer seems like a bounty of opportunity.
But (as I am being reminded by a few wise adults in my life), a job search is very much a two-way process. Not only are potential employers evaluating you, but you too, must evaluate your next boss. As a Washington Post writer pointed out, "few things have more impact on your happiness at work than the person you answer to every day."
4. A process of self-discovery
Four months ago, I wanted to land a job that would allow me to write about news and politics. When this quickly became much more difficult than I had ever expected, I had no choice but to rethink my strategy. What are the things that I am really good at and how can I put these skills to use? How can I best "sell" my best qualities to employers, without completely compromising the things I care and feel passionate about?
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Claire Bonilla, who took a roundabout path to get to her current job, said: "When I was younger I had an interview question that asked what color I'd choose to describe myself. I chose black because it's made up of the entire spectrum of colors. I believe that every person is made up of different components -- skills, talents and facets. With any job it really comes down to understanding what talents, or colors, you will pull out that align with that job." My goal now is simply to find a job that connects with one aspect of my interest and skills, rather than all of them at once.
5. Helping others, especially when times are difficult
So many people in my life -- from professors, alumni and supervisors at work, to the parents of an adorable two-and-a-half-year-old boy I babysit for -- have blown me away with their willingness to help. Their gestures range from buying me coffee and offering me career advice, to putting me in contact with people in the journalism industry.
I feel inspired to give back in the same way someday. I cannot wait to get that first phone call or email five years down the road, from a soon-to-be-graduate asking me for career advice. And if they are worried at all about the job search, I will reassure them that they will be okay, because after all, I was class of 2009 -- and I survived.
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