Let’s face it. Layoffs are all to common right now. It’s a rough economy. However, I think it’s easier to get back to work than people realize. All it takes is a different perspective on your job search.
This fall, my life has really forced me to examine how I focus my attention and intention. In October, I was laid off from a nice consulting gig where I was writing requirements for some of the larger hardware companies in Austin. It was a really good job, and layoffs are never easy.
However, since then, I haven’t had much trouble finding projects to work on that keep my belly full and my tank full. They also keep me busy and learning.
Since that Friday in October, I’ve gotten involved with several projects, all of which challenge me, and none of which require me to commute regularly. Not all of them are paying gigs yet, but all of them have a clear path to getting paid for the quality of my work. For the gigs that aren’t paying me yet, I’m basically operating as a temporary volunteer. And I know when I’ll walk away if I’m not getting my needs met by a certain date.
Aside: Volunteering will get you hired. I worked for 2 years at Tech Ranch Austin, and that position began unpaid. It took 2-3 weeks for me to convert the job from volunteer into part time, and another month or two after that to go full-time. I highly recommend that you find volunteer opportunities for yourself. It’s one of the best ways to get a better job.
I’ve gotten to where I enjoy the challenge of only getting paid when I’m adding significant value to the company. It means there’s no ambiguity about what I’m accomplishing. I am either making a measurable contribution and getting compensated accordingly, or I’m not making a contribution, and I’m not getting paid.
It’s a scary proposition at first, because there isn’t a guarantee that I’m actually going to get paid. But the other side of the equation means that I can earn more money if I do better work. For the time being, it’s a good arrangement. I’m not saying I’ll never accept a full time job again, but I am saying that right now, I have found a variety of good projects to work on, and I’m enjoying them all.
Examples: I’ve done a blogger outreach for the Ronald McDonald House’s Lights of Love last week, which shattered it’s fundraising goal for 2011, or logo and branding work for the 2012 launch of the World Entrepreneurs Network, and a few other projects that I’m looking forward to talking about as they develop.
It’s not been a seamless process for me by any means. Transferring from a job to a more entrepreneurial existence requires a different way of thinking. For example, it requires a higher level of focus because nobody is telling me what to do. On any given day, I have to figure out what needs to be done and decide how to do it. I decide what I accomplish in a given day, and when something gets done, I get credit. If something doesn’t get done, I have no one to blame but myself. I have to (get to) make it up as I go along.
Sometimes it freaks me out not having a rule book or instruction manual for my life.
But, if I remain focused on what I want to accomplish day to day, I’m likely to get it all done. But when I’m unfocused, I get so much less accomplished in a day.
This applies directly to your job search as well as building a solopreneur business. The more focused your attention is on what you want to accomplish, the easier it will be for you to accomplish it.
If you’re going to go volunteer, you’ll have to be focused.
When I suggest people volunteer, I often see varying degrees of emotional reactions, varying from an openness to the idea, to a slight wince, and my favorite is the shudder going down someone’s spine. The shudder says that the conversation is over. They don’t want to stop sending resumes in on Monster. Volunteering seems too risky and unconventional.
For those who want to volunteer and create new opportunities for themselves, I’ll share the Top 10 list of things that I do to create Volunteer Opportunities. These will help you find work you love to do almost immediately. Feel free to apply any of them to your life as you see fit. Some of them will work great, others may not work for you. Don’t be limited by my experience. And if you think I’m full of it, let me know.
- Network 3-4 times a week - make sure you get out of your house and talk to new people as often as possible. Even going out for a beer with acquaintances has turned into paid work multiple times. Things happen by accident a lot of the time, and the more you put yourself out there, the faster those accidents happen. It’s just like dating…
- Ask people how you can help them first - This is the secret to building a network. Make as many introductions as possible and people will remember you and they will help you out when the time comes.
- Email everyone you meet within 24 hours - Frequency is critical to building a solid network. The more visible you are, the easier you are to remember. And if people remember you, they will help you out.
- Make a list of people that you admire - Then go interview them about their business. Don’t talk about you. Just ask questions about what they do. You’ll learn where they could use a volunteer to solve a problem for free.
- Know how to ask questions about someone’s business - “What work do you need done” doesn’t count. “What problems are you facing this week / this month” is a much better question. Everyone has a dilemma that you can solve. You just have to find out what it is first.
- Make a specific offer to volunteer - It must have a simple objective that you know the other person cares about, and it must have a time limit. “I want to help you reach out to bloggers for this upcoming event by emailing them individually so that they will share your event with their readers,” is awesome. “How can I volunteer for you for a month,” is too ambiguous.
- Know how to ask for more work, and ask to be paid for it - The goal is to get paid, right? And if you’re doing work that matters, it’s a no-brainer for you to get paid for it. Volunteering is just an unconventional, and really effective, way to get yourself in the door (Read: It’s better than a resume).
- Know when you’re going to walk away - If a month passes and you don’t see your volunteering leading to work, it’s probably time to go. Say thanks to everyone, write thank you cards after you leave, and keep everyone posted on what you’re doing next, but don’t hang around waiting. This is about creating your own opportunities, remember?
- Make sure that you’re doing work you actually want to do - Because if you’re volunteering you’re not getting paid, so you better enjoy what you’re doing.
- If you’ve done good work, but you didn’t get paid, ask for a reference - This is a gangbusters way to keep your resume filled up while you’re in between gigs. If you’ve got a gap in your resume, make sure you’re doing short-term work in your field, even if it’s volunteer work. Showing signs that you’re a go-getter is a hirable trait. (NB: During job interviews, it’s not always helpful to mention that you’ve been volunteering, but not working. It can complicate the interview process. If you’re asked, be honest. Don’t ever lie in an interview. Get hired because the company knows who you really are, not because you’re acting. But you may not always need to explain the circumstances of your work, just explain what you accomplished along the way.)
I’ve done all of these in various capacities over the past several years. All of them are effective network builders, and all of them build your personal brand. None of them are a waste of your time or energy.
If you’re curious how to create an amazing LinkedIn profile, or want to update your online resume, let me know. I’d love to talk to you about that in person. If enough people are interested in reading about that, I’ll be happy to write a post about how to make your social profiles bring employers to you.
You can answer these questions in the comments:
- Which items on the list is most surprising?
- Are there any of those steps you already do without even thinking about it?
- Do you think any of those are a complete waste of time?
- What’s your #1 Tip for Savvy Networking?
I’ll be curious to see what you guys say below in the comments.
Thanks for reading. I hope this helps.
-Austin W. Gunter