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Time to Move Out

How many 25 year old men are still living with their parents?

Last week, I got so much positive response from my post, Coming Clean, where I talked about having Rheumatoid Arthritis. The positive response to such a personal story made me consider being that open regularly in this blog.  That post received 1,000 unique hits because the Arthritis Foundation shared it on their Facebook page and their Twitter stream.

Prior to that moment, I never believed I could be that honest about my pain, and I was amazed by the comments from people who had their own stories about rheumatoid arthritis to share.  The response was humbling and encouraged me to continue.

This week, instead of coming to grips with an autoimmune disease, I’ve been mulling over my living situation, and how it affects the rest of my life.  In 2011, like many 25 year olds are doing, I moved back in with my parents in order to make a career move.

I’m just like so many young people in their 20s who graduated college after 2008.  We moved back home after graduating because there weren’t enough jobs, or we went through a round of layoffs (like I did).  At the beginning of 2011, graduate unemployment was about 9.5%, not counting graduates taking jobs that don’t require a degree because they needed to pay off about  $20,000 in debt.  That means closer to 30% of recent grads didn’t get the jobs we had hoped for.  Even starting salaries for 2008 and 2009 graduates dropped about 10% to $27k.  Crazy, right?

It’s a really challenging time for 20somethings, and living at home makes a lot of sense for us.  Especially when we’re fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do so.

I moved back in with my folks in January 2011 to transition jobs and reposition my career.  I was moving from an amazing first job building a community of 120 tech startups at Tech Ranch Austin to a great gig at a consulting firm in July.  It all looked really good, but after about 3 months, the firm was delayed on some contracts and made a handful of layoffs mid-October.  Those layoffs included me.

I walked out of the North Austin office building on October 15th knowing that I was going to be at my folks’s house a while longer.  And while that layoff was one of the best things to happen to me last year, it was still a rough transition to make.

I’m not the only 25 year old facing a similar situation.  More than 1 in 4 recent graduates have moved home after college to get their careers started.

Having a place to crash amidst all the changes in my career has been good.  It’s afforded me the stability to do some important things in 2011, but now it’s time to move out.  I’m pretty sure that my career is in a holding pattern until I do, so I’m setting a goal and figuring out how to move out by the end of the month (more on that in a moment).  It comes down to this: My parents can offer me stability in the face of uncertainty, but I really don’t want to stay stable where I am today.  I want something different.

I want to be as unstable as I need to be so I can do the things that I want with my life.  I want to follow a completely different blueprint than my parents did.  That means I’ve got to leave where I am, and head for a different model.  If I don’t take the risk, I’m terrified that I’m going to stay exactly where I am.

Last week, my mentor told me that if I really want this to happen, I’d have to ask for it.  So here is an experiment in asking for it.

I am designing an ad:

25 year old college grad, looking for new creative work, a room, a garage apt with a family in Austin that would enjoy having a 25 year old entrepreneur around. Perhaps some empty nesters?  Some folks who get the things that I want to do, and who are interested in helping me get there.

This is such a weird thing to post publicly.  I sort of hate it.  It makes me feel like a big loser.  I’d much prefer to keep it a big secret, just like I wanted to keep my arthritis a big secret.  Part of me feels like it’s better to keep these things a secret.  But I need to write it, and I need to share it.

Here goes nothing. 

I really do hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Don’t Make New Years Resolutions

New years resolutions simply don’t work.  Don’t waste your time making them.   Spend your time worrying about something else instead.

Landing in Cheyenne for a Wedding in July

Think about it.  When was the last time you were confident about making a resolution at new years and then sticking to it?  When folks talk about their new years resolutions, I rarely hear anything resolute in their tone of voice.  Plenty of doubt and insecurity, but little confidence.  The conversation tends to revolve around someone saying, “wow, I hope I can keep it up past February…”

I’m having the internal resolution “conversation” with myself right now.  I have few more hours tonight to put my plans for the next year to paper, and then my time is up.  I’m getting in my car to drive to the Rio Grande Valley early tomorrow morning, and I won’t have another chance to focus on this before the ball drops Saturday night.  I’ll be giving myself a second chance to actually eat Tripas, and I won’t have any ability to worry about my plans for 2012.

I’ve got to crank it out now or it’s not going to happen.  Forget February.  It starts tonight.

So I’ve sat down in my buddy Zach‘s apartment and we’re about to set our goals for next year.  We’re going to do it together.  No waiting, no excuses, just lots of really loud music and maybe some guys beating drums in a circle.  I’ve come up here to work with Zach and let him work with me because I’m going to be more successful making plans when I’m in the same room with someone who challenges me to always be better.

Me and My sister, Being Hilarious in August

But we’re not writing “resolutions.”  Resolutions don’t work, as I’ve said before, so Zach and I are going to be doing something that does.

Resolutions don’t work because you have to waiting for a certain time of year to do them.  It’s almost like as a country, we need permission from the calendar to do something new with our lives.  I’ll start being better next year.

I don’t think that next year ever arrives.  I could wait my whole life for next year.

Don’t wait to make your life better.  Do it now, or don’t do it at all.  

As humans, I fundamentally believe we should always be getting better. We’re meant to change and grow.  And we’re either growing or dying, regardless of what time of year it is.

Which one are you choosing?

I’m choosing to grow, and I’m making commitments to myself in order to make that growth possible.

At my Grandma's Funeral in April

So, the question remains: how can we make sure we keep the promises we make to ourselves?

Step One: Start with a Strategy for 2012.  The Strategy will keep everything in place.  The strategy should be a simple question you can ask yourself as you go to bed every night.  

Zach asked me, “Does someone want to stop smoking or do they want to be healthy?  At the end of a day can they look back and say, yes I was healthy, or no I wasn’t?  Smoking may only be one aspect of being healthy.”

My Strategy for 2012:  Be clear on what I’m saying YES to because I know what I am willing to say NO to.  I wrote a few weeks ago, each time I say NO, it makes my YES much more powerful.  I’ve found that I don’t really know what I want until I’ve decided what I don’t want.

Things I never want again:

    1. I don’t

ever want

    to be laid off again

  1. I don’t want to work in a business culture that constrains my personality
  2. I don’t want to second guess myself when I say YES or say NO
Translated into affirmative language
  1. I want to continue building my own list of clients and projects for copywriting, community building, and making introductions
  2. I want those projects to be inspiring and challenging for me, and I want to know that I have the solution to problem that makes a business 10x more valuable
  3. I want to say NO to any project that doesn’t match #1 and #2, and I want to feel great about it because I’ll be able to say YES to contracts that do fit those criteria.
Those are not resolutions.  Those are strategies that have a simple Yes / No decision matrix built in to them for making decisions simple:

My Talk at the Next Fest titled, "What's Your Intent," in May

Did the project sound exciting and challenging?  
If Yes: I’m in.  
If No: Not interested.

I’m declaring war on my fear of saying yes and saying no in 2012.  Tonight, I was afraid of what might come out with Zach and me working together, but I told the fear to take a hike.  I have found that fear is the #1 indicator that I’m doing the right thing.  The more fear I have, the more certain I can be that I’m the right place.  The more certain I am that I’m challenging myself.

If I’m afraid, then I’m taking risks.   That means I’m growing.

Now what?


Here’s what is going to happen after I publish this post and close my MacBook.  Zach and I are going to collectively work through our strategies and goals for 2012.

  1. We are going to write everything we loved about 2011
  2. We are going to write everything that sucked about 2011 and that we never want to see again
  3. We’re going to write a list of what we want in 2012
  4. We’ll take the 2012 list and come up with the top 3 or top 5 goals for 2012
  5. We’re going to create action steps and deadlines for each of those goals
  6. Once I’m clear that Zach has made good on his goals, and he is clear that I’ve made good on my goals, we’re going to seal them up and set them in motion
  7. Final Step: We’re going to take the list containing everything from 2011 that we never want to see again, all the things that we had to learn the hard way, and all the balls the chimpanzees dropped, everything that sucked about the past 12 months, and we’re going to burn the list.  Game over 2011.  2012 will have it’s own bullshit, so we’re going to be clear and open for that so we can take the hit and learn the lessons we need to.
The failure will come, but we’ll accept the lessons it brings.
What is the #1 thing you’re glad to leave in 2011?
What is the #1 thing you’re excited about in 2012?
I hope this helps.
Austin W. Gunter

Laura and I, making Jack-o-Lanterns


Why I may never carry business cards again

Patrick Bateman, American Psycho, Business Cards

Even Patrick Bateman would agree with me

I think business cards may be pointless. 

They take up valuable pocket space.  They’re expensive.  Organizing them is a pain.  And everyone has a good one anymore.  They’re not memorable.

Honestly, I may just be rationalizing things.  I hadn’t gotten around to ordering more business cards and I went out for some serious networking last night.

I might as well have gone to war without my gun.

But I think I may have turned an sloppy move into solid networking gold with a simple iPhone app called Contxts.

Contxts is wickedly simple.  Sign up for free, register your email address, and write a 140 character bio with business card information.

When someone asks you for your card, ask them to text your username to 50500.  As long as they can send one text message, they can get your card and contact you the next day.

Try it: Text “Gunter” to 50500 and you’ll get my card.  

Seriously…try it.  It’s like a magic trick on your phone.

I’ll wait….

Ok, cool.  Now that we’ve got that out of the way.

Last night, I put Contxts to the test at the Internet Marketing Party and the Web Holiday Bash. Serious year-end events.  I did my normal networking bit, laughing really loudly, making quirky jokes, and generally being a fascinating person to be around while I drank a Hendrix and Tonic, my cocktail of choice.

Pretty soon, someone asked for my card.

“Hey Austin, I need a copywriter/community builder/marketer/nude model, do you have a card?

I felt the world slam on the brakes.  This was going to be interesting.

What did I do?  I hesitated because I knew that I had exactly zero business cards on me.

When they saw me flinch, “I don’t have any cards tonight…” I immediately began to lose credibility, I could see it in their eyes.  So what did I do?  I didn’t let it go at that, I didn’t scramble and ask them for their contact information.  Nope.

I doubled down on the risk.  I told them to pull their phone out and send a text message.

They looked at me like I was nuts, but I knew that I needed to do something awesome to salvage the situation…but I also knew that I had Contxts set up.

While they sent the text message, I stood there, waiting with a big smile on my face, hoping that it would work out.  Sometimes it can take 10-15 seconds for the service to work.  It gets a bit tense.  An entire conversation has ground to a halt while everyone waits for this text message to come through.  People one conversation circle over are wondering what is going on.  I’m starting to wonder if Contxts is having downtime…

And then it happens.  Their phone lights up:

Great to meet you today!  Looking forward to connecting with you.
Austin W. Gunter

Suddenly, I’m not the idiot who showed up to network without cards.  Maybe I actually know what I’m doing…

10 times I did the same thing last night.  After the first or second time, I started getting as theatrical as possible, having as much fun as possible.  Trafton Esler, fromWP Engine, introduced me to a group of writers from Speak Social, and Trafton, God Bless him, called me out for not having a business card.

So I got all 6 people in the group to pull their phones out to text “Gunter” to 50500. There is a circle of people staring into their smart phones, waiting for something to happen. Suddenly everyone’s phone is lighting up with my txt card.  People are laughing and smiling.  Trafton still says that I’m a slacker…

Lessons Learned: 

  1. A Faux Paus is an opportunity to become unforgettable.  If you’ve already screwed something up, take an even bigger risk to solve the problem.  If you fail, you lost nothing.  If you succeed, you gain immediate and lasting credibility.
  2. Be daring with your networking, and make it fun for you first.  Networking can be a grind sometimes.  Last night, I made sure that I was having fun first, and it made the conversations a lot more interesting.

My business cards were in my mailbox today, but I didn’t get around to putting them in my pocket. Contxts was more fun than the slickest business card.  Patrick Bateman can eat his heart out.

The best part?  Every time someone requests my card, I get a text message with their name and phone number.

Anonymized Text Cards from people who got my txt card last night

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter.

Understand Social Media and Get Hired

Even Forrest Gump had a Following on Twitter

This week, I’m speaking at an Austin Employment Group about how to effectively use Social Media in your job search.

Everyone is confused about what Social Media actually is, and is it actually useful in your job search.  I’ll help define it, and I’ll provide ways that it can be useful.  It can be a waste of time, but used right, it’s a huge asset.

Social Media is an amazing toolkit that will help you start conversations that get you hired and close some new business. To use the tools well requires understanding each tool as a communication medium that makes it easy to develop relationships and network your way into a new job.

Social Media is a different approach to finding work that is less than a decade old.  It barely resembles the old way of getting a job where you sent in a resume, waited patiently, got an interview, and either got a job offer or didn’t.  The process today isn’t so straightforward, and requires a different approach from job seekers.

Just like the littlepeople in “Who Moved My Cheese” when we learn how to accept change, the economy doesn’t look so scary.   Social Media is one of those changes that may look daunting at first.  I get that.  But I’ve taught enough people how to use Twitter and Facebook.  I think anyone can learn.

But…. if Twitter doesn’t make sense to you, I promise that you’re not alone.

Social Media is a BIG meaningless phrase just like “synergy,” or “win win,” or “thinking outside the box.”  So, let’s get specific about it.  Social Media refers to a set of web tools that makes the process of having conversations and developing relationships much easier.  Social media includes Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Posterous, YouTube, Google+, and on.  There are hundreds of tools, and each one has a different purpose, different rules, and different strategies.

First, Social Media is a conversation medium.  You have conversations in order to get to know other people who are also using Facebook or Twitter.  The medium makes it simple to develop a relationship with someone you would never otherwise meet.  But keep in mind that you’re developing relationships with people who have their own lives.  They’re busy, and they have their own concerns.  Just like you.

The biggest mistake you can make on Twitter or Facebook in is saying, “here’s my resume, can I interview?”  If you start firing off that question, you lose.  You may as well be calling people in the middle of dinner.

What’s the point of having all those conversations?  Isn’t that a waste of time?  I’m supposed to be interviewing, right?

Yes, you are.  But what are the chances of getting that interview by the traditional route?  How will you stand out from the rest when Google received more than 75,000 applications in one week in January?

How indeed.  You’ve got to do something totally different if you want to make it to the top of the pile.

I’ll give you a hint.  Job interviews at top jobs happen because you knew someone at the company. Then they’ll ask for your resume.  I’ve interviewed at several of the top tech companies in Austin this year, but it wasn’t my resume that got me in the door because I never formally applied.  I got phone calls from friends who asked me if I would be interested in applying to interview, so I found out about the jobs and emailed my resume to someone who was already waiting for it.  I got to interview, and I got offers from some of them.  The resume was a formality to make sure that I was qualified.

The Job Market is relationship-based. Social Media is the way that you’ll build those relationships.

I’m going to cover Twitter, LinkedIn, and About.Me.  Those are my favorites to get people started. They’re simple compared with how powerful they are, and they’re free.

Social Media, used right makes it possible to strike up a conversation with anyone that you want to.  No lie. Social Media and PR startup actually offers a service to contact any celebrity on Twitter.  They’re not exaggerating.  Twitter has broken down the walls between individuals and allow connections between you and a celebrity, or you an the recruiter.  Even better, you and the director the recruiter reports to.

Their results have come from studying Twitter and learning how to be Twitter Rockstars, but what they’ve done is not complicated.  If you understand some basic guidelines, you’ll be able to strike up conversations with the hiring manager in a casual online space, and then develop that relationship.  That’s half the battle.

Social Media Guidelines

Twitter Guidelines: Twitter is a “microblogging” platform that allows millions of people to post up to the minute statuses about their lives.  Twitter has helped connect freedom fighters in the Arab Spring, and right at home at Occupy Wall Street.  It’s power to connect large groups instantly is previously unheard of in history.  Check out my Twitter Profile to see how I use it.

  1. Develop relationships based on shared interests, and then TAKE IT OF OF TWITTER.  Send an email, call on the phone, meet for coffee.  Once you’ve had a few conversations, then say, “I’d love to talk more about (whatever you’ve been talking about), can I buy you a coffee?”  If you’ve actually been having a conversation, they’ll say yes.
  2. Offer something of yourself.  Post the articles you’re reading, and mention what your perspective is.  Ask people questions.  Let people get to know you in 140 characters.  Make sure that you’re giving more than you’re getting.
  3. Don’t ask for a job.  Ask people what they do at their company, ask them what they love about it.  Ask them about the challenges they have.  Ask them about the things they’re already talking about or the article they just posted.  Don’t ask for a job.  Once you ask for a job, the relationship becomes one-sided.  You’re not offering anything, and you’re asking for a big favor.  Take them out to coffee first.  Then talk about what your skills are, and ask what problems they are currently facing that your skills could solve.
  4. Link to your LinkedIn profile or blog.  Twitter gives you a field to place a homepage.  Use your LinkedIn Page.  Just make sure that it’s complete….
LinkedIn Guidelines:  LinkedIn is an online resume site that also makes it easy to apply for jobs, find recruiters, join professional communities, and generally make it simple for people to find you. Think about your LinkedIn Profile like an online resume, and you realize that recruiters and hiring managers are all on LinkedIn too.  That makes it seem like a no-brainer to use LinkedIn to the hilt.  But you’d be surprised about how many people I run into who just haven’t taken the time to build their LinkedIn Profile out.  They have excuses, but they’re still missing out.  Their loss is your gain.
  1. Use a casual photo of yourself.  Recruiters and hiring managers want to work with people they like, so don’t appear to professional.  Show your fun side.  If you’re a bit edgy, don’t be afraid to put that on display.  It shows that you are a real person with a real life.
  2. Fill out all the profile fields.  People are going to see your profile anyways.  Don’t worry about privacy issues right now.  Give them something to talk about.  There are a dozen ways for you to show your future employer that you’re awesome.  Don’t hold back on them.
  3. Explain your previous positions.  Give details, talk about what you accomplished, tell them how you increased sales 10%, or your code made it possible to cut budget by 25%.  Tell the story and provide the accompanying details.
  4. Connect with as many people as you know.  In other words, develop relationships.  And don’t be afraid to ask people you meet on LinkedIn out to coffee or tell them that you’re on the job hunt after you’ve talked.  LinkedIn is designed to get you hired, so you can cut to the quick.
  5. Join LinkedIn Groups.  If you’re a tech writer, join those groups, if you are an accountant, join those.  And once you’ve joined them, participate.  Comment on the things people post.  Start developing relationships.  Do you get the idea?
About.Me Guidelines: is the central profile that points to ALL your content all around the web.  Use this to give people a complete picture of who you are. Here’s mine, and some featured examples that I think are way better than mine.
  1. Get a vanity URL.  Don’t think that I don’t love sending people to About.Me/AUSTINGUNTER.  I love it.  It’s awesome.  I want you to have the same awesome feeling.  Get your vanity URL and start sending people there.  Rinse, repeat.
  2. Post an engaging picture.  I think the biggest feature of About.Me/(yourname) is the visual element.  It’s an opportunity to show yourself at your best, so grab a good headshot or a high quality action shot and let the world soak you in.  You’ve spent all that time at the gym, now’s your time to shine.
  3. Tell a story.  For a long time I used my About.Me like a resume, and then I realized nobody else was.  They were accompanying their picture with a story of their personal and professional life.  In comparison, I looked like a dork.  It goes to show that the internet has set us free to tell the world an amazing story about who we are.  Who are you, and how do you want the internet to see you?  Use About.Me as the place to start telling that story.
  4. Link to your other profiles.  About.Me is designed to be the centralized point of your online presence.  Connect your LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, and Blog to About.Me and make it simple for people to get a complete picture of who you are.  Don’t worry about privacy here – if someone wants to find something private, they’re going to.  Linking to your Twitter Page won’t make a difference.  Concentrate on making it easy for the right people to find you.  Forget everyone else.
  5. Get the FREE business Cards. will give you 50 Free Business Cards that are inspired by your About.Me page.  They’re really cool cards, but the thing you care about is that they’re free, right?  I love free stuff too, don’t worry.  Mine are already in the mail….
That’s a crash course in how to use Social Media, Twitter, LinkedIn, and About.Me to make yourself visible online, and develop relationships.  I didn’t cover all of it, and I’ll be happy to write more about how I use any of the 3, or the mistakes I may have made along the way.  I don’t have it all correct, but I’m constantly refining each of those pages.


With that in mind, don’t worry about getting any of those sites perfect right away.  It’s impossible to get those perfect.  Think of them as living documents that will evolve as you do.  You’ll learn more about yourself in the process of creating them, and that will become part of your job seeker experience.  Just spend a bit of time with each of them each day, and you’ll learn the ropes.  And connect with me on LinkedIn, and Follow me on Twitter.  I’d love to hear from you!


Hope this helps.


Austin W. Gunter


Saying no and how to make sure you suck at networking

Don't say yes to someone else if it means saying no to yourself.

Level of Focus determines how good of a networker you are.

Focus makes it possible for anyone to walk into a room and know what they will get before they leave, why they want it, and how to get it.  Focus means planning to know what’s important and unimportant.  Most importantly, focus means that knowing when the goal accomplished, and it’s time to move on to the next project.

When you go to Molotov on that Thursday night to hang out with all the cool Austin tech people, are you trying to get a job?  Do you need to find a developer?  Do you just want to have a good time?  Have you asked yourself that question at all?

“What do you do?” 

 …Do you already know the answer?  Are you waiting for someone else to tell you?  Will you accept the first thing that comes along?

Focus is knowing what you will reject.  You can’t say yes to anything, until you’re willing to say no.

We must know with certainty exactly what we don’t want in order to know what we do want.  When we’re willing to say yes to the first thing that comes along, and don’t know what we’re willing to say no to, it’s usually a signal that we have zero clue what we actually want to say yes to.  It’s an indicator that we haven’t decided what is important in our life.

We have the responsibility to know important and not important, and then have the confidence to choose what’s important.

This post is very personal.  Lack of focus, and learning how to focus myself is one of the things that I’m focusing on these days (heh).
Who am I focused on becoming?

When I first started chewing on the concept of “focus” almost two months ago, I was prompted by people that I thought were terrible networkers.  I saw the same pattern at several events, and it got me to thinking.

The Pattern
           A. [awkwardly] I’m looking for a new job these days.  If you can help, that would be super!
           B. [smiling heartily] What sort of job are you looking for?  I’d love to help you find it.
           A. [looks around the room uncomfortably] Oh, I don’t have much of a preference.  I could really
do anything.  I like marketing and
                 social media though…
           B. [wanting more information] Well ok, lots of people do social media these days.  Let’s get
specific,  which companies in Austin really inspire you?
           A.  I don’t really know, any of them would be cool…Facebook…Google…Bazaarvoice.. I like lots
of them…Do you know people there?…

The conversation will die at this point because Person A has no idea what they want or what they’re qualified for, and Person B isn’t going to make an introduction to anyone but a career coach.  Introductions are a form of currency.  Asking for an intro is asking for a loan of social capital.  It’s essential that we give someone a good reason to make that investment.

Focus and Commitment are big factors to convince anyone to invest in something.

Commitment is dangerous.  Committing total focus to one course of action means saying no to everything else.

The rest of the world disappears when we’re focused.  When someone tries to interrupt you, you don’t notice at first.  And once they distract your attention, they break your focus.

Focus is the place we go to create things and change the world.

Why wasn’t I focused?  I was terrified of saying no.  I was afraid of what I might lose in the process.

Trying to focus was was uncomfortable.  But I needed to find focus and commitment before my life and career could take off.

A simple realization shifted me.  I realized that all the leaders that I admire have things they would say yes to, and things they would say no to.  They weren’t everything to everyone, and consistently rejected certain ideas, and even pick certain fights.  Somethings are worth fighting for.

The title of this post might also be, “How to become exceptional at getting what you want.”  People can learn to be exceptional at getting what they want, and become sought after in the job market.

I’ve started asking myself the following questions to refine my focus:

  • Where am I better than everyone else?
  • What do I read, watch, listen to, write about, talk about, think about, care about?  What am I already focused on that I can apply to my work?
  • What are the things I do effortlessly or intuitively? (This is a hard question to answer)
  • How could I experiment with those things in my work?
  • What demands do I place on others in my life, and why are those important?
  • Is the experience of working with me so good that people rave about it?
  • Do they recommend me and say that I’m worth every penny?

Here’s the ultimate test.

When people ask me what I do, how do they react to what do I tell them?  Do they nod in understanding, or do they have to ask for more information?

You’ll know you’re focused when everyone everyone else describes exactly what you do because they clearly understand what you absolutely do not do.

What will you absolutely not do?  To what should you start saying, no, immediately?

Ask that question.  If the answer scares you, then you’re probably looking in the right place.  Go after it. Run towards that fear, and then share what you find with the rest of us.  We could use your example to light the way.

I hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter.

Lose your job? Here is how to find work you love immediately.

I believe that losing one job can often be the best thing that ever happens in your life. Do you?

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.

Google "focused" and you get pics of Jay-Z and P-Diddy. Men in possession of legendary focus.

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.  

  1.  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…
  2. 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.  
  3. 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.
  4. 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.  
  5. 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.
  6. 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.  
  7. 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).
  8. 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?
  9. 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.  
  10. 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

Trying to Make Sense of Occupy Wall Street 2/2

Regular Meetings for Occupy Austin are on their calendar

In Part 1, I analyzed the social and economic challenges that are making it hard for the American middle

class to find good work, and pay for things like gas and health insurance.  Again, since the economy is making it hard for so many of us to stay in the middle class, we’re suddenly waking up to the corrupt and broken political system.  It is no longer easy for us to ignore the problems around us since we’re not comfortable in our lifestyles anymore.  If we had a growing economy right now, Occupy Wall Street would have zero momentum because it would not represent the unspoken anger and fear of the middle class.

But since there aren’t enough jobs, our nation is suddenly looking for answers, and Occupy Wall Street is looking right at the broken political situation.  It’s an easy villain.

Had there been no market crash of 2008, the American narrative of going to college, getting in debt, and getting a good job would have continued to play out.  But our over-leveraged society caught up with us, revealing a political process that was so intimately joined with large corporations, lobbyists, and yes, Wall Street, that we realized that the government, which was brought into existence by the people, for the people was not always living up to its side of the bargain.  The cultural narrative of our political system has broken down.

Specifically: The The American Global Political Decision-Making Process of our American Democracy has always asserted that everyone has a voice in politics. The narrative has told us:

Vote your beliefs + Elect your candidate =  Be part of the force that guides the US Government

But it’s clear that voting is not as powerful as corporate money, which is necessary to provide a campaign budget large enough to elect the President of the United States.  A successful presidential campaign budget exceeds $500 million.  For his 2008 victory, Obama raised around $750 million.

Large donors contribute to campaigns in order to secure political influence.  It’s come to light recently that the board of the Fed is made up of Corporate Chiefs from companies like General Electric and Lehman Brothers.  The chief of Lehman, Richard Fuld was on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York at the same time that one of its subsidiaries was bailing out Lehman Brothers.

Occupy Wall Street is marching in part because political and financial institutions are so unregulated and create a conflict of interest.

The real narrative of political decision making looks something more like this:

Hire a lobbyist + Financially support a candidate + Help them stay in office as long as possible  =  Make sure that your interests are protected by the government

This played out for everyone to see in 2008, when instead of holding the banks accountable for making bad loans, the federal government bailed them out to the tune of $7.2 trillion dollars, at almost zero interest, money that the banks proceeded to lend out at about 3% interest, making a tidy $13 billion profit.

I don’t have a problem with the banks making a profit.  They’re supposed to.  I would love to see American business in general making neat profits because then companies would need to hire so they could keep growing.

I have a problem with the banks profiting from tax dollars when the middle class is unemployed and shrinking.

The banks didn’t suffer appropriate market consequences for making bad loans.  In 2011, banks are foreclosing on an average of 89,000 homes a month; leaving the middle class staggering, the banks themselves have not suffered similarly.  They had bailouts of government money – money that the middle-class paid in taxes and it didn’t help sustain them.

At least Fannie and Freddie are halting foreclosures over the holidays

Occupy Wall Street recognizes that the government, supposed to serve the people, has stepped out on us.  We aren’t convinced that the politicians we have elected have our best interests at heart, and we believe that they ought to.  I spent Wednesday afternoon at the Occupy Austin “rally” at the Texas Capitol, and while I didn’t hear one singular argument about government and corporate corruption, the general consensus among the half-dozen protesters was that the political decision making process is undeniably corrupt.  But when I asked what could be done to solve the problem, the answers varied from violent uprising, to civil disobedience.  And I noticed that more than one protester admitted that if and when they get hired at a good job again, they will probably not have enough time to participate in the movement any longer.

If there were enough jobs, nobody would be asking any questions.  As the Romans noted, the populace is easily appeased superficially with panem et circenses (food and entertainment).  As long as everyone is fed and entertained, they will turn a blind eye.  The decline of the Roman Empire may have more parallels to the United States of America than that one.

It worries me that Occupy Wall Street has started to dwindle because of the crackdown on the protests in major media centers of America, like L.A. and NYC.

The Occupy Austin Movement at its peak

The dwindling also confirms my statement that, despite what Naomi Wolf suggested, Occupy Wall Street does not have a coherently articulated message, and the ranks cannot agree on what they want to accomplish.  Again, speaking with the Austin protesters this week, I got similar answers about what was wrong in the country, but widely varying opinions about what solutions to offer, and how to carry those out.  There were certain people who spoke the loudest, but those people also insisted that the movement should not define itself any more than it already has, because then people might be alienated.

I think that’s probably an excuse for the movement to not take itself seriously.

To wrap this up, I believe that Occupy Wall Street is the vocal expression of anger and fear that many middle and lower-class Americans are feeling right now.  Not everyone is protesting in the streets, but I am convinced that widespread and sustained protests are proof positive of an angry society.

  1. We’re angry that there aren’t enough jobs
  2. We’re angry that we don’t know how to create more jobs
  3. We’re angry and afraid that corporations exert undue influence in politics
  4. We’re afraid of what might happen to our society if we don’t get things under control

Occupy Wall Street can be the beginning of how to solve these problems and creating new social narratives.  The movement has the power to help us re-write the broken political decision-making process, and re-write the narrative of creating jobs and growing our economy.

But it’s not enough to be angry if we aren’t willing to do something with our anger.  If we just stay angry, we’ll never change anything.  The collective anger of the populace can be the spark to ignite important social change.  Or it can be a tantrum in the streets.

Occupy Wall Street, in a nutshell, is the result of:

  1. Americans who feel powerless to make a living for themselves and their families,  and so they are questioning…. 
  2. The validity of our political and economic decision-making process

I’m going to use that understanding to pose a few questions going forward: 
  1. Where do jobs really come from?
  2. Whose “fault” is it that our economy is in the doldrums: is it the fault of corporations or the fault of each of us? 
  3. How can we offer solutions to the broken political narrative?
  4. How can we create a cultural narrative that empowers young people to create their own opportunities, college degree or not?
If you have answers to those questions, please leave them in the comments.  I’m going to be incorporating them into what I write.
Thanks for reading.
I hope this helps.
-Austin W. Gunter

BarnBuilders at Tech Ranch Austin

BarnBuilders at Tech Ranch AustinThe way that I am currently working to architect connections in Austin right now is through a program at the Tech Ranch called BarnBuildr.  We are targeting the substantial amount of folks that are highly trained in the various Technology companies, like Dell and IBM, that helped make Austin a bit of a “satellite campus” for Silicon Valley.  There are thousands of these highly trained people, in both technology and the business side of things, who are out of work in Austin these days.  The unemployment level is better than most of the nation.  However, the fact remains that thousands of jobs have gone missing, and some may never return.

There is a huge upside to the downturn.  In the past 10 years, more than 60% of the jobs created in the United States have been in groups of 10 people or less.  Read: Entrepreneurs will save the economy.  Read: Accelerate your local Entrepreneur.

BarnBuildr helps both entrepreneurs, as well as the unemployed talent in the Austin Area.  How do we help both groups out?  We provide ventures with a huge network of volunteer help from the local talent pool currently in full-time job search mode.  The entrepreneurs benefit from what they can achieve from free help.  The talent gains because by volunteering they are able to hone their experience, add a project or two to their résumés, or even get hired.

The thing that we do is build the bridge between the entrepreneurs and the talent so that they know who to go looking for.  Our network helps people bridge the chasm of knowing who needs to hire someone.

I was hired to work at the Tech Ranch because I volunteered my time there.  I met Kevin at a networking event and told him I loved how the Tech Ranch was helping people start their own ventures.  I asked if I could volunteer at the Ranch while I looked for work.  After a two or three weeks, I had proven myself with my work and they hired me.  My volunteer time turned into an extended interview process.

Don’t you agree that this process is more effective than blindly sending out résumés?

Check out if you’re looking for new opportunities in Austin, Texas.

I hope this helps.