Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Guest Post: Deanna Ratnikov on Beyond Job Boards: Alternative Job Search Strategies

Our guest blogger this week is Deanna Ratnikova. Deanna Ratnikova is the Women and Education Programs Administrator with the American Physical Society. In this role, she works on the Women in Physics program and provides administrative support to the Education and Diversity Department. She earned a B.S. in Chemistry at Austin Peay State University and a Master of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

Beyond Job Boards: Alternative Job Search Strategies
by Deanna Ratnikova, American Physical Society

In my position at the American Physical Society (APS), I come across many job seekers looking for help and advice on how to find a job.  I often promote the Physics Career Network (a collection of online job boards), but when I’m asked how I got my current and past positions, I have to admit that online job boards were not the best route for me.  Nearly 70% of the positions I’ve held since starting college were found using alternative strategies like networking.

So, if you’re struggling to find a position using online job boards, read on for alternative job search strategies that have proven successful for me.

1)      Navigate your network for opportunities.

I came upon my current position by way of my husband’s intramural basketball teammates who were physics graduate students.  I told them I was searching for a job at the intersection of science and the community and they said I should check out APS.  I took a look at the current job openings, applied, and here I am today.
I would have never known about the opening at APS, however, if I didn’t let people know that I was searching for a job and what type of position/field I was interested in.  But it is important to distinguish networking for a job from asking for one.  I never asked my friends, family, and colleagues to give me a job or help me secure one; rather, I just communicated to others that I was in the market for a job, provided details on my background and what type of positions I was interested in, and requested that they send information my way if they came upon a suitable position.

2)      Contact your target employer (even if there are no openings advertised).
Since graduating college, I have had to relocate two times.  In both cases, I had a very specific idea of what type of job I wanted to pursue in my new city.  Instead of searching job boards or even asking my network for leads, I went straight to the employers I wanted to work for.  Although none of those I contacted had advertised openings, I found job opportunities.

Here’s how I did it:
a) I knew what I wanted to do and I was specific with my skill set.*
b) I started with a handful of targets, researched them very well, and developed a pitch designed specifically for each target.
c) I found the person with the authority to make a decision or influence others about my employment and arranged a meeting to learn more about the company.
d) During the meetings I listened as much as I talked—showing true interest and appreciation—and I showcased my strengths and how I could benefit the company when given the opportunity. 
*Contrary to common belief, narrowing my skill set to a specific area did not narrow my employment options.  Employers who were interested in someone with those skills were happy that I reached out to them, and those who didn’t need someone with those skills knew of someone who did and pointed me in the right direction.

This job search strategy may be difficult for shy/introverted people or for those who are not comfortable boasting their abilities, but I have found it’s one of the best routes to gaining employment.  If you’re nervous about trying this job search strategy, ask a friend or colleague if you can role-play with them pretending they are the target employer you want to contact and meet.  Practice telling them about yourself and you’ll gain the confidence and poise you need to impress potential employers.

3)      Ask about alternative employment options.
Nearly every job seeker I know is searching for a full-time position.  If you are one of them and you’re reaching the desperation point, it may be time to consider alternative employment options like independent contracting or part-time work.  For me and several of my colleagues, alternative employment led to our first full-time positions.**
  • My first full-time job came by route of a part-time position that started out as a one-time project. 
  • My best friend interned with a company and received an offer of full-time employment following the internship. 
  • Another friend did freelance work for a company who later hired her full-time after the company received several new government contracts. 
**I should provide the disclaimer that we were all young adults at the time and had little financial and family responsibilities—factors that may prevent older job seekers from exploring such opportunities.

If you are open to temporary or part-time employment, you may be able to find an employer who could use the extra help for a time-sensitive project or while an employee is on extended leave.  I wouldn’t lead with this, however, during your job search, but if your dream company claims to be interested in you but doesn’t have a full-time position available at the time, you could try letting them know you’re open to alternative employment options to see if that opens a door.
(Note that I do not consider unpaid internships or volunteer work alternative employment options.  While they do provide exposure to a company and work experience, I do not know anyone whose unpaid work has evolved into a paid position.)
If you have an alternative job search strategy that’s proven successful, please share it with the community in the comments section of this post.  Let’s work together to advance our colleagues’ careers!