President Obama wants to spend $447 billion to boost the economy. The American Jobs Act will cut taxes for employers and most families, build roads and renovate schools, and provide unnamed assistance for the unemployed. But it remains uncertain if any of that is going to lead the jobless to rewarding gigs that make full use of their talents.
We all know that finding a job these days isn’t easy, and it isn’t much like how your parents found jobs. Depending on how you count it, the unemployment rate is stubbornly stuck somewhere between 9 and 16 percent. To get ahead, and get in the right slot, you need to think beyond searching Monster.com and showing up with a suit and tie. In 2012, you’ll need to build your brand, become the kind of consummate networker you never thought you were, and think differently about work.
Here’s advice from the front lines of the battle for the next paycheck.
Join a coworking space
Coworking is an open-plan office space where remote workers and freelancers gather and reap the camaraderie benefits of an office without the Dilbert-esque drawbacks. More and more cities are seeing coworking spots (or more informal Jelly get-togethers) rise up. Stopping in and making friends not only gets you away from your pets and your way-too-close fridge, it can give you rare, unique leads among the small businesses and startups that are the best sources for jobs.
A new overview on coworking and where it’s headed, "Working in the UnOffice," is peppered with stories of small firms picking up workers from within their coworking space, or through contacts made around the coffee. The founders of Integrum Technologies tell the authors that they’ve hired 10 people out of the Gangplank coworking space. "[These hires were] freelancers or individuals who [came] in and started to be part of the community, which made it very easy for us to identify their character and their strength, to see if they were a good fit on our team."
Run your own tiny PR firm
Steve Rubel, executive vice president with public relations firm Edelman, sees the first step in "uncovering the hidden job market" as becoming the consummate networker, in addition to having the decent static web profiles covered above. Dig in to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Google+. Engage thoughtfully with people in the positions you want to be in, Rubel suggests, and look for industry events where you can advance your relationship beyond short pings.
In the meantime, identify the thing you know better than anybody else, and start working it. Write blog posts, preferably on a service where others can find and share your work, like Tumblr. Write for other sites, Rubel says, and point to your own blog address, and think beyond words—use graphics and video when possible. In other words, create a small but smart brand around yourself and the thing you want to do, and you’ll stand out from those who just want to be hired for a job, any job.
Embrace dead industries, take temp jobs, ignore your parents
A controversial blogger on Gen-Y careers and culture and founder of the Brazen Careerist recruiting network, Penelope Trunk isn’t so much contrarian as sick of the usual, ineffective advice. Scouring work-related websites? You’re better off spending your time making friends who might know about jobs. Escaping into grad school? Oh, come on.
Trunk’s suggestions for those who feel like they’ve looked everywhere:
- Look in dead industries. If you’ve just lost a newspaper gig, you might constrain yourself to the major news chains and big independents. But consider where you can get in on the other side of the media equation. Independent web ad network Federated Media, for instance, hires journalists to do their marketing, as they know the storytelling terrain. Know the market, and you put yourself on the right side of a fault line.
- Take temp jobs. "People are looking at jobs that used to be considered terrible because they were "dead-end jobs," Trunk says, "but every job is a dead-end job in today’s workforce. Nobody really climbs the ladder." So consider how a security guard, nanny, or part-time tutoring position keeps money coming in, prevents gaps on a resume, and gives you the flexibility to hunt other jobs. "The only stigma of these jobs these days is that your parents don’t brag about you."
Be a mercenary for local small business—and forget about job titles
Beyond the web and tech-connected coworking spaces, consider what’s available right around the corner, says workplace author and speaker Alexandra Levit, author of the forthcoming Blind Spots: 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. Small businesses are where the jobs are, and "the key here is relying less on the (web) and focusing more on word of mouth, as that’s how small business owners hire."
And forget about job titles, as the nature of everyone’s work has become more collaborative and immersive. "Any way you can underscore your ability to work hard, impress customers, and mobilize a small team to get results quickly will earn you points," Levit says. Be sure to convey a team player attitude."
Cover your social media and online bases
If you’re eminently employable, people will find you one way or another. But there’s no reason not to give those arriving at your online home something new and slick to check out.
- Put your volunteer experience on LinkedIn. The online resume/headhunting service even created a new "Volunteer Experience and Causes" section, noting that some 41% of workers considered their volunteer experience as valuable as their paid gigs, and 20% of hiring managers made a hiring decision based on volunteer work.
- Search out words within a job, not the job itself, on Twitter and other networks, Trunk suggests. "Non-profit marketing" is a big tent that garners a lot of ads and me-too sites. "Increase in donations" or "fundraising campaign" gets you closer to people who actually do the work you’re interested in. It’s usually pretty easy to ping them, then move the conversation over to email or other mediums.
- Flank your opponents by reaching back to the original streaming media: RSS. It's a feed that almost every site puts out (including Twitter feeds), so you can monitor job posting boards, news from the companies you're scoping out, and the blogs of people you want to connect to. Good magazine's community board has a great guide to tracking job boards with Google Reader, and take note that Reader can monitor nearly any page, RSS feed or not.
- Run a few Google searches on your name, look yourself up on Twitter, and do a basic online background check on yourself. One handy trick: pretend someone whose very name you loathe is applying to work for you. Run all the kinds of searches, checks, and look-ups you would use on them to run them into the ground, then turn the same tools on yourself. More and more, your potential employer is doing the exact same thing.
[Images: 1930s-40s in Color on Flickr]