How To Get A Job In America

Job boards and Craigslist don't work because everybody's already there. Here's where to look, and how to look good, in the (still incredibly rough) job market.

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 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]

Follow Kevin Purdy on Twitter and @fastcompany, too.

Add New Comment


  • Jobs In Nigeria

    Insightful tips that can help Nigerians to get a job. It should work in any economy

  • David Lallawmawma

    I wish i could work in America... Im 20s years old... I can drive any kind of Vehicle, Computer etc..

  • 1Bob_Prosen1

    As a former Fortune 500 executive I’ve hired hundreds of employees. Including many recent college grads.
    The key to getting hired, whether there’s an opening or not, is to customize your approach. If not, you won’t stand out or get an interview. So stop blasting out countless run-of-the-mill resumes. Most never make it through the automated screening process and even less make it into the hands of the hiring manager.
    Your target is not HR! It's the hiring manager that matters most.
    Companies hire people to solve problems (both positive and negative). Your ability to uncover your target employers problems and position yourself as the solution is what will get you hired even when there are no open postings.
    Bob ProsenCEOThe Prosen Center for Business Advancementhttp://www.mycareer...
    Read more:

  • Chandre Absalon

    im 19 looking job usa any vacansies i will me asap 0789845475.

  • Active Hossain05

    I am looking job in America in a small business or garden or a house.

  • ujjawal

    hii, sir i will come in usa in purpose of work i will get any job in usa pls hlp me my cntct nmbr is 8126214716

  • John Lloyd

    I certainly agree with Connie and David. We should be looking for work rather than a job. We should learn to use or market our skills. Volunteering is a great way to show your skills while still honing it to its maximum potential. Great article Kevin.

  • Connie Glover

    Such excellent advice! I've been preaching similar points through my philosophy of "Work vs. Jobs." Find a company or organization where you can do good work and get paid for it, even if it's not a conventional job; or create your own work! Do everything that Kevin suggests here, and you won't have to be worn down by the Key Word Match method of finding employees that many companies and their respective recruiters and H.R. personnel are still practicing.

  • David Kaiser, PhD

    I'm with you Connie, look for Work, not a Job. The Job is a dying concept, due to increased costs and risks for hiring, firing, and feeding, and the need for greater flexibility. Learn how to market your skills and you will never go hungry. The ability to find work, business development, is to the 21st century what basic literacy was to the early 20th century, a skill you can't do without. 

    Forget job boards, they suck, and no one likes to use them. Get out in the world and do your talent, even if it means volunteering, interning, or using your skill in the context of another job. That feels good, too and it makes a difference Flinging more resumes into the void doesn't help anyone. Go meet people, too, and help them to find Work. Now you have grateful friends. Yay. Take risks, be authentic, the right people will respond warmly, the wrong people will hate it, but they're, you know, the WRONG people, they don't matter to you. Go forth and be extraordinary!

    David Kaiser, PhDExecutive Coachwww.DarkMatterConsulting.comHeroes and Heroines have a Guide:Arthur had MerlinLuke had Obi-WanBuffy had GilesYou have MeTime to be Extraordinary!