Outsmarting the Job Paradox & Landing My Dream Job at Age 23
You apply for a job but are rejected because you lack experience. However, you can’t get experience without a job. This is the Job Paradox. Like so many other recent graduates, this was the unfortunate situation I found myself in.
Most of my peers graduated from Bentley University with jobs awaiting them. Their job offers were in place because of Bentley connections or summer internships. I hadn’t even bothered to apply for jobs my senior year because my plan was to buy a one-way ticket to Asia and backpack for five months.
When I returned to New Jersey in November 2016, I started my job search while living at home with my parents and younger brother. Most of my college friends had already been working for a couple of months and I felt left behind. I desperately wanted to start my career.
Knowing what I wanted to do with my life was the easy part. Finding a job would be tough.
My goal was to work in the “better business movement” at a social impact consulting firm or a B Corp. For those of you that have no idea what I’m referring to, see the Social Impact Umbrella below.
And if you’d like to read more about this macro business movement and why I care, check out my article B Corps: A Quiet Revolution That is Changing The World.
My passion for this movement is palpable. I felt confident it wouldn’t take me long to get hired in this field. I went to a top undergraduate business school, I had leadership experience on my resume, I graduated magna cum laude and, I worked every summer throughout college at impressive internships. Of course it wouldn’t take long for me to get a job!
I quickly learned how wrong I was!
I faced two major obstacles. To begin with, the industry is extremely small. Secondly, I didn’t have any direct experience.
Before I could even begin to address these roadblocks, I needed to find a way to earn some money. While my parents had opened their doors to me, I still needed an income while figuring out how to kick-start my career. Instead of getting a 9–5 job, I began consulting as a digital marketer and brander.
I found all of my consulting clients through connections. One happy client usually led to another. They included a local bakery, a conservative politician, a liberal politician, a pharmaceutical marketing company, and two non-profits. Most of the time I worked remotely from my dining room and I made my own hours and billed for my time.
While digital marketing isn’t my passion, it’s a marketable skill that paid well and gave me time to find my dream job. I’d work enough to make my clients happy and spend the rest of my time strategizing on how to get employed in the better business world and start my true career. I probably averaged 60% of my week (weekends included) consulting and the other 40% job hunting.
Hurdle #1: Breaking Into The Industry
The industry I sought to work in is small. This meant that there weren’t many jobs being posted on job boards waiting to be filled. I had to get creative if I wanted to find my in. I learned that you can’t expect opportunities to fall into your lap, you must hunt them down or create them.
I became a student of the better business movement. I made sure I knew all the influencers and thought leaders, and once they were identified, I followed them on every platform.
I learned all the jargon, read all the industry books, listened to relative podcasts and subscribed to endless newsletters. If something was going on in the industry, I knew about it.
Once I had my list of the key industry leaders, I not only followed them on social media, I engaged with them.
I would tweet different B Corps that were doing great work, and to my surprise, they’d respond. Multi-million dollar companies like Warby Parker, Hootsuite, and Stonyfield, would take the time to talk to me. ME!
You can see more examples of twitter engagement here.
The more I engaged with companies, the more followers I got. Now whenever I post something on Twitter, I get an average of five likes, two retweets, and a new follower. People are now turning towards @BWHopen for my perspective on the industry.
I also connected with some powerful influencers on LinkedIn. If I read a profile on someone, I would message them on LinkedIn and let them know that how I felt about the work they were doing. Almost every time I got a response. I would start a conversation and a couple of times, this led to face-to-face meetings.
I had coffee with someone in upper management at Grameen America and another time I had an hour long conversation with a managing partner at Monitor Institute (Deloitte’s social impact branch). This is how connections and opportunities are made… not through an HR department or job board.
I never asked for a job, just advice. People like talking about themselves and are often flattered that someone starting off wants their opinion. I now have top industry leaders as LinkedIn connections and these influencers often read my posts and recognize my name.
I worked my way onto important people’s radars without having any work experience in the industry.
Show Your Worth
I was doing more than giving praise to the companies and leaders that I respected; I was providing value.
Here’s an example.
I quickly became a huge supporter of Lift Economy, a social impact consulting firm out in San Francisco.
I had reached out to the founder on LinkedIn and started building a rapport with him. I saw that Lift Economy was launching an incubator and used this as an opportunity to show my worth and provide value for the company.
I did a deep analysis of the company and noted opportunities for them to grow. I put my suggestions into a slide deck.
Even if they were already on their way to implementing my ideas (or they hated all of them), this exercise was a great way to get their attention.
Unfortunately, Lift Economy wasn’t interested in my ideas and other than a few more exchanges with the CEO, this turned out to be a dead-end for me. However, I ended up using this template with other companies. This became a valuable way to stand out and prove I was a hard worker and knew my stuff.
It’s a bold approach, but a necessary one when you’re trying to find employment.
Hurdle #2: Lack of Experience
While I was now well connected, I still lacked experience. I was networking, but I kept finding myself getting to the third round of interviews and never quite crossing the finish line. My passion and connections only got me so far. I needed experience. But how do you get experience without a job? #JobParadox!
I eventually stopped relying on others and decided to create my own industry experience.
I began writing an article series about B Corps. Since most businesses outside of the better business world have never heard of B Corps, I used this an opportunity to become an advocate and educator. I reached out to my alma mater and asked if I could write an article series about this cool business movement for their blog. They said yes.
I contacted the top B Corps in the world and asked to interview them for this *very official* article series. I was able to arrange a visit to Greyston Bakeryand BBMG, I also interviewed CEOs of B Corps around the US. I was providing value for the company (publicity) and making impressive connections as well as building my resume.
Maybe even more importantly, I began to see the industry from the inside.
I published my articles on Bentley’s blog, my own personal site, LinkedIn, and Medium. I’d tweet quotes from my articles and share my content as much as possible. I ended up connecting with other millennials- all around the world- who were also passionate about better business. This led me to start a networking group with another B Corp advocate in Amsterdam.
My personal network probably doubled in size thanks to my article series.
The next thing I did was reach out to universities. I emailed the chairs of business departments at over 15 New Jersey universities. Before I knew it, I was asked to be a guest lecturer in business classes and law classes, to teach students (most of who were my age) about social impact.
I finally had experience in the industry. It might not have been consulting or sales, but it was education. My resume now had this on it:
I had created my own work experience.
Accepting My Dream Job
In summary, this is what I did to beat the #JobParadox:
- Find a job that gives you flexibility.
- Work 40+ hours a week creating your experience.
- Build your network and personal brand.
- Use all social media platforms to promote your work and engage with influencers.
- Ask industry leaders out to coffee and seek their advice.
- Don’t give up.
- Contact me!
It all paid off.
Last week, I accepted a job at Inspiring Capital. A female founded B Corp that has developed training programs and consulting services that infuse business insights in the pursuit of higher purpose and impact.
The company has only been around four years and is already a powerhouse in the industry. They have tremendous opportunities for growth and I’m looking forward to contributing.
If I had applied to Inspiring Capital in November 2016, there is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t have qualified for a first round interview.
It took time, but I successfully developed my brand, my experience, and my network. This past year, I often felt like I was on one side of a glass door, watching the social impact movement from just out of reach. It turns out, with patience and persistence, you can pry that door open yourself.
Be proactive by having your presence felt and your voice heard. Your dream job is there for you. So, what are you waiting for?