It took many jobs to get me to my current position as CEO. Right out of school, I held four different jobs in the first five years, and each of them was very different. All classified broadly under “mechanical engineering.” It wasn’t until the fifth job that I realized what I liked and where I fit. From that point on, changing jobs became less frequent and I began a very satisfying career that ultimately lead to the creation of IPS. Recently, an entry-level individual connected with me via LinkedIn for some guidance. Advising this person prompted me to write this post. Here are my suggestions:
Establish Your Network
By far the most useful tool, starting in school and continuing throughout your career, is networking. Try “mining” your network and extended network. That is, people you know, university relations, folks connected to you on LinkedIn, etc. Doing this one-to-one and not through an open social network job posting makes the conversation more private. If you are currently employed, you don’t want word getting back to your current employer that you are searching for something different. Ask folks in your network not just about their places of employment but for help from their extended networks as well. Posted job openings are good but utilizing your network gives you the “in” you need. If you can afford the risk, consider contacting a Contract Services (temporary employment agency) company. This can be a way in the door to doing what you want. Lots of companies bring staff in under a contract and then hire them later. We do this on occasion at IPS.
Broaden Your Connections
Face to face networking can help. If there are any local professional societies or tech oriented “meet ups” in your area, invest your time in a few. Will it take time? Yes, but you need to broaden your network. In our area on Long Island, there are several organizations (LaunchPad, LIFT, etc.) built around social interaction among both startups and more mature companies. Such organizations may both be “in the market” for younger professionals (especially if you are personable, high energy and creative)… because the staffing cost is lower. If you are associated with any US universities, reach out to the Career Placement Office. Also, networking with professors could prove to be very beneficial.
The Right Time
Don’t minimize the value of being the right caller at the right time. When you make a connection where you feel like you bonded well, don’t give up when you get a “no jobs at this time” response. Keep reaching out periodically, maybe every month or so. Make sure the contact knows you are still interested. The next time you reach out may just be the right time.
Consider the possibility of relocation if you can. Opening up your options to several geographical locations will increase your chances of landing a gig. If you choose to limit your search geographically, try to look in places where there are a number of companies you can apply to. Relocating to a “target rich” environment means you may well find your next job more easily.
Understanding the Current Labor Market in Your Field
Accept as a near-absolute fact that you most likely will not be at one company for your entire career. Consider yourself extremely lucky if you are not forced into changing companies every 5 years, or even more frequently. The days of working in one company or organization (no matter how large) for your entire career are on the wane. The bottom line is that your job security comes from having marketable experience (and the right behavioral attributes) that can be readily translated into your next gig.
If you already have a job in a domain that is outside your interest, understand that it may be challenging to get your first gig in your desired field. Your experience may not have as much inherent value when changing the nature of your work in design, engineering or any other area. Keep up the search! Once you have experience in your area of interest, it will be easier to move around within the product development world. As such, you might need to take a riskier position than you might normally prefer (i.e. working in a startup or smaller company). If you can afford to take the risk, it is more important to land a position doing what you want to do than to focus on latching onto a big, brand name company (no matter how appealing that might sound). Establish experience doing the work that suits your interests. Don’t limit your search to just the big name companies! Search for the work you want, instead of the big name job.
You alone are responsible for your career. Don’t give up. Build up and then mine your network. Eventually, you can get the kind of work you want. It takes time, technique and persistence. Best of Luck!