Looking for a Job? Start a Company
If you're looking for a new job, you're going to have a hard time finding one if you don't already have a job.
During the Great Recession, I heard from several unemployed people who were having trouble finding a job. They often experienced the "if you haven't been able to find a job in six months, there must be something wrong with you" attitude. A few of them even heard it outright.
Never mind that you couldn't sell your home in the worst economy in anyone's recent memory. Never mind there were very few jobs in your field in that city. Never mind that unemployment was 10% and more. If you can't find a job despite all that, there must be something wrong with you!
This coming from people who were probably one paycheck away from disaster themselves, staring pitilessly at people in need, and whispering to themselves "there but for the Grace of God go I."
And rather than showing some compassion, and maybe extending a helping hand to someone who's more than qualified, the hiring managers would instead hire the already-employed person from a different company, creating yet one more spot you can't get on the merry-go-round of up yours, ya lousy bum.
I've known several people who have been without work, and when a friend's company is hiring, I have begged, pleaded, badgered, and cajoled until they at least grant an interview with my unemployed friends.
After that, they're on their own. They win or lose that job on their own merits and effort. But sometimes it took some outside pressure just to get them in the door, and it's shameful.
So whenever I speak to a group of job seekers or people just looking to improve their personal brand, I give them this same piece of advice:
You, right now, have a new job. Think of the thing that you're best at, or the thing you want to do. You are now a freelancer in that field.
Start Your Own Company
Better yet, if you can, start a company. Go to your state's Department of State/Secretary of State office, and register a small LLC (limited liability corporation). Buy some business cards on moo.com or VistaPrint.com and create a free website on Squarespace.com or WordPress.com.
Then, start making sales calls on the kinds of companies and department managers you normally want to work for. Pitch them your services for one-off projects, ongoing projects, or even contract work. Offer to pick up their overflow or to help them manage a major project coming up.
But never, ever ask them about a J-O-B job. You don't need it. You're living the portfolio life and you don't want to be tied down to the corporate 9-to-5 in someone else's cubicle.
Department managers absolutely do not want people calling them up asking them for a job. They won't talk to you. They have people whose job it is to screen them from those kinds of calls. You may hear stories of people who said, "Oh, I just called up a company and asked them if they were hiring, and the next thing you know, I got hired!"
But that rarely happens. The only reason we hear about it is because it's so rare. It's like planning your retirement by playing the lottery every week. Sure, someone won the $10 million, but are the odds in your favor enough to spend five bucks a week trying to win?
So don't waste your time asking companies whether they're hiring.
Now You're In Business Development
If you're interested in doing some phone work — and that's what this will take — start cold calling those companies about your new freelance role. Start with the ones you're less interested in working for so you can practice your pitch, and then work up to the top companies on your list.
Connect with these people on LinkedIn and Twitter. Dig up their emails via Google. Reach out to them electronically first, and let them know what you're capable of. A few days later, follow it up with a phone call. Get a face-to-face meeting, and sell them on what they'll get by hiring you.
One of three things will ultimately happen:
1. Absolutely nothing. But you'll have made some great contacts, and you've managed to fill that 6-month gap in your résumé so that smarmy hiring manager won't think you're completely worthless. You owned a business! That means you probably have more experience and are more knowledgeable than many of their staff. Even if you only get a few clients, you earned a little money while you looked for work.
2. You'll get a job. You'll start working for a company, billing them by the hour or project, and eventually they'll say, "You know what? You should just come work for us. It's just easier that way." And just like that, you've got a job again.
3. You'll be successful at it. So successful in fact, that you don't even need their job. Maybe you'll do it so well, you'll make more money than you could ever earn and taking a J-O-B job would actually be a pay cut. I have one friend who started out as a freelance writer while he was job hunting, which turned into a regular gig writing daily articles for a nonprofit newsletter. He turned that into several paid contributions to different websites, and he now has his own published book and he travels the country putting on seminars and weekend trainings. Now, he'll turn down nearly any job offer because his life is better as his own boss, working his own way.
People will tell you that when you lose your job, your new full-time job is your job search.
This is bullshit.
There is nothing more demoralizing and heartbreaking than staring at job boards eight hours a day, wondering why none of those jerks will call you for an interview. You get desperate, and that desperation is screaming out when you show up for your first interview. (And then you wonder why you never got a second one.)
Believe me, I know.
Your new job needs to be your new company, which will give you a chance to earn money and land you in a new position quicker than staring at the job boards. It will let you network with actual decision makers and hiring managers, instead of submitting application after application to soulless "screening software" whose only function it is is to grind up the hearts of the unemployed.
That way, one day, when that now-unemployed hiring manager is calling you, begging you for just one chance, because it's not their fault the economy is so bad. They're good people, no matter what those other heartless people say.
Invite them in for an interview and give them a shot. Be more compassionate than they were.
And if it doesn't work out, take them to a no-agenda coffee, and tell them the story about how you started your own company and got to where you are today.
Erik Deckers is the president of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing agency with clients throughout the United States. He is also the co-author of Branding Yourself, No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine. Erik has been blogging since 1997, and a newspaper humor columnist since 1994. He has written several radio and stage plays, and numerous business articles. Erik was the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL, and now serves on their board of directors.