“I’m looking for a new job. Can you help?”

The inquiry I get the most, from friends and strangers,  is some form of: “I’m looking for a job. Wondering if you can offer some guidance?”
Yes, yes I can.

Job Search Guidance

Host a comfy event

Have a dinner party with people from all walks of life, people from different circles, with connected, innovative, resourceful, out of box folks, and share your search at some point during the evening. Maybe don’t greet guests at the door with, “Hiii! Welcome! I’m looking for a job, do you know of anything?!” Share the search over eats, as you’re playing board games, while you’re digesting on the couches.
Especially for those that struggle with asking for help, this is an easy, fun way to do something nice and of value for others, which often makes “the ask” easier. If you don’t cook, order in/cater. Play up your strengths — create a killer playlist, light a fire in the fireplace, votive-up your space so that it looks like a Tinkerbell convention, draw a personalized doodle for each guest.


Share your search, both 1 on 1 and widely, e.g. an email to someone and on Facebook. People can’t help you if they don’t know you need help.

Be specific

When you share, don’t share “I’m looking for a job.” Be specific (thank you improv for teaching me the gift of specificity and detail! Tangent: take an improv class).
Instead of just “I’m looking for a job” —
  • Doing what?
  • What’s your dream company?
  • What’s your ideal job?
  • What skills do you have and want to put to use?
  • What are your interests that maybe don’t seem like they’re job related but are still important cause they’re what makes you you?
  • What’s job-important to you? (commute, benefits, time off, etc etc; this blog post of mine might help you brainstorm)
You want to stay on people’s radar in an unobtrusive way and be memorable. Especially people like me who get this ask all the time. You want to be top of mind next time I see a job opening or hear someone say they’re looking to hire a XYZ.
I make lists for specificity. You may journal, draw, vision board. Doesn’t matter how you do it, just do it. The universe has a weird, magical way of conspiring to get you what you want and where you want to go when you tell it what you want.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable

Looking for a job, especially if you were fired, if you’re unemployed, if you’ve been looking for a long time, can be gut and heart wrenching. The upside to wrenching is that people don’t want you to be there and they want to lift you up. Let them. You do this by saying help, I’m scared, I don’t know what to do.
If I can share that I’ve thrown cookies in the garbage out of disgust for eating so many, only to fish said cookies out twenty minutes later out of not wanting to be “wasteful” (right) and eating them, you can share some you’ness.
Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s strength. Strength that others respond to. That resonates. Take Brene’s word for it.


Be a magnet, not a trap

Get good at small talk and conversation. Yes I know, small talk blows. But it’s not going away. Find a reaction other than annoyance or “What I do doesn’t define me!!!!” when asked, “So, what do you do?” Be the person to whom I clamor, whom I remember, whom I want to support, not the person who traps me by the baby carrots and ranch dip whom I need to escape. Be able to answer this question.
Again, an improv class will help. You learn how to be interesting, how to value yourself, and how to be someone I want to be around (hint: be a good listener, don’t be the person waiting for me to finish talking so you can talk, give and take, contribute to the conversation, don’t stand along the back wall, be front and center, stop shrinking).
Another way to practice small talk? Walking a dog. Oh my goodness, the number of people who stop to chat. And it can be as long or as short, as in depth or as surface as you want. There’s no “I have to impress this person!” stress. You’re talking about not-you. You’re not in a suit. You’re not trying to meet the one or get a client or find a job. You immediately have something to talk about. And conversation tangents come seamlessly and furiously, and soon you’re sharing that you’re looking for a job in the food-industry, preferably in Logan Square, close to home, and the person who stopped you is giving you her card cause her friend just opened up a restaurant and is looking for front of house help. 
If you don’t have a dog, not a problem. I don’t have a dog. Guess what you can do? Foster a dog. Take a dog for the day. For a weekend. On an overnight. On a field trip. Rescues are often looking for temporary breaks and relief for their puppers from the chaotic life of multiple animals living in a shared space and are grateful for any time you can give. I foster through One Tail At a Time, Alive Rescue, and Paws. And had one of the most memorable moments of my life through being a Foster Mom. Hot tip: put an “I’m adoptable!” bandana on your pupper. Makes the conversation even easier, not to mention makes you look like big-hearted person who cares and does good. Which you are.

Figure out your superpowers

Send an email to a few folks from your life, from different circles — work, church, college, childhood, family, kickball league — asking them what they think your superpowers are (what you’re good at, when you light up, what comes naturally to you, when do you excitedly talk with your hands, what do you stay in on Friday night to work on, what others ask you for help with) and what jobs they could see you in. Eye opening, not to mention a nice ego boost. There are so many things I do that, because they come so easily and seem so commonsensical, I didn’t really value or view them as skills. It was only when I saw how others struggled and/or didn’t know to do XYZ that I realized what I had going for me.
Define superpowers for them and as a thoughtful, helpful gesture, give them a few examples of their superpowers —
  • “Your ability to break down the complicated personal finance realm is so helpful and admirable.”
  • “The way you can cook without a recipe and with a smile on your face; I aspire! I get so stressed and unfriendly. ‘DON’T TALK TO ME, I’M CONCENTRATING!'”
  • “You make people feel so comfortable, so heard, so welcome, within seconds of meeting them.”
  • “Your excel spreadsheet wizardry is en fuego. I know that may not sound ‘sexy’ but truly, it’s a gift.”

Get a (appropriate) leg up

If/when you see a job you want, hit up LinkedIn and see if you have any connections who have connections at said job; then, if appropriate — they actually know you and would feel comfortable doing so — ask if they could put in a good word for you. It puts me in a really awkward position if you ask me to recommend you yet our relationship is that you follow me on Instagram or we’ve collaborated previously and I had to continuously remind you to respond to emails, complete tasks, be an adult.

Make it easy

Speaking of awkward, strive for the opposite. Make your ask easy on the person you’re asking.
The specifics thing.

Avoid putting people up against “Drop what you’re doing and do this now!” deadlines. Hopefully if there’s time-sensitivity to an ask, you’re able to be respectful of someone’s time and share the deadline that’s down the road, not tomorrow. That said, if you just heard about something and it’s due tomorrow!, you can still ask. Just explain the scenario, apologize for the “Do this now!” requirement, and share that that’s not how you usually work.

If you ask people for a favor or to “get coffee,” put thought into it, be cognizant that they may get a lot of such requests, and don’t take it personally if they say no. “Can we get coffee at [name of coffeehouse near the person you’re asking] at [a few date and time options]?” is a much better choice than “Can we grab coffee?” or heaven forbid “Can we grab coffee at [name of coffeehouse that’s convenient for you]?”

Follow the instructions in a job posting. If it says send your materials to Barb in HR, do that. Don’t send me your resume and cover letter and ask me to do something with them. Send ’em to Barb and then send me a note that you applied and an ask if I could put in a good word. Oh, quick backup — before you send it to Barb, check with me about name-dropping my name in the cover letter. A la “I heard about this position via Saya Hillman of Mac & Cheese Productions℠…” 

Ask me if you can use me as a reference. I am appalled at the number of people who put me down as one and don’t tell me. Me stumbling on the phone during a reference check or me being annoyed/clueless when I get an email reference check is no bueno. Here is an actual ask I got, one I think is a great example of how to make an ask — short but informative, an action step for me, and a clear ask. The number of long-winded emails I get where I don’t know what the ask is is way too high.

Get out there in non-horrible ways

So that you’re getting out there, meeting people, learning about opportunities, sharing your situation, go to events and do activities. Even ones that aren’t job related. Sometimes, especially if they’re not job-related.
A networking happy hour sounds horrible to me. Thus why you will never find me at a networking happy hour. I won’t be comfortable thus I won’t be myself and it takes a lot of energy to wear a mask and be someone else.
Choose an event because you’ve always wanted to check out that venue, cause you know folks you’ve been wanting to catch up with or meet will be there, cause the activity sounds interesting, cause it’s in a neighborhood you have yet to explore.
I attended an event because the headline caught my eye — “Pig roast at an abandoned convent in Pilsen.” So much yes. I was single at the time. I was (am always) looking for new Cheese-Its. But I didn’t go to snare a husband or a client; I went to listen to bluegrass music and stuff my face in a secret venue in an area of the city that intrigued me. Guess who walked away with a new business partner and income branch on the ol’ Mac & Cheese tree? I somehow found myself chatting with the head-honcho of the event and when he discovered what I do — connect others, curate events, possess a fabulous space — and what I don’t do — cook — he suggested we buddy up and do some together’ness which is how “underground supper clubs” became a line-item come tax time.
If you’ve been wanting to take guitar, pottery, or bookbinding, now’s the time. Do something you want to do while also increasing your network and having a new experience you may be able to learn from or reference, in say, a job interview. Yes, curling up on your couch with your pet and Netflix, especially when it’s cold, snowing, rainy sounds good. But snuggling Fluffy and Walter White cannot help you find a job.
Be experience focused, not results focused. Go to the thing not to meet your soulmate or find an investor, but to eat good food or listen to an engaging speaker. You set yourself up for disappointment when you head into something with thoughts like “I have to pass out fifteen business cards” or “I hope I get a book deal out of this.”

Events/organizations that get a Mac & Cheese Thumbs Up

*denotes worldwide, not just Chicago
These are places that are good to go for the experience. Don’t be a wallflower or hide in the bathroom, there’s a high chance “results” will come as well. Friends. Clients. Opportunities. Open doors.
The top join choices I’ve made as an adult as far as netting me quality personal and professional relationships and enhancing soft skills
  • Chicago-area chapter of the Boston College alumni group (my alma mater) — created BC Cares, a branch of the chapter that brings together alumni to do community service. I cannot believe how willing fellow Eagles were to help me simply because of our Chestnut Hill connections. Hot tip: see if the career center at your alma mater offer alumni resources, even if you don’t live in the area anymore. Webinars, databases, counseling. You probably plunked down a good amount of change for your degree; keep the benefits alive and kicking.
  • Chicago Cares — bounced around from project to project for a year until finally settling on one and being involved with that one for five’ish years, including becoming its coordinator
  • improv — I went through the year and a half program at io (formerly Improv Olympic)
  • guitar class at Old Town School — very little to do with actually learning guitar and more to do with the people I met
  • Team in Training’s marathon training group — being scared as it was my first marathon and I’m not a “runner”, I appreciated TNT’s structure and support and made some wonderful connections. Surefire path to quick bonding when you’re chafing with people week after week at 7am on a Saturday.

I have a gaggle of upcoming offerings applicable to career’ness

  • I Can’t: Land My Dream Job
  • Blueprint Board Workshop: Your Visual Roadmap for 2019
  • I Can’t: Figure Out What I Want to Do with My Life
  • Life of Yes℠ Sleepaway Camp
  • Mac & Cheese Productions Mingler

The first three are obviously career-oriented.

The last two, less obvious but have proven time and time again to be springboards to career goodness. At Camp, you gift yourself uninterrupted time to figure out what you want, your priorities, what you can and need to let go, whom you can and need to let go, and actionable steps to living the life you want. At a Mingler, you sit on a couch in between someone who is also job searching and has a gaggle of resource suggestions and someone whom is best buds with a person who works where you want to work, and you hear a gaggle of people share recommendations of off the beaten path activities and groups that you can’t wait to get home to google.

All this is to say, I encourage a grey area job search rather than a black and white one. You never know what goodness will fall in your lap when you choose the less obvious choice and open yourself to “Ohhhh, I never thought about that…”


Stick out

Too often people only go to offerings that have to do with their field. Who do you think is going to be memorable? The videographer in a room full of other videographers or the videographer in a room full of teachers, techies, or digital marketers?
Be the breath of fresh air.
You can, and should, also stick out by taking on leadership roles, roles that put you center stage and in the spotlight, a la what I did with BC Cares and Chicago Cares.

Go solo

This is one of those “I didn’t realize this was a superpower until I saw your ‘Oh my god, that sounds horrible!’ reaction” to my love of doing things solo. Counterintuitively, I actually find that it’s easier to meet people without Best Friend or a peer at my side. Is it scary to walk into a room not knowing anyone, especially if everyone is deep in conversation and you have to find somewhere to insert yourself without being a creep or an annoyance? YES. Are we in middle-school anymore? NO. So chances are that you won’t be Mean Girl’ed or bullied if you join a circle of chatters.
“Hi, my name is ______. I don’t know anyone here so am introducing myself to folks” works like a charm. Everyone knows what it feels like to have social-anxiety and those with hearts want to mitigate all signs of such angst, so if they’re people worth your time, they’ll “Hey there! Nice to meet you” without hesitation.
Hot tip: if you’re not feeling breaking into a group, find someone else who also appears to be solo. They’ll be so grateful to have someone to talk to.

Invest in yourself and value others

Hire someone to help you. Then you don’t have to feel weird asking for help. You’re paying them to help you. I have a few career’y lovelies on my Service Provider Referral List on my FAQ page. I consult.

Find & follow the connectors

These are both analog people in your life and digital people in your life, your friends and those whom you admire but don’t actually know.
Newsletters that post interesting job openings —
I also post job openings in my newsletter and on social; sign up, go through the archiveslike me on FB, and/or search/follow “#smatterings” on Twitter.

Say thank you

Write thank you notes. Email works. Snail mail is even better. Flowers for Dreams is best.
I mean, no need to send a bouquet if someone simply recommends a book or a website to you. But if you get a job because of someone? Up that thank you game.

I’ve been appalled at the lack of any response when I offer guidance. I spent 30ish minutes once answering someone’s “My dad is looking for work; can you look at his resume and offer some advice?” email and heard nada from her. Guess who’s not getting more support from me down the road and who landed on the you know what list?

Noodle around these websites

Go fight win

Hopefully there’s a few helpful nuggets in here for you as you job search.

If you have any to share, comment below; I always love learning from you. And of course, if you ever get a job that you want to scream from the rooftops about, excited screams are always welcome here!