Finding Your Niche -Part 2

4.  Identify workplaces where your dream job might exist

Hopefully, you’ve started talking to people about what you dream of doing.   If so, you’ve figured out that they work in a variety of settings  and what you want to do is done in a variety of settings–maybe in government, nonprofits, small businesses, educational institutions.  Hopefully, your interviews have given you the flavor of how the job might be different, depending on the setting.  Although some settings may appeal more than others, based on what you’ve learned from your interviews, try to withhold judgement for now and get a sense of pro’s and cons’s of each setting.  You may be saying “I already know the two places in my area where I want to work,” and you may be absolutely on-target, but in this job market, and as someone who is shifting into a new career path, you may want to know not just the most hotly contested job arenas, but also the smaller, related arenas where you might have an easier time getting your foot in the door.

Action:  Here’s where you get to do some research.  You can start with the Occupational Outlook Handbook: http://www.bls.gov/oco/     This will give you a national perspective on the growth in jobs in your interest area as well as some suggestions on where these jobs exist.  Next, you can look up those settings in your geographic area.   As you search websites, look at mission statements, annual reports, strategic objectives. Make files for youself of this kind of background information.  Next, look at organizational charts and find the names and contact information of the folks heading up the departments in which your dream job could exist.  Add this to your files.  Review this information for each organization and ask yourself,  what you might have to contribute.  What problem can your unique experience help them solve?  Write down those ideas as well.  Prioritize the places that most appeal to you and where you have a rock-solid idea of where you fit and what you offer.

5.  Network, network, network

This is where you ask everyone you know who they know.  You’re now looking for links to people in your prioritized organizations and to people in the specific organizational units where you’d like to work.   If your network leads to the executives there, great Hold that information for step 7.  If it leads to others within the organization, that’s your starting place.  What’s important is knowing who is who!  You want to be sure you understand what the organization needs to move forward so that you can demonstrate how you can meet that need. Most importantly, You want to establish rapport and try to start a relationship with someone within each organization.

Action:  Use your contacts as referrals to set up a round of informational interviews.   Ask for no more than 20 minutes and keep to that timeframe.   This time your questions should be specific to the organization.  You use this information to clarify what you learned in your web research, especially about goals, objectives and obstacles.    Try to identify an interest of your interviewee that gives you an excuse to follow up periodically–an article on team-building if they mentioned a challenging team situation or a website on ski conditions if that is an avocation of theirs.Be sure to send a thank you note to each interviewee immediately after each meeting.

6.  Identify a problem you can help the employer solve

This can be a double edged sword, so craft it carefully!  You need to demonstrate how your experience makes you the perfect person to help the organization move forward without coming across as a know-it-all who is insensitive to this unique organization’s needs and culture.  Especially if you are an older worker, you need to be sure you don’t feed the stereotype of some employers that you are vested in last decade’s solutions!

Action:  What you’re really selling is your experience with a wide range of approaches to a particular problem.  You need to craft 3-6 talking points that cover the following aspects:  State clearly the problem the organization is trying to address.  If you’re unsure, ask a question that helps clarify the issue from the organization’s perspective.   Next, describe briefly but specifically how your  experience with other organizations gives you a “20-thousand-foot perspective” which offers fresh strategies to the experts within the organization.    You should also be ready to describe your ability to follow through masterfully once the best approach is selected.

7.  Find out who has the power to hire you and talk to them

Use the rapport and relationship you’ve set up to leverage the next meeting with the person who could hire you.  A recommendation from staff or someone in your network can give you a real advantage over someone cold-calling the organization!!  Although it’s a scary prospect, in reality, it should be less scary than a job interview–you’ve skirted the competition by coming to the organization with your unique talent and the service you can provide before anyone else has been interviewed.  Maybe even before a job description has been written.  There are no set interview questions to respond to.  You have the opportunity to set the agenda for the meeting.  If you’re prepared, this is a wonderful opportunity to highlight your abilities.

Action:  Do some more research on the interests and responsibilities of the person you’re going to meet.  Review  what you want to say with your contact.  Remember, it’s in their interest for you to come across well!  Listen to their feedback about tone– formal/informal, key phrases, buzzwords, any hot issues you should avoid.  Tailor your resume to the job you’re shooting for.  Consider bringing an electronic or paper portfolio that demonstrates your past experience visually.

During your interview, although you have your talking points prepared, give your prospective employer time to speak (aim for 50-50 like a real conversation).  Note the terms that he/she uses and include them in your response. Try to listen for where his/her interest lies. Focus your comments there, even if it takes you off-script.

After you’ve made your most important points, you need to be prepared to say why you want to be a part of this specific organization.  Lastly, you must ask to be hired.  Crazy, huh?  Just something simple like, “Given all we’ve discussed today, can you offer me this position?”  Be prepared to wait for a response.  Ask when you can follow up. Send a thank-you note!