In her latest feature, EN guest editor Ruth Carter says that to get a job when the industry picks up, you will have to stand out
If you are waking up today without a job, you can take comfort, albeit in the cold form, that you are not alone. A recent AEO, AEV and ESSA Talent Impact Study estimated that 44% of permanent employees in our industry lost their jobs in 2020. That is beyond staggering.
So, when it comes to finding the next step in your career, while you personally are a naturally brilliant star twinkling brighter than anyone else in the shining firmament, there is a high possibility that there will be one or two other naturally brilliant shining stars also out there looking at the same jobs as you.
The first thing to say is ‘don’t give up on this industry’. All indications are that, when it comes back, it will come back hard, fast and strong. And you want to be a part of that sort of industry. Nothing compares to the highs and lows of our business – it is in our blood. I remember clearly someone telling me, many years ago, that they had dumped their girlfriend because they felt pity and contempt for her as she didn’t work in our industry (and you know who you are).
Needless to say, the traditional routes you would have used to find a job in the past are going to be well trodden by quite a few other people and so you are going to have to adopt some different tactics. The ‘if you build it, s/he will come’ mentality will not get you back to work. You need to be more ‘don’t wait for your ship to come in – swim out to it’.
So, what are the golden rules of getting a job? Having spent ‘quality time at home with my family’ more than once, I have worked out that they are a mixture of who you know, what you know and with a spin attached.
Rule One: Who you know
With the exception of my first job at IIR as a conference producer and my last role as divisional MD at the Telegraph, every other position has come about by persuading a company that they had a ‘Ruth-sized hole’ that needed filling, despite the fact that they previously weren’t aware of that. How do you do this?
First, make a list of two types of organisation: those that need to employ you and those that you would like to be employed by. Find the right person there and email them. There is no excuse for not knowing their email – I have been known to send the same email to six address variations in the hope that one will strike lucky.
Secondly, think about the message. The person you are contacting probably doesn’t know that they need you yet and a bland email title will not get them engaged. Also think about the first paragraph of the email. I always used the opening line of ‘I wondered whether you would be interested in having a chat because I think I could make you a lot of money’ (and apologies to all of you reading this who have received one of those emails from me before). That tends to grab people’s attention. Find one that works for you though. We don’t want to inundate the industry with that line as I may well need it again myself.
Thirdly, in some cases, asking directly for a job will not work so use the ‘I wondered if I could pick your brains’ line. You will be surprised by how many people are willing to help you with your career if they don’t think you are pressurising them for a job. When you get to speak to them, ask them who else you should be speaking to and whether they can connect you. I try and do a ‘Rule of Three’ whereby every person I speak to recommends three more. Then those three each recommend three and so on. That means your spider’s web of connections, and therefore possible employment, expands and expands.
Make sure you ‘link in’ with everyone you speak to. I once got a job (or at least the opening conversation that then led to a job) because the person I contacted looked to see how many LinkedIn connections we had in common and as there where a fair amount, they thought I was the sort of person they should be speaking to.
Brush up your LinkedIn profile. Do not underestimate how many potential employers look at that and make decisions based on it. Don’t just list your job title and company but put some detail under each appointment about your achievements and successes. Invest a little time in making it look good.
Rule Two: What you know
With our industry developing and changing at quite a pace, think about what new skills you can learn to make you that much more interesting than the next person. I once learned Mandarin during an ‘intense period with my family’ and while I am beyond woeful at it, it makes for a good talking point in interviews. It also gives a useful hook for people to remember you by once you have left the room. I would prefer to be remembered as ‘that lady who speaks Mandarin’ as opposed to ‘that traditionally built, ginger woman’.
Think about offering your services for free to an interesting company that will give you a new string to your bow. For example, if you have a gap in your digital events knowledge, offer your services to a company you think are doing a good job and ask if you can help them out. The industry has a lot to do at the moment with a significantly smaller workforce to deliver it, so they might be grateful for the help. They get free resource and in exchange you get free training and experience. This also can often lead to a permanent role because you are a known entity to that organisation.
Eleanor Phillips has been chief HR officer for both Informa and UBM and she advises that you need to keep a balance in your downtime life, as looking for a job can suck the air out of the room. “Actively use your networks and allocate specific time in the day for your search. Then try and structure the rest of your day for other activities,” she says. “Candidates are naturally anxious about finding the next opportunity, but the process can become all-consuming and that can take its toll. A balance of job hunting, staying healthy and helping others will put candidates in a strong position to tell their story in an interview process.”
Rule Three: It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that spin…
If you are going to answer the opening interview question of “so what have you been doing since you were made redundant’ with “nothing, just looking for a job”, you may as well save yourself the train fare and stay at home. It is imperative that you have a story that shows movement, development, pace and action.
I remember interviewing for a group marketing director role and speaking with someone who had been out of work for nearly two years. When I asked her what she had been doing all this time, her response was a flat ‘nothing’. I tried (honestly, I did) to get some sort of answer out of her but eventually gave up. It was the shortest interview I had ever done.
You have to be ready with some spin on how you have spent your ‘down time’. There is no harm in saying “I decided to take a couple of months off before I started looking”, or “I have been working with a couple of companies helping them with their plans”.
You are going to have to be ready for a new set of questions in interviews as well. Hugh Jones, chief executive at Reed Exhibitions, made an interesting observation when he said: “Nobody is ever again going to be asked in an interview ’so tell me about a crisis and how you worked through it’! That’s a 2008-2010 type question.”
Think about things in your CV that may be red flags to a potential employer and work out how to explain them. I once interviewed someone who seemed to change jobs rather a lot. When I asked them about that, they described it as a ‘career sprint’. Clearly spinning me but it gave me comfort that they had thought about the issue and looked for a way to explain it.
Be confident. Getting a job reminds me of my life before I met my husband. I couldn’t find a boyfriend for love nor money when I was single but as soon as I had one, loads of potential others came out of the woodwork. Same applies with a job. If you feel insecure and lacking confidence, that will come across. If you believe in yourself and have a wee bit of swagger, that will also come across as well and stand you in good stead.
Most of all, be brave, be confident, be proactive and connect, connect, connect, connect. What’s the worst that could happen? Lives will not be lost, and you never know. Be proactive, own your swagger and get out there.