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"Yes,' said I, 'I have taken to living by my wits." from Shirley by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
This is Part Two in a series of articles about finding a job by using the wealth of resources available on the internet. This article focuses on Rachel Olivier and her eleven month job search and how she found employment within walking distance by casting a net across the world wide web.
Los Angeles is a city of freelancers, we hop from job to job, location to location; we know what it is like to be inbetween "gigs". But now the economy is affecting the workers who are not accustomed to non-full time employment, they are being set adrift daily, left to flail on their own, without help from over taxed HR departments. This article is about one of those people and her search for a job after the loss of her full time job of eight years.
Rachel is not embedded in the internet by way of her profession, she's not a developer, designer or a programmer; she's a writer. She is your average user of the internet, she chats online, emails, has a blog, belongs to online groups that share her interests, she is Middle America. Her story could be anyone's who is just venturing into a job search on the web, this is how she survived the last eleven months and found a job by using tools available to anyone with access to the internet.
What was the epiphany that lead you to your job?
I made a list of neighborhood businesses within walking distance or a short bus ride from me. I went off what I knew about my neighborhood, but I also looked for neighborhood associations online, such as the Larchmont Boulevard Association, to get lists of businesses. Then I searched for those businesses online to see which ones had websites or contact emails. I started with businesses that would most likely have need for my skills (proofreader, copy editor, writer). I wrote an email cover letter offering part-time freelance help in that particular skill set, but also pointing out my work experience in offices and retail. I proofed and attached my resume and hit send. I copied that cover letter into another email, adjusted it for the next business, attached resume, and hit send again. I repeated this process several times.
That afternoon I got a reply from someone who didn't need a writer or proofreader, but did need part-time office help. The business was a five-minute stroll away. I called. We spoke. She asked if I could come over right then for an interview. I said yes, became a quick-change artist and dashed over for my interview.
My first day was September 30. I've been unemployed since November 1, 2007.
That's quite a while to be unemployed. How did you manage?
To go back to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's quote, by my wits. I was fortunate enough to have unemployment insurance, but that is only so much and lasts only so long, usually six months. I was also fortunate enough to pick up a couple of freelance jobs right off the bat. By claiming those gigs (and others) against the UI in the ensuing months I was able to get my UI to last eight months instead of six. And of course, I couldn't have done it without the help of my friends and family. They have helped me lot.
I also did my homework and legwork. There's stiff competition out there for both freelance work and regular employment. I figured out what assets I had, marshaled my forces, and got down to work.
First, I reworked my resume. I have done resumes for clients for a number of years, but it's different to do it for oneself vs. for someone else. Resumes are marketing documents we use to sell ourselves, but we can't always see ourselves objectively. A friend of mine is an IT headhunter in Seattle. I used his editorial eye for the objectivity I needed to get my resume up to snuff.
I then did the typical update of my profile on Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com (and TalentZoo.com and Sologig.com and any other job board I could find). But I didn't stop there. In the book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about incorporating yourself as a business when you're an artist. I realized that for the situation I was in, I needed to incorporate myself for myself. I needed to be able think outside the box and use every opportunity that came my way such as: free business cards from VistaPrint.com, free classified ads on Craigslist.com and Backpage.com (or paying the nominal fees to keep them up longer when I could afford it), working up a good profile on LinkedIn.com, changing my MySpace.com profile from being more personal to something more businesslike, using it to promote my skills as a proofreader, copy editor, and writer. I updated my website www.puttputtproductions.com and writing blog to include that I was available for freelance work and what I charged. I tooled around the Internet looking for free directories where I could have my website listed for free or for in exchange for a link. I wrote up a "press release" to email out to my friends and family of what my skills were, what I could do for them, and what I was looking for. I also signed up on LiveJournal.com and Blogspot.com so I could use those blogs as two more places to make connections and market my writing. I signed up for free memberships on Guru.com, Elance.com, and GetAFreelancer.com, eventually paying for memberships on Guru and Elance for a while. My alma mater, Western Washington University, just recently put up an alumni social networking system, so I also put a profile up there and searched for old classmates.
When it comes to your professional online profiles you need to go through them occasionally to update and edit them, making sure to write in an articulate manner and in complete sentences. Don't try to be cute. Be business friendly. You need to make sure your picture is up to date and professional looking. More importantly, however, you need to actively go out and seek your connections. For example, I went to LinkedIn with my address book, email address book, and even my 20-year high school reunion address book and typed in everyone's email address or name looking for possible connections. Use your connections. Go to Classmates.com. See if your high school or college has a social network for alumni and sign up. Facebook is a frivolous social network system not made for work, but you can even use that to find people who may possibly be interested in hiring you.
It's a truism, but the reality is that looking for a job or freelance gigs is a full time job itself. The free Craigslist ads need to be updated every week. If you pay the nominal fee for keeping the Backpage.com ads (LA Weekly online) up for four weeks, then you need to renew that as well. When people do answer those ads, you need to be able to reply with a real coherent answer and selling points for them, including prices for your services. Anytime you get a gig that might look good on your resume, you not only need to put it on your resume, but also on your LinkedIn.com profile and your other professional profiles. Anytime I got even something really small published, I was on every blog I have promoting the magazine that poem was in. You are now a business, so everything needs to go into the pot, from selling your used CDs and DVDs, etc on Amazon.com and eBay to designing a logo and company motto for yourself and setting up a CafePress.com store. Until you go out there and do it, you don't know what will or won't work for you.
2. What tools do you need in your "belt" to find a job in Los Angeles?
Determination and persistence are the two most important tools to have, followed closely by a good computer and an Internet connection, and possibly a PayPal account or some way to accept funds online.
You also need to know how to communicate well online. You need to sell yourself in an articulate manner over pixels and bytes. This means being able to write complete sentences with real words in a professional manner. People often don't realize how poorly they come across online when their sentences are the half-formed abbreviations that they'd use to text a friend. If you're not sure about your own writing, have a friend or two go over it with you. If you happen to be more an artistic person and less a word person, then do a trade with one of your writer friends; offer to design a logo for them in exchange for them proofreading, copy editing, and revising your cover letter, profile bio, and other copy.
3. Los Angeles has the highest rate of freelancers in the states at 36% (2004 Census), and is an example of what the rest of the country will be looking to in terms of employment. What would be your advice to someone entering the job market?
Try EVERYTHING. I had been unemployed for 11 months before I found my current part-time job. My unemployment had run out. My freelance work dried up in August and September and is just now coming back to life. Life became a juggling act. It was only by trying one more time to juggle and that I got this particular job.
So, learn how to juggle and think outside the box. You are now incorporated as a sole proprietor employing yourself. So, everything you do should work towards that ideal. Sell your excess stuff online or have a yard sale - get together with your neighbors and have a group yard sale. If you have the extra funds, take classes to update your skills.
Then, after you have begun to try everything, make a note of what is working and what is not working. Is one job board working better than another? Are you getting more contacts from Yellowbook.com or Craigslist? What is working for you? Put more energy there. If something is not working for you, let it go. You can't afford to waste time (or money) on any option that's not working for you.
The job sites I had gone through to look for jobs (Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, Sologig.com, TalentZoo.com, etc) either didn't have very much, or only had opportunities that were over 10 miles away. Not far if you have a car, but for someone who takes public transportation, 10-15 miles is equivalent to about a 1-2 hour commute each way. My last job had been about 11 miles away and I was frequently late for work. I didn't want to jeopardize any job I could get right off the bat by being late all the time.
Figure out your boundaries and limitations. What won't you do? How far are you willing to commute for a job vs. a freelance gig? Or will you only work from home? I don't have a car myself and spent the last eight years commuting an hour and a half each way via bus. After I lost my job, I made sure my searches were within walking distance or a short bus commute.
Also, build up support. You'll need it. If you take onsite classes (as opposed to online classes) you might make connections to use later. Are there organizations for people in your field in your area? Look online to see about newsletters, groups, and organizations in your field that you can sign up for. If you pay business taxes in Los Angeles County as a freelancer, see about joining the Chamber of Commerce. Or, form your own support group of like-minded people also looking for work. You will need the outside interaction and the exchange of ideas, and positive support is good for everyone.
We Angelenos have lived through our earthquakes and we're now living through a financial crisis. We know what it's like to live through hard times. Life slows down, communications are cut off, and we make do with what we have until we can access what we need and want. Losing a job is a lot like living through a personal earthquake or national disaster. It takes time and persistence, but eventually we make it through. So will you.
Rachel now offers help to others looking for work. Click here for more information.
Part One of this series can be found here.
Image: Ophelia Chong Grauman's Theatre, Hollywood
Chef Kimmy Tang loves to travel, and while her cosmopolitan approach to cooking can be partially attributed to globetrotting, it also originates from the influence of a Taiwanese chef-mentor she endearingly calls Uncle Chu.