Searching for a job is one of life’s most stressful events, yet it still results in many settling for a paycheck instead of fulfillment. Corporate jobs attract an average of 250 resumes, and each gets reviewed for an average of six seconds. No pressure.
There’s no getting around the fact that finding a new job is tough, let alone one that you love. Yet, rather than blindly submit my resume for a bot to evaluate, I choose an approach grounded in human connection. To be more specific, every career change I’ve embarked on has started with 100 cups of coffee. The key wasn’t the caffeine (though that likely helped) but rather the process of learning, distinguishing fact from fiction, and finding points of connection from the conversations had over those coffees.
To date, I’ve progressed through nine jobs since graduation, with each ending because I was no longer learning or feeling fulfilled in the position I was in. But instead of just applying for similar roles in similar industries, I embraced the opportunity to discover a more expansive set of opportunities.
I set a goal… A goal to have coffee with at least 100 people. By the end of those conversations, I not only had just co-created my next dream job, but I entered the next chapter as a better person.
Here’s how you can go about doing the same.
Approach it as an exercise in data-gathering.
People change and, with them, the industries they’re working in. While some people follow a linear career path straight out of university, I embraced what could be rather than what is, with an acute awareness of the number of positions that existed now but didn’t when I was a kid. These conversations are an opportunity to explore and assess what has changed, including yourself, to ensure you’re not making career decisions based on old and faulty assumptions. Approach this is a data-gathering exercise founded on authentic conversation.
Start with a hypothesis.
Perhaps there are companies you admire that you’re keen to work for, industries that you follow and are interested in, or individuals you’ve connected with on LinkedIn with jobs you would like to have. Articulate all of these possibilities, refine the list to your top five, and you’re ready to start the process. Remember, these coffees are a learning exercise. They’re conversations intended to help you determine what those companies, industries and jobs are really like on a day-to-day basis, whether they are a good match for your skills, and if the culture is a good match for you as a human.
Pick your first three.
The prospect of organizing coffees with 100 different people seems overwhelming. But if you begin with as few as three people in your network, you’ll be surprised at how easily it evolves organically from there. If the conversation goes well, ask them for introductions to three more people.
Craft some questions beforehand.
Before you begin the conversation, draft a set of questions to guide your discussion and ensure you get the insight needed to help inform your search. Ask them about what they do, the best and worst parts about their job, what they expected it to be like before they joined and how that compares to what it’s actually like. Question what they’re learning, the attributes that make someone successful in a role like theirs, and the attributes of those that have faltered. When that’s complete, ask yourself whether it’s something you can see yourself doing. Much of what we hear about industry-specific jobs is folklore. Use the questions to help you determine what’s fulfilling about that person’s career path to separate the myth from reality.
Be selective as you go.
This exercise isn’t about listing 100 names and ticking them off one by one because you feel you have to reach that milestone. Rather than thinking about the number, think about the insights. In the same way an algorithm learns as it goes, filtering relevant information based on the data you feed it, you should do the same.
Track your progress and follow up.
I use a spreadsheet to track the people I’ve met with and those that they’ve referred me to. This helps me maintain the discipline to reach my goal, and ensures I can follow up with the individuals I’ve met with to thank them for their time and keep them abreast of my progress later.
While the main intent of this exercise is to help you learn, you’ll likely find that:
It expands your network and opportunities.
Relationships and connections matter. Especially in a current job market where you have hundreds of people applying for jobs, this is the chance to have a one-on-one conversation with someone who inspires you. Plus, if a relevant job comes up within that individual’s circle after your coffee conversation, they’ll likely think of you as someone to fit the bill.
Waiting helps no one.
When people are dissatisfied and considering change, they’ll either sit with their unhappiness until it manifests in decreased engagement with their work, or they’ll passively wait for a headhunter to connect them with a new opportunity or for a company they’re interested in to update their careers page. This approach takes a much more proactive approach. It helps you find opportunities before they’re posted, develop connections with hiring managers to co-create roles, and give you a leg up with a reference from someone that already works there.
So, what are you waiting for? It’s about time you scheduled that first coffee.