There’s an old saying – “the only way out is through.” When it comes to your career, however, I’m going to make a different suggestion:
“Sometimes, the best way in is around.”
According to an article in Inc.com, on average, every corporate job opening attracts 250 resumes. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 20.4 million students [were] expected to attend American colleges and universities in 2017, constituting an increase of about 5.1 million since fall 2000. Those numbers make for a considerably competitive professional landscape. So if the odds AREN’T in our favor, what can we do to optimize the situation?
The best way in is around – I’m going to share three unconventional ways to break into business and launch your dream career.
1. Be Willing to Accept Tangential Jobs
When I graduated college, I wanted to produce television, so naturally, I accepted an internship in sales. Let me back up: after my sophomore year as a Musical Theater major, I decided to transfer schools and change majors entirely. I wound up at Columbia College Chicago pursuing Media Management. I felt behind – I had spent my entire high school career and half of my collegiate career pursuing a field I no longer wanted to be a part of while everyone else my age was already two years deep in their pursuit of my newly adopted career. I hungrily applied to every television internship I could find in Chicago – and the one that bit? CBS2 Sales department. It was everything I didn’t want – a corporate environment, crunching numbers, and uncomfortable suit dresses. But I took it. I wanted to put CBS on my resume, and I didn’t care what department it was. A few months later, I applied for an internship at ABC7 Chicago for their live morning show, and in my interview was told that my experience in sales was actually to my benefit – television, after all, caters to ad sales, and understanding the selling process would make me a better producer. I was hired for the internship.
I later honed further in on my goals, deciding that I didn’t just want to produce television, I wanted to produce scripted television. The first job position offered to me was a costume production assistant for a pilot filming in Chicago. I’ll break this down: I wanted to produce television, so I accepted a job running thousands of dollars of purchases back and forth to Saks. But during my short stint as a costume PA, I met the production coordinator who would later hire me as an office secretary which would introduce me to the first executive I would assist who introduced me to the writer who brought me out to assist her in LA where I signed with my agent and manager.
Are you following me? Nothing has been a straight line. I’ve accepted the detours, and the detours have always gotten me to my desired destination. Be willing to take detours. Don’t be precious to the exact job or the exact company. It doesn’t have to be that exact job. It doesn’t have to be in the first orbit of that job. It doesn’t have to even be in the second orbit of that job. Be open to a tangential job – you never know who you’ll meet, where you go, or what you’ll discover about yourself along the way.
2. Ask for Meetings – NOT Jobs
There are two types of people who reach out to me: the first ask me to help them land a job and the second ask me to help them learn. I am so much more taken by the second type. When someone reaches out to me with a genuine hunger to learn more about their chosen field, it tells me that they’re willing to do their homework. They know that success takes time and effort, and they’re willing to go that road themselves.
I broke into scripted television because I relentlessly messaged people on LinkedIn with the simple request that they tell me about their jobs. I prefaced it by telling them that I am a recent graduate, and I was exploring opportunities in their industry. I asked if they would tell me a bit about their career path and their day to day responsibilities. I capitalized especially on profiles of people who shared my hometown or alma mater, but I wasn’t precious to either. I messaged anyone and everyone, and many people responded with polite distance. But I was fortunate enough to land on one woman to whom I will be forever indebted. She was passionate about helping women in entertainment and took a chance on a complete stranger. We talked on the phone and she detailed her experiences to me and by the end of the conversation, she could tell that I had the drive and hunger to go the distance. She wound up recommending me for the costume PA position I mentioned above, and the rest is history.
First and foremost, be interested in learning. Be interested in cultivating relationships. Get creative in terms of who you ask for a meeting – maybe your professor worked or is actively working in your field. Maybe your neighbor has insight. Maybe the relative of a friend. People who work hard usually won’t mind telling you about it – start with THEM, not YOU. Ask insightful questions – “what is the best way to land a job in your field” might work after a relationship is built but to lead with it is hasty. Take meetings. Build relationships. Learn. If people sense genuine interest, you’ll be surprised at how far they might be willing to go for you.
3. Don’t Wait for an Invitation to Do What You Love
My former boss once participated in a panel where she was asked about the direction in which entertainment is heading. Her answer blew my mind: she said that the future lay with those who not only created their content, but created the means by which to deliver it. In the digital age, there are so many platforms with which to showcase your work, and new ones are being created daily. For the entertainment industry specifically, this means that writers can produce and “air” their own content without a six figure deal from a network. Anyone with a smartphone can upload to YouTube.
This theory is applicable to all industries. Don’t wait for an invitation to do what you love to do. Find a way to do it – even on the side – and hone your craft. Listen, I am well aware of the financial and time constraints that prohibit some people from devoting hours and days to their dream. My dad, an immigrant who put himself through school, was forced to turn down an unpaid internship with the Chicago Film Office because he simply couldn’t afford to allocate that many hours of his day to something that offered no compensation. I understand that there are circumstances beyond our control – but I would suggest 30-60 minutes a day. If you devote even one hour a day to practicing and engaging in what you love, by the end of the week, you’ve done seven hours, and by the end of the month, nearly 30.
I recently read an article on Buzzfeed about a 16 year old who creates magical looking smoothie bowls. I’m pretty sure there is no degree offered in smoothie bowls (someone correct me) – but this kid found his talent and he committed to it. He was literally so good that the internet couldn’t ignore him.
I am all for survival jobs – survival jobs fund dreams and make them possible. There is NO shame in them. Get a job and keep yourself afloat. And in your spare time – find a way to prepare tax returns for friends. Offer to design logos pro-bono to get your work noticed. Upload your latest how-to to YouTube. You will be amazed at how much progress you can make with one hour a day. Don’t wait for someone to invite you to do what you love – do it, and be so good that they’ll come looking for you.