Finding a Job

Working in a rewarding job is one of life’s greatest joys. Contributing in a meaningful way to something you care about and being compensated fairly for your efforts generates a wonderful sense of satisfaction and happiness in your life.

This book helps steer young professionals through all parts of the job search process. From Ramen to Riches: Finding a Job in Your 20s first guides the reader through a self-assessment to figure out what kind of work really resonates. It then covers in detail all the aspects of a successful search: creating a compelling resume, networking, informational and formal job interviewing, negotiating an offer, and dealing with those first few months on the job.

With practical, real-world advice from current and former managers, executives, and other experts, From Ramen to Riches: Finding a Job in Your 20s provides a roadmap to a more productive and successful job search.

Free excerpt: Chapter 1 of From Ramen to Riches: Finding a Job in Your 20s

Working in a rewarding job is one of life’s greatest joys. Contributing in a meaningful way to something you care about and being compensated fairly for your efforts generates a wonderful sense of satisfaction and happiness in your life. Finding a job you love requires really knowing yourself: what makes you tick, what inspires you, what excites you. You may be further down that path than we were in our 20s. At the time, we cared more about moving from the small towns where we grew up to sunny California than we did about finding work that fed our souls. We didn’t even know that our souls wanted to be fed.

Over time, doing work we really cared about became more important. We began to acquire a deeper understanding of where we wanted to take our lives and the role that our work would play in that quest. Now in our 50s, we finally love what we do. While we’ve chosen work that pays less than our earlier corporate gigs, we are actually happier. We want you to find work that feeds your soul at the beginning of your career. This book will show you how.

While the information that follows is relevant for anyone looking to find a job or switch careers, we have aimed the material at young professionals who are early in their working lives. Most people in their 20s have the energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to embark on a quest for career fulfillment. Take advantage of it!

Our intention is to help you find work you love way sooner than we did. We will share some of the experiences we and others have had in moving to work that’s more rich, joyful, and fulfilling than what came before. After you finish reading, will the heavens open up and your ideal job magically appear with a lotto-sized paycheck? Probably not. Finding a dream job is a process, not an event. It takes effort. We will set you on the road to understanding how a successful job search works, how to identify your skills and interests, and how to find a position that’s a good fit for you.

In our own journeys, each career move we’ve made has brought us closer to work that feels like a great fit with who we are and still pays the bills. You may be one of the rare individuals who has known exactly what you wanted to do since you were a kid. If so, fantastic! For most people though, the journey requires experiencing what works and what doesn’t. In short, the process is one of discovery.

So Why Listen to Us?

At various times over the last 30 years, we’ve been in the same boat you’re in right now. We know what it feels like to be looking for a first job or a better one while figuring out how to pay the bills. Over the years, we arrived at points in our careers where we wondered, “Is this all there is? How can I contribute more to the world and still draw an awesome paycheck?” We’ve dealt with our own work-related ups and downs: the petty politics, occasionally the incompetent boss, but also the joys of bringing something important to completion, contributing to a mission we believe in, and loving what we do.

Early in our careers, we both lived the lives of corporate cubicle dwellers. Jim started as a software engineer after graduating from Boston University. He then spent many years in middle management at a large multinational high-tech firm prior to becoming an author and entrepreneur. In Lauren’s case, she held individual contributor and management positions with major insurance companies following her graduation from Dartmouth College. After earning an MBA from Stanford University, her positions steadily grew into executive management of publicly traded companies and start-ups in a variety of industries before she started her own consulting firm.

In her current incarnation, Lauren is an executive coach who helps senior leaders become more effective at what they do. That role sometimes includes helping clients work through job and career transitions for themselves and members of their organizations. She is passionate about helping people at all levels find work that is fulfilling to them.

We’ve been interviewed and been the interviewers. Between us, we’ve probably seen more than 1,000 resumes. We’ve interviewed hundreds of people, hired dozens, and fired a few. In this book, we will share what we’ve learned from these experiences and what we’ve determined makes a successful job search: self-assessment, finding one’s passions, and the process of mapping those interests to a fulfilling career. While there’s no one right answer on how to go about it, we’ve done it enough ourselves and coached so many others that we believe we can make your process a bit easier in the pages that follow.

We also surveyed about a dozen experts and colleagues who we felt could offer job search advice to young professionals. These people include vice presidents of human resources, executive recruiters, middle and senior managers with extensive hiring experience, and several current or former CEOs. They have generously offered their unique insights that provide additional perspective on the job search process, tuned specifically to people early in their careers.

Keys to Success in a Job Search

Your task during job search is to find open positions that align with your skills and interests, and then become a finalist for as many as possible. In order, here are seven steps to do just that:

1. Conduct a rigorous self-assessment. If you really know who you are, what you’re good at, what you care about, and what you want, you will distinguish yourself from the vast majority of job seekers of any age.

2. Find your passion. True passion can trump experience. Demonstrating passion as a job candidate carries a great deal of weight and can overcome other weaknesses.

3. Clearly explain and leverage your experience. You may not have exactly parallel experience to the job you want, but our guess is that you can find examples from your past that are relevant. Actual on-the-job experience is best, but even high school and college experiences count. Did you have a leadership role in any clubs? Did you distinguish yourself in a particular academic or extracurricular activity? Did you have summer jobs or internships that demonstrated responsibility, dedication, and motivation? You likely have a plethora of experiences that are relevant to your professional life. The trick is creating a comprehensive list of what you’ve done and thinking about how to position those experiences in a way that will impress a future employer.

4. Identify your skills. Throughout your life, you have honed many skills. You’ve acquired useful academic knowledge. You may have relevant work experience from paid employment or from internships. You’ve probably had the opportunity to develop teamwork and leadership abilities through sports, clubs, and group projects. The countless hours you may have spent on hobbies, musical training, or the arts help develop a variety of special abilities that an employer would value. These and other examples of competencies you’ve acquired are relevant in the working world. Knowing how to convey them to a hiring manager is essential.

5. Build a strong network. Most jobs are found through networking, so that is where you will need to spend most of your time when job searching. Don’t panic if your network isn’t robust. You already know more people than you think you do. Through targeted and effective networking, you can build a strong and supportive group of people who can help you find a good job.

6. Master the job search process. A scattershot approach to finding a job will probably leave you feeling disappointed and unsuccessful. An organized and methodical search, with support from people who care about you, will greatly improve the odds of landing something you want. It’ll also be much quicker.

7. Embody the right attitude. Job search is tough. We won’t sugarcoat that. Employers are looking for people who can maintain a positive attitude in tough times. They are looking for employees who want to contribute to a company’s growth and success, not those who are only looking at what they themselves can get from a company. “It’s all about me,” doesn’t work in the job market. An upbeat, can-do attitude will serve you well not just during your search, but also as an employee. Does this mean plastering on a fake smile and sucking up? No. People will see through that. It also doesn’t mean pretending to be happy when you’re not. Everyone has a bad day from time to time. What we mean is that deep down to your core, you have an authentically enthusiastic attitude to life and to your work. Attitudes like that are infectious and people will want to be around you. And hire you.

The Ten Most Common Mistakes of Job Searches

In Lauren’s coaching practice, she’s worked with more than 100 career-transition clients at all levels of corporate and non-profit organizational structures. In helping people address their job searches, here are the typical mistakes she has seen:

  1. Spending too little time and energy on self-assessment. This leads to lack of clarity on what you want, what you are a good fit for, and why. Thus, it’s very hard for others to help you.
  2. Approaching the job search with “shoulds” rather than “wants.” For example, “I majored in finance, so I should take a job in that field.” Focus on what you want to do, not what you should do.
  3. Reaching out to your best contacts before you’ve figured out what you are really looking for. You don’t want to use up their precious goodwill before they can really help you.
  4. Having too broad a target, be it industry, company, or job title. Specificity helps people help you.
  5. Being reluctant to ask for help.
  6. Asking contacts for job openings, rather than introductions or information.
  7. Spending too much time responding to job openings on websites. The average response from employers via these channels is depressingly low. Even if you do get a response, the competition is fierce.
  8. Under-preparing for job or informational interviews. With the availability of Internet research, there’s no excuse!
  9. Going for money over job fit and satisfaction.
  10. Neglecting to look at the longer-term career implications of choosing a particular job, company, or industry.

By following a well-defined job search process, you’ll avoid these common pitfalls and greatly improve the odds of landing a position you really want. It’ll take less time and feel more empowering than a random approach filled with the potholes described above.

How to Use This Book

In the pages that follow, we take a comprehensive approach to laying out the entire job search process. We recognize that each reader is at a unique stage in his or her career and in the search process. We strongly encourage you to review the entire process that’s outlined in the next chapter first, even if you need to skip ahead for an immediate need, such as preparing for an upcoming interview or responding to a request for an updated resume. You’ll discover important steps often overlooked by job seekers that you don’t want to miss.

To get maximum value, you’ll be doing a variety of exercises throughout the book. We recommend that you dedicate a notebook (electronic or paper) to this purpose. It’ll help you crystallize your thoughts on what you want and will help organize your search.

The same advice goes for your job search. As you’ll soon discover, the best results will come from doing the work of understanding what you really want, and then building a network of people who will help you get it. Simply submitting online job applications in the comfort of your home won’t work.

We wish you a pleasant journey with your job search. Looking for a job can be one of the most mind-expanding, friend-generating, flexible times in your life, if you make it so. The following pages will guide you down that path.


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