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Life After Americorps | Job-Hunting Tactics That Have Had Surprising Results

A road that says, "New Career Ahead" in chalk.

In the last two posts in this series, I’ve talked about having clear expectations of what AmeriCorps service can do for a career, and being open and curious about how service can transform career goals and objectives. But now, we need to get down to brass tacks. What about you landing that next job? It’s December, and that means that your service term is nearly half over, or you’ve been out for a couple of months. In either case, you’re probably thinking about the end of the year, and what your career might have in store for 2014.

It’s my hope that after probably a hundred job interviews, and a steady ongoing job search, I can speak from a place that isn’t a perfect expert, but isn’t a newbie just throwing things out there. So before I get into the few things I have found effective, I need to be real with all of you — the job hunt is incredibly, incredibly difficult. I hope that what I have to say can help you get to where you want to be, but I urge you to apply the same dedication and grit that made you serve in AmeriCorps to your job hunting and career building that follows.

With that in mind, I have four basic truths that have made my job hunt get going.

Make friends, not contacts

There’s a lot to say for the value of networking. You have to, after all, sell the fact that you’re the one for the job. So by all means, meet people. Consider this: which is more valuable — a fistful of business cards, or five valuable, emerging friendships with people who will think of you when an opportunity arises?

For example, there was an organization I really wanted to work for. Like, was over the moon just thinking about it. I didn’t get that job. But I’ve kept up my friendship with the guy who runs the organization. I’ve learned a lot from asking him questions over cups of coffee, and he recently hired me to do freelance work — with more coming after the new year. It’s not the original job, but the friendship has still helped me build up my career and bring in a little income.

Be incredibly generous (in other words, make an investment)

I know you want a job. I do too. So when looking for a job, meeting people, and interviewing, leave an impression of being not just respectful, but fundamentally generous. Questions like, “How can I best help your organization with its mission?” have sparked really rich conversations around working with other people, and shifting interviews from “is he the right fit?” to “How can we work together?”

This also means in informal meetings with people, you buy their coffee or lunch. At first I thought that this was sucking up, or perhaps not the best use of my limited funds. But even the offer is good. People don’t remember the nice guy who wants something. They remember the generous guy who was willing to contribute to their work (even if they pay you for that contribution).

I’ve come to view the face-to-face time in the job hunt as investing in people. You invest in them — your time, energy, relationship, and a cup of coffee — and they’re more willing to invest in you. My personal story with this: I went to an event at the local arts center, and befriended their outreach coordinator. I’ve offered to help out however I can. I even said to her outright, “I want to invest more of my time and talents into the center.” Guess what? It’s led to ongoing work through them, and being short-listed for projects in the future. My credentials are listed on my resume, but the investment I made (even the intangibles) is what cinched the offer.

Don’t try to be an expert

So many job hunting websites talk about showing where you are an “expert.” Personally, I disagree with this. When I’ve acted like “I know my stuff,” it hasn’t put forth the best of what I offer. In my experience, show being open to learning what a new job requires. I’m not saying to undersell what you can do, but strike a balance between what you know, and what you can learn.

In an interview I had recently, the person asked me, “So why do you want to work here?” my response was, “First, I love your mission. Second, I really am looking to grow my knowledge and experience with these areas. I think it will build on my strengths, but also allow me to grow and explore.” No word yet on if I got that job, but after that question the interviewer said, “Normally we don’t share this, but you’re doing remarkably well.”

 “Destroy the box.”

That’s something that architect Frank Lloyd Wright said. Don’t just think outside the box, but destroy the box and find a different paradigm. What does this mean for a job search? It means finding creative ways to turn skills into revenue. For example, given my background, I’ve applied for a couple of different projects and programs through the Arizona Humanities Council. These things aren’t a “job” in the conventional sense, but they pay. I’m not suggesting that these sorts of things be the only way you make money after service, but I am saying that AmeriCorps volunteers have the self-starter attitude and the desire to make an impact that can translate well to finding work in what’s been called “the gig economy.”

If the job search is only turning up part-time or short-term work (as it has in my case), then freelancing is a great option. One tip I heard on this recently: Some people put questions like, “Ask me how I can serve your organization,” on the back of business cards. It starts the conversation, but doesn’t just pigeonhole you into being hired for whatever that organization has open. I went for an interview in late October and was told, “You’d not be a good fit for this job. But, could we talk about hiring you to consult or freelance with us?”

Slowly but surely, I’m confident that each of you can carve out your niche doing the work you love that makes a difference. My favorite definition of ‘vocation’ comes from Frederick Buechner: “Where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

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About the Author | Caleb Winebrenner is a teaching artist based in Tempe, AZ. His work focuses on empowering youth through creative play, storytelling, and devised theatre -- and the more he does it, the more he loves it. He is currently working on a book of games and stories for community and youth development and launched a crowdfunding campaign to support it. He writes the blog Discovering Teaching Artistry and tweets, @caleb_teaches.

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