I’ve been reading Hillbilly Elegy. I highly recommend the book for anyone – job seekers, recruiters, hiring managers and everyone else who interacts with other people on a regular basis. It’s a lesson in empathy, human nature and the statistics behind beating the odds.
Now, if you know anything about the author, you’re likely wondering how I got all of that from a book written by a white guy who went to Yale law. But that’s not where his story began. He was born to a drug-addicted mother in Kentucky. Include that with an absent father and a revolving door of disappearing father figures, his chances of success were slim to none. He began to understand the concepts of work and education in a community where no one had ever gone to an Ivy League school; where people had to leave town to discover opportunity. He belonged to a family where more people had served jail time than attended college. The odds weren’t in his favor.
Throughout his story, he highlights the impact history made on their beliefs, their view on institutions and the distinct moments when he had to learn to change his story. The tipping point where he couldn’t let history dictate his future any longer. He was lucky. You’re probably thinking “lucky? really?” but I mean it. How many kids are born into poverty and don’t end up poor? Not many. But their limit isn’t solely a function of their upbringing. It’s also an outcome of limited interactions, opportunities and mentors.
I know. I was just like him.
That context is exactly where my frustration begins when I’m listening to most job search advice. See, the resume and networking don’t matter if you never apply or don’t talk to influential people. What so many people suffer from is not a lack of intelligence but knowledge of the scope of opportunities that exist. It’s hard to believe that people don’t know about going to college for the average, privileged teenager. But consider this. If your parents and friends don’t talk about college – how would you know?
There’s little to no consideration for that lack of knowledge when it comes to the job search. We sit around and tell people all these tactics for job searching when the most efficient and effective strategy is to find people and build relationships. To be kind to everyone you meet. To do your best no matter what job you’re doing and that will make you stand out in a world where hard work is admonished or mocked as “over-achieving.” In fact, I found my first job in the recruiting industry by doing exactly that. I’ll never forget that CEO who said “I don’t know what you’ll do but I know you’ll work hard. I’d like to hire you.”
I was lucky. Lucky I took that terrible tutoring job with even worse pay. I realize not many people are randomly in scenarios where they’re meeting people who have that kind of power so instead of offering up the cliche job search advice, I want to share advice about seeking out opportunities.
- Make sure you have a complete LinkedIn profile if you want a professional job. Yes, even if your current job is flipping burgers. Digital appearance matters and not existing could hurt you. This varies by industry and role but if 60% (ish) of recruiters are starting on LinkedIn, you should too. If it’s empty, think about your story and where you want to be. Use the objective area to share it.
- Learn how to find hiring managers and team members on LinkedIn after you apply to a job. There’s keyword search. Use it.
- Don’t use lame template outreach e-mails to connect with people you believe can mentor or help you. Treat it like a dating site when you actually care about meeting someone. Research people. Get to know them. Interject details that prove it.
- You can download a formatted resume that’s easy enough to edit online. What most people won’t tell you is that your resume shouldn’t be creative but rather, should align to the job description. Here’s why: 80% of recruiters haven’t done the job they recruit for and most don’t know that “keyword research” and “SEO” are the same thing. You need to act as the translator and copy and paste information from the job description into your resume. I’m not talking a 100% duplicate but at least 30% of your information should align 1-1.
For the rest of you that are so fortunate to not understand how kids don’t end up in college or have an advanced degree, please pay it forward. Respond to that random email request for a networking call. Offer advice. If you don’t, just remember that karma knows your address and she’s very patient.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.