There are many people who think that looking for a job means sending out resumes, making phone calls, networking, and seeking out interviews. It’s all that, and yet it is so much more. Even if you manage to find a job, and even if you’re ecstatic with the job that you’ve found, chances are that in this economy, at some point your job is going to slip out from under you. Long ago, my father told me that the time to begin looking for your next job is immediately after you find the one you have. With more than forty years of work experience under my belt, I can tell you that he was exactly right.
Don’t think of this advice as “the grass will always be greener someplace else” but rather as “the best defense is a strong offense.” You can do your best work and your company can still go belly-up in the blink of an eye, and just because you are looking for something new doesn’t mean that you have to act like you’ve got one foot out the door at the company at which you’re now gainfully employed. Instead, you have to adopt the attitude that your first assignment is always to protect yourself, and to let others know your value.
How do you do that? First, always carry a good number of business cards with you, and whenever you meet people who might become potential future employers, give them out. Follow those cards up with a resume and samples of your work, along with a brief letter that says that while you’re not looking at the moment, and that in fact you might be perfectly happy in your current position, you are always open to talk if something interesting comes up. My wife, who is a freelance marketing consultant, does that constantly. Even when people say that they have no need for her services, she sends them a steady stream of samples of her latest work, on the off chance that it will result in a new assignment. Three times out of ten, it does. That hit rate doesn’t sound very good, but if you think about it, picking up three new clients every couple of months is really quite astonishing.
My wife Sharen also spends a lot of time at networking events, and even here she is marketing herself. While most people wear a name badge to these events, she wears an occupation badge, which, when people see it, will engage them in conversation, at which point she always has a handout of her latest work at the ready to give them. And with a business card in return, she has new contacts to cultivate.
Here’s the thing: Seven out of ten times, nothing happens immediately. But if you continue to send out samples of your work — and presuming your work is good — sooner or later, somebody is going to pick up the phone and call you. A long time ago, I saw a cartoon in The New Yorker that perfectly describes this situation. It was called “the arc of life” and it goes like this:
Who is Steve Kindel? Maybe I can use Steve Kindel. Get me Steve Kindel. Get me someone like Steve Kindel who isn’t so expensive. Who is Steve Kindel?
I’ve been through this arc at least four times over the course of my work life, and each time, by continually working to keep my name in front of people, new work continues to turn up and I can start the arc all over again.
Recently, in fact, I received an email from someone I originally knew thirty years ago that I have not seen since the mid-1990s. He had a question that led to an exchange of emails that is likely to lead to some work.
There are only two requirements to making this bit of advice work. First, do good work. In the creative fields, people will put up with a lot in order to get the best possible work. Second, don’t make enemies. People move around from job to job all the time, and the marketing director who used you on an assignment at Company A may suddenly turn up one day at Company Q. If you ended the assignment on good terms and keep in touch, you could well find yourself with a new assignment from a company with whom you’ve never had contact.
Stephen Kindel is the Chief Operating Officer of The Bronx Project, a startup pharmaceutical company. He has had many jobs, written many books and hired many people over his career. His latest book, Skill Sets, is available by contacting him at
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