Originally published on Bella Naija on March 30, 2016.
Things are hard in Nigeria, no doubt about that. Our industries and government work suboptimally, and we’re used to it. New and old graduates face the anxiety of trying to fend for themselves with limited options. An advantage of living in a country like ours, however, is that we learn to take care of things ourselves.
Before I started working on Skrife, I worked several jobs in different companies, and while I agree that I got referred to some by people in my network; I got the majority of these jobs without connections, affiliations, or someone who knows someone.
No one should sit back and get used to being unemployed. Retain a sense of urgency in your search and be ready to seize any opportunity that comes your way.
Here’s some advice on how to get a job when you don’t know anyone:
Treat your job search as a full-time job
Treat your job search like a full-time job and show up to work every day. Regardless of how lethargic you may feel, staying idle will make you feel more frustrated. Put some structure in your life by working on tasks that relate to your search for at least 5 hours every day eg 9 am to 2 pm. Tasks can include researching companies and vacancies, speaking to and emailing people, attending conferences, stalking executives, reading industry articles, emailing agencies, following up on sent applications, etc. If you’re consistent with this, you have a chance of getting a job quicker than you imagine. Take your job – your lack of a job – seriously.
Remind yourself that it’s a numbers game
It’s fact that job searching and periods of unemployment can be the most ego-smashing and discouraging time in a person’s life, but you really shouldn’t get affected by every rejection or bad day. Even the most intelligent get rejected for reasons they can’t fathom. Learn to think of rejections in a positive way like the more rejections you get, the more likely you are to get selected soon. Measure it even; if you have a 1:100 chance of getting a job, for every 100 no’s, you get one yes. So go on and keep applying until you get that one yes. Don’t get defeated by rejections. Keep your numbers up.
Beef up your CV
Before sending your CV to any company, research the company, management team, and the role you’re applying for. Researching helps you figure out ways you can stand out instead of depending on luck like other job-seekers. You can’t control the recruiter’s mood, the company’s intent, or what keywords they look for; but you can control the amount of work you put in and how good you appear. Learn about the company culture, and reflect it in your CV. If they’re a fun, young company, write like a fun, young person. If they’re not, be serious and professional. Always read the job brief at least twice before you apply.
Bump into someone from the company
Like I wrote above, look up the management team and employees of the company, and try to establish a relationship with someone. Check their Linkedin and other social accounts to see if you have any mutual connections who can introduce you to the Hiring Manager or give you useful information. You can tweet at them or try to schedule an in-person appointment. Approach anyone the right way and they will pay attention to you.
Be ready with your elevator pitch always
Define what’s most interesting and marketable about you, and practice talking about it. An elevator pitch is a clear, brief message that communicates who you are, what you’re looking for and how you can be of value to a company. Craft a 30 seconds conversational pitch that you can remember even at 2am at night. Here’s a sample template to craft yours:
“Hi, my name is ______________. I just graduated from ______________ with a degree in ______________. While in the university, I worked at ______________ and discovered I have real passion for it. I’m good at ______________, ______________, ______________ and I’m looking for an entry-level job in that space. Do you have any leads or advice?”
Send personalized messages via Linkedin
Whether you’re connecting with a friend or someone you don’t know, always send a customized connection request on Linkedin rather than the generic “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn”. Using the generic template is the height of laziness and professional nonchalance. You can use a concise message like this:
“Hi, I’m an avid reader of your column in ______________ and just watched your interview on ______________. I want to thank you for all your efforts to ______________, and would love to ask you a few questions on ______________. I would appreciate if we can connect and schedule a call or chat at your convenience. Thank you!”
Upgrade your online presence
When people google your name, what “brand” will they see? The person you are online should be consistent on all social media platforms. Don’t be a writer on Linkedin and a club manager on Twitter. No crazy pictures, cuss words, late-night selfies on Facebook, and religious verses on Twitter. If you can’t give up your crazy side for your professional side, create two accounts – one alter ego account with a made-up name, and one professional account with your real name. Be clear and consistent with your brand and messaging so anyone who looks you up can see you how you’ll like to be seen.
Prove that you can work harder than anyone else
Add something unconventional, unique, or thoughtful to your applications; something that makes you pop amongst all the boring CVs with no personality. You can attach a mock financial forecast for the company if you’re an accountant, a marketing strategy for a new product if you’re a marketer, a beautiful logo for the company if you’re a designer. Instead of begging to be hired, which is what a lot of job seekers do in their cover letters, show that you are skilled and trained, and can hit the ground running if hired. It might not seem fair that you’re doing so much work for a job you might not get. But doing so gives you a higher chance of getting the job. Never let “fair” get in the way of achieving your goals.
Talk to God and everyone about your search
After doing all the above, talk to God and ask for guidance to pick the right companies and not waste your time. Also, ask for patience and optimism through the tough times. Talk to people around you too. No one can help if they don’t know what you’re going through or what you’re looking for. Leverage on your existing connections – family, friends, alumni, neighbors, friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends.
A job search is a phase almost everyone passes through at some point in their lives. Don’t let it be a long phase in yours. Be smart about how you do things, and you can get the job you want without knowing anyone, even in a country like ours.