By Sinara Stull O’Donnell
Looking for an innovative approach to your job hunt?
“Innovation is the process of coming up with ideas and bringing them to life,” says Robert B. Tucker, president of the Innovation Resource Consulting Group in Santa Barbara, Calif., and author of “Driving Growth Through Innovation” (Berrett-Kohler, 2002).
In a long, discouraging job search, innovation may be difficult to implement for the average job seeker. “We don’t like to be in a job search. Life circumstances throw us into it,” says Mr. Tucker.
Nonetheless, job seekers at any stage of their search can make a fresh start by taking new initiatives. This requires developing strategies to help you think innovatively about your career path. Mr. Tucker suggests taking these three basic steps:
1. Identify the activities you’re passionate about.
2. Brainstorm with people and be open to suggestions.
3. Implement your ideas.
Here’s how three job hunters used inspired and resourceful strategies to fire up their job searches.
Karla Finger of Arlington, Va., sought a career change in 2002 after her employer of 13 years re-structured and eliminated her position as regional event-marketing director. She was offered another job at the retail company but opted for a six-month outplacement package. Before she began the program, she got involved with Cross Cultural Solutions, a group based in New Rochelle, N.Y., that places volunteers with nongovernmental organizations helping to build cultural awareness in other countries. Ms. Finger taught art to elementary-school students in India for a month. The trip was therapeutic. “[I] got back to who I am,” she says.
When she started her outplacement program, she began exploring career opportunities in the nonprofit arena. “I wanted to do something different with my life,” she says. In her previous jobs, she’d been a facilitator, networker and connector. Her international travels and experience with cultures abroad helped her appreciate other societies and ways of life. “I wanted to use [my] skills in an environment which mattered.”
In outplacement counseling, she did a career assessment and began exploring her options. Among the questions she asked was: “What is a day in the life of this job?” She decided to pursue a master’s degree in the science of organization development at American University/NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science in Washington, D.C.
Her next step was to ask 10 friends and colleagues to meet with her individually to talk about what they perceived were her strengths and gifts. After reflecting on this feedback, she arranged for informational interviews — brief meetings with professionals who could tell her about their jobs and qualifications. “My mindset was to just ‘talk with people,’ ” she says. After working in the same organization for 13 years, she needed fresh perspectives.
One acquaintance she met with works for the Department of Defense. He suggested that she’d be a good fit for its customer-service program. She’s now consulting at the DOD’s Washington Headquarters Services at the Pentagon while she finishes her master’s degree. Her ultimate goal is to consult with nonprofits on organizational development.
In addition to her experience in customer service, she brings to the table an appreciation of different corporate cultures and environments fostered by her international travel and experience with foreign cultures. “This environment is so different than working for a for-profit company. To go from a Fortune 500 retail company to working for an agency within the federal government is a major switch. I have approached my time here with curiosity,” she says.
Bill Harris, a marketing professional in Simi Valley, Calif., was laid off in 2002 and immediately became involved with job clubs throughout California. While he thought they excelled at helping members develop job-search skills, he felt the clubs should connect them with potential employers instead of only each other.
He decided to found a career club that would bring job seekers together with potential employers. These days, members of the Ventura Highway Networking Group meet monthly at the Hyatt in Westlake Village, Calif., to discuss job opportunities with recruiters and managers from companies such as Amgen, Expedia and Thor International.
While building the club, Mr. Harris networked and answered ads. Then, he used a tactic he hadn’t tried: He took his job search online. He eventually landed a sales-and-design position with Eide Industries Inc., a manufacturer in Cerritos, Calif. He feels that his work with the Ventura Highway group helped polish his presentation and interviewing skills, as well as his resume and self-confidence. He’s still active with the group.
Working with a career coach may also unleash innovative thinking. Fred Rivera, a career-life coach with First Light Coaching in New York City, recounts the story of a recording engineer who needed to change careers because his hearing had deteriorated after many years in the business.
He and the engineer reviewed his skills and came up with a “wish list” of jobs in other industries. None fit the bill, and the engineer decided he wanted to stay in the recording industry after all.
Mr. Rivera encouraged him to look at recording companies in a different way. They came up with a new job that combined the engineer’s knowledge of the recording industry with his computer skills. Since he had worked on both sides of the booth, he could become a liaison between the artists and studios. A recording company was interested and created a position for him, which he enjoys.
Working with a coach puts a job seeker in a collaborative environment, which can ease the loneliness that comes with unemployment, says Mr. Rivera. Once they feel comfortable, job seekers can work with their coaches to come up with creative solutions.
“Good career coaches will not be giving you the answers, they will be helping you find the answers in yourself,” adds Mr. Rivera.
— Ms. Stull O’Donnell is an author and professional speaker. Her company, SinaraSpeaks, is based in Springfield, Mo.