Want to find time for your most important life goals? In our new feature, Timehacker, we match readers with the right coach to help them find that time, develop new habits and get started. Then we check in on Day 21 to see how it’s working out.
THE SUBJECT: Sterling Hardaway is a 22-year-old fresh out of Marquette University with a degree in international affairs. He desperately wanted to find his dream job, working for a nonprofit or an organization that does good in the world.
THE GOAL: Sterling was stuck in a dead-end temp job. And, with a four-hour commute from southern New Jersey to Westchester County in New York every day, he worried he didn’t have the time or energy to find that dream job. “I didn’t make much time for the goal, because it seemed so implausible,” he said.
THE TIME HACK: We matched Sterling with Ashley Stahl, a career coach who specializes in helping Millennials find the work they love.
She suggested four time hacks:
1. Get Some Clarity: Sterling wasn’t sure what he really wanted. So Stahl gave him homework: Use the four hours of commuting time to figure out who he is as a person, and a worker and where he could see himself. And make a list of 75 companies or organizations in each of the fields that he wanted to work in.
2. Prepare a strong elevator pitch: Sterling worried that talking about his achievements and skills would seem self-promoting. “Sterling is losing out on opportunities if he doesn’t have a powerful way of talking about himself, and this means being able to speak about his accomplishments.”
3. Go outside your immediate network: Stahl introduced Sterling to the concept of not just using family, friends and personal networks, but “cold networking” – “reaching out to people who you don’t know, yet people who are able to hire you or connect you with the right opportunity.”
4. Personalize applications: “If his resume gets him to the top of a pile, his impersonal cover letter will get him discarded,” Stahl said. “It’s about putting in true, authentic time so that your application can stand out.
STAHL’S PROGNOSIS: To really land his dream job, Sterling will have to change his mindset, Stahl said. “Sterling is frugal and that translated into a scarcity mindset, where he thought he had to ‘take what he could get’ when it came to job opportunities,” Stahl said. She found that Sterling was applying for jobs indiscriminately that he didn’t really want, and wasting his time and energy. “When you think that way, it translates into prematurely accepting job offers, versus pushing through a hunt that brings forward a job the person is excited about. You want your foot in the right door, not just in the door.”
Instead of listening to music or reading a book on his commute, Sterling began to use the time to work on his elevator pitch, to think about what he really wanted, and to identify places he’d really like to work. He continued to search for jobs on LinkedIn, Idealist.org and Indeed.com and other job search engines, but he extensively researched 150 organizations and began targeting not only these companies, but specific positions in marketing, communications or development.
And he began to network. He reached out to Marquette alumni and “cold networked” with people who had hiring power at the organizations he’d targeted. He’d reach out to them on LinkedIn and ask if they could schedule coffee or a phone call. “I had a pretty high rate of response,” Sterling said. “I’d reach out to about 10 people a week, and six would respond.”
He asked his boss at his temp job if he could come in a few hours early or leave a few hours late, or take a day off to network. He made several trips to New York, to Washington, D.C. and cities in New Jersey and stacked as many cold networking meetings as he could in a day. “I was very lucky that my supervisor was very flexible,” he said. But then again, he didn’t know that they would be until Stahl encouraged him to ask. “Asking for the time off to network became part of the time hack,” he said.
The result? The day we called Sterling to see how the Time Hack was going was also the first day on his new dream job. He’s working as a digital media and technology associate for a faith-based nonprofit in Plainfield, New Jersey, that works both with the local community and internationally. And it’s one hour away, a much shorter commute from his Trenton home.
“The timehack was definitely worth it. I saved time by not applying to positions that I actually didn’t want, and being frenetic about that,” he said. “The project really helped me find clarity, and to be more concise and targeted in what I want, and how to use the time I already had and make it work for me.”
“I’ve always wanted to work for an organization in a role where I had some type of impact on peoples’ lives,” he said. “This is my first day here. I’m still learning the ropes. But it’s kind of amazing how different work feels when you love what you do.”
Ashley Stahl’s TOP TIP for dream job searchers like Sterling: Cold Networking
“Given that roughly 80% of jobs are not posted, it’s of the utmost importance that job seekers learn to network for job offers. However, it’s an error to limit your efforts to your immediate social circle, as it’s the people you often don’t know who can offer you jobs that shift the course of your career. It’s all about cold networking.”
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