Opinion

The four new rules of engagement for landing that dream job

The jobs market has changed dramatically. Will Harris has four new rules to bear in mind when it's time to move on.

"Assume that the best jobs are rarely advertised in an open and fair way"
"Assume that the best jobs are rarely advertised in an open and fair way"

This is a story about a friend of mine, and his efforts to find a new job. I know often people use the term ‘friend’ euphemistically to mask their own situation ("So a friend of mine wondered if you were single?"), but when I tell you the circumstances, you’ll see that this is not about me.

Let’s assume my friend is called Peter (for the sake of his anonymity and present employer); he has a real job. It’s the sort of job that precious few of us who read Marketing can even conceive of, being as it is an unsightly combination of institutional regimentation and outright danger. At the moment he is working for one of the global NGOs in a war zone, trying to apply the rule of law to a lawless state. He gets shot at, mortared and threatened on a reasonably regular basis.

In front of our very eyes, the whole process of finding a job has changed. And so have the rules

In truth, this is even more futile than it sounds. He is up against not just the Taliban and ISIS, but the bureaucracy of his own organisation. It’s one of those monolithic international employers that, in an honourable effort to prevent graft and corruption, has created a web of dos and don’ts that defeats all but the most inventive souls.

So imagine his predicament: rockets coming in at a moment’s notice, coupled with requisitions for body armour in triplicate, but only on a certain day at a certain time, and on a certain form.

Changing times

I’ll say one thing for Peter. He is brave. I’ve known him for almost 30 years, and in that time, after leaving a promising desk job at a London law firm, he has worked in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Palestine, not to mention cosier attachments in Brussels, Virginia and Sydney. He’s not a millennial adrenaline junkie; he is a middle-aged man with a family at home, who was driven to service, and ended up applying his legal expertise to something more worthwhile than conveyancing, spurious PPP claims or M&A deals.

Anyway, it seems you can have too much of a good thing, and the thrill of living in a shipping container under armed guard has begun to wear off for Peter. He’s looking for another job.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Having been out of the job market for 10 years or so (and, in truth, never really in it, as we would define it), he imagined that getting a new role involved foraging for job ads in the paper, writing to targeted organisations on a speculative basis, and possibly finagling an introduction to a firm of head hunters.

Only then did I realise that, in front of our very eyes, the whole process of finding a job has completely changed. And so have the rules.

  • Rule 1 Assume that the best jobs are rarely advertised in an open and fair way. By the time you clip that little square out of, say, The Economist or The Sunday Times, there is already a front-runner in the frame. Somewhere, someone in HR has muttered something about "running a proper process", omitting to mention their need to get invited back on a publication’s amazing Golf Day, and booked advertising space. A troop of doomed external candidates then jumps through hoops, each one liberally lined with false hope.
  • Rule 2 Assume that your next job is ‘temp to perm’. This may or may not be how it is officially laid down, but, employment law being what it is, faced with a choice, most managers want to try before they buy. There’s nothing wrong with this, so long as you are straight with the candidate. It has to be a two-way street, but often one side or the other can discover they have been horribly mis-sold. No harm, no foul, as my Australian friends would say (or drawl, to be precise).
  • Rule 3 In job-hunting, as in love, the internet is your friend. LinkedIn (or Link-ed-In, as one of my Singapore friends insists on calling it), Nurole, Facebook… take your pick. With the internet at your disposal you can get to the right people, directly or indirectly, in a way that no old school tie ever can. I don’t care who you are targeting; write someone a LinkedIn mail saying that you heard them speak at a recent conference, found them truly inspiring, and would like to stop by and buy them coffee to follow up on a few of their pearls of wisdom, and it will be a cold-hearted bastard who won’t agree to see you. I would.
  • Rule 4 In this new world, people want to help. Once upon a time ‘networking’ used to be treated almost as a dirty word, akin to something like ‘cottaging’ or ‘pimping’. Now it’s an everyday part of business life; accepted and even encouraged. You’ll be astounded by how helpful people will be, and in all probability you will walk out of your meeting with another couple of introductions tucked under your arm.

Faced with long careers these days, you never know when the favour will need repaying. And don’t forget to ostentatiously write down everything they say, and follow up with a thank-you letter, flowers or bottle of fine red.

If you are a marketer in work, you need to know this. Ours is one of the most precipitous C-level seats around the boardroom table. The chief executive of a business, for example, has an average tenure in the US seven times that of the chief marketing officer, and the further down the organisation one looks, the faster the turnaround. Add in free-spiriting millennials and you have a high probability that, at some point, you will need to live by these four rules.

Marketers are good on the run and better at networking than many. Embrace it and count yourself lucky that you’re not dodging rockets in Gaza, while trawling the boards of LinkedIn.