Professionalism

This is a big topic, and one I’m really excited to cover, because I think it’s something a lot of people get wrong, either because they’re misinterpreting the advice they’re given, or because they’ve never been given any advice at all.

Growing up, I was taught a very specific way to be a professional. I was taught to have the right handshake, present a professional (safe) appearance, keep my demeanor pleasant, and have a strong, knowledgeable presence. I appreciate the advice and coaching I was given, but as I grew older and held more positions, I found that the conventional wisdom on professionalism wasn’t working for who I am and the industry I’m in—in some ways, it was holding me back. So, while handshakes, appearance, demeanor, and presence are important, I firmly believe there are a number of ways to be professional.

Moreover, I think there are many ways to be unprofessional.

In this series, I want to cover both sides of professionalism. I hope to provide tips that you can mix and match to best benefit your personality and how your industry operates, and to give you concrete examples of how not to behave or present yourself. Of course, there are some tips that won’t work in practice, and some warnings that may not apply to you; but while nothing is going to work 100% of the time I aim to give you the most tried and true tips.

If there are any specific scenarios you would like advice on, please don’t hesitate to send them to me!

Freelancing: What’s in an Invoice?

Invoices are the lifeblood of a freelancer: they’re how you get paid! So what needs to go into one?

What you’ll want to make is a template, that you can re-use as you (hopefully) do more work for the same client, or that you can repurpose for use with a new client. Your invoice should include:

Your name and contact information
Invoices usually go through HR, not your contact (or not only your contact), so you’ll need to make sure you have your name, phone number, and email address. I think these days physical addresses are optional, unless you are getting your checks mailed to you! Make sure you update this if any one of these items changes.

Invoice number
You’ll need to have invoice numbers on your invoices for each client you work for. It’s on you to keep track of these, and to keep the invoice numbers for each client separate. Some employers will have a format they prefer, but if not, I suggest coming up with two letter company codes to go before each of your invoice numbers.

For example, if you were working for Pepsi and Coke, you could keep track as follows:

PE001
CO001
PE002
PE003
CO002

Of course, you’ll be keeping a list of your invoices (see below), so they’ll be separate—I’m just demonstrating here for the example.

Invoice submission date
It’s critical for both you and your client to know when you submitted your invoice, so please include the date under the invoice number. And be honest with your dates!

The personal name to whom the invoice should be addressed, the client’s company name, and the company address
You always want to make sure this information is on your invoice, in case it gets misplaced or misdirected within your client’s organization!

A table for filling in the actual work you did
Using a table will make filling in future invoices much easier. The table should include the following columns:

  • Quantity
  • Project serial number (optional)
    • This is meant for jobs where any assignments you get come with a project number (for example, when I was a freelance proofreader, this would have been for ISBNs).
  • Title of project
  • Hours spent/pay rate quantity
    • The title of this column will vary, but it is meant to indicate the quantity by which your pay is being calculated. For some people, that will be hours spent; others, the pages/images/illustrations completed, etc. Label this in a way that makes sense for you.
  • Pay rate (your total pay per that line item)
  • The final line should have a “total” column, for the total due per the invoice.
  • A notes area
    The value of a notes area will become clear as you start freelancing—this is where you can create stipulations for your work and for payment of the invoice. This is where you’ll want to create and include rules for all the things you do/don’t want to happen in your client relationship. For example, if the client says they pay in 30 days, include a “Net 30” here to make sure your payment should be processed on time.
  • Signature lines for you and your client (optional)
    In our digital age, few invoices are actually truly signed anymore. However, by adding a signature line, you’ll give the expectation that the invoice should be signed, and honestly, it just looks more professional.
  • PROTIP: KEEP A RECORD OF INVOICES YOU’VE SUBMITTED
    After you submit an invoice, make sure you keep a record of the invoice number, amount due, date submitted, and date of expected payment. Keep this document private and secure, but refer back to it at least once a month (I’d advise every two weeks) so you can make sure your invoices are being processed and paid.


    When you start working with a new client, make sure you read over their invoicing policies thoroughly, and ask any and all questions you need to in order to make sure you know how it works, and that you and your client are on the same page about how, and when, you’ll get paid. Happy invoicing!

    Freelancing: How to Find Clients/Work

    This is a big topic, and honestly, there isn’t a one-size fits all solution. Here are some tips I’ve found that have worked for me, or that I’ve heard working for others, but please let me know if I’ve missed something crucial!

    Networking

    As with most everything I’ve talked about so far, networking is the most reliable way to get new work as a freelancer; but again, I don’t mean just throwing cards to whoever walks by. It’s crucial to develop strong networks of people who are in your industry, people who use your services, and experts and mentors in your field and adjacent fields, as it’s these networks that may lead to opportunities being sent your way. However, please don’t build your network with the sole intention to get work—build your network to learn from others, to teach what you know, and to find compatriots with whom to share successes and to compare rates, employers, and general industry trends. Your network is your professional base, and can take the place of coworkers as a freelancer. Value these people as your friends and VIPs, as in freelance more than anywhere else they will influence the future opportunities you receive. After all, freelancers generally pass work along to those who they trust to handle overflow from their own clients, and stake their name on sending you as a recommendation. Good standing in freelance networks is everything.

    Industry events

    These are crucial for building your network. As always, I recommend volunteering—this gives you the opportunity to organically meet new people (including crucial people!) in your industry, for them to see you at work (even though your volunteer work may not be your day-to-day job), and for them to associate you with responsibility. Of course, “volunteering as exposure” is a dangerous road. Only volunteer for organizations or conferences which have a demonstrated record of good work and whose mission you support. A great volunteer strategy I heard about the other day is to still invoice for any work you do (this is intended for, say, graphic design work—not for volunteering at a conference in exchange for an attendee badge) and to “discount” your official rate so the invoice zeroes out. Not only does this let others know your real working rates and are aware of what they’re getting for free, but it gives you firmer ground to stand upon when you are being asked too much, or when you want to start charging for the same work.  And as a freelancer, one of the first things you should develop is an invoice template. We’ll go into this next time.

    Previous Jobs

    Many companies rely on freelancers to deal with work overflow, and who better to ask than someone who already knows how to do the work? When leaving a job (if you want to continue working with the company (and aren’t being terminated)), let your manager know you’d still be interested in doing some freelance work. You can always reach out to companies you worked for years before, as long as you left on good terms. Keep in mind that the longer ago the job was for you, the more likely procedures and processes have changed, but some companies may be willing to bring you in and bring you up to speed with some (paid!) training. After all, it will be cheaper for them to train someone who knows most everything than to find and train an unknown quantity.

    Industry-oriented sites

    I suggest these with a huge grain of salt: Many internet forums and databases for freelancers can be rife with predatory clients, and with fellow freelancers based worldwide who may be able to work for cheaper than you can compete with. That being said, good clients can still be found on these sites. Do some Googling and ask around your network to find the appropriate sites for your industry, and to ask how they work—best practices for applying for jobs, posting, etc. And if you do find a good client through one of these sites, make sure to follow up with them after the job is done to ask if they’ll keep you on their roster and keep you in mind for future work. If they offer feedback, take it—people rarely take the effort to give feedback if they don’t think you’re able to improve.

    Social media

    This one is risky, so again, take the big grain of salt. By posting your portfolio and rates on social media, and by posting your expertise and engaging with others when possible, you can broaden your reach and find clients through Twitter, Instagram, and especially (for some industries) LinkedIn. Building your organic network is still your priority on these sites, but you may find work coming your way through them, too.


    No matter which method you use, remember that vetting your clients is a crucial step. Make sure they know your rates beforehand, and that you establish a pay schedule that works for both parties.

    Freelancing: Starting Down the Freelance Path

    I promised I’d talk about freelancing, too, and here we are. These posts will be interspersed throughout upcoming topics, because freelancers may need to handle certain concepts differently from those employed at an established company.

    I’ll start with a disclaimer: I freelanced for about five years for three different consistent clients (and little projects for others here and there), but freelancing has never been my sole income or activity. I freelanced through language school and graduate school, which was the perfect part-time job for me. Thus, my advice is not intended to be the end-all resource for building a freelance career. I hope to provide some advice and resources for you to think about if you’re interested in becoming a freelancer, but please read across people’s experiences and advice for a better view. Freelancing is a very individual experience, and with it more than anything, your mileage will vary for any advice you receive. However, I also work with freelancers on a daily basis, so I hope I can provide some insight from the client side as well!

    Whew! That’s out of the way. Still interested in pursuing freelance work? Before you get your business cards made and website open for business, consider the following:

    Freelancing is a slow-build business
    Freelancing requires clients, and clients take time to develop. You may leave a job which will want to keep you on as a freelancer (hey, great!), but often that won’t be enough to pay the bills, and basing your entire paycheck on a single client that doesn’t have regulated supports for you (as they might a full-time employee) is risky—what happens if they go out of business? The real rub is that developing clients is always easier after you’ve already been hired a few times, which makes those first few jobs and clients absolutely excruciating to find.

    That being said, be strategic and proactive about your networking and about building clients. You’d be surprised how long it some prospective clients will be radio silent before reaching out to you for work, so just keep networking and checking in (more on this later…there’s more than one right way to check in, but at least one absolutely wrong one), and go out and hustle some more. For now, just keep in mind that it could take a while until you’re totally self-sufficient as a freelancer.

    Few freelancers are financially stable all the time
    This, of course, ties right back into my first point. Clients can disappear, be put on budgets, or projects can end, leaving you with a vacuum. And even though your June could be totally empty, everyone will want to hire you in July. Freelancers often find themselves in feast or famine conditions, and so you’ll need to adjust your finances and cash flow expectations as you learn the ropes. You’ll also need to plan to buy your own benefits and withhold your own taxes, for which I recommend you save half of each paycheck to pay (and you may need to pay your taxes as estimated taxes to avoid being fined, so be sure to look that up, too!). Keep rigorous track of your income and expenses, especially expenses you can write off at tax time. Only by keeping track will you be able to come up with a structure for becoming a financially-stable freelancer.

    Your publicity skills will set you apart
    I wish being hired as a freelancer was based strictly on skill and merit, but it, like many other things in this wide world, is not. Though sometimes your clients will recommend you to others based on your skill, or take you with them if your contact person switches jobs (which is awesome), there are very few instances (save for the arts, perhaps) where you’ll be pursued and hired based on the quality of your work. More often, your clients come from your hustle. Find networking and industry events in your area, and concentrate on making personal connections. Bring business cards, but don’t just hand them out to anyone—have real conversations with potential clients about what their needs might be. Have an elevator pitch for yourself and your business. Mention previous clients, if you have any, and if the appropriate moment comes up in the conversation. Keep your LinkedIn and any other online portfolios up to date.

    Online spaces are included in this, too. Expertise-sharing gives you credibility. Start a blog or contribute a guest-blog. Become an active member of industry forums. Connect (politely) with others on Twitter. And listen! See what others are talking about—your industry may be moving toward or settling on a certain program or best practice, and by becoming the expert in it, you may be able to score more work. No matter what, your skills selling yourself are going to be more initially critical than your active work.

    “Setting your own hours” is rarely as glamorous as it sounds
    Freelancers are infamous for working a lot, and that’s often the draw of freelancers—hiring someone who can work outside of a 9-5 workday, or someone who can turn something around overnight or over the weekend. As a freelancer, you may be hired with the expectation that you are always available, and even though you may initially be okay with a totally open schedule, trying to work crazy hours over a long period is how many fledgling (and, who am I kidding, even expert) freelancers find themselves in burnout, unable to work at all. Establish your preferred and possible working hours early on, and keep an eye on them as you develop clients.


    Freelancing can be fantastic, with its flexible hours and “be-your-own-boss” mentality, but it comes with many drawbacks and potential pitfalls. Just make sure you’re prepared to do a job where most of the effort will come from you.

    Components of a Career: Guest Post by Jacob Burgess, Voice Actor and Writer

    Hi friends! This week it’s my pleasure to have a guest post by my friend and general fantastic human being Jacob Burgess. I met Jacob as a fellow Conference Associate at GDC (volunteering at conferences is such a good way to meet fantastic people!!), and I’ve followed his career as he gets bigger and better roles. He’s got a lot to say about careers (and is one of the best networkers and go-getters I know!) so I’ll let him take it away without any further ado!


    Hello Rank Up Readers! Jacob Burgess here. I’m a voice actor and games writer.

    When Lauren asked me to write a guest post for this blog, it took me aback. One, I had no idea why she asked me. Two, I had no idea what I was going to write about that was a good as the content that’s already here on the blog. Three, and this is tied to one, who the hell am I to do this? Ah, imposter syndrome. You’re a right bastard.

    I asked Lauren what she might want to write about, and she told me a bit about the purpose of this blog, which is to help educate people. None of us in creative careers are really told how to do this. That helped a bunch. She is very smart.

    See, as best as I can tell, having a creative career is all a system of cobbling it together using existing models of behavior, the circumstances we find ourselves in, professional fortitude, and no small amount of what looks like luck.

    Now before I move on, and this is going to be the main thrust of what I say here, is that everything I say, everything you take in here, is born of my experience and perspective. Salt and pepper to your taste.

    Now, let’s explore, in as much brevity as possible, the cobbling together of a career. (Please keep in mind, I’m a voice actor and a writer. My solution to most problems is “More Words”.)

    Existing Models:

    Using existing models of success to further your career is great because then you’re looking at folks that have done it before. There is a huge industry surrounding doing just that. Doing the work of finding out what works for you and what doesn’t lead to your own success involves a lot of trial and error. You need to fail in small and large ways in order to figure out that what worked for a certain person, or in a certain industry, isn’t going to work for you. Take what you will and discard the rest. I would suggest being aware of anyone who says that their way is the right and only way.

    For example: I read, a lot. I try and better myself as much as possible. I want my professional life to be as smooth as possible. This involves reading financial books, books on acting, writing techniques, and other folks’ fiction. I take notes on what in those books strikes me, things that just make sense instantly. I take notes on what worked for that person, and on stuff to try out myself to see if it’ll work for me. I take notes on what just seems like nonsense right off the bat so that I can explore it and then discard it.

    Same thing in networking. I might be in a conversation where someone is dropping so many names I’ll need to watch where I step later. They might be able to pull it off and impress or dazzle their conversational partner because they have the humility, body language, and mannerisms that don’t play as desperate. It might just be a natural part of their job or manner of speaking. It works for some people because they get that shine from associating with someone known to be successful. The idea is that if the person whose name was dropped knows and associates with the person who dropped the name, then the person who dropped the name must be worth knowing. I know I don’t have that ability. I know enough about myself where I would reek of desperation and it would come across as me just TRYING to be cool. You can learn a lot about what will and won’t work for you by observing the behavior of others both in person an online.

    Circumstances:

    Not everyone has the same starting position in life. But I think that seeing progress as a straight line or a pyramid isn’t a great way to visualize a career path. I like looking at it as a sphere with smaller spheres inside it. We’re all dots in that big-ass sphere trying to find a way to the smaller ones, which are the careers we want to have. We all blink into the larger sphere at different points. It might take us longer to get to the smaller one that our chosen career belongs to. Sometimes we will enter other spheres on our way.

    Almost no one has a straight path to where they want to be. Some have shorter distances, sure. Some folks blink in right next to where they want their final destination to be. Others have different feelings the farther they travel, or they decide that it wasn’t right for them to begin with. Use whatever you have around you to get to where you want to be. Your path is your path. There is no need to compare your path to others because where we start is out of our control. How we use our circumstances is only in our control. Comparison, in my mind, is useless. (This doesn’t mean it doesn’t creep in, but using the fact that I think it’s a useless tool helps to mitigate the feeling sometimes.)

    For example: I live in Victoria BC, which is on an island in Canada in the ocean about 2.5 hours away from Seattle by boat and about 3 hours away from Vancouver by boat and bus. I need to travel a lot to even have a voice acting career, and I back that up by supplementing other work when things are slow. If I lived in LA or New York I would have a much easier time with it because that’s where the industry tends to be centered. However, the circumstances of my life dictate that this is the way things must be. I have put forth the effort by attending conventions, building my network, and being willing to invest the time and money to travel in order to have my career. Sometimes you need to fill the cracks of circumstance with effort and will if you aren’t in the right place physically, socially, emotionally, or otherwise.

    Professional Fortitude:

    This is the ability to keep going. Not keep going no matter what. Life happens and sometimes things are out of our control. Sometimes you need a break or need to stop or completely redirect. Being unstoppable sometimes means slowing down.

    For me, professional fortitude is the ability to accept failure, to deal with the negative emotions that are going to try and use your career to sort themselves out (because sometimes brains and hearts are stupid and don’t always have our best interest in mind. Imposter Syndrome or feeling of worthlessness, for example), not stop (this doesn’t mean don’t take breaks or reflect), to recognize when you should slow down, and not using the need to take a break as an excuse to procrastinate.

    For example: I don’t have a solid personal example for this. I just get up every time I’m knocked down or am stymied. I might be crying, and complaining, and cursing the heavens in the moment for making something so damn hard while I do it, but I do it. It’s hard. It’s goddamn hard and sometimes you don’t have anything to propel you forward but Raw. Stupid. Stubborn. Will.

    A Small Amount Of What Looks Like Luck:

    I say what looks like luck because, from the outside, and a lot of what happens in people’s careers and what we see in media, is that opportunities often times just magically happen. That seems to me to be a running narrative that folks propagate because saying, “I ground out my career for years before floating to the surface/being discovered/being the only one left would could” doesn’t always have a sexy sound to it. I sense a fear that admitting that things were hard or didn’t always go your way is “bad branding.” I’m still chewing on this phenomenon, so my thoughts on it aren’t fully fleshed out.

    But, ya know what, sometimes it is just luck. Sometimes it’s is 100% raw, pure, golden good fortune that propels a career. Most times, I’ve found, is that those people have put themselves into places and done things to maximize their chances for those opportunities to come their way. For me, it’s going to cons. Having a online presence. Making friends and not just contacts. Again, whatever works for you given your circumstances.

    That’s the key in my mind. In a career, freelance or otherwise, you’ve got to do a lot of self-exploration and find out what the sweet hell works for you, no matter what works for other people.

    If I were going to go back in time and tell myself something from 5 years back, it would be all of this. I don’t think I would have listened because, “Do what works for you” is, on it’s own, some bullshit advice. Figuring out what works for you is hard. It takes a lot of self exploration, willingness to fail, and time. Once you do figure out what sorts of things jive with you though, that’s most of the work done.


    Like this? Want to know more about Jacob, or possibly hire him? Find him on Twitter @jacobburgessvo

    The Job Search: Reviewing Offers

    You’ve made it: You’ve finally gotten an offer. Congrats!

    Now what?

    It’s time to review your offer. For many positions, this will be fairly standard and easy, but it’s still best to come up with a list of questions to ask yourself as you review:

    Is this job what I’m looking for?

    Wow, sounds obvious, right? You just spent all this energy applying to and interviewing for this position, but the way a position is sold by an interviewer versus how it is portrayed on paper can sometimes be different. This is the time to:

    • Get your official job description, and make sure it matches up with what you think you’re being hired to do;
    • Get your official salary/pay rate and pay period;
    • Get your list of benefits, including vacation and, if applicable, health insurance, 401k, stock options, and others;
    • Confirm job location, hours, working conditions, and ask any remaining culture/fit questions. Glassdoor is a great resource, but so is the company’s own HR person.

    Do the realities of this job fit in with my lifestyle and goals?

    I realize this is a privileged question to ask, but even if you’re hard-pressed for money, this is still an important consideration. A job that may not offer you the flexibility to care for your kids may not be an appropriate job for you. That being said, this is the time to ask for that flexibility in hours, or other working considerations you may need.

    Is the salary in line with what I want/need?

    This is probably the first time you’ve come to face with the proposed salary for the position. Is it what you asked for? Is it what you need? This is the time to evaluate your proposed salary alongside your benefits package, as well as against your own lifestyle. Often there is room to negotiate, and negotiation is expected in salaried jobs. The worst a hiring manager can say to your request for more money is “no,” and even then, there might be wiggle room in vacation days, benefits, etc. Establishing the salary you want now is critical—many bonuses and raises are based on a percentage of current salary, so by not advocating for yourself now, you’re missing out on money down the line. This is also the time to ask how those bonuses and raises work, too.

    Is this what I want to do?

    At this point, you won’t have all the information—you haven’t worked for the company yet, so you won’t really know what your new coworkers are like, or how a “flexible leave policy” works in action. But you should ask enough questions and get enough information to form an informed view of the work, which you should measure against all the work you did earlier to identify your “dream” job and/or lifestyle. Does this job get you closer to your ideal? Where does it fall short, and are those shortcomings acceptable? (All jobs will fall short, I promise.) How can you learn and grow in this role and/or at this company? Is this a short-term job or a long-term career? You may not have all the answers, but even educated guesses will help you evaluate and grow in your decision-making and pivoting down the line.

    Go with your gut

    Intuition is critically important to decision-making, and it may pick up on things we can’t quite figure out in our conscious mind. If you gut is telling you to go for something and you can’t see any critical reason why not (and sometimes, even if you can), do it. More importantly, if your gut is telling you NOT to do something, don’t do it. Sometimes red flags are very hard to spot, and if your gut is telling you they exist, it’s worth it to trust that feeling. Better to avoid a bad situation than find yourself working too hard in one, or going through all that work just to quit a few weeks later.


    Ultimately, you’re the only one who is going to be able to decide whether an offered position is right for you. At the job offer stage, remember to ask as many questions as you need to make sure you have all the necessary information (and to make sure your contract is acceptable and correct!) before you sign on the dotted line. But once everything is in line and a compromised has been reached…congratulations! You’re hired.

    The Job Search: Interviewing

    Ah, interviews. No one likes them, but they’re still a crucial part of the process. Face-to-face (or face-to-screen) interactions are critical for both applicant and interviewer to get a feel for the intangible, hard-to-quantify things, like “fit.” There are at least a thousand different articles that can tell you about the nuts and bolts of interviewing, like how to dress and which questions to ask, so today, I’ll instead talk about the process in general.

    First, and most importantly…confidence is key. Interviewing is nerve-wracking, and it only gets more stressful the more you want the job. However, hiring managers are looking to find applicants who are cool, calm, and collected, and who project a sense of expertise and show drive for the work. Figure out how to tap into this confidence on your own, both in low- and high-pressure situations, so you can bring it out on the day of the interview. This may come through practicing questions with a friend, working out, practicing some breathing techniques, or (my go-to) listening to your favorite pump-up playlist and imagining yourself kicking ass. The more interviewing you do and the more jobs you have, this will get easier, but figuring out the strategies that work for you now will benefit you in the long run.

    Also, know your audience. I don’t mean reading up on the company, though that’s important, too. When you get to the interview, get a feel for your interviewer. Are they someone who is going to look for formal responses, or are they more casual? Did they show up in a t-shirt and jeans, or a fitted suit? I’d always advise leaning formal in interviews for both your outfit and demeanor (though I always advocate that you be yourself—of course, the best version of yourself!), but sometimes, a casual, friendly attitude will be more welcome than a purely professional one. This is why it will benefit you to get the tone of the interview early. Of course, some interviewers may try to test you and stress you out—first of all, boo (I hate this tactic), but second, take a deep breath and respond as you truly would. Don’t let anyone steamroll you or beat you down—chances are, if they’re like that in the interview, they’ll be like that as a manager, too.

    Finally, follow up. This means both thanking the interviewer both at the end of the interview as well as after (by email or phone, whichever method you’ve been using to communicate), but also, by establishing next steps at the end of the interview. Ask when you expect to hear from the interviewer, and what the next step will be, whether it’s another interview, an offer, or a decision. That way, you won’t be sitting around wondering whether or not they’ve decided (or worst case, ghosted!), and if you don’t hear around when you’re “supposed” to, it allows you to check in without feeling pushy.

    What tips have helped in your interviews? Let me know!

    The Job Search: Pre-Employment Networking

    Now that you’ve narrowed down the type of employment you’re looking for, the general kind of job you’re interested in, and may have found some possible leads, you’re ready to get interviewing. But sometimes getting the interview takes more work than just sending your resume through an online system.

    Enter networking.

    Networking, at its core, is collecting a roster of people with whom you share interests, experience, and/or skills, and who one day might be in a position to help you by sharing opportunities—a favor you should be prepared (and willing!) to return. Networking is not getting your name in front of faces, nor is it about quantity of leads. The best networks are built through careful curation of people, with whom you’ve built relationships. You should like the people you keep in your network.

    I’m planning to go in-depth into networking in the future, but for now, I’d like to start with helping you figure out where to network. As a job seeker, this can be really difficult: Others have ruined this for you by jumping the gun and asking for jobs from people they barely know, so your path is littered with suspicion and caution from others on it. That’s fine! The key is to show you’re earnest about getting to know the people you’re networking with, and are interested in their work, as well as that you’re interested in possible future collaboration or connection, should it arise.

    Don’t ask someone you barely know (or were just introduced to) for a job.

    Cool, that’s out of the way. If someone asks what you do, you can say that you’re looking for a position, but unless they ask what you’re looking for/interested in, steer the conversation back to getting to know them instead. You want connections first—the opportunities will come later.

    So, where do you go to connect?

    Informational Interviews

    This tactic was not around when I was graduating (or if it was, I didn’t know about it/capitalize on it…and, looking back, that seems much more likely), but it’s an incredible resource. An informational interview is meant to give you a window into someone who is already established in your field. It’s easiest for students to organize these interviews, but even if you aren’t a student, professionals usually respond to polite requests for informational interviews on who they are and what they do. Alumni networks are a great way to get in contact with people who might be willing to do an informational interview. Facebook, too, can be a great resource—you’d be surprised how many friends or relatives of friends are working in things similar to where you want to be.

    The key for informational interviews is to learn from the person you’re interviewing. Keep the conversation on them, unless they ask you pointed questions about yourself. Even if they do, redirect back to them. Ask about their background, their education and work experience. Ask them for advice and guidance, but throughout the whole interview, be polite and listen. Ask first if you want to take notes, but above all, be a keen listener. Not only will these tips help you on your journey, but an informational interview is also a soft interview for the interviewee: they’re getting to know you and your interests in an informal setting, and if something comes up that matches your skills and experience, they may be able to send it your way. However, that should never be the end goal—in an informational interview, connections and mentorship are key.

    Professional Organizations

    Professional organizations for your industry or career type are great ways to meet people in all stages of their career. Usually the organizations will bring people together for social functions, lectures, or activities, and all can be great ways to meet people. These are especially great, because they bring together people who are experts in your field and who understand what you do and the challenges you may be facing. However, they’re higher stakes: Keep in mind these people may be your future employers and coworkers, so keep it professional, especially when alcohol is served.

    Do a search for organizations both nationwide and local, and find the chapters operating in your area. For some careers, this may be Meetup groups or hobby interest groups—what you’re really looking for are the local experts who are in the know. They can be your greatest supporters throughout your career.

    Conferences

    Conferences for your career or interest are fantastic ways to meet people, but can also be very challenging. Most people at conferences are attending for a specific intention, so meeting and socializing with people can feel impossible, especially for shy people. For this reason, I recommend volunteering for the conferences. Volunteering is a great way to get your name out there—people will recognize you, they have to talk to you, and they see you at work (another form of soft interview). Attendees are often more respectful of volunteers than they are of the typical conference-goer, because you’re both giving up your time to work for them while also acting as an organizational authority. You also get an immediate bonded group of other volunteers, who can form the base of your network, and who can introduce you to others who might help in your career.


    Of course, these ideas are just scratching the surface. Have you had luck networking in other capacities? Please let me know!

    The Job Search: What Kind of Employment are you Looking For?

    You’ve sorted out your resume and your online presence, and you’re ready to apply like crazy. Great! The next step is to figure out what kind of employment you’d like! The following breakdowns give only a very wide overview, but they’re things to think about when you’re deciding what type of employment is right for you.

    Full-time

    Full-time employment has long been touted as the end-all goal, but while it’s great for some, it can be too confining for others.

    Pros:

    • Usually offers benefits like health insurance and paid time off
    • Usually salaried
    • Often offers consistent schedules (often 9-5, M-F)
    • Often comes with clear career advancement
    • Projects and work can be longer term

    Cons:

    • NDAs and Non-Competes can complicate personal projects and side work
    • Full-time hours may not leave enough time for creative projects and other work
    • Full-time hours may not offer enough flexibility for caretakers

    Contract and Contract-to-Hire

    Contract work is exactly what it sounds like—work where you’re hired for a set amount of time (often from 3-12 months). Some companies also offer contract-to-hire, where they may bring people on full-time at the end of their contract if the team is given the resources to do so.

    Pros:

    • Can give you a taste for the company and the work before committing to a full-time position (at the same company or a similar one)
    • Can offer similar benefits to a full-time position
    • Is a guaranteed amount of work for a set period of time, allowing you to count on the money and plan around the work

    Cons:

    • May leave you looking for a new position if you are not hired after the contract ends
    • May not offer the critical benefits you need
    • You may not get to participate in the kinds of projects you’re interested in
    • Your time is still promised for a certain period, which may not offer the flexibility or time off you need

    Part-time

    Part-time work can be great because it offers the stability of a position with more flexibility than most full-time jobs, but some can offer both too much flexibility and too little at the same time.

    Pros:

    • Offers hours at a standard rate (with the exception of jobs which rely on tips)
    • Offers coworkers and socialization
    • Offers some flexibility in hours, depending on the position
    • Usually have opportunities for advancement

    Cons:

    • Schedules can change week to week, and it can be hard to ask for the time off you need
    • Many do not offer benefits
    • May not offer the hours you need

    Freelance

    Last but not least, freelance! Freelancing can be great if you’re self-driven and want to be your own boss, but it also means a lot of hustle to find work and clients, especially when starting out.

    Pros:

    • Can set your own hours and rates
    • Can do the work you’re interested in
    • Gives you the flexibility to pivot
    • Depending on the work, can be easy to work remote

    Cons:

    • Work is not guaranteed, so there’s a need to constantly hustle for new work and new clients
    • No benefits except ones you purchase privately
    • No tax withholding (we’ll get into this later, but always save 50% of what you earn!)
    • No built-in coworkers
    • No concrete path for advancement

    Again, this is a starter list—we’ll get deeper into some of these things (especially freelance!) as we go forward, but for now, look over these points (and let me know if I’ve missed something critical!) and decide which kind(s) of employment is right for you!

    The Job Search: Five Tips for a Successful Job Fair

    Job fairs can be great tools for job seekers: Everyone at a job fair is there either to hire or be hired, which eliminates any ambiguity and allows people to cut right to the chase. Job seekers can get a feel for what positions employers are looking to fill, and employers can quickly screen potential candidates to find qualified leads. However, they can be long, exhausting days, and the constant direct interpersonal interactions is a lot for anyone, but especially for introverts.

    To make them easier, here are my top five tips:

    1. Know who is attending

    Do your research! Most job fairs will at least give you an idea of which companies are attending, and some will already have their jobs listed. If you can find some jobs and employers you’re especially interested in, plan to head to them first, while you and the recruiter are both still fresh. Knowing which companies and jobs will be there also gives you the opportunity to brush up on your applicable experience, and to tailor your resume in a way that highlights your relevant skills.

    2. Bring resumes and business cards

    Note the “and,” not “or.” Both resumes and business cards are critical—some recruiters prefer one, the other, or both. Even if you print them both at Staples or Office Max or another low-budget printer, they should look decently nice (please don’t just use printer paper for your business cards!) and should clearly include your pertinent, updated contact information. I’ll talk about business cards soon, but a good practice is to use writeable stock and to leave the back blank so the recruiter can jot down notes. Resumes can be on regular printer paper, but nicer stock is also appreciated and appropriate. Have these in a nice folder at the ready, so you can provide them to the recruiter when prompted without having to fuss for them.

    3. Look your best

    Dress up for a job fair in business professional or well-curated business casual, unless you’re going to one for a targeted industry at which suits would be overkill (video games, for example…though even then, there are some roles for which suits might be appropriate). I find it really helpful to do something nice for yourself beforehand, like getting a manicure or doing a face pack or whatever makes you feel good—even if the effect isn’t obvious, it’ll put an extra pep in your step, and that extra confidence will come across to recruiters.

    4. Practice your elevator pitch and introductions

    Job fairs are all about meeting people—lots of people. You won’t have much time with anyone, so you want to make the most of what time you have. Craft a succinct introduction that conveys who you are and what type of role you’re looking for, and practice it enough so you can say it confidently and clearly over and over again. Be specific: It helps both you and the recruiter save your time and energy if you’re clear about what you’re looking for, because if what you want doesn’t match up with the job for which someone is recruiting, you can both move on. Just remember to be polite and professional, and always thank someone for their time!

    5. Take breaks and pace yourself

    Job fairs can create a lot of pressure, because not only are you and the other attendees looking for a job (which is stressful enough as it is!) but with so many recruiters and job opportunities, it can feel like a waste if you aren’t out there applying and networking the whole day. However, if you’re constantly in motion, you’ll start to run out of energy and be useless by the end of the day. Plan to take water and snack breaks at least every 45 minutes, and plan to take lunch if it isn’t provided. Also, especially for introverts, it can be worth deciding on a set time to stay there before you even go. Three dedicated hours can be more fruitful than an entire day. Know how you work best, and structure your day accordingly.

    I hope these tips are helpful, and allow you to maximize your time at a job fair! They can still be great avenues for getting a job, especially for students, so I hope you look into them and feel cool and confident when you go!