It’s a crazy time to be looking for a job—but LinkedIn editor Jessi Hempel says she can help. On a recent episode of How To!, Jessi Hempel walked us through how to land a job during a pandemic, drawing from her interviews about the changing nature of work on her LinkedIn podcast Hello Monday. Right now is a time of incredible uncertainty, but according to Jessi, this uncertainty is exactly why it’s a great time to do informational interviews—virtually, if necessary—to expand your network. Just don’t pull any stunts—like this job candidate, who sent a hiring manager a package with a résumé and a shoe to “get a foot in the door.” This transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Charles Duhigg: How should we be networking during a time like this when we can’t talk in person?
Jessi Hempel: Right now is a really amazing time to make new relationships. We’ve all just been through something that’s left a lot of us a little more vulnerable, a little more nervous about the world, a little bit more in flux—and when people are in flux, they’re more open to new connections. A year ago, if you called somebody you didn’t know out of the blue and said, “Hey, let’s do this thing together,” maybe they’d be busy. But today, they probably have a little bit more free time to consider having a meeting with somebody new.
Doing an informational interview with someone at one of the companies you’ve applied for might be the first thing to do. One of the ways that people are often considered for jobs within companies is that they’re referred by people they know within those companies. It is a little awkward the first time you do it, [but] I’ll often begin by saying, “I just want to understand what other opportunities are out there that I haven’t really thought through.”
How do you find the right people to talk to?
When I wanted to become a magazine writer, I went into Barnes & Noble—this was back when Barnes & Noble actually had racks and racks of magazines. I would take the masthead of a magazine and count up three from the bottom, because I figured anybody at the top of that masthead is too important to talk to me and they’re not going to take my call. Anyone at the very bottom isn’t going to know a thing about how the place works. But if you get somebody who is just close enough to the bottom that they feel really important that you’ve called them, they’ll take your call and explain exactly how the place works. I suspect every organization has their equivalent of that person.
Let’s say you find that connection, have coffee, and eventually get in the room with the hiring manager. What do you say?
It starts with you and your own self-confidence about your story. The most important thing that you can do when you’re interviewing is listen well. Listening is really hard and it’s even harder when you’re nervous—which mostly we are when we interview. You do want to come off confident, but there is a fine line between confident and cocky. You want to communicate to them that you really respect the opportunity that they have to offer.
Here’s a question that I love [to ask in interviews]. “Tell me about the best work day that you had in your last job.” This is a great question because if you say, “Tell me about the thing you liked best about your last job,” you’ll get a pat answer. But if you ask this question, people will begin to actually talk about the pieces of the process of the work that they like. That tells you whether you’re actually going to like to do the job.
I would add that finding a job is a numbers game to some degree, in the same way that if you want to get married, you need to go out on a lot of dates. I find that the people who run at it tend to burn out quickly. One thing that I would think about in this process is spacing this out and choosing a dedicated period of time you’re going to work on this. Maybe it’s two hours a day, three days a week, and working on it during that time and letting it go the rest of the time.
As you’ve talked to people who have had these really interesting careers, what have you learned about what a career is supposed to be?
It’s a great question, particularly because I think there is this myth that exists that a career is supposed to be a complete fulfillment—this embodiment of who we are as people. What I hear more frequently is that people want purpose from their work, people want economic stability, and it doesn’t always come in the package you expect it to come in. A guy I know came to New York to be an actor and spent 10 years working very hard at it and had some success. He could pay his bills, mostly, but then he took an inventory of those skills and he realized that creativity—thinking loosely about new ideas—could be applied to software coding. And so he took a boot camp. It was a six-month program. It cost him $10,000. He did not have $10,000. He borrowed it and lived very frugally. Three years later, he is a very successful software programmer. The interesting thing about it is that he finds that he’s using the same skills, but the thing that he thought he wanted to do with them didn’t bring him the happiness that the thing he’s doing with them now does.