Colleagues and readers: I observe a whole lot of complaining going on lately among us professional content creator types. It is not restricted to one type of creator, either. It spans the spectrum. Older journalists swear that ageism is ruining their prospects. Entry level post-grads say no one will pay them what they’re worth. Influencers say that the current algorithm changes at Facebook, Pinterest and IG have turned their careers into a game of “The Floor is Lava.” Photographers say that influencers have destroyed their lives.
No one ever hears back when they apply for jobs online (myself included). Everyone has terrible experiences with recruiters. Everyone is angry.
Everybody who has ever posted any of the above: You have a point! There is truth to all of these commonly floated grievances.
Unfortunately, it’s the reality of the marketplace, and most have no choice but to adapt. Which is as uncomfortable as jumping into an ice-cold lake. As awkward as a bad first date. As painful as a boxing boot camp when you’re “not an exercise person.”
And like those things, it can lead to a new way of seeing things… which is why I advocate trying completely non-intuitive switch-ups to break out of a disappointing day-to-day.
Content creators, let’s help you shift away from these common, overly comfortable habits:
1. The Comfortable Habit: If someone’s referred you for an opportunity in the past, you ask them for more leads when you’re low on work.
The Logic: This person seems to have connections to hiring managers, and not mind sharing them.
The Harsh Reality: Even a generous person usually tires of giving away opportunities to people who only ask for them, but don’t reciprocate. If you ask for seconds when you haven’t reciprocated on the first hookup yet, you’re already over-reaching.
The Shift: For every ask you make, try to balance with an offer. Not “I promise I’ll buy you drinks next time I see you,” but something actually real and useful that you could do immediately.
2. The Comfortable Habit: You see someone in a professional group post about a nice client or recruiter that they work with. You message or comment, asking for the contact.
The Logic: You’re in a professional networking group — you’re just networking!
The Harsh Reality: Ten other people just did the exact same thing. Only the people with a previous relationship with the poster are going to get a sincere response.
The Shift: Do thorough research on the client/publication/brand of your acquaintance. Are you really a good fit? Do you have something to offer? If so, message the acquaintance with specifics. Or better yet, use LinkedIn to see if you have any stronger connections to that company, who haven’t just been deluged with a dozen requests and might be more enthusiastic in helping you.
3. The Comfortable Habit: You’ve never sent anyone a thank-you gift or note.
The Logic: It feels weird. You don’t want to seem like you’re trying too hard, or like you’re bribing anyone.
The Harsh Reality: Many make a habit of sending thank you notes and gifts. It is not “trying too hard.” It’s just good manners, per etiquette professionals. Also, when it comes to landing large business deals, a lot of agencies actually are greasing pockets. If you’re going for a highly competitive retainer or project, you need to do more than just deliver decent work in order to stand out. Showing thanks for opportunities is one good place to start.
The Shift: Be more thoughtful, in tangible ways, especially to people who have been good to you. Adapt a practice not just of gratitude, but of generosity.
4. The Comfortable Habit: You just want to work 9-5. You simply are asking for a desk job where you are able to do that.
The Logic: Aren’t there a lot of companies that value that? Isn’t that exactly what employers are supposed to want from their staff?
The Harsh Reality: A lot of employers do not want that anymore. They are feeling out “the gig economy,” and they’re also considering offshoring. They do not necessarily want a person who only aspires to fill space and file deliverables for an exact number of hours — the minimum number to collect full benefits.
The Shift: Sign up to every reputable recruiting agency… and when they ask what sort of hours you want, tell them you are flexible, although ideally looking to find a full-time position. As soon as you’ve done that, enroll in some online courses to ramp up your skills and maybe get a new certification. You might need to switch fields entirely to find the kind of security you want.
But if you want to embrace our shifting work culture, embrace the prospect of freelancing full-time. It’s now a legitimate career, gaining more and more respect and opportunities every day. For many people, it will be the 9-5 and 24/7 of the future.
5. The Comfortable Habit: You apply to jobs that you see on LinkedIn or other sites by submitting a resume and a slightly customized cover letter.
The Logic: That’s what these job sites specifically tell you to do.
The Harsh Reality: The whole online recruiting and hiring system is broken. Some HR people never even review the resumes that come in off the job sites. Certainly a software program does the initial screening almost always. Also, a lot of sites are just borrowing listings from other sites, and the “current opening” you’re looking at might be 3 months out of date.
The Shift: If you like the looks of a company on LinkedIn, go directly to the company’s website, search till you find the Careers page, and see what’s listed. Then apply through whatever page it sends you to. Then, see if you can find an email to reach the HR person directly, and send a personal email with work samples, inquiring about opportunities. This is a much more effective way to get a response.
6. The Comfortable Habit: You are so angry about how the same amount of work now pays less than what it did 15 years ago. You find this occurring repeatedly at all the “best” places.
The Logic: Everyone knows that traditional media is dying, but emerging media oftentimes doesn’t even pay. Best to stick with the reputable companies.
The Harsh Reality: Time, Inc. is dead and gone — a casualty of profligate overspending, corporate arrogance, and failure to adapt. Every other major publisher — “reputable” or Buzzfeed-clone — is laying off staff. And everyone’s angry about it. The remaining staff — many of whom, it turns out, are also not full-time with benefits anymore — don’t have energy to deal with yet another throwback freelancer haranguing them about their rates.
The Shift: Find three funded startups (check CrunchBase or AngelList), or three blue chip companies, or three established brands, and see what they are doing in terms of owned content. See if they have an “online publication.” From CitiBank to Equinox to your local hospital, almost all of them do. And if not — try pitching to develop one for them. It will likely pay between 2-5 times more than so-called “prestige publications” do.
7. The Comfortable Habit: You really don’t like the condescending/disbelieving attitude you get from youngsters who are interviewing you for gigs. Your peers totally agree.
The Logic: Ageism sucks.
The Harsh Reality: Sorry, but I believe in the law of attraction here. You get back what you put forth. If you’re getting attitude from youngsters, you might be radiating it outward without realizing it. If you’ve ever described yourself as “jaded” or “over it all,” I’m pretty sure that’s what you’re doing.
The Shift: First, research the companies you’re applying to, to make sure they don’t have a genuinely toxic culture. Glassdoor generally has good info on this. Then, if they don’t, go into the interview process genuinely excited and optimistic. Like you still have things to learn. Look for admirable qualities in your young colleagues.
Also, don’t date yourself with your resume, because some ageism is real. So if it’s a true concern beyond an egotistical one, leave it vague. Most people won’t ask outright. Especially if it’s a Skype or phone interview.
8. The Comfortable Habit: You mostly look for potential gigs at the 20 or 30 places that are in your immediate circle.
The Logic: You don’t cold-call or cold-email to inquire about opportunities at interesting companies. It is pointless and feels really awkward. Sometimes you’ll see if you have a mutual connection to the place on LinkedIn, and maybe ask the connection for an intro.
The Harsh Reality: You’re limiting yourself, and making excuses. People find gigs off cold-messaging prospects on social media every hour of every day.
The Shift: For every acquaintance you approach, also outreach to one total stranger. Or more. If cold-calling absolutely kills you, then go to networking events, collect business cards, and follow up afterward.
People think that opportunities only come from relationships, but that’s not always true. Opportunity is a numbers game, and also, it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time. The person who’s known you for10 years and never had an opportunity for you is probably not going to transform into a golden goose. But the stranger who showed up at a Chamber of Commerce event because they’re opening a new business just might.