Want a better career? Stop chasing jobs.

Did you know exactly what you wanted to do when you graduated college?

I did.

Until I worked at that job for a year and found I hated it.

Are you in a job that you love now? Does it have a sense of purpose?

While a few lucky souls know exactly what they want to do, the rest of us take the opportunities that come our way and make the most of them until we stumble into something that fits us.

What if we don't have to stumble into something better somewhere down the road? What if we can be more proactive than that?

After all, we want to be in jobs we love, working with people we respect, feeling like we are doing something that matters. It's just that sometimes it feels impossible to get from here to there.

Let's change that.

Why we may be looking at this all wrong. 

What do you think of when you think of looking for a job? Scouring CareerFinder? Looking at an industry job board? We've been trained to seek out jobs.

But, jobs are singular. They are competed over.

What if we could go off-road and approach this another way? 

To frame this, I have to ask a question: did you ever get a position through information that came outside of normal channels? Maybe through a "friend of a friend"?

Often, the best positions aren't the ones in a list available to everyone. They are the leads we receive from people who know us.  Leads we might not find on our own.

When we stop chasing jobs and instead cultivate relationships with the type of people we want to work with, we can build a great career. However, it requires a much different strategy than optimizing our resume or surfing through job boards.

If you don't feel like you are connected to the type of people who will connect you with the work you most want to do, here are six ways to change that.

6 ways to get yourself into a career-building ecosystem

The default is to stay in the circle you are already in, connected to people you already know. But, that won't change your access to opportunities. With intention and a bit of action on your part, you can put yourself in a place where you can meet people who will connect you to better opportunities.

1. Join a professional organization, then volunteer to serve on a committee or organize an event.

If you like the industry you are in, but aren't crazy about your current title or position, a professional organization can connect you to people with opportunities. Of course, it isn't enough to just join, you need to place yourself in a position to get to know people well.

The best way to do that is either to serve on a committee, join a task force or volunteer to help organize an event. Whatever the "work" of the organization is, they need volunteers to run it. Signing up puts you shoulder-to-shoulder with people doing the work which not only connects you to those people, but also to everyone they know.

You don't have to be shy about jumping in. Most organizations have more work than they have volunteers. You might be surprised where your service takes you.

2. Find the hobbyists and learn with them. 

Whether you are deeply into rock climbing, tennis, model trains or ukulele music, there are people from a wide variety of careers that share your passion. Hobbies are an easy way for people to connect over shared knowledge or passion.

If your current hobby group isn't full of people who have careers that interest you, then find where those hobbyists hang out. Do you need to invest a bit of money to join a rock climbing gym? Could you volunteer with an arts organization? Hobbies are an easy entry to conversation, and you never know where those conversations might go or who you might meet.

Another spin on this is to invest money in training to build a hobby-skill into a potential new job-skill. Things like coding boot camp, writers groups, and public speaking workshops can offer the opportunity to connect face-to-face with people who have different connections to your own.

3. Ask for advice from someone who is living the life you want to live.

We don't always know where the job-rich ecosystems are, or how to get into them. But if there is someone you observe who is living a lifestyle you would like to live, ask them to share their story.

- How did they start on their current career path?

- What advice do they have on getting a coach or a mentor?

- What are they doing now to get to the next level?

- How did they first start to meet the people who inspire them?

While no two career paths are ever the same, there is a lot to be learned by people who have already traveled them.

4. Make a bold move and radically change your connections.

Jon Morrow, in his post How to Accomplish Big Things Even When You Feel Small, shares that he refused to hang out with other disabled or impoverished people. "Not because I thought I was “better” than them, but because they represented what I was, rather than what I wanted to become. To replace them, I found a real estate club I could join for only $100 per year, and I brazenly asked the top investors in the club if they would take me to lunch and answer my questions. Amused by the cocky kid in a wheelchair, they agreed, and suddenly I was spending 2-3 hours a day with millionaires. By the end of the year, I thought of myself as one of them, not because I was rich, but because I now spent more time with them than anyone else."

5. Create your own internship

Working for free (aka interning) can both earn you experience and get you close to the people adjacent to your dream job. This isn’t about applying for normal internships through normal channels. This is about finding a way to commit significant chunks of time working for free for the people that you eventually want to hire you. Identify the company you want to work with. Tell them of your ambition. And put forward a job description along with your hours of availability on the table.

What does this look like? Well, if your aspirations are to work with animals it might be volunteering to walk dogs or clean kennels. If you want to be a copy writer, it might be about submitting free ideas or articles on a regular basis. If you want to be in marketing, it might be about volunteering to do data entry.

Getting to work for free for someone isn’t as easy as it sounds. After all, there will be supervision investment on the part of the company you are volunteering for and there might be some skepticism about your motives. But if you get in, you give people the chance to see you in action. Being extremely helpful can pay big dividends. When you set it up, make sure you have an exit strategy. Commit to do it for 13 weeks or six months. When they ask you what you want in return, let them know you want to use them as a reference.

6. Recruit a mastermind group

Napoleon Hill launched the idea of mastermind groups about 75 years ago in his book, Think and Grow Rich. People have been creating their own spins on the idea ever since for personal development. The idea is to recruit a group of people focused on personal growth and success, then meet with them on a regular basis for brainstorming, encouragement and creative thinking.

The best mastermind groups are based in diversity so that each person brings a different experience and outlook to the group and they are small enough to support conversation—somewhere between four and eight people. Each person has time during the meeting to bring up what they are working on and to leverage the collective intelligence of the group to help them move forward.

So where do you plan to start? 

How is your current ecosystem? Do you need to do some work? Of all of these ideas, which one do you feel like you could begin right now?

Crafting your own career-building ecosystem is a much more powerful way to build your career than being at the mercy of whatever is posted to a job board. And sometimes, the actions don't even move you to a different company.  Sometimes, it helps you build something great with the resources you already have within reach.


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