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How to put yourself out there and activate career opportunities (it's not as hard as we think)

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

It’s a blessing and a curse that throughout my life, I’ve only ever wanted to work at “cool” jobs. I grew up in a small, rural town in Idaho (Congratulations! Now you know one person from Idaho!). Neither of my parents were born there, so maybe that’s what put the idea in my head that people grew up and moved away. I don’t remember a time in my childhood when I didn’t imagine myself having a life in a bigger city. But, because I didn’t know a lot of people with careers in other places, most of my “cool job” dreams were based on plots from romantic comedies.

I was quite sure I could write for a women’s magazine like Kate Hudson in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.

I would probably need to grit my teeth as an assistant like Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada.

Ultimately, I’d settle down and live on my vineyard in Northern California like Hallie’s dad in the Parent Trap. (The Lindsay Lohan one, of course.)

When I graduated from college in 2009, my career aspirations were slightly jaded. It was so hard to find entry level jobs (especially if you only apply to “cool” ones). I can’t count or remember how many times I applied to something online and never heard back.

I was in a conversation in LinkedIn messages with one of my former students the other day. She was struggling to figure out what she wanted to do, and just like me in 2009, was sending resumes into the black hole of the internet. She asked, “How did you get all those cool jobs?” I looked at my profile, and had an epiphany.

TOMS Shoes, intern: TOMS was still small, new, and local to LA, spending most of their time creating relationships with college campuses. TOMS was our “client” in my advertising class. After we presented our “ad campaign” to a representative from TOMS, I reached out and asked him personally if I could apply to an internship.

bon appetit and W magazine, assistant: One summer in college I worked in the catering and weddings department at a resort in Sun Valley, Idaho. I was the “wine pourer” at a rehearsal dinner for a wedding party from New York. I made small talk with a guest, who asked if there were any companies in New York I wanted to apply to after college. I immediately blurted, “Conde Nast!” (the magazine publisher who also had offices in LA). He said, “I know the head of HR. Reach out and I’ll give you her contact info.” I did. I had to interview for two different positions, eleven months apart. Both times I reached out to the HR person in New York, who got me the interviews.

Pepperdine University, visiting professor: I sent a Facebook message to my friend from college, who connected me to her dad, who was the head of the division I had studied in (I’d had him as a professor), and who ultimately hired me.

My epiphany: I realized that I had a story like that for every single job on in my LinkedIn history. I also have a story like this for every client who has hired me in my own business and for every single speaking engagement I’ve had. To be fair, I have just as many stories of things I’ve applied to that haven’t worked out, but you really don’t know unless you put yourself out there, right?

I help my clients and students with communications--public speaking, copywriting, and strategy. All of them use communications for the same goal: to activate new opportunities. Here’s what they’re looking for:

  • New clients

  • Product sales

  • Speaking engagements

  • New jobs

  • Bigger networks and audiences

  • Job promotions

  • Credibility

  • Bigger clients

  • Book deals

  • Funding

None of those opportunities show up passively; we have to activate them. We need to share our goals and ideas with people who can help us make them happen. And to do that, we just need to do three things:

  1. Craft a Message

  2. Create a Platform

  3. Find the right Audience

The first thing you can do is identify what you already have. Do you have an email address? Perfect. You’ve got a platform. Do you get regular opportunities to talk to new people? It looks like you have an audience. Maybe you have enough consistent experience in your field that you have an answer to almost any question someone would want to ask about your work. Sounds like you have a message to share.

You don’t have to start from scratch. Work to build the areas that aren’t working in your favor yet. Here are some simple ways we can put ourselves out there in each category.

Craft a Message:

  • Fine tune your elevator pitch (to do that, know who you help and what problems you solve for them--simple as that)

  • Rewrite your bio or about section (there’s a template for purchase on the resources page.)

  • Tell people in your network what you’re working on, what you’ve done, and what your goals are

  • Put together a pitch deck, a speaker page, a cover letter, or a resume to email to your contacts

  • Ask your supporters for testimonials, recommendations, and referrals

  • Collect stories (like how you got to where you are) from your experience that you can share when networking

Create a Platform:

  • Update your LinkedIn profile

  • Talk about your work on social media

  • Create a portfolio website

  • Host your own workshops or events

  • Offer to teach someone’s class, train their team, or speak at a “lunch and learn”

  • Launch a podcast

  • Write a blog

  • Contribute your writing (or photography or art) to other publications

  • Create a YouTube channel

Find the Right Audience:

  • Reach out to people in your sphere of influence, and connect over coffee

  • Grow your email list

  • Apply to speak at TEDx or other conferences

  • As other people to share the work you’ve done that might serve their audiences

  • Show up at a networking event, and don’t leave until you’ve had a conversation with three new people

  • Go to events with people outside your immediate friend and family group

  • Reach new people by being a guest on someone else’s podcast

  • Get together with a friend and invite like-minded people in your networks to dinner

  • Connect with people on LinkedIn who have the type of job or company connection you’re looking for (and send a personal message)

Big and small actions can lead to new connections and opportunities. (My SMU job came from asking someone to proofread my cover letter. My first nonprofit client came from a conversation at a happy hour.) Inaction, in my experience, doesn’t lead to much.

It’s normal to be intimidated by putting ourselves out there. What if someone says no? What if they don’t respond? What if it feels awkward? What if that guy I met two years ago at a catering event is annoyed that I’m reaching out to him and asking for a favor?

Or, what if you land the "cool job" you always wanted?


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