in: Career, Career & Wealth, Featured

• Last updated: May 30, 2021

Looking for a Job? Take the Initiative!

Vintage man walking through the stairs and holding briefcase.

This month, nearly 2 million students left colleges and universities around the country with a bachelor’s degree in hand. Some will be headed to graduate school, while others will be entering the job market, many hoping to land their first “real” job. At the same time, 3 million high school graduates have started looking for a summer gig–perhaps their first job ever. Joining them in the job hunt are the millions of Americans who have been laid off, are unemployed, and have been looking to get hired for weeks, months, even years.

What all these folks have in common is that they’re searching for a job in a tough economy. While experts debate whether things are looking up or whether we’re headed for even worse times, the reality for job seekers out there is that competition is tight. The plumb jobs will go to the bright, to those who are well-connected and know how to network, and, most of all…to those who know how to hustle.

Too many men see the job search as a passive process. They spend each day at home on the computer, trolling and other job sites, submitting their resumes, and then waiting to get a call requesting an interview. And waiting. And waiting.

The job you want is very unlikely to land in your lap this way. Instead, the job will go to the man hitting the pavement–the man who takes the initiative. Here are some tips on how to grab the bull by the horns when you’re looking for a job.

Note: Obviously, one of the best ways to take the initiative in finding work is to start your own biz. But the focus of this article will be landing a job with someone else.

Hand in Your Resume in Person

Vintage man holding resume and wearing hat illustration.

The surest way to remain unemployed is to be like the guy mentioned above—submitting your resumes online and then sitting on your hands waiting for a call. HR departments are like employment Bermuda Triangles—your resume gets sent to who knows where to be read by who knows who, if at all. And even if your resume does get read, what will differentiate it from the hundreds of others in the stack?

Instead, if it’s possible, print out your resume/cover letter/application, and go in person to hand it to whomever is responsible for hiring (the hiring manager, your potential supervisor, the head of the department, etc.) for the job you want. Figuring out who is responsible for hiring can be difficult at large, faceless corporations, but often can be done by looking online and making some calls.

This is how I have gotten most of the jobs I’ve had in my life. In each instance, the person was pleased with my initiative, interviewed me right on the spot, and, in some cases, offered me the job right then and there.

Obviously, handing in your resume in person works better for lower-level jobs than more professional ones, but it can be effective in a variety of situations. Awhile back, AoM Community member Ben D. posted an awesome little article on the Community blog about how he landed a job as a respiratory therapist by using this method:

“When my wife and I moved to Chicago, we had no connections here. No jobs, no family, and minimal money. The assumption was that I would be able to find a job in short order. Before we moved, I updated my resume, applied online to many jobs, and then sat back and waited.

When the move was over and we had settled in, I still did not have a job. I had a couple of leads, but they were at companies that are considered resume stains in my profession. Still, a crappy job beats no job, so I bit the bullet, called the hiring manager, and got hired at the Resume Stain.

After one shift I had had enough. While the people were nice, the job and the company were crap. I began formulating plans for my escape. I applied to more jobs online and then waited. That is how one applies for a job, right?

Wrong. I was listening to public radio and a story came on about how people seeking work would fill out online applications, post their resume to Monster, and then just wait for a job to fall into their laps. Listening to this it struck me how absurd and un-manly that was. Unless you can poop golden eggs, you are just one faceless resume in a sea of thousands. I decided to get my job the manly way: with hard work, initiative, and elbow grease.

I printed my resume, wrote a custom cover letter for the company I was applying to, and signed it in pen. I folded these items up into an envelope and addressed it to the hiring manager, put on my good suit and tie, and drove down to the company.

It struck me that what I was about to do–to cold-call a hiring manager–was risky. He could be in a bad mood or out of the office. Any number of bad things could happen. But I wanted this job, and I had nothing to lose.

I choked down my nerves, straightened my tie, put on a big confident smile, and strode through the doors. A little sniffing around brought me to the manager’s office. I knocked on the door, introduced myself with a big smile and a handshake, and before he knew it he had my resume and cover letter in his hands. I explained myself. “Just didn’t want to be another face in the crowd, thought I’d take a little initiative and stop by in person.” He sat me down for an interview, and an hour later I left with a promise from him that he’d be in touch.

A few days later I got a phone call and a job offer. Soon, I will be employed at a company that I respect and that has a great reputation. I got the job I actually wanted, not just one I was randomly hired for from the internet. I got a good job at a good company, and I got to make that critical first impression a good one, all by eschewing the trappings of the internet job hunt for the old-fashioned manly way of getting a job. Another victory for manliness!”

Another victory for manliness, indeed, Ben. And to the victor go the spoils.

Follow Up!

Whether you submit your resume online or hand it over in person, your job is not yet done. Now you must follow up! Hiring managers have a lot on their plate, as do department heads and supervisors for whom hiring is just one small part of what they do. So show your sincere interest in the job by following up with an email or phone call.

If a job posting gave a deadline for the application window, then follow up a couple of days after the deadline passes–following up before then will make you seem impatient. When you follow up, say something like, “Because the deadline for x job closed on June 11, I assume that applications have begun to be reviewed. I just wanted to express my sincere interest in the position. My [couple of key qualities] would make me a great fit for the job.” If you can find out something about the company’s culture or the kind of people the hiring manager likes to hire, then mention your connection to those things.

If the job posting didn’t have a deadline, then wait a week to ten days after you submit your application to follow up. Then give the hiring manager a call, and say something like, “My name is Bob Smith and I submitted my resume on June 11 for X job, and I was wondering if the position had been filled yet. No? Well, [express interest in job + a couple of things that make you well qualified for it].

If you’ve done an interview with the company, but haven’t heard back from them within the time frame they gave you (and make sure to ask for a timeline at the end of the interview if they don’t tell you), then the day after the original time frame expires, follow up with a phone call or email reaffirming your interest in the job, saying politely that you realize the hiring process can take awhile, and inquiring if they could give you an updated timeline on when they will be making a decision.

If the company didn’t give you a timeline to begin with, then wait a week and a half after your interview before following up.

Whether you’re following up on a submitted application or on an interview, keep it to two attempts. If you don’t get an answer on the first follow-up, send an email a week later. Still no answer? Move on.

“Apply” for Unadvertised Jobs and Jobs That Don’t Yet Exist

Many of the very best jobs out there will never show up in the classifieds. The company doesn’t advertise the positions publicly and instead hires friends, internal employees, or folks they have worked with or heard about in other capacities. So you’ll never get these gigs by waiting around for a job posting to show up. Instead, you have to take the initiative!

If there’s some place you want to work, and some position you’re hoping to get, send an email with your resume to the person you think would be in charge of hiring for that position. Tell them that if the job opens up, you’d love to be considered and why you’re qualified for the position.

You should put yourself out there even if a position or job you want doesn’t yet exist, or if you’re a freelancer hoping to pick up a new client who doesn’t even know he needs your services yet. Get a feel for what the company does currently, and where they could use help or could potentially expand, and then contact them and offer your services, giving them a specific idea of something you could do for them. Tell them you’re a big fan of what they do (hopefully this is actually true) and that you would be willing to do a project for them free of charge or at a discount to give back; doing something new is a risky proposition for the potential client, so they’ll be much more willing to give you a go if it won’t cost them much. Now they might not be able to use you at that moment, but down the road a need for your services may arise, and when it does, they’ll think of you first.

Let me give you some examples from running the Art of Manliness. Back in 2009, Ted Slampyak contacted me saying how much he liked AoM, and volunteering to take part in our SWYMJ series. Three years passed (three years!), but this year, the site was finally generating enough revenue to do something I had wanted to do since starting AoM: hire an illustrator to do illustrations for some of our posts. When we were thinking about how to find someone who could do illustrations with an AoM feel, Kate said, “Hey, how about that guy who did the SYWMJ interview? He does really cool stuff.” And so now Ted is our go-to guy for all our illustration needs.

Second case in point:

When I originally started AoM in January 2008, I did all the design work myself. For a law student with no web or graphic design experience, I did okay, but I knew the site could look a whole lot better if a professional applied their talents to it. Enter Eric Granata. Eric has been reading AoM since the beginning and was an active participant in our first version of the AoM forums. In early 2008, Eric reached out in an email introducing himself as a fellow Okie, AoM fan, and web designer. He volunteered his services for any graphic and web design needs that we might have. I had a small project that I needed done, and Eric did it completely gratis as a way to say thanks for the content on AoM.

We were so impressed with Eric’s work, we kept going back to him for other projects, but this time as a paying customer. In 2009, we hired Eric to do a complete redesign of AoM. The site you’re looking at today is Eric’s handiwork. We’ve become a regular paying client of Eric’s, and it all started with him taking the initiative and volunteering his services.

I could go on with more examples, but I think you get the idea. Start offering your services to people, and planting as many seeds as you can. They may not sprout immediately, but could very well bear fruit down the road.

And, it should go without saying, but even if you do that first thing for a potential client for free or at a discount, knock it out of the park! It’s basically your interview for a job. Wow the client with what you can do, and he’ll wonder what he ever did without you and eagerly start throwing more fully paid work your way. Half-ass it and your window of opportunity will close.

Take the Initiative!

So why do these initiative-taking methods work so well? Well, believe or not, companies have just as hard a time finding good people, as good people do finding good jobs. Put yourself in the shoes of the person doing the hiring—they’ve got stacks of applications to look through and it’s hard to distinguish on paper who might be worth calling in for an interview. It takes a lot of work to make that decision. By showing some initiative, you help do some of the work for them, as it shows you have moxie and ambition and that you really want this job: qualities that represent a big percentage of what they’re looking for in an employee.

Now taking the initiative in your job search doesn’t mean you’ll land your dream job tomorrow. But it is guaranteed to get you hired faster than waiting around for your next job to land in your lap.

What’s been your experience in taking the initiative when looking for a job? Share your advice with us in the comments!

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