Of the hundreds of people who've written to Michael Stearns, the husband who stars in myhusbandneedsajob.com, some haven't been very nice. They've mocked him for subjecting himself to public emasculation —the site's front page features a picture of Stearns' wife, Robin, holding up a sign that reads, "Hire my husband." But Stearns says he's OK with the jokes. He graduated from Georgetown's business school last May, and he's been looking for a position in corporate marketing ever since. Stearns tried everything—answering dozens of listings, cold-calling, relentless networking. Nothing panned out.
So Stearns and his wife decided to take their search online. Over the last few weeks, the couple snapped cute pictures of themselves frolicking around San Francisco, recorded a video introduction with Mike, and wrote up some heartwarming marketing copy. Robin designed the site on her MacBook (she says she paid for the computer with a tax refund) and launched it last week. Myhusbandneedsajob.com now seems on track to go viral; CNN had a small piece on it over the weekend. "We never in our wildest dreams anticipated that it would blow up like this," Stearns told me. He says he's found a few promising leads in the torrent of e-mail. So far, though, no job.
Is Stearns' gambit tacky, or brilliant? (You could ask the same thing about this video in which a teenager holds up signs touting his laid-off dad's work history.) The site certainly smacks of desperation, though given the circumstances, it's hard to fault him. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an unemployed person in this recession will remain jobless for about five months. Competition for the few available jobs is rough; every position is met with hundreds or thousands of applications. Stearns is just an extreme example of what's become a mantra for employment consultants these days: When you're looking for a job, do whatever you can to make yourself stand out.
Over the last few days, I've spoken to a half-dozen people who've been searching for work during the downturn. I also talked to recruiters, job search coaches, and folks who are building new online tools to help the unemployed find work. They all report the same thing: The key to finding work in this economy is to look beyond job-listings sites like Monster.com; if your search consists mainly of scouring available jobs and sending in your résumé and cover letter, you're on the wrong path.
That's because companies will often look to fill positions before paying for a listing. If they do post something online, it's often a perfunctory listing designed to comply with HR policy, even though they actually plan to fill the job in some other way. What other way? Every year, the employment consulting firm CareerXRoads conducts a survey of HR managers at large companies. The 2009 survey shows that just 12 percent of recent new hires were found through job boards, while 27 percent were found through referrals—that is, people who work at the company or who have connections to the company recommend the largest share of new people. There's a word for this sort of job-seeking: networking.
The word networking can seem a bit slimy, conjuring up images of finger-gun-shooting frat guys who are talking to you only to get something in return. But networking need not be so wretched. Now you can use the Web to find people who'll help you find work. The most forward-looking job seekers I spoke to said they'd all but abandoned job-listing sites in favor of social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. For a few people, job-hunting on these sites paid off; for others, the social networks showed some promise—at least more promise than sending in résumés. For a couple of others, social networking proved useless.
Here are some of their stories, with pointers on what to do and what to avoid when going online to look for work.
Facebook: In early February, Evan Sornstein, a designer who lives in San Francisco, got laid off from his job at the advertising firm Razorfish. He began looking for work by searching job sites that list creative design positions. He also asked a couple of creative agencies to look for work on his behalf. Two weeks passed with no prospects. Then, on a lark, he posted a Facebook status update, worded carefully to avoid any hint of desperation: "Does anybody know of anybody who's looking for a Website?"
Within 10 minutes, he says, he got four replies. Two of his friends promised to ask around for him. One reply was from Sornstein's mortgage broker, who needed a new site designed; Sornstein will likely begin working on that soon. He also got a message from his friend Jenn Shreve, a writer (and sometime Slate contributor) who lives in New York. Shreve knew of an agency that was looking to redesign a Web site, and she introduced Sornstein to someone at the firm over Facebook. The introduction worked; Sornstein landed the gig, getting back to work within three weeks of his layoff.
Shreve herself recently had a similar experience on Facebook. Over Thanksgiving, she was let go from her job at an ad agency (her boss sent her the layoff message over Facebook), and she began calling a recruiter who represented a firm that she really wanted to work for. But he kept giving her the brushoff. So she turned to her network, asking a friend in the firm's San Francisco office to introduce her over Facebook to someone in the New York office. She and the guy in New York became friends; when a position suddenly opened up, he asked the recruiter to give Shreve a call. She got the job.