Maybe you graduated college 6 months ago or your last contract ended 6 months ago. What have you been doing since then? You will get asked this question and if you answer "Looking for jobs" then you will sound desperate and sad.
About a year and a half ago I had a cold streak where had poorly scheduled my return from a hiatus. I had no leads on any paying contracts so I did two things:
I started my own project:
I started a new opensource project. I started ripping open the Android OS and using its various radios to Trilaterate Wifi and Bluetooth signals; this means tracking these devices in the real world.
No one was paying me to do it, I hadn't really had a perfect business use case for it, but it did two things:
1. It kept me from wallowing in my own pity that I had no income.
2. It gave me a shiney new project to talk about to potential employers
It gives you something new to talk about:
When people asked me whats new I could say "Well I have been working on trilateration wifi and bluetooth signals..." then they would ask "What the hell is trilateration?" or "How does that apply to what I am working on?" and now you have a conversation and potentially a paying gig.
It shows you are a self starter:
Having projects that you work on without external motivations like money or a grade in school shows that you are a self starter. As a small business owner myself I love self starters.
Non-Self Starters see a problem and wait for it to bubble up to someone in charge who then has to figure out how to solve it.
Self Starters see a problem that could potentially cause harm to my business and the solve it before it has a chance to bubble up to me.
It makes you look like you are in demand:
If you don't have something else you're working on employers/clients don't need to be in any hurry to hire you. Chances are you will be doing the same thing tomorrow. They also don't have any other opportunities to compete with so why offer you a competitive rate?
If you have a compelling project that you are passionately working on, even if it isnt paid, then they know they have to offer you enough to get you away from your passion. For some that is not a lot, for others that is a substantial sum. In reality it all depends on how much runway you have saved up.
I could write an entire book on saving and budgeting so that you can weather the storm but I will save that for another post. For now, don't let yourself get that desperate.
It doesn't always have to be in the trade:
Obviously it pays to have a project that is related to whatever your potential clients/employers are buying but it doesn't always have to.
I often times take the summer off, a full 3 months, to coach gymnastics at Woodward Gymnastics Camp. Telling people I just got back from coaching high level atheletes and hanging out with olympians still sounds a whole lot better then "I have been sitting on the couch for the last 3 months".
Second: I hit the pavement and get networked in:
If you do not promote your self no one is going to. You have to get out there and be visible. The jobs/contracts might not be available today but someday soon a position will open up and if they can put a face to the name in a stack of resumes you will instantly stand out.
Where are your potential employers hanging out at?
Sometimes you can do this without leaving your house. I have a friend at MakerBot I met at a Hackathon in San Francisco. He was just a really passionate hobbyist. He would design up and print his various widgets just for fun. He would then post the design files he made on a Thingiverse a fourm for 3d printed designs. Others could download the design files and print up exactly replicas of his widgets. Eventually the people at MakerBot took notice and offered him a job as an evangelist.
Figure out where the people most likely to buy what you're selling are. One way is to look for those companies that are experiencing change. Check out my post on how to identify customers that will be more open to buy what your selling. The concept is the same.
Give it away for free
Its not like you have anything else to do while you are waiting. Look at my open source projects or my friends MakerBot designs; we both gave them away for free and it helped us both. I know they say if you are good at something never do it for free, but consider this a marketing cost. Anyone can used my code libraries for free but if you want me to wire it in... its going to cost you.
Don't wait until you need a job to start looking:
My last and final tip is don't wait until you need a job to start looking. This is huge. When I took a 3 month hiatus this summer to coach gymnastics at a summer camp I created a schedule. The first month I took off from anything remotely professional(I needed it).
At the end of the first month I wrote and released a paper I knew would get some attention. Then I circulated that paper to some key people to get the chatter going.
Through out the second month I kept the conversation going via email. At the end of the second month I posted a new open source project and started to get serious in finding a project for when I got home. This way by the end of the third month I had 3 warm leads to pick from.
When I got home I had planned on taking a full week off before diving back in but I was only able to take two days off before hitting the ground running on a new exciting project.
If you're a Sophomore in college and you're not actively working toward figuring out how you're going to feed yourself after you graduate beyond just spamming out your resume then you better not expect to land your dream job. If you happen to land your dream job without actively working towards it that is just luck. I doubt it will happen twice.
The choice is yours:
- Sit there and feel sorry for yourself waiting for your dream job to come knocking
- Gamble and hope you land your dream job
- Settle for a job you don't love
- Start early, work your ass off, share your passions and wake up everyday doing what you love.
To me its an easy decision. What is your decision?