Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How to Answer "What Are You Looking For?"

On WNYC's HelpWanted Facebook page, someone asked this excellent question:

When thoughtful people ask "What kind of work are you looking for?" is it wrong to ask "What have you got?" in return? I'm passionate about my field but I'm also open to new things.

Here's my thinking about this:

With people you know well, that response may work fine. With people you meet via networking, I'm not sure it's all that useful. You've put the ball in their court, making it their responsibility to do your work for you. And even if they want to help, most people don't want to do your thinking for you. They want some guidance, and they want a sense that YOU know what you want to do.

It's very hard for people to know how to help you when you don't know what you want
- specifically the kind of challenges you love to tackle, the problems you love to solve, the skills you love to use. So it doesn't have to be occupation or field specific (although that does help). Also, remember you have 5-10 seconds to capture someone's attention, so your answer does need to be concise.

It's really helpful for people to know that you are confident in what you can do and to have some kind of direction for how to think about you. You do know yourself, so let others in on it. I like people who say "I'm looking for a chance to use these skills, hopefully in this field or in this kind of role. I've worked in xyz field and am interested in abc as well. That said, what is it that you had in mind?" ... See More

Specificity also sparks people's imaginations.
If you say you want to use your planning skills, someone might think of city planning while someone else might think of strategic planning. Those may or may not be up your alley. If you say you love helping an organization identify and achieve its goals, especially using your planning, management and leadership skills - well, that makes it easier for someone to say "hey, I know of a job as a COO or as a project manager."

The bottom line is that your job is to make it as easy as possible for people to help you.

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