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Your Next Job Is One Conversation Away: Dawn Graham (Transcript)

Dawn Graham at TEDxJHUDC

Full text of career expert Dawn Graham’s talk: Your Next Job Is One Conversation Away at TEDxJHUDC conference. Dr. Graham is a career switch coach, LinkedIn Learning Instructor and Host of the popular call-in show “Dr. Dawn on Careers” on SiriusXM Radio.

In this talk, she shares a simple, 3-step actionable strategy for essentially “bullet proofing” one’s careers and building job security from within, despite the ever-changing market, growing hiring bias, and uncertainty of the economic future.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here:


Dawn Graham – Career Switch Coach

Imagine this: You wake up tomorrow, roll over, grab your smartphone and find a message in your inbox that says: “Effective immediately, you’re unemployed.”

Where would you begin your job search honestly? On a job board or with your contacts?

There is an article in the Harvard Business Review titled ‘Professional Networking Makes People Feel Dirty’. One of the observations mentioned was that individuals use excessive amounts of hand sanitizer after networking dinner.

The takeaway was: Despite the slew of evidence for its effectiveness, we feel unclean or more icky with networking, because we’ve convinced ourselves it’s a transactional one-sided – “I’m just using you for my own gain activity.” So we avoid it.

But what if there is a way to network in job search that didn’t feel icky?

I’m here today to share how, but first we have to let go of two incorrect assumptions.

The first incorrect assumption is that if we’re competent and qualified, we really shouldn’t need help finding a job. This is so wrong.

I experienced my first layoff in 2002. And despite that experience being a gift today, at the time it hit me like a brick.

I’d recently finished my master’s in an evening program and was working my way at a global company and they were getting ready to move me across the country for this exciting new opportunity.

And then I got a voicemail at 5:00 PM on a Tuesday saying I’ve been let go.

On Monday, I had a drawer full of stellar performance reviews and an exciting role waiting in California. On Tuesday, poof, It all vanished… just like that.

Me and 60,000 of my Arthur Andersen colleagues were jobless. And Enron was about to become a global scandal.

Immediately, I started scanning the online job boards. Emailing resumes to roles that were even a remote match to my background.

I thought, what has happened? A few weeks earlier, I was telling the world about my exciting career plans, and now I barely left my apartment because I was mortified.

Well thought I had lost my job and that I wasn’t good enough to find a new one.

Then one day in passing, I mentioned my misery to my neighbor in the elevator, mentioning some of the companies where I’ve been applying. Only to learn that his colleague was married to a director at one of my top choices.

He offered to pass my resume along. And within two weeks I had an interview after months of building an intimate relationship with my computer, which got me nothing. 

One brief conversation with a human landed me an opportunity. This experience changed my entire career trajectory.

I not only realized there was a better way to find a job than emailing resumes in the cyberspace, but that I wanted to help others never feel this stuck.

I wondered how would the job search be different if the norm was to approach it as a social activity.

When I say social activity, I mean the old fashioned way – humans talking with humans, offline face-to-face without an app, having conversations. Like with the person sitting right next to you. Go ahead and make eye contact. It’s okay. 

If you’re an introvert like me, this is the part where you want to run out of the room. But stick with me.

Long gone are the days when people spend their entire career with one company. The average tenure in a role is 4.2 years.

And with retirement age increasing, you’ll likely engage in over 10 job searches during your lifetime. Sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not so much.

Networking has been hailed as the most effective strategy for uncovering opportunities because it works.

So why does a root canal seem more appealing?

It’s like exercise. We cognitively know it’s effective, but despite the evidence, still choose Netflix anyway.

Well, I wanted to find an answer. So I studied networking and discovered, although we can learn the strategies and buy into the research, this doesn’t increase our comfort with using it in a job search.

Similar to exercise, simply believing something works doesn’t automatically equate to action.

Think about it. You’ve come to a TEDx and are surrounded by people with like interests.

Have you introduced yourself to anyone here you didn’t already know?

As a licensed psychologist, I’ve learned that humans make decisions based on emotions.

Then we rationalize afterwards with cherry picked data that support our choice. So regardless of the overwhelming evidence for networking, we’re still seduced into a linear: click-apply-send-process.

Because approaching people we don’t know makes us feel vulnerable, which means we’re stuck. We know networking is extremely effective, but can also feel ridiculously uncomfortable. And I get it.

Most of us aren’t going to talk to strangers. That’s not the problem. Problem is we’re not talking to anyone. 

When I got laid off in 2002, I believed getting a job was about my skills or background or education. These certainly boost the rationale used to justify hiring decisions.

But after years of recruiting, what I’ve learned is that hiring managers are really trying to assess is if they can stand working next to you for 40 hours a week.

Even with job boards, matching algorithms and fancy apps, final hiring decisions are based on trust, which comes from relationships. In fact, without trust research shows, managers may perceive your strengths as a potential threat.

What good is a highly competent employee who takes credit for your work and then steals your lunch. Fair or not, managers prefer to hire based on trusted referrals. That’s why up to 80% of jobs are never posted because they’re getting filled before that, through relationships.

So we need to approach the job search relationally as well. As individuals, we can either use our energy to resist this reality or tap into the power of our existing relationships to access the roles we want.

Hiring managers want to make good decisions and they want to do it efficiently. They hate hiring as much as candidates hate the job search. They do.

Sifting through resumes distracts them from their day jobs. And like online dating ‘what’s on paper isn’t always what shows up at the door’, even if pre-screened by a recruiter.

So how do we make an important decision efficiently?

We use referrals in our daily lives. We use apps like Yelp or TripAdvisor, and often we’ll ask friends for recommendations on things like a great dentist or mechanic.

Managers do the same when hiring. In fact, referrals have a 50% shot of getting an interview. Whereas for non-referrals, that drops to just 3%.

Several years ago, I passed over an online candidate and a week later a trusted colleague put that same resume on my desk, along with a glowing endorsement.

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