Realistic job advice for those in reentry

realistic job advice

Qa’id, “Q”, Aqeel

At college commencement ceremonies across the nation each year, illustrious speakers urge graduates to “Think big. Reach for the stars. Find your purpose.” Sounds good, but in today’s world, they may be unrealistic ideas, especially for those leaving prison.

It’s important, actually, to think smaller, to take those initial steps that will get you on your way to reestablishing yourself in society.

The title of a mixtape by Nipsey Hussle, “The Marathon Continues,” reminds us that it’s a long race, and you need to run it slow. For those in reentry it’s best to not rush and put too much pressure on yourself, as that could be a setup for failure and returning to the old ways and landing back in prison.  And, of course, take your time doesn’t mean drag your feet, but rather realize that things take as long as they take and usually can’t be rushed.

Marty Nemko, a well-known Oakland, Calif.-based career coach wrote an insightful article in Psychology Today (its video version here) on a more honest commencement address with realistic job advice. He says that because of offshoring, outsourcing, automation and an ever-increasing demand for skills and requirements, solid careers that pay well are more difficult to achieve than in the past.

Take any job, and use it as a launchpad

As a result, he writes that “unless you’re quite a star, you’d be wise to take whatever job drops in your lap.” And instead of spending months looking for the perfect job, take a job, any job and use that as a launchpad for something better.

He uses the example of a gravedigger, not something most people would consider. But he writes that when you’re not digging graves, you could spend your time talking to the funeral director, the landscaper and the person who makes the monuments. Ask them for advice and get to know them. They might even have a job for you somewhere down the line. Then, if you get it, become an expert at that job, and you might very well succeed, since so few people consider that type of career.

Nemko provides the sort of out-of-the-box thinking that will give you an advantage in today’s marketplace, especially if you have been out of the official workforce for a while and are a bit rusty on your skills.

And Qa’id, “Q”, Aqeel, the post-release program manager of Defy NorCal, has similar realistic job advice. He comes into daily contact with people who face incredible challenges.

“I’m working with people who are lifers, who did 25+ years. When they come out they have all this excitement. It’s a brave new world,” he says. “They don’t understand that the world has changed drastically. When they come out you have people who say they can do this, they can do that. They don’t know which way to go.”

The direction Aqeel recommends is to start with the very basics, like obtaining a social security card, birth certificate and driver’s license. Take advantage of transitional housing and have a base to begin searching for a job.

Take the ABC approach

“Get a job, any job, so you can be able to save money to use when it’s time to exit transitional housing,” he says. “When people come out, there’s a lot of anxiety and panic attacks, so you have to curb their enthusiasm, so they’re not in a rush. They’re still acclimating to society. It takes some time.”

As for looking for a job, Aqueel’s philosophy is ABC. That stands for any job, a better job, a career.

“We have to have realistic expectations,” he says. “They don’t have a work history. You’ve got to get a job so you can have a work history and references. You have to start establishing a foundation.”

Take your time; don’t rush, but focus and finish.

No. 1 way employers find new employees to hire

new employeesWhat’s the No. 1 way employers find new employees? It’s not what you might think.

Forget the online job boards. Forget employment agencies or headhunters. The No. 1 way employers find new employees is through a referral from a colleague.

At least that’s according to recruiting think tank CareerXroads’ Source of Hire 2015, an annual report that tracks how major companies hire employees and one that career coach and author Marty Nemko mentioned in a recent Psychology Today blog article.

Companies find about 20% of new employees through referrals

The organization found that referrals were the top source for hiring, with companies filling about 20% of their openings through employee referrals.

This is in contrast to the 13% of hires that came from social media and job boards.

In addition, the report stated that “a job seeker who is referred is conservatively three to four times more likely to be hired – some studies have found that a job seeker who is referred is 14 times more likely to be hired – than someone who applies for a position without a referral.”

Keep in mind that CareerXroads sends its survey out to 250 of the nation’s largest companies, so what applies to their hiring managers may not always be applicable to smaller companies. But it still will give you an idea of how many companies are finding their employees.

The survey also found a 3% increase in temp-to-hire, which follows a trend among companies to transition part-time and contingent workers into full-timers. This is also something to keep in mind, because temporary employment can provide a good foot in the door for those looking for a job.

So knowing the situation, what can you, as a job seeker, do?

The most important thing is to get on the radar of hiring managers, whether in big companies or small.

And one of the best ways to do this comes from workforce development expert Larry Robbin. He calls what is usually referred to as a network a circle of contacts and suggests looking at this circle of contacts like a target.

Here’s how it works

Take out a big piece of paper and put your name in the center. That’s the bull’s eye. Put the names of the people who you are closest to – these would be your family and best friends – in the first ring. Then put other friends and relatives outside your immediate family in the next ring. Keep filling in the outer rings with more and more people you know but may not know very well. When you run out of people, your circle of contacts will be complete.

What’s interesting about this whole circle of contacts idea is research has found that people tend to find jobs more through acquaintances than from close friends. The chances are pretty good that you’ll get your next job through someone you don’t know very well or see very often.

The reason is that the people you know well will have many of the same contacts that you do, but those you don’t know will have an entirely different set of contacts – and one of those may be the key to your next job.

What we’ve found is that people are usually happy to help others in their job search. We’ve all been there before and know what a tough road it is. So don’t be shy. Put together a circle of contacts and get in touch with as many of them as you can.

Who knows. Your next job might come from another customer of the stores you go to, who just happened to mention when they were in shopping that they were looking for someone who does the type of work you do. Or maybe the spiritual leader at your place of worship heard that a member was going out on maternity leave and needed someone to take her place for six months. Or a friend of a friend’s company is expanding and looking for more employees.

The only thing you have to do is get the word out. Although what happens from there involves a bit of luck, by reaching out you can be assured that luck is more likely to come your way.