Over the last couple of months, I made a tough decision. After six years of successfully running my own design studio, the zen kitchen, I decided that the time had come to pursue full-time opportunities elsewhere.
My primary reason for this was simple: I had realized, in the course of running my studio and working with clients, that the work I really wanted to do wasn’t going to happen through the studio. I wanted to focus my energy on more high-level, strategic work, and work with a team that was doing great things in the area of social and business innovation – without spending as much of my time mired in the day-to-day realities of running a business.
So, I’m looking for jobs. And realizing along the way, that the old approach to job hunting – scouring for open positions that seem like a good fit, sending off gajillions of resumés and carefully crafted cover letters – isn’t the most effective way to get the kind of job that I’m really looking for. The kind of job I’d actually leave my business for. What’s an entrepreneur to do?
Ultimately, I’ve decided to craft my approach based on my business development experience running the studio. In a nutshell:
1. Identify the key things that I want to be doing with my time. I know that I want to focus on strategy and brainstorming, and that I really want to be working towards social innovation. That said, I don’t believe that it has to exist exclusively in the non-profit realm, and I don’t want to focus myself there. I also have a lot of strength in the digital realm, particularly with social media and Drupal; ideally, I’d love to work on finding ways to use technology to create social innovation.
2. Identify the key players in the area that are working on that thing, along with a few other folks who might also be a good fit. Through my research over the years, IDEO and Continuum are an obvious fit. I’ve also identified a number of ad agencies and PR firms in the area that have a practice devoted to cause marketing and design for social change.
3. Tap my network to see if any of my connections have contacts in my target agencies. One of the great things about being an entrepreneur is that you’re forced to network, as part of normal business development. As such, I’ve kept in touch with a bunch of great people over the years. Using LinkedIn, I can see if any of them are connected to people within the companies I’m looking at (search for a company, and LinkedIn will show you all the people that you’re connected to via one of your connections), and I can request an introduction. I also set up coffee dates with a few folks that I really respected, who I knew to have connections in this space.
4. Find out where these folks are hanging out, and get myself there. This one’s proven to be a bit more difficult, as most of the firms that I’m looking at don’t seem to network anywhere but conferences. But, AIGA has an after-hours event that runs once or twice a month in the Boston area, and Continuum hangs out there. So, I headed out to the last one – and met three folks from Continuum, who I got to connect with!
5. Follow my target companies on Twitter, and converse with them occasionally. I’ve already started connecting with a few key agencies on twitter, just by responding to questions that they post. In addition, I’ve been participating in openIDEO, which is IDEO’s new social innovation site. As I suspected, I’m finding it really fun to come up with ideas to solve social issues – many of which I’ve been thinking about for over a decade – and I’ve even been able to help them discover a few technical bugs they were having.
So far, it’s too soon to tell how effective this will be. And for the record, I have also submitted resumés and introduction letters to many of my target agencies, for specific positions I discovered that would be a good fit for me. But I will say that this approach has helped me get in front of the organizations that I’ve sent my resumé to more effectively, which gets me closer to figuring out who the right person to connect with is. And, over coffee with one of my favorite colleagues (who I know mostly through social media), I discovered that his place is looking to create an entirely new position in the next few months that I’d be a terrific fit for. So we’ll see how things go!