How to Get a Better Job

One of the most common questions I get goes something like this:

I’ve been working as an (insertJobHere) for a few years, and I’d like to start looking for another job as an (insertBetterJobHere).  How can I get started?

It depends on the phase of your career.

Phase 1: The Kindness of Strangers

When you’re just getting started – whether you’re fresh out of college or currently enrolled – you’re not going to know anybody.  You’re going to be cold-calling strangers, sending your resume to people you’ve never met, and hoping that you can knock ’em dead in the interview.

Headhunter Company Car
Headhunter Company Car

Examples of hiring methods for Phase 1 are:

  • Newspaper and online ads
  • Recruiters
  • Consulting companies

There’s two problems with Phase 1.  First, you’re going up against complete strangers.  People in Phase 1 are desperate, and they’ll do some crazy stuff to beat you out in the job hunt.  They’ll work for less money, they’ll lie about their resume, they’ll use their mom as a reference, you name it.  Getting a better job when you’re going up against strangers can be a nightmare.

Second, you’re going to work for complete strangers, which can be a living hell.  You won’t find out that they’re raving lunatics until after you’ve already quit your current job and gone to work for them.  Every time I’ve gone to work for strangers – every single time – I’ve regretted it within a matter of months.

Strangers hire other strangers when they run out of friends willing to work for them.

Phase 2: The Buddy System

After you’ve been working for a few years, going to local user group meetings, and survived a few reorgs, you’re going to know a lot of other people working in your same field.  You’ll even know people in unrelated fields.  DBAs meet project managers, end users, report writers, developers, and so on.

Everybody Loves the Buddy System
Everybody Loves the Buddy System

When it’s time for you to start looking for another job, you can put out the word among your contacts.  Because they’ve worked with you before and they know what a kick-ass worker you are, they’re likely to vouch for you.  They’re likely to tell you about jobs before they go into Phase 1 recruitment, because they’d rather hire you than a stranger.  You’re a sure bet, because you’re doing such good work.

The only way to get from Phase 1 to Phase 2 is staying in touch with people.

I can’t emphasize this enough – if you don’t learn to network, you’re going to be permanently stuck in Phase 1.

Networking sounds so slimy, but it just boils down to this: meet people, and keep in touch with the ones you genuinely like.  I used to think networking meant rubbing shoulders with greaseballs who were trying to sell each other stuff, but that’s not true at all.  Just keep in touch with people you like, and go to the places where they hang out to meet more people like them.  For database professionals, that’s the upcoming PASS Summit.

Befriend Buddies, Not Just Bosses

One fast way up the corporate ladder is to hitch your wagon to a rising star.  If you do great work for a great boss, you can both go places quickly.  I’ve taken that approach a few times in my career, and it’s served me really well.  I remember getting a call from one boss as soon as he’d changed companies, and he said, “I know what you’re making now.  I’ll give you an extra $X to come work for me at the new shop, and you know I’ll be good to you.”  Sold.  However, that’s not the only way up.

The programmer next to you today might be the CIO at another company tomorrow.  A few years ago, Matt Mullenweg was just another guy I ran into at Houston Wireless meetings.  I had no idea he was building something cool in his spare time, and since then, that little blogging platform has raised tens of millions of dollars in funding.

Look around you right now.  Your coworkers and customers are the only ones who will take your career to the next level, regardless of how unskilled and antisocial they seem.  Even if they’re really, really bad at what they do, it’s your job to make them look better and leave a permanent positive impression on them.  They might be your key to a better job down the road.

If you wait to network until you need a job, it’s too late – and you’ll be stuck in Phase 1.

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6 Comments. Leave new

  • The Buddy System is so incredibly important.

    The last three jobs that I’ve gotten were all due to someone I know getting me the inside track so I could sit in front of a manager with the ability to make the hiring decision. The landed me progressively higher paying jobs at Microsoft, Perot Systems, and HP/EDS. The last time I totally found a job on my own was a Unifocus, where Brent also worked.

    As you can see, Brent and I are still in contact. I have built up a network of hundreds of IT folks that could potentially help me find a job if I needed one. I have also helped over a dozen of my contacts find jobs themselves. This year I have helped three folks find work at my company. IMO, what goes around comes around.

  • I’m a little hampered in this regard because the companies for which I have worked are smaller. When you are the only IT guy, it’s hard to build up a network of IT guys through work. You can still use the other methods, which I do.

    I’ve had several people approach me on my blog who deal with my ERP system and are out of work. They ask me what they should do. I do my best to help them, but what I want to say is that they should have been blogging/networking for the past year or two.

    The worst time to look for a job is when you are out of work.

  • I cannot agree more. The buddy system rocks, and I didn’t realize how much it rocked until I started doing it. As the leader of a user group, and a frequent visitor to other user groups and code camps, I’ve met a lot of contacts. Many of these contacts are good friends of mine, and we converse weekly through outlets such as Twitter.

    Before getting involved in the community, and expanding my networking horizons, I was afraid of what would happen if I lost my job. I was in that “Phase 1” you talked about. I was right out of college. No experience and I didn’t know anyone.

    Now, I don’t fear about losing my job, and in fact I talk to people all the time who would like to hire me solely because of my involvement in the community. I would like to think I would have no trouble finding a job if it were to come to that. Being well networked is a huge hiring point.

  • Ester (Spain)
    March 18, 2010 11:51 am

    Congratulations for your clear brain, Brent.

    After having lost miles of months reading posts about this topic, I have just discovered You have the best ideas I have ever listen about getting a better job.

    Please, never stop writting.


  • thanks mr brent


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