When you’re hunting for work, your instincts urge you to spend 24/7 on LinkedIn, to incessantly investigate every online job board, and to send out a billion resumes because “it’s all a numbers game.”
Sure, there can be some worth in the digital hustle, but I found the true magic sauce: referrals.
Get this: every job I’ve scored throughout the last 13 years has been through a referral.
No joke. Every employment opportunity, both staff and freelance, has been because of connections I’ve made. I only discovered this a few weeks ago, when I carefully traced a path along my career trajectory to investigate how I ended up at my current gig (aka heaven on earth…well, heaven in downtown, anyway).
When I moved to Los Angeles circa 2003, I needed a job as quickly as possible, which meant either waiting tables or selling fruit on Hollywood Blvd. I scoured Craigslist and found a post for some local catering company that needed servers. (Ok, fine, that’s the ONLY job I didn’t get through a referral, but I didn’t know anyone at the time, so it doesn’t count.) I shudder to think about how I looked in those pleated tuxedo pants and cummerbund. Spoiler alert: I looked like a chubby panda bear sporting a ponytail.
During training, I met a cool guy from the east coast and we became fast friends. Casey and I laughed our way through countless shifts and I sulked when he quit a couple months later. He started working at an outdoor restaurant in downtown L.A and immediately got me an interview with the manager. Time to burn that cummerbund!
And so it began…
Exhibit #1 – HI, MAY I TAKE YOUR ORDER?
For the next 2.5 years, I doled out cheeseburgers, greasy quesadillas, and forced smiles. I went through a few hundred pens, dozens of lost wine keys, and thousands of white collared shirts. The more double-shifts I powered through, the more I wondered what to do with my life. Eventually Casey moved on again, but this time he called with exciting news: the post-production company next to his new job needed a receptionist and he could easily get me an interview. I knew nothing about post-production, but I was desperate to hang up my apron and not smell like stale food scraps all the time.
Exhibit #2 – POST-PRODUCTION + THE 7 YEAR ITCH
Thrilled to toss out my putrid outfits and psyched for my new (albeit longer) commute, I started with typical receptionist duties like phones, lunch, errands and coffee runs. Over time, my responsibilities multiplied, and 7 years later I’d worked my way up to Business Manager. The steady employment allowed me a sense of stability, but I kept thinking I was destined to do something else. After some soul searching and tons of research, I decided to go back to school. I picked a certificate program at UCLA Extension and told my bosses about the plan. Though they assured me that I could attend school and reduce my hours with no threat to my employment, they let me go a few weeks later. I like to think that I got the axe because they wanted me to have more time for homework.
Exhibit #3 – PROJECT MANAGEMENT IN HIP HIP HOLLYWOOD
Suddenly unemployed, I panicked about my lack of income but loved every moment of school. I sat up front for every lecture and lapped up the lessons like a thirsty puppy. I even griped to my new favorite professor about needing a job. Amazingly, he knew of an opening at a cool branding company in Hollywood and said he’d put in a good word for me. The following week I met with the owner of the agency and BOOM – I began working as a part-time Project Manager. I handled website launches, oversaw design projects, dealt with clients, and learned tons about digital. As much as I enjoyed the folks I worked with, I slowly realized that I wanted to be on the creative side of things. I wanted to write. Later that year, I (dubiously) submitted my resignation in order to enter the freelance writing game.
Exhibit #4 – FREELANCE PANTS + WAITRESSING 2.0
While I worked on building a solid portfolio, I needed supplementary dough, so I begrudgingly waited tables at the same downtown restaurant from 10 years prior. (How’s that for life coming full-circle?) Even though the apron came with a sense of contempt, this time I knew that waitressing was merely a means to an end, and only temporary. Now I had direction. I had goals. So I polished silverware, grinned through bad gratuities, and enthusiastically folded napkins. I took on side gigs from various clients (all referrals!) and developed a collection of writing samples that I adored. About 11 months later, that rad professor from UCLA got hired at a production company, and got me an interview for a position on his team. Fun fact: the CEO was intrigued that I had video jingles in my portfolio and during my interview he requested that I perform one live. I felt terribly awkward but he loved it and asked me to start on Monday.
Exhibit #5 – AN EXERCISE IN DIGITAL FUTILITY
As a Content Producer on the brand new digital team, I showed up with a shiny attitude and a yearning to utilize all the knowledge I’d amassed over the years. In the beginning, I got to manage a few website launches, write a bunch of fun articles, and interview hilarious comedians for the company’s syndicated TV show. Unfortunately, the company wasn’t really ready to go digital, so eventually my team dispersed in search of new opportunities. A sweet coworker knew that I was seeking a fresh creative opportunity, and set me up with an interview at a very cool tech start-up in the pet industry. The clouds parted. A golden ray of sunshine peeked into my life.
Exhibit #6 – PURRFECTION
Digital + writing + pets + tech = paradise. I’m happy as a kitten in a cargo of catnip. As a dog with a bucket of bacon. As a grateful gal at her dream job.
So therein lies the assortment of job referrals that brought me here. Word-of-mouth has been my best form of self-promotion. If you have the chance, I urge you to always recommend friends and colleagues for employment opportunities. And hopefully they will do the same. Because the adage is true: it’s all who you know.