Try before you buy: how to get a job that doesn’t exists
A young woman named Lisa was frustrated because she couldn't get a job in public relations. She had just graduated and found the market flooded with people looking for work in her industry. She tried applying for internships, but came up short. She was losing hope and considering a different field. She was giving up on her dream before she even got started. When she asked for advice, I told her: Offer a "try-before-you-buy" option to potential employers.
Fact: Employers love an offer they can't refuse
If there is one thing a young professional (actually all professionals) can learn today, it's that every job is temporary. We are all now businesses of one, which means that unlike years ago when you simply offered up a list of your skills in the form of a résumé and got hired, now you need to showcase to employers how you can benefit them. There is so much talent to choose from, everyone looks the same. Thus, it's the person who can differentiate himself well who gets a shot at the job.
Unfortunately, recent graduates with little to no experience can feel at a disadvantage. But they're not. They can offer up a special on their services: a "try-before-you-buy" program to get employers to hire them. I'm not talking about an internship, I'm talking about a win-win partnership. Here's how it works:
Step 1: Find a company you know you can help
I had Lisa research several companies that she knew she could help with their PR. Her job was to identify ones A) that could seriously benefit from a PR campaign, and B) for which she got really excited about building a campaign. In doing so, Lisa learned the first rule to connecting with a potential employer: Figure out specifically how you can add value to their organization (i.e. make them more money, or save them money). Lisa found three places in town she felt certain she could help. In fact, she had completed several internships in school and felt confident she could use what she learned to achieve similar results for these companies.
Step 2: Forget a cover letter; build your pitch letter
Since these companies weren't actively hiring, a cover letter and résumé weren't going to get Lisa in the door. Instead, she needed to create a pitch, something she learned as a PR major, to get the employer to see how she could help. In this letter, she offered to do a specific PR campaign for the company. She outlined how many hours it would take her to complete, what she intended to accomplish and what she would normally charge per hour to do this. Then, she explained she would like to offer this service for free in exchange for a reference or future consideration for hire. She also mentioned if they were truly pleased with the results and wanted to pay her something at the end, she would leave it up to them as to what they thought would be fair compensation. Then she printed it up, along with her résumé, and dropped them off in person at each establishment.
Step 3: Be patient and persistent
While job seekers' main priority is getting an employer to contact them, they have to remember the employer is busy with other things. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean they should give up after one try.
In sales, they say the average number of contacts it takes to make a sale is nine. It actually makes sense. How many times does it take us to meet with someone before we feel really comfortable that we know them well? And yet, how many job seekers actually stay in touch with an employer they'd like to work for long enough to make that happen?
At the same time, you don't want to be pushy. The key is to check back every so often, adding more value each time you do. For example, a week after Lisa dropped off her proposal, she followed up with an e-mail to each place, sharing some links to articles regarding the value of PR programs to companies like theirs. This action prompted one of them to contact her.
Step 4: Confirm the details of the offer and set expectations
Lisa set up a meeting with the company's owner. In that meeting, she was able to stress again that payment could be in the form of a reference or consideration for future employment, or they could pay her what they thought was fair. They chose the days and times she would come into the office to complete the work (she actually had a part-time waitress job that was paying the bills), and also identified whom she would connect with in the office (the equivalent to a manager) to get answers to questions and gain feedback on her work to ensure it exceeded their expectations. The owner accepted the terms and she started immediately.
I'm sure you all can imagine what happened next. During the project, Lisa got to know the owner and his staff better, since the work required her to engage with them. They were impressed with her enthusiasm and her ability to work in their environment. By the time she was done with the project, she had a job offer. One of the other companies she had pitched also called her at that point and asked to meet her, but she opted to take the full time job instead.
What would have happened if they didn't offer her a job?
Lisa still would have gotten some work experience to put on her résumé and potentially gotten paid a small sum of cash for her efforts. No matter what, it was the experience of executing the project that guaranteed to enhance her professional credibility in some way.
For example, one job seeker I know ended up liking the project work so much that he turned down a full-time job offer and became a freelancer. Since he had researched almost a dozen companies he could do work for, he found it easy to land additional assignments. Another did three separate projects before finding his dream company and got hired at a salary much higher than he had expected. Why? They thought he had proved his worth via the "try-before-you-buy" project he completed for them. The reality is that offering a try-before-you-buy service opens up lots of possibilities to advance your career.
So if you are struggling to find work, why not consider giving companies a taste of what it's like to have you as an employee? It might be all they need to make an offer YOU can't refuse.
J.T. O'Donnell is a nationally syndicated career expert and author of "CAREEREALISM: The Smart Approach to a Satisfying Career." She can be found at
CAREEREALISM.com, her career advice site for professionals, ages 18-40, which aims to provide readers with tools and resources to navigate the new rules to career development.