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Harvard career advisor: Ideally, your next job 'comes to you' — here's how to make that happen

"How can you position yourself so that opportunities come to you?"

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Gorick Ng.
Photo by Nile Scott

The pandemic has caused many workers to rethink what's important to them, including their jobs. The so-called quit rate recently hit a record high as employees feel more confident they can find better work.

Even if you're happy in your current role, it's smart to keep an eye out for new opportunities. "When you find yourself thinking, 'OK, I maxed out my opportunity here,' it's time for a change of scenery," says Gorick Ng, a Harvard career advisor who specializes in helping first-​generation, low-income college students start and build their careers. He's also the author of "The Unspoken Rules."

Some smart prep work now can ensure your next career move will be easy. "In an ideal world, your next job is one you don't need to apply for because it comes up in a conversation or comes to you," says Ng. Here's how you can make that happen.

Build up 'your social capital'

Maybe you don't want to waste your time searching for jobs when you don't need to. But you don't want to be caught off-guard by sudden job loss, either. "I think a lot about, 'How can you position yourself so that opportunities come to you?' versus you being out of a job and saying, 'Oh, yikes, what next,'" says Ng.

You can benefit from expanding your network by joining meetups and professional associations, as well as going to conferences and doing volunteer work. "This is all building up your social capital," says Ng: learning about other people while sharing your own interests.

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"Keep that LinkedIn profile updated, add bullet points as you progress in your career," he says. "If you are in an industry where a personal portfolio makes sense, have that website and continually update it."

As you build relationships, other people will often look for opportunities for you. "Over time, people are saying to you, 'I remember a conversation about you being interested in moving to Europe. Strangely enough, I have this high school friend in Europe who is looking for someone with your background. Would you be interested in having a conversation with this person?'" says Ng.

Learn 'how to position yourself' for the job you want

Jobs boil down to three categories, says Ng: what's available today, what might be available tomorrow, and what is not available but could be in the future. "If you want to start with what's available, that's an option, but you'd end up in a better position for yourself if you start with, 'What do I want,'" he says.

Now's the time to figure that out, by doing your research, talking to people, and sending cold emails, says Ng. "Ask friends who are in the profession you'd like to enter, and/or the organizations you are interested in joining, for a brief call to learn about their work and get their advice on how to navigate the process," he says.

You'd end up in a better position for yourself if you start with, 'What do I want?'
Gorick Ng
Harvard career advisor and author of 'The Unspoken Rules'

You can identify someone you'd like to meet and ask a mutual contact to introduce you. You can even cold email someone and introduce yourself. That can put you in a better place when you want to make your move.

"You'll walk away with a better idea of how to position yourself for when you do start the job hunt," says Ng. Better yet, you might be able to ask for a referral, and could be "top of mind if they ever create a position that'd fit with your skills and interests."

Monitor industry trends to 'make the trail' for your career

Stay aware of what's happening in your industry and in the world, says Ng. Pay attention to "what's this company doing these days, where's this industry headed, which parts of the universe are growing and which are shrinking."

The advantage here is that you're more aware of potential growth opportunities, and you could get ahead of a potential layoff if your industry or company isn't faring well.

Getting ahead in your career is different from getting ahead in school, since school is like a conveyor belt where you can expect to move forward based on your courses and grades, says Ng. Professional life requires more strategizing.

"If school is like a conveyor belt, your career is like a wilderness expedition where you are scaling this mountain," he says. "There's nothing that comes to you. You need to make the trail be in tune with the weather forecast and what's in your bag."

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