How to Find a New Job – Even if You Have an Ugly Resume

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

If you are new to the work force or recently laid off, finding a job can be an arduous task. About five years ago, my wife decided to re-enter the work force and didn’t have a clue on how to find a new job. Besides the obvious reasons, I think she probably had had enough of my tightwad ways. She wanted to have more control over her finances without dealing with my “energy,” but she knew it would be tough landing a job in the current recession. If you’re a regular reader, you know I had to do a lot of work to loosen up the purse strings, and I guess she just wanted to speed the process.

She ended up finding a job she loves working with kids with autism. She makes a huge difference in the lives of a lot of great kids and families. She also makes a real difference in our financial life, so it’s a win-win all the way around.

Anyway, when she first started thinking about re-entering the workforce, she felt a bit intimidated. She finally worked up the courage to send out a few resumes, but promptly got kicked in the teeth. Lovely. She came up empty-handed every time. She was becoming increasingly disappointed and was just about to give up when she landed her job.

How Do You Find A New Job?

At the end of the day, she found her dream job by networking. I’m going to describe a process you can use to network your way into your next job even if you have an ugly resume.

This is a process that anyone can use. You will have to do a little work. Also, it might take a few months to find work you love doing. But I believe if you follow these steps you’ll be miles ahead of all the other job seekers – even if they have more experience and a prettier resume than you do. (I’m going to assume that you have the minimum training or education required for the job, but you don’t have the experience or connections). This will work even if you are looking for top careers without a degree.

If you aren’t looking for work, should you care about this? Yes. Here’s why.

Life changes. Relationships change. You never know when you might need to work, and it’s really nice to have this foundation in place. You’ll feel empowered by taking this action now.

Let’s get to work:

1. Stop wasting your time sending out resumes or replying to ads.

I don’t know about you, but other than landing my first job as a curb painter at age 15 and selling office supplies at 17, I never found work by responding to ads in the paper. I also don’t know anyone who ever got a job they love that way. It’s a waste of time and it’s discouraging. Who needs it?  This is not to say you don’t need a resume.  You do – and you should take efforts to make sure it’s as strong as possible.   This is especially important to those with a weaker resume.  It’s just that you can’t rely on the resume to find you a job – it won’t.  It will just help you get an offer once you have your foot in the door.

2. Make a broad list of ideas you like and hate.

In my wife’s case, she knew she wanted to work with people and she didn’t want to be in sales. So it was easy for her to filter ideas in and out as they came up.

What kinds of things would you love to do? You are trying to determine which job is right for you? Even if you want to have your own shop someday, you can learn and prepare for this while working for someone else. What do you hate so much that you’d rather stick your head in an oven than do? Make a list. Be broad and open minded. What kind of things do you see yourself doing? What kind of people would you like to work with? What kind of environment would you enjoy working in? Write it down. Don’t just keep these thoughts in your head.

If you know exactly what you want to do, go for it. But if you really aren’t 100% sure, try to think in broad terms.

3. Contact people who have jobs doing things you might enjoy doing.

Think about people you know, like and respect. What do they do professionally? Could you see yourself in those jobs or environments? Arrange to meet with them for 45 minutes. Tell them you don’t expect them to offer you a job. Explain that you would like some guidance and that you value their ideas. Here’s a script you might consider:

“Liane, I feel kind of nervous calling, but I need to ask a favor. I’m trying to re-enter the workforce and I’m looking for ideas. I don’t want you to offer me a job, but I would really appreciate the chance to just bounce some ideas off of you and to get your guidance. Would you consider meeting me for a cup of tea next Tuesday at 5 PM?”

Now, there is one very important caveat we need to talk about. Don’t manipulate anyone. You are on a fact-finding mission – that’s it. You should really be trying to meet with people in order to learn – not get a job offer. That comes later. The idea is that you’ll meet with lots of people and sooner or later, you’ll come across the right person at the right time and a job offer will appear.

When you meet, ask the following questions:
a. “What do you like most about your work?”
b. “What don’t you like about it?”
c. “How do you see the future of your industry?”
d. “What is the most important skill needed to succeed in this job?”
e. “What does the industry need? What problem are people in that profession trying to overcome?”
f. “If you were me, and you were trying to get into this profession or in business for yourself, what would be the smartest thing you would do? Who would you want to talk to? How would you get to them?”
g. “Who else should I talk to in order to learn more?”

Don’t be afraid to bring this list of questions with you. Tell them you are taking this search very seriously and want to make sure you don’t forget to ask anything important. If you are nervous, tell your friend that too. And if they offer advice you hadn’t expected, like suggesting you find a part-time job in the industry first, be open to it.

4. Send them a thank you note.

Send them a written thank you note – not an e-mail. Tell them how much you appreciate their time and insights. Tell them you learned a great deal and you’ll keep them updated on your progress – and do it. This way, they have a vested interest in your success. Here’s a sample:


I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the time you took last Tuesday to explain more about the photography business. I was nervous at first, but you did a wonderful job of explaining the way things work and now I really feel excited about my search.

As you suggested, I’m going to call Bob McCamera next week and try to learn more. With your permission, I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Thanks again,

5. Contact the leads you get.

This is really the most important part of the process. In fact, if you aren’t willing to call new people, you might as well not even start this process.

It’s rare that a friend will be able to offer you work, but your friend may lead you to other people who can offer you work. Go through this interview process with the leads you get. Don’t be afraid. You will have to go out of your comfort zone. You’ll have to contact people you don’t know and you‘ll have to be open to new ideas, but if you are, you have a high chance of success.

When you interview these new people, tell them that your mutual friend suggested you contact them. Explain that you are interested in learning their thoughts on how you can be successful in the field you are investigating.

Here’s a script to use when you first call this new person:

Hi. This is Jim Jobseeker. I was referred by Liane Lotsahelp. Is this Bob McCamera?

Hi Bob. I’m not trying to sell you anything and I hope I’ve called at a good time. I’m a good friend of Liane’s and she mentioned you might be a great person to meet. I’m trying to get back into the photography business and I’m just trying to learn more about it. She told me you are a great resource. Would you consider letting me buy you a cup of coffee next week to spend 25 minutes learning more about the industry? (If so…arrange a time.)

Ask them the same questions you asked your friend in Step 2. Make sure to ask all the questions. The most important questions you can ask are – what are the best next steps you should take and who else should you talk to. Your goal is to get closer and closer to people who ultimately make hiring decisions or hear about jobs – even second jobs – that are opening up.

Don’t be pushy. Don’t be desperate. Don’t manipulate. Don’t have a hidden agenda. Most important, don’t go in with the mindset that Bob might offer you work.

6. Follow up.

Every few weeks, you must send an e-mail to each of your contacts with an update on your status. Tell them who you’ve spoken with and what you learned. Invite them to offer suggestions.

Ultimately, your goal is to have two interviews a day. A report that I read recently said that if you have two interviews a day for 60 days, you’ll land a job. Someone is going to hear about something that’s right up your alley – if you meet with lots of people and tell them what your alley is.

“All this is great, Neal,” you might be saying, “but what do I do if I all my friends work in the meat packing plant – and I want to work for PETA.”

This is actually an easy fix. If you don’t have any direct contacts in the industry you are targeting, simply call local firms and ask to speak to the manager. Give them the same pitch I outlined above for new contacts. Believe it or not, most will only be too happy to meet with you. Why? Because it’s a tremendous ego stroke and people are generally interested in helping others…that’s why.

I’ve often taken calls from people who are interested in getting a job in financial planning. I don’t have a job to offer them, but I do have a few years of experience to share.

I’m also never afraid to contact bloggers and ask for their guidance. And you know what? I’ve never been turned down. Successful people love to help others. Just ask. That’s all you have to do.

If you interview enough people, ask enough questions, learn enough about the industry and go in with an open mind, this will work for you.

You’ll only have to ask yourself one question after you complete this process:

What should you do with your first paycheck?

Have you ever tried something like this? How long did it take you to find work? Can you share some shortcuts?



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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Tortoise Banker May 31, 2013 at 12:35 AM

My wife looked mainly on craigslist and wound up in a job she doesn’t really like. A lot of times they don’t put the name of the company in the job posting on Craigslist.

She’s now doing what you have recommended, hopefully she finds something.


Neal Frankle June 2, 2013 at 4:34 AM

Right. A good point TB. Let us know how things turn out on the job. I suggest you go thru this process with the mentality of growing her own business and becoming self-employed. That will ultimately give her the most control. Best of luck!


JobHunting December 31, 2009 at 1:25 AM

see for some additional info on job searching during the recession.


Financial Samurai November 10, 2009 at 4:52 PM

BTW, here’s a tip for those submitting resumes.. the average duration of time a resume is looked over is SEVEN SECONDS. That’s right folks. Keep it simple, short, punchy.

I looked over 45 resumes in about 7 minutes the other day. Not quite 7 seconds, but you get my drift.


Mike Piper November 10, 2009 at 12:01 PM

I read What Color is Your Parachute when I was just out of school. The single biggest point I remember is that if you ask employers to rank their favorite ways to find employees, it’s almost the exact opposite of most people’s favorite way to job search. (For example, looking for employees online is pretty much their last resort. Yet that’s where most job seekers go to look first.)


Neal November 10, 2009 at 8:49 AM



Financial Samurai November 10, 2009 at 1:35 AM

Helpful post Neal. It’s a tough tough world now, but I’m so bullish about the job market in 1Q09.

It’s very hard finding a job end of year, b/c budgets have been spent and bonuses are being decided. Probably best to just keep relationships warm now, and really go at it starting mid January.

The economy is coming back and so will jobs.


Dental Hygiene Jobs November 9, 2009 at 7:33 PM

Finding a good job can be pretty troublesome. Especially when you have high expectations.

Here are some tips that helped me land the job of my dreams:

* You need to have a professional written resume. If you are not an expert, you could consider hiring one.
* Think about all the jobs you are qualified for. This may lead to discovering additional jobs you could land.
* Look for jobs in every possible source : internet, newspaper, radio and other media. Ask your friends that have similar jobs if there may be an opening in their company.
* Don’t just send the resume by email and wait for an answer. You need to call them and have them confirm the job opening and receiving your resume.

Finding a job is pretty much a job in itself and it’s all about how well can you market your abilities.


Neal November 9, 2009 at 9:43 AM

Joel….nice….u r so right. People do busy work because they get to feel they are doing something and it’s non-threatening. Too bad it’s often ineffective.


Roxy November 9, 2009 at 9:32 AM

practically every job i’ve ever had in my life (including entrance to schools) have been the result of networking


Joel November 9, 2009 at 8:00 AM

Solid, useful post, Neal — I sent it to a friend of mine who’s looking for a job. It’s a scary time to be out of work, what with the unemployment rate currently at a whopping 10.2%.

I think people fall into the trap of responding to ads because, well, it feels like you’re doing something. Even though it may not be that useful, At least you’re trying. (Keep in mind that your self-esteem is usually not at its highest point when you’re not working.)

But the biggest thing I take away from your post is this: Keep at it. Stay busy. Don’t get lethargic. Pound the pavement. Make calls. It’s easy to get down when you can’t find a job, but this write-up makes it clear that finding a full-time job really is a full-time job.


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