How to win friends, influence employers — into hiring you

Zara Khan emerges from the Treasury Department building with her poly-blend interview suit still rumpled from her Chinatown bus ride. This is the latest among dozens of interviews she’d undergone after her employer, Lehman Brothers, ceased to exist.

“I didn’t get the job — everyone else had an MBA,” she said, lugging her weekender back up the sidewalk toward I Street, “but I still feel like good things are happening down here.”

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in D.C. reached 9.9 percent in April 2009, conferring on our nation’s capital the fourth-worst unemployment rate in the country. However, D.C.’s job market is still looking fairly “recession proof.”

Since President Obama assumed office, the federal workforce has been the second-fastest growing of any industry in the country — burgeoning by 62.5 percent just between March and April. The average salary for federal employees leapt to $75,419 this fiscal year. It isn’t just bureaucrats enjoying the wealth, either — Washington’s workers as a whole claim the third-highest wages of any municipality in the country.

However, try sharing these facts with the Class of 2009. "I've applied for hundreds of jobs, and in many cases employers don't even get back to you to say 'no'."  said Malcolm Munkittrick.

According to Bridget Bowers-Holmes, director of alumni career Services at Georgetown University, networking is key. “I always tell people to think of networking like concentric circles, starting with parents, friends — Aunt Suzie in Iowa — to see who you know who knows someone at the company you’re interested in.” Then, the job search should extend to old bosses, former professors and alumni networks, she said.

Dr. Mike Schaub, executive director of career services at Georgetown, advises that networking is about building relationships, not asking for a job. “Ask about his/her professional development, share your goals, and ask for recommendations and for other contacts in the field.”

Networking can be like courtship, with the mentor and mentee feeling each other out over several e-mails, coffees or lunches. “You don’t just call people and say, ‘I want a job,’ ” says Schaub. “It’s a more delicate conversation.”

All agreed that online social networks, like LinkedIn and Facebook, enable invaluable research and contacts for job seekers. LinkedIn enables members to browse the staff lists of favored companies for friends and potential contacts.

Even cold-calling employers can bear fruit, according to Bowers-Holmes, pointing to the two Pepperdine Class of 2003 graduates behind roadtripnation.com. They didn’t know what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives, so they set out in a Winnebago across the country cold-calling people, until they reached a top executive in Microsoft and were featured in Forbes.” Roadtrip Nation has since evolved into a PBS series and three books. “It’s all about enthusiasm, creativity and research,” Bowers-Holmes said.

Once you meet them, just what are potential employers looking for? “Well, they want you to have experience,” said graduating master’s student Jean-Baptiste Gallopin, “but to get a job that will provide you with this experience, you must have experience already.”

Especially in the current market, the solution to this is often an internship. Internships might seem like a step down, but they remain the easiest — and often the only — way to get professional experience and a foot in the door. After all, the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Bill Gates, Bill Bradley, Brian Williams and Patrick Ewing were once among the 20,000 interns that flood Capitol Hill each summer. Even former Vice President Cheney once interned for Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Maureen M. Danforth, director of George Mason University’s office of continuing professional education, recommends professionals in transition also consider pursuing continuing education opportunities. “Employers like to see that you’ve invested in your own career development, and certificates can differentiate you in a crowded job pool.”

Even volunteering to coach Little League is better than sitting on your hands, says Dr. Sara Thompson, dean of the metropolitan school of professional studies at Catholic University: “The skills developed during service are also valuable in the workplace —they’re transferable.”

In short, just keep on swinging.