Job-hunting’s still very much on people’s minds, judging by the number of emails I get – and, I’m sure, you do as well. As I was reading Chuck Hemann’s fabulous guest post from yesterday on how to land a job in social media, as well as Thursday Bram’s post on online networking over at Women Grow Business, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about job-hunting long-distance – because that’s what I did when I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to the nation’s capital.

1. With an open mind, you’ll find opportunities in the unlikeliest of places

I’ve always been the kind of person to get involved in clubs and organizations. In San Francisco, I was on the board of a small publicity-oriented group, but wasn’t at all involved with IABC, simply because I didn’t have the time (ironic, huh?).

But when I knew I was moving to DC, which houses the largest IABC chapter in the country, I knew I had to check them out. After arriving here and settling in, I looked up their events calendar and started going for EVERY event I could, regardless of whether it catered to me or not; I figured the more people I met, the better for me.

One of those meetings happened to be an “accreditation funshop.” I’d started getting interested in accreditation a couple years prior, so off I went to learn more about it, even though it wasn’t a job-hunting or networking event per se. At that event, I got to know, and hit it off with, an extremely active IABC-er who ended up sending me the way of her neighbor… whose organization just happened to be looking for a PR professional of my level.

I interviewed and ended up getting a job offer, which I considered strongly, but didn’t take (I’ll tell you why in a moment). But I’m still in touch with some of the folks from the organization and none of that would have happened had I not ventured out.

2. Put your money where your mouth is… wisely

Even before I moved, I’d looked up IABC (as I mentioned) as well as the other networking groups in the area. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that trying to get the lay of the land when you’re completely new to it isn’t easy. Still, through some pretty intensive Internet searches, I knew that WWPR and PRSA were a couple of other groups I should start getting to know.

At the time, I couldn’t afford to join IABC or PRSA before I’d moved, but WWPR’s membership fee was relatively inexpensive. So I signed up – while still in the Bay Area – and once my membership went through, promptly emailed a couple of board members to introduce myself and let them know I’d be moving to the area.

Then, when I got to DC, I followed up with them and joined the organization’s pro bono committee. Through my activity with them, I not only made some great friends I have to this day, I got… you guessed it, another job offer (which I also didn’t take… yes, I’m coming to that).

If you want people to take you seriously, you have to show them you’re serious. And more often than not, that means putting your money where your mouth is. I know it’s tough, so do it wisely… but you really shouldn’t expect something for nothing.

3. If you think a job is right for you, use your leverage if you have it

The year we moved to DC – 2003 – was memorable for another reason; it was my first encounter with Katie Paine, measurement queen, mentor extraordinaire and who I’m fortunate to call a good friend. I’d organized an event at which Katie was speaking (there’s that professional development thing again!) and we hit it off. She gave me an introduction to a good friend of hers who was with Hill and Knowlton at the time – and I followed up when I was in DC.

After meeting, and getting along with, me, said friend gave me an introduction to four extremely highly-placed and well-connected agency friends, one of whom happened to be the Director of Media Relations for Ruder Finn. The minute I heard “Ruder Finn,” I knew I wanted to work there; I wanted large agency experience and their origins in art-related PR struck a chord with my entertainment background. I followed up with her, we had lunch and she set up a series of informational interview for me at RF. They loved me; I loved them. And over the next few months, I kept hearing that… but no offer was forthcoming.

One week the stars aligned. I received not one, but two job offers (#s 1 and 2 above). But I really, REALLY wanted to work at Ruder Finn. So I called my contact and let her know – nicely – that I had a great job offer on the table to which I needed to respond by week’s end. That this was not a shakedown, but that, if they were at all considering hiring me, now would be the time to make that known.

I had an offer in 24 hours.

Make no mistake, I would have taken that other job. But I leveraged the job I wanted. And you can too; just be prepared to walk the talk in case it doesn’t go the way you want.

4. Networking’s not a right, it’s a privilege

“It’s not a right, it’s a privilege,” is one of my husband’s frequent remarks about driving, and I think that applies to networking as well.

I know many people who make introductions and connections on a regular basis – I’m far from the only one – for no monetary gain whatsoever. There is certainly the “karma” aspect, though I don’t think any of us are intentionally trying to earn karma.

So when people give of their time and connections, remember this isn’t just a favor they’re doing you; they’re making a choice to spend time with or on you, as opposed to something else (which could quite possibly be earning them money). So please, please, please don’t take it for granted.

What does that mean? “Thank you” will go a long way, especially as a hand-written (yes, hand-written) note or card.

Along those lines, please don’t tell someone you’ve never met to “feel free to pass my resume along to anyone you think might be interested.” It’s not their job to help you. It’s YOUR job to help you.

5. Stay in touch and return the favor when you can

One of the first things I did before I moved to DC was get advice on my resume. Through a friend, I was put in touch with a senior executive at APCO Worldwide and while she didn’t have any openings for me at the time, she did spend an inordinate amount of time making suggestions on reformatting my resume (and it’s a format that has remained, to this day, and which I share freely with others, so if you’d like to see it, all you have to do is ask).

I can’t tell you how grateful I was – and still am – for all the time she spent with me. And even though we still haven’t met in person (I know, I know), I make it a point to keep in touch and one day, I’m convinced, will get that proverbial cup of coffee. Not because I want anything from her; but because I’m genuinely grateful for the time she gave me, which was invaluable to my job search.

Take it from me; when someone’s taken the time to review your resume, introduce you to a few folks via online or offline, they deserve more than a bcc email you send all your contacts to announce your new position before you disappear into the blue yonder.

Sure, send the bcc email; but always follow up and thank them personally. And keep in touch over the years as best you can. It’s the right thing to do.

And now, for some additional resources:

  • Ned’s Job of the Week is a free, weekly jobs e-zine that I’ve written about before, and to which you should subscribe
  • If you’re moving to DC and are looking for a job in communications, IABC, PRSA, WWPR and WNG are just a few of the organizations you should check out and start getting active in
  • Again specific to DC and the PR field, PRofessional Solutions is a terrific PR temp agency
  • If you haven’t already created one, VisualCV is a terrific complement to your LinkedIn profile; I strongly suggest you have both, and keep them updated

Those are my top tips for job-hunting via long distance, though I think they apply to job-hunting in general. What can you add? Do you have stories to share that we can learn from, perhaps get a chuckle out of? The comment section is yours!

Image: Ame Otoko’s Flickrstream, Creative Commons

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke