Last fall I wrote an entry entitled “What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?” I described how it’s difficult to know what you want to do when you’re 21. (And how sometimes it’s difficult to know what you want to do when you’re 41!) Tonya discovered that discussion last week, and it prompted to share some of her frustrations. She’s stuck in a job she hates, and she can’t see a way out.

What I don’t understand is how are you supposed to put yourself out there and play the field when no one will give you a chance? What I’ve been having a problem with at least here in Florida is no one will hire you if you don’t have experience, even if you have had some schooling. Either you’re too qualified, not qualified enough, or simply employers don’t have the time to train you.

It’s like you have to know someone who knows someone to just get your foot in the door to start at the bottom, and even that doesn’t seem to work. All I know is residential/commercial painting, which is mind-numbing work. I didn’t even want to get into this field, [but I ended up here] thanks to an ex-husband. Now what?

Many people have similar questions: How do you get in the door? What techniques can you use to prove yourself to a prospective employer? Tonya’s onto something when she observes “it’s like you have to know someone who knows someone”. Malcolm Gladwell writes in The Tipping Point:

In his classic 1974 study “Getting a Job”, [Mark] Granovetter looked at several hundred professional and technical workers form the Boston suburb of Newton, interviewing them in some detail on their employment history. He found that 56 percent of those he talked to found their job through a personal connection. Another 18.8 percent used formal means — advertisements, headhunters — and roughly 20 percent applied directly. This much is not surprising; the best way to get in the door is through a personal contact.

It’s important to note, though, that most who get their jobs through connections don’t do so through friends, but through acquaintances. Gladwell explains:

But, curiously, Granovetter found that of those personal connections, the majority were “weak ties”. Of those who used a contact to find a job, only 16.7 percent saw that contact “often” — as they would if the contact were a good friend — and 55.6 percent saw their contact only “occasionally”. Twenty-eight percent saw the contact “rarely”.

Tonya’s question points to why it’s so important to maintain a network of contacts. But what if you don’t have a social network to draw upon? How can you get a job when nobody will give you a chance?

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