How To Job Search by Bicycle

A cyclist’s checklist for pounding the pavement

Would you hire this writer? (photo: http://www.davidniddrie.com)

I’m looking for work—a place where I can be smart, passionate, persuasive, and unapologetically car-free. But as I freshen up my career website and surf the job boards I wonder: can this cyclist pass for “Normal?

Normal wears brisk suits, looks polished and drives to work. Normal also works tirelessly, is paid handsomely, and receives dental benefits. I want all that and am willing to do all that — except for the “drive” part. I won’t drive to work, and I feel so strongly about it that I’ve developed this Cyclist’s Job Search Checklist to keep my career and cycling in balance:

1. Set your parameters

Before I even start looking, I establish how far I’d be willing to ride, in what direction, and for how many seasons. Is transit available nearby? Which bike would I ride and will it be secure?

2. Scrutinize the company’s job posting and the website

Some companies are bike-friendly and they don’t even know it. I recently applied for an editorial position with an online publishing service I’ll call “Writing Is Us.” They used words like “sustainable,” “friendly,” “fun,” “creative” and “forward-thinking” on their Careers page. And a peek at their Contact page confirmed that their address was a pleasant 30-minute ride away.

3. Drop the word “cycling” into your cover letter or resume

Don’t proselytize the Word Of Wheel, but don’t hide your faith, either.  I try to sneak it into the cover letter somewhere (“able to blog about modes of sustainable transportation, e.g. cycling”) or bury it in the “hobbies” section of the CV (“volunteer bike guide for school groups”). You never know—someone on the hiring team may be into cycling too, and you could set off their bikey radar. Another tip is to describe yourself as “forward-thinking.”

4. Deliver the application package in person, on your bike

This is a fantastic way to scope out what a typical day’s ride might feel like. I take my time and look around. Could I do this every day? Are there good bike routes to the office? Transit? Coffee shops?

When I arrived at the warehouse district offices of Writing Is Us, I locked to a covered rack and ducked into a coffee shop restroom to make sure I didn’t look like a sweaty miscreant. The hand-off was simple: I smiled at the person behind the desk (he or she could be a bikey staffer who is filling in for the lunching receptionist), introduced myself, handed over the application and said something like, “It’s great to meet you and I just wanted to be sure you got this personally.”

5. Don’t cycle to the job interview

Ever. It’s the “first impression” thing—you don’t want to be mistaken for a bike messenger and, hell, you don’t even want to look as if you’ve been outside. Take transit instead and check out bus stops and walking distance for future reference. Once inside, play it straight. Don’t mention cycling unless the subject comes up naturally. If the interview goes well, ask to see what the actual workspace looks like. Take a reading of the place. Windows? Plants? Laughter? Bike helmets?

A homemade thank-you card with a photo from a recent bike trip may alert a future bikey coworker.

6. Deliver a “thank-you” card in person, on your bike

It sounds hokey, but it works! If the card is colorful or arty enough, it may set off that bikey radar. I once dropped off a card I made from a photo I took on an Isla Mujeres bike trip, and the manager who called to hire me said, “You’ve got to meet my wife — she’s biked in Mexico too!

7. Watch and wait

Got the job? Don’t show up Day One in your bike togs. Or Week 1 either. Take transit the first few weeks and scout for clues of kindred spirits: rain booties, talcum powder, bad hair. On your lunch hour, explore the building and check restrooms for extra-large stalls, showers and hot air blowers. Display a bike photo in your work space. Wait.

8. Ride and shop

When the time’s right, it’s time to ride.  But it’s bad form to show up at a new workplace in ratty duct-taped rain pants and old Cordura panniers. Whenever I start a new job, I reward myself with some fabulous new bike gak. After all, I’m trying to set an example and demonstrate that—though I may ride a bike, I’m as Normal as that guy in the Prius. I consider it a business expense.

I haven’t heard back from Writing Is Us yet, so if you know a company that’s looking for a fun, creative, forward-thinking writer…let me know, will you?

Ulrike Rodrigues is a communications generalist who brings a persuasive voice to your web site, corporate brand or marketing efforts. Her specialities include sustainability, transportation, tourism, culture and cycling…

Published in the March/April 2010 issue of Momentum: the magazine for self-propelled people.

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