The next big thing

Jun 17, 2013 by

Four years. That’s how long I worked at Smart Growth America (SGA). That’s twice as long as I’ve been at any job before (hell, that’s longer than most political terms of office or a Hollywood marriage). The last four years have also included some of the most profound personal, professional and business-related milestones I’ve ever experienced in my life: getting married, buying a house, starting my career coaching side hustle, serving as a YNPNdc leadership team member, being appointed to serve on the Arlington County Transportation Commission and probably dozens of other things I can’t even remember.

My experience at SGA, combined with all of these other experiences, have led to me to where I am today: accepting a job with Rescue Social Change Group (Rescue SCG) as their Youth Engagement Director. This new position is quite a departure from the work I was doing on smart growth, community development, land use and transportation to a focus solidly on social change among youth, with a particular focus on health issues – especially anti-tobacco use and anti-obesity. I wasn’t particularly looking for this opportunity (or any other job for that matter), which seems to make it even more serendipitous.

But here’s the thing: it’s exactly where I need, want and PLANNED to be, right from the beginning.

Remember how I was going to change the world? My method for doing that was to organize, outreach, advocate and create social change by training and teaching others to do it effectively. Several years ago, I decided that my goal was to lead the field department of a major national nonprofit. Now, Rescue SCG isn’t a nonprofit – it’s actually a for-profit so this will be my first foray into that sector – and they don’t technically have a ‘field’ department, but I will be managing a team of staff on the ground, working with youth to do targeted campaigns to reduce tobacco use and obesity among their peers. In other words: I get to do almost exactly what I set out to do over 10 years ago when I started this journey known as my career. Awesome!

After my last big job search, I wrote a series of posts sharing a bunch of tips and resources for job searching (here, here, here, here and here). While I’m still completely on-board with those tips, I thought I’d write a little bit about the different type of job search inherent in a director-level job.

Here are three things I think were a big part of my success in landing this new job:

  1. While I was asked to apply for this new job, I wasn’t 100% qualified for it – and I knew that. Taking over a large team scattered all around the country when I have only supervised a few associates, fellows and interns based in a central office? Managing multiple client relationships simultaneously when I’ve only ever managed one or two at a time? I didn’t have everything I needed for this job. But what I did have was lots of different kinds of experiences in management, client relationships, etc., a willingness to learn, grow and get better and a fire in my belly to take this next step in my career. In fact, I was actually told that this fire was part of the reason I was hired. That fire and the drive to succeed can and will be recognized by those hiring for senior level managers.
  2. Again, even though I wasn’t actively searching for a job, I was prepared if an opportunity came up (you know how I feel about being prepared, especially as a job seeker). When I got asked to apply, it only took me a few days to pull together my application materials; my resume was already updated and I had writing samples ready and waiting. The only thing I needed to write was the cover letter. Maybe more importantly, I had a storehouse of good, recent examples demonstrating my management skills, budget experience, campaign knowledge, etc. The ability to answer some of those difficult questions with relevant examples certainly made interviewing easier for me and likely helpful for my new employer in making their decision.
  3. Finally, I interviewed them as much as they interviewed me. I must have asked at least 15 to 20 questions in each interview I did and of course did a ton of research on their website, did Google searches and checked out LinkedIn profiles. When accepting a senior level position with a lot of responsibility, I think that its only fair to have a really complete picture of what you’ll be expected to do as well as when, how and what types of serious organizational decision making you’ll be asked (or required) to do. Even if your goal is to gain that decision-making authority, transitioning from a role where you don’t have much of it to one where you may have all of it is pretty daunting and you need to know where you stand before you say ‘yes’.

With all of this in mind and the promise of a very busy schedule for the foreseeable future, I’m going to take a hiatus from writing in this space for the next few months. I want (and need!) to be able to get a handle on everything before I can reasonably split my attention again. But don’t worry: with my new role, new responsibilities and new challenges will come lots of great fodder for the blog. In the interim, you can of course connect with me on Twitter and I’ll still be offering career coaching services, especially resume and cover letter review.

Thanks so much and wish me luck!

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How do you know when it’s time to go?

Dec 18, 2012 by

This is my final guest post of the year for Opportunity Knocks. It’s been a great year and I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to share posts with their community – and I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts too!

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No matter how much you love your job – or how much you want to love your job – sometimes the bad parts of the job take over the good. Usually it’s either your coworkers/working environment or the work itself (or both) that bring you down. But how do you know when its time to pack up your stuff and leave? Here are three clues:

1. The projects, tasks and responsibilities you have no longer appeal to you – Or even worse, they never appealed to you in the first place. If you are constantly being assigned work that is boring or doesn’t build on your skills or has no relevance to the broader work of the organization, that’s a big red flag. It may mean that your boss/employer has no sense of your skills or doesn’t particularly care to offer you interesting or meaningful work. If they don’t care to offer you interesting work most of the time, then you don’t need to be there.

2. You are angry and/or frustrated most (all?) of the time – One direct consequence of having work that is boring or outside of your skill set may be constant jaw-clenching, teeth-gnashing frustration and anger. And the more you are angry, the more you dislike your job, which makes you even angrier. It’s a vicious cycle that saps your productivity and can ruin even the good days at work.

3. You no longer care – In some ways, I’d argue that this marks the end of the line in terms of how much you can take at a job you don’t like. When you can’t muster the energy to get out of bed and physically go to work in the morning; when you could care less how or even if the work gets done; if all you can muster is a shrug in response to other’s questions or complaints of you, then it really is time to go.

The bottom line is very simple actually whether it comes to relationships or jobs: if the bad times become more frequent than the good, it is time to go.

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Relationships are all that matter

Oct 2, 2012 by

As I mentioned a few months ago, I’ve been guest-blogging over at Opportunity Knocks since earlier this year. This is the latest post I’ve written for them so check it out and visit their site to read more great bloggers.

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After years of organizing people, events and situations, I’ve learned that relationships are all that matter. Whether you want a job, a promotion, a friend, a drink or to raise some money, you must have good relationships.

Developing good relationships with new people, networks and organizations that can help you get things done is relatively simple – but maybe not easy.

Here are five steps to get that good relationship started:*

  • First, you must catch their attention – through someone they know, a common institution, etc. This can include alumni networks, organizations they’ve worked or volunteered at, neighborhoods they’ve lived in and much more. This is where a resource like LinkedIn or other social and professional networking platforms can come in handy.
  • Second, you must establish an interest in having a conversation. The common thread between you is often not enough to get that conversation going; however, asking someone for advice or to talk specifically about your common interests can get it going. Most people love to talk about themselves – so ask them!
  • Third: exploration. Just because you get together and start talking to someone doesn’t mean that either of you have any value to add to one another. The evaluation/exploration stage (usually during one of your first conversations) is when you ask each other questions, listen to the answers and figure out whether your relationship is going anywhere. The process of developing a relationship can and should end right here if there isn’t any value to it.
  • Fourth: if there is value in the relationship, this is the time to make exchanges – of knowledge, information, etc. Do they know someone you should speak to? Do you have a really interesting article to share with that person? Is there an event you should both attend to learn more about a topic? One note: sometimes it can be hard to determine whether the relationship will have any value to it and you often must proceed to the exchange step before you can figure it out.
  • The fifth step is to make a commitment to continue engaging, basically a promise of shared time or effort (or both). This is the point at which the relationship becomes a separate organism that needs to be fed, watered and nurtured in order to survive past the first few weeks.

Most of the time, these steps happen organically, but they still must be done. If you’ve ever had someone you don’t even know call you and ask for a recommendation, introduction, etc., you know how jarring it is when key steps are skipped. By the same token, if you keep the steps in mind, you’ll have that new job, promotion or a great drink from your local bartender in no time!

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*Please note that some of the content for this post came from Professor Marshall Ganz, a long-time organizer and Lecturer in Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

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Tips for a great cover letter

Jul 2, 2012 by

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post with tips for making your resume better, so I thought I’d add the obvious companion piece and talk about cover letters.

Let’s be clear: as someone who hires staff, I understand the utility of a cover letter. But as someone who has spent a large part of her adult life hunting for a job, I kind of hate them. If you do them right, they take up a tremendous amount of time and can leave you feeling emotionally drained. That’s why it takes me so damn long to write them. On the other hand, if you do them really well, you’ll definitely get an interview. Plus, you can’t NOT do them, so might as well write the best cover letters you can. 

Here’s how:

  • Keep it shortI talked about this in the resume post as well, but it bears repeating. In this instance, no matter how much experience you have, your cover letter should NEVER go over 1 page. Hiring managers don’t have the time to read more than a page and may throw your application out if you ask them to (I’ve done it before). Keeping it short saves you time and effort as well.
  • Use examples – When you read a job description, it should be pretty obvious what the employer wants you to do. Your job is to provide an example or three of how you’ve done one or more of those tasks, ideally in a way to describes how you overcame a challenge to accomplishing that task or how you did it on time and under budget. Employers are inherently selfish so explaining how you’ve jumped hurdles and still kicked butt makes them salivate.
  • Explain why you care about the organization and the job – If you’ve been applying to jobs for a while, this can seem difficult. How can you possibly explain yet again why you care about the mission of an organization? If that’s the case then do what I do: clear your mind and think about why you want to work there. (And no, needing a job to pay your bills is not a reason – at least not for someone hiring.) Have you been reading about the organization’s work lately? Do you have friends who have worked there? Is it your dream job? If so, put that into your cover letter in a clear but not overly-effusive way.

Do you have other tips and tricks? If so, I’d love to read them in the comments!

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Tips for making your resume better

Jun 4, 2012 by

A couple of years ago, I started a side hustle focused on career coaching – resumes, cover letters, and guidance for young professionals seeking to move up in their careers. It’s been a great experience as I’ve gotten to meet new people, learn about fields I knew nothing about and do what I love most, which is helping people. 

In that time, I’ve seen a number of resumes come across my desk, many with the same types of problems. Here are a few tips to help you avoid those problems (and if you want a personalized resume and/or cover letter review, contact me):

  • Make your resume as specific as possible – Include quantitative measures of your work if possible (i.e., amount of money raised, number of partners worked with, etc.). If you can’t get quantitative, at least get precise. I’ve read too many resumes where I’ve come away with no real idea of what the person actually DOES. Do you write grant reports? Do you make phone calls? Do you attend meetings? This may seem mundane, but employers want to know that you can actually do basic job-related tasks.
  • Create a long form resume that you use as a template – Unless you have 20+ years of directly relevant experience, your resume should NEVER go over one page. Period, end of story. The resume you submit to employers is not meant to encapsulate your entire career – just those parts most relevant to the job you’re applying for. So, keep a long form resume where you have everything from every job you’ve ever had and then drag and drop as needed based on the job description.
  • Use key words – Every job description has certain key words that appear over and over again. If you’re having trouble finding those key words, paste the text into Wordle and it will identify the words that show up the most. Then, use those words. Everywhere. Replace words you use with the words the description uses (assuming they mean almost the same thing); this provides a helpful visual cue to the person reviewing your resume and may propel you further along the path to getting that job.

Any other resume tips that have worked for you? Share them in the comments!

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