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 to find your way (and the bathroom) at a new job

May 3, 2009 by

So I have a new job. I started a couple of weeks ago and…I’m totally under water. Overwhelmed. In the weeds. Whatever euphemism you want to use to indicate “struggling.”

Starting a new job is never easy. No matter how much you prepare, you can’t truly get ready for what faces you when you arrive on site. Every work place has different policies, practices, norms of behavior that you have to adjust to; you need to meet and get to know your new coworkers and figure out your role in relation to theirs; you may even have to get a copy of the bathroom key.

What do I do when I have some questions and need guidance? I turn to my friends. I put out the ask to some of my wonderful friends who also recently started new jobs to give me some tips. And because they’re awesome, they responded.

I now present a guest post from my fabulous friend Julia Rocchi, who blogs over at Italian Mother Syndrome. Go ahead and sit back, relax and get ready for the insight…


Where’s the bathroom? And where’s the cafeteria?

These are the first things I ask when I start a new job. Why? Because I drink a lot of water and prefer to eat away from my desk. So the answers determine my immediate comfort — and lessen the chances I’ll wet my pants or spill food on my keyboard.

Of course, there’s a bigger significance to these questions. The fact I’m even asking them means I’m onto a fresh adventure and one step further along my career path. I’m broadening my circle of friends and mentors, picking up different skills, reinventing my role … not to mention receiving a paycheck, health benefits, and assorted perks.

But for all these good things, starting a new gig has its fair share of attendant stress, even in calm and controlled circumstances. And given our shaky economy, ‘calm and controlled’ transitions have become quaint luxuries.

Believe me, I know. The last year alone took me through a move from Philadelphia to DC, my first layoff 10 months later, three months of unemployment, and another job shortly after my first anniversary of arriving. I’ve been through contracts, unemployment benefits, networking, interviews, new hire paperwork … basically, soup to nuts and back to soup again.

The good news is, I walked away with some tested-in-fire tactics for keeping heart and mind together while adjusting to significant career changes. Here goes:

Make a pros and cons list before you accept the job. Yes, your first step in adjustment comes before you sign the contract. First, write out a list of all the elements that appeal to you about the position and the offer. Then, counterbalance it with a rundown on what’s making you less-than-pleased. Weigh each item according to your top priorities (ex. I want to eventually move into a management position, I want to continue living in my apartment, I want to maintain a 40-hour workweek, etc.). When you’re done, you’ll see the list has morphed into a sign post about whether the position is a good fit for you at this stage in your life and career. Heed it accordingly.

Take some time off between jobs to reflect and recharge. In our fast-charging society, we rarely stop to absorb and accept our evolving situations. If possible, negotiate for a few free days between your last and first days (though 1 to 4 weeks would be ideal). Use this time to rest, think about what you learned from your last job, plan out what you hope to achieve in your new role, and all-around just breathe. After all, you just expended a lot of time and energy on a thorough and fruitful job search—you at least deserve to take a nap.

Dress the part. I’m no fashionista, but my work clothes do endow me with a certain confidence when I’m wearing the right things. Evaluate your work wardrobe in light of your new office culture, and make sure you have clothes that line up with those expectations. Doesn’t matter if it’s jeans or corporate suits – just make sure your outfits are clean, classic, well-tailored, and suited to the occasion. You’ll look and feel better before you even walk out the door.

Maintain a healthy sleeping/eating/exercise routine. Starting a new job sometimes disrupts the routine you had at your previous company—your commute changes, you have to switch gyms, etc. The result: less sleep, missed workouts, fast food meals, and other bad habits that take the spring out of your step. But now more than ever, you should keep your health and wellbeing intact. Take a week or two to see how your new hours pan out. Then, slowly start building your routine back up again. For example, when should you go to bed to get 6-7-8 hours of sleep? What’s the most convenient time to go the gym? What do you want to pack for lunch this week? By taking it slow and figuring out exactly what you need and what you can handle, you’ll arrive at a healthy, reasonable schedule that you’re much more likely to stick to.

Introduce yourself to one new face a day. Your coworkers are about to become your work family – and you wouldn’t ignore your family at the dinner table, right? Both introverts and extroverts will find it manageable to meet just one new person a day in the office. It doesn’t have to be a soul-searching conversation –a simple hi/handshake/I sit in cubicle X should do the trick. And remember, everyone you’re saying hi to has been in your shoes before, so they’ll probably be more than willing to make you feel welcome and answer any questions. Plus, you’ll make friends—and that makes work double the fun.

Give it time. I am a horribly impatient person. If something is not immediately 100% my ideal, I’m liable to pitch fits and set new changes in motion right away. But starting my latest job has taught me a valuable lesson: Give the job, and your coworkers, and yourself some much-needed time. You need to learn the ropes of the organization, receive training, show your managers what you’re capable of, find your place on the teams, and more. As a result of all this adjustment and learning, your job on day one will not (and should not) match your job on day 100. So give yourself a breather. Allow space to grow. And reevaluate along the way to see how the role is fitting you. If after six months you see it’s not moving in the direction you thought it would, then maybe it’s time to revisit Elisa’s job-search tips. But if you’re feeling challenged and satisfied, then you’ve likely found the right spot for you right now. So enjoy it!!

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