Five things I learned on my job search
(I learned some of these first-hand, and some from friends and family who shared their experiences with me.)
1. Don’t get pregnant
This may sound funny, but it’s dead serious. Did you know your FMLA rights for 12 weeks of unpaid leave and health benefits during your leave don’t kick in until you’ve worked some place for a year? Or that for short-term disability plans, pregnancy is often a pre-existing condition that denies you coverage?
A sympathetic employer might be willing to bend the rules or offer you more, but in general, if you want to switch jobs while pregnant, you’re most likely looking at a short, mostly unpaid maternity leave.
2. Keep your resume and your skills up to date
Whew was I sorry when I decided to look for a job after 11 years at the same company and had to start my resume from scratch. Never again. I think resumes are like car maintenance — you need to do a little often or at least budget that way so you’re not socked with a huge bill down the line. Not having an up-to-date resume made me blind to the holes in my resume (like, why had I stopped volunteering?) Once I saw where I needed work it was easy to start filling in those gaps.
Also: professional development. DO THIS, ALL OF THE TIME. Sometimes I have a hard time making time for this because I’m so focused on doing my job, but my god is it important. I’d done a pretty good at keeping up on things — mostly out personal interest — but I’m going to keep on this.
3. Figure out your story, work through any distractions
Answering the “What do I want to do with my life?” question couldn’t be more intense, but you need to figure out your story before a potential employer can see how they might be part of the next chapter. This one took me a long time to figure out. When I finally did the answer was so obvious, and so satisfying, because it tied together everything about my life. Are you ready for this? The answer is literally staring you in the face. Borealis. It’s basically a love fest for all things Minnesotan. So it follows that what I’m passionate about is iconic Minnesota brands. Once I figured that out everything fell into place. It’s a comfortable category, broader than you’d think, that spans industries, and will fulfill me for a lifetime.
Once you’ve figured out your story, test it on your family and friends — is it easy to deliver? Does it sound authentic? At one point Jen and I actually met at a coffee shop and mock interviewed each other with the questions we found most difficult to answer. (My least favorite: the open-ended, “Tell me about yourself!” As this is often the first question, it’s a difficult one to fumble.)
On the distraction part, really search through your mind and make sure there isn’t anything else going on that a potential employer might pick up on and be unsure about. For example: your mind (or heart) is still at your current job. You’re having health issues. You’ve recently scored positive on a pregnancy test or are visibly pregnant.
4. Write a good cover letter
This is totally my secret weapon. And having sat on the other side of the hiring process half a dozen times, it’s surprising how few people write a good cover letter. After trial and error I settled on this formula: cover the basics — stats about what you accomplished; your breadth; your depth; what distinguishes you from other applicants. And once you’ve done that, make sure you write about THEM, not just YOU. Make it personal — how that company and that job will improve your life and how you will improve the company. It takes time, but it also helps build your story and lets a potential employer visualize how you could fit into their company.
5. Your gut is always right.
If there’s a job you feel like you should apply to that you really really don’t want to, then don’t. I kept feeling like I should apply to two Really Big Minnesota Companies that Tons of People Work for and That Are Impressive. I had connections there; they had jobs open in my field. But I really didn’t want to. Those companies aren’t me.
If the process of applying and writing your cover letter is actually a bit fun, then that’s a great sign. An even better sign: the interview is enjoyable. (I left the interview with the company that offered me the job thinking, “Well, if nothing else, that was a really fun!” They asked me tons of interesting questions like “If you were a kitchen tool, what would you be?” My answer: spatula. It’s the go-to utility player you use everyday, and it’s simple and, at least in my kitchen, elegant.)
And lastly, if you’re in the middle of a job search, you have my sympathies. Job searching is hard, incredibly time consuming, and at times, soul crushing. I wish you patience, godspeed, and good luck!