Sunday, February 17, 2013

You Need an Insider: Finding a YOU Champion

No one wants to hear it, but there is a secret to getting a job in today's tough market.  I'm talking about a good job, you know, one you would actually want.  One that may or may not involve a career transition.  You need a YOU champion.

A YOU champion is someone who cares about YOU and wants to see YOU succeed.  Someone who works at the company you want to get hired at, or knows the inside scoop of their search. Someone the hiring team knows and trusts to make recommendations.  Someone who can give you honest feedback about how to tailor your interview, your resume, and respond mid-search to any doubts or changing directions.

And the  real secret is that when you fnd a real YOU champion, it will be because they believe that your success is tied to their success.  Think about that for a minute.  How does your success become their success?   Getting someone to care about you stems from a number of scenerios: It can be because of the mentor mentee relationship you developed; it could be that they want to work with you and see you as an asset or an ally; it could be they want you hired to preserve their contact and relationships with the company they are seeking to place you at; you may have helped them get hired in the past.

That last point is really important.  You don't have to be in upper management before you can start helping people find a job.  Even the lowliest interns at an organization have more of inside scoop on hiring decisions than the random or craigslist.or applicant.  When you find out about jobs, make a call or send a targeted email to people you think would be good--like really good.   Make a call to the person hiring , or pass along an email with a name, contact info and a brief referral to help them with their search.  Not only do you help the person you refer, but you may find that the employer comes back to you in the future.  I helped a friend find a job when someone recruited me. I passed on my friend's contact info, and told her what to emphasize in the interview and her resume.  Then I pitched the employer that she fit the criteria that had been spelled out when they were intervieiwng me.  I debriefed with her after the interview, and helped her strategize her thank you letter.  She was a great candidate, made me look good, and got the job.

When I applied for my current job, I was same employer came to me directly.  However, it was my friend who had gotten hired at the other office who kept me updated about where they were in the process, when I should contact them again, and what startegies would work best.  My friend who I had helped less than a year before is directly responsible getting me my offer.  Yes, I was a qualified candidate.  So were a lot of other people who applied.  I had the benefit of several people who had come to see that their success was tied to me: my friend who helped me with my application, and the ultimate hiring team who knew what it was like to work with me due to our board service and volunteer work together.  You still need to be the champion of YOU, but you also need to find someone else who can champion, YOU too.

And once you get that job don't think your work is done.  I'm currently a YOU champion for another friend who would be a fantastic asset to the company he is waiting to hear from.

Your Intellectual Life After Academia

Now that I have been out of school for almost two months, and fully employed for a little over one, I want to address a fear that graduate students contemplating leaving academia likley have:  the end of your intellectual life.  To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumours of your brain's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

This was not an issue I particulalry struggled with: I was, afterall, in the process of writing a book before I applied to school.  Still, the big lie of the life of the mind has a powerful pull, and I realize that others may worry about what happens after Professors and the pressure to publish remove any required reading.

What You Won't Miss

First, I have not read a single article from my discipline since leaving.  Not one.  However, that does not mean I have not been reading other academic fields.  I still have remote access through my university, and there are a few projects that leaving has freed me up to pursue.  I'm finally free to pursue lines of research that interested me, but not my department, and for a more general audience where I think my arguments will be more impactful.

Also, leaving Academia has also freed me from conventions I hate:  Only capitalizing the first word of titles.  ARGH  #$^%! I never got used to that, can't stand it, and have now flaunt my Capitalized Titles with Reckless Abandon!

Voracious and Changed Reading Habits

Now that I get to read what I want, when I want, and without the obligation to read hanging over me, I have actually been reading more.  My initial reading list can best be characterized as escapist rebellion:  as a recovering social scientist I set aside non-fiction for historical novels, which I previously claimed to hate.  Most reading focused on political intrigue of 15th and 16th century English court.  Why?  Perhaps the politics of my department, or the anticiapted political and policy angle of my now current job. Regardless, this constituted a complete 180.  Who knows the source of my motivations, but after years of supressing my desires and interests the deal I made with my soul once I quit was that I was going to let myself do pretty much whatever I wanted.  As you can see, I also threw some Papal history into the mix:

Mary Queen of Scotts and the Isles
The Other Bolyn Girl
The Borgias 

What You Read May Change
Primarily, I have also shifted from the purely academic books to smart, intellectually stimulating novels, short stories, and non-fiction.  In the two months since I have left, I have also finished:

Misconceptions: Truth, Lies and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood
Another City: Writing from Los Angeles
City Making: Building Communities without Building Walls

That's between 1000-2000 pages of reading, not including online articles and newspapers, let alone the reading, research, and policy analyis I do for my job.

Don't Put Pressure On Yourself
The biggest advice I have is to relax and let yourself recover. Initially, my lack of writing has been disapointing.  However, I also realize that quitting graduate school, finding a new job, and adjusting to life post Ph.D. track is an  intense and emotional process. I've just started to think about writing again, but I'm reducing my expectations of myself.   It could be six months or a year before I pick up the writing I want to do, and that is ok. Of course, I didn't come to this highly rational and circumspect conclusion alone, which is why I still recommend a good therapist!