Watchful Waiting

No, I’m not talking about what doctors sometimes recommend for a  slow-growing cancer, although there are days when the job search feels a lot like that.  I’m referring to the fact that it can take a long time for the right opportunity to appear (or reappear, like one of those slow growths).

Within the past few weeks, three positions have opened up at three different non-profit organizations that I’ve been interested in and at which I’ve applied in the past.   One is a large organization for which I’ve volunteered for a long time. The others were non-profits I became aware of through my job search.

First time around, I got no interviews at any of the three.  Since then, I’ve done some networking, which has resulted in one interview so far.  For the other two, I’m confident my resume will at least be reviewed, since I’ve gotten to know people inside the organization in similar roles and learned more about the skills and experience that are deemed most important.  And for good measure, one of those resumes will probably go through the CEO, since I know somebody who knows her.  Sometimes you have to pull out the big guns, but it’s important to keep your powder dry for when you really need it, too.

The interview I did get might also have had something to do with the fact that I’ve been volunteering with an organization with a similar mission, and recently completed a relevant certificate program, paid for by the organization I’ve been volunteering with.

A similar situation occurred with a for-profit role, too.  I had been phone screened, but was told I wasn’t a great match since I didn’t have enough experience in a certain area.  The interviewer was great –she said she was impressed with my experience in other areas, and gave me good, honest feedback.  She recently contacted me, asking if I was still looking, and noted there was another role I might be a good match for.    That trail has since gone cold, so perhaps her hiring colleague had other things in mind, but it is still nice to know that someone thinks I’m qualified for something!

The moral of the story is to identify organizations you are interested in, and make a point to get to know people there, even if they don’t have an immediate opening, or if you’ve been rejected.   Find out what skills they are looking for, and tailor your resume accordingly, or develop them if you don’t have them.  If they are a non-profit, consider volunteering for them or a similar organization.  And of course don’t burn any bridges. Ever. You never know who might be helpful in the future.

This can be a long and difficult process, but it can bear results.  I guess that’s why they call it networking.

A side note to non-profit HR departments:  it’s not good PR to diss your volunteers.  The organization where I’ve volunteered for many years rejected me last time with a form email that bordered on rude, telling me that I wasn’t qualified.  They should have incorporated questions about volunteer service with them into their employment application, so that volunteers can at least receive a kind rejection that acknowledges their volunteer service even if they are not a good fit for the job.  Last time around, I’m not sure a real person even read my resume, since their online app is long and convoluted.  That’s part of the reason I enlisted the big guns this time.

Enough with the military metaphors for now, although the husband is dragging us to Gettysburg soon, so I’m sure I’ll have an endless supply after that.

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Bloom Where You Are Planted

Many years ago, my mother gave me one of those little wall plaques that have a cutesy picture with a slogan.  It took me some time to realize the message was an important lesson I needed to learn:  “Bloom Where You are Planted.”

In my college years and after I did a lot of international travel, moving, and job changing.   All of which is a good thing when you are young and trying to figure out who you are.   I’d recommend studying and working abroad to anyone as a fundamental way of broadening your horizons.  Plus, it becomes more difficult to travel as widely once you’ve acquired a spouse, mortgage and kids.

While it’s quite possible my mother was just wishing I’d stop leaving the country, the real message behind “Bloom Where You Are Planted” is to make the most of your current situation.  It’s very easy to keep searching for the next big thing: the dream job, the ideal place to live, the winning lottery ticket, and so on.  And we have to dream and have goals.  At the same time, true happiness often comes from making the best of what is around you, right now.   This means family, friends, community, and personally enriching activities you can enjoy without buying a plane ticket to somewhere exotic.

I live near Philadelphia, so I’m fortunate to be within a three hour drive of many of the nation’s top historical and cultural attractions, from Broadway shows in New York to the museums of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC to nearby Independence Hall.  Yet, when I talk to friends and neighbors who have grown up in the area, I’m often astonished by how many who’ve admitted that they’ve never been to see the Liberty Bell, less than 45 minutes away by car or train.  (And I don’t live in a low-income community where poverty blights opportunity.)   Every community has something of interest to explore, whether it be outdoor activities, scenery, historical attractions, or quirky local pastimes.

Although I won’t be on an ecotour to the Galapagos Islands this year, I can still learn and be involved in amazing conservation work being done in my backyard.  And my family has explored Philly, as well as making many day and weekend trips to New York and Washington, DC.

The same thing is true of the working world.  My next job is likely to be mainly for the money, not because it’s my life’s passion.  How many children dream of becoming a tax accountant or financial planner or IT project manager while growing up?  Yet those are all good jobs that are likely to pay enough to allow enjoy fulfilling activities outside of work, as well as being high-status enough to provide a respected place in society.

And every job, no matter how humdrum, will provide the opportunity to seek satisfaction by doing your job well, helping and learning from the people you work with, and serving your customer.  If you decide to enjoy your work, and do it well, chances are you’ll advance in your career, too.  You’ll probably meet at least a few people you’ll enjoy on a social level, too, and perhaps the one who will help you in your next career move.

Most of my life’s most important and formative events came completely out of left field, from a chance to work in Japan, to meeting my husband on a vacation, to the first job that led to my career in financial services.   I suspect this is true for many people.  Therefore, if you can’t predict the future, make the most of the present.  You never know which person you meet is going to provide you with a life-changing opportunity, either personal or professional.  And whatever it is, you’ll have more chance of making the most of it if you’re putting your all into whatever you are doing, not grumbling about how it’s not where you want to be.

Make the most of your current job, or if you are unemployed, find some interests to cultivate you might not have had time for before.   Make new friends, keep up with old friends, join local organizations you care about, volunteer, be a tourist in your current hometown, and find a creative way to pursue your passions now, rather than when you think the conditions will be more optimal.

Be open to the opportunities around you.  Have goals that you are working towards, but Bloom Where You Are Planted

Volunteer Skill-Building

I’m far from the first person to suggest this, but it’s worth repeating that volunteering can be a wonderful  way to build new skills during a job hunt, if you are out of the workforce for awhile, or even if you are still working.  Here are a few examples of how volunteering has enhanced my value to an employer over the past few years.

  • In some ways managing volunteers is more challenging than managing employees.  Volunteers are only there if they want to be; you can’t force them to show up.  You can’t always select people who are the best match for the task at hand, and you can’t easily fire them if they are not well-suited.  So, you have to provide clear direction, constant feedback, meaningful opportunities for growth and social interaction, and reinforcement of the value of the work in terms of the organization’s mission.  Do I think my volunteer management experiences will improve my ability to manage employees?  You bet.
  • Since non-profits are always trying to do more with less, there are often opportunities for challenges you wouldn’t be considered for in a paying job.  As a volunteer, I’ve led much larger teams than I’ve ever led in a paying position, with far wider responsibilities.   I’ve also been able to participate in discussions about adopting software platforms, social media campaigns, and website designs, to name just a few areas, leading to new skill development.
  • Some non-profits have wonderful training opportunities, which are free as long as you commit to helping the organization.   Thanks to several non-profits, I have training in outdoor leadership, first aid, archaeology, invasive species management, and counseling, among other things.
  • Working with kids (mainly through Girl Scouting) has greatly improved my project management and communications skills.  There are few audiences less forgiving of a dull presentation than a group of nine-year-old girls at the end of a long school day, and few projects more likely to go awry without careful planning and continuous adjustment than a weekend-long group camping trip with a bunch of second-graders.
  • Volunteers often spend a lot of time with people who are very different that those they mix with in their usual community interactions.  I’ve learned a lot about others, and about myself, from interacting with nursing home residents, families who live in poverty, and teenagers, among others.  It’s much harder to take your own lifestyle for granted when you’ve spent some time viewing the world from other perspectives.

Of course, the most important part about volunteering is finding an organization or organizations where you have a true passion for their mission.   Volunteering requires a willingness to commit and roll up your sleeves to help with whatever needs to be done.   Case in point: I spent a couple of hours this morning doing data entry that urgently needed to be done, and made someone’s day by fixing a jammed printer.   Bonus for me: I then got to go see the wood frogs in the pond, who are starting to come out to do their spring thing.

If you find the right fit between you and a worthy non-profit, both you and the organization have a lot to gain from volunteering!

The Week Thus Far

It’s been a busy week thus far, between continued networking, some upcoming phone interviews, and a volunteer project I’ve been involved with.

Volunteering is good for several reasons: it’s a change of pace from sitting in front of the computer, something useful to put on the resume, and it may help develop marketable skills.  Oh, and it might even provide some good to the community or environment.  Let’s face it, a lot of supposedly altruistic activities have a strong component of self-interest to them, whether it be socializing, skill-building, or the satisfaction of helping others.  Personally, I like going to a “job” where I can wear hiking boots and go for a long walk through some really big trees afterwards, time permitting.