5 things I learned on my job search

five things I learned in my job search

Jen and I don’t talk much about our day jobs on Borealis because that doesn’t work for us, but it’s certainly a very big and real part of our lives. At any time we both have a lot of things going on that we’re not able to write about (although they’d make great material!), and my decision to look for a new job was one of them.

Job searching is incredibly consuming and not to write about it here has felt odd. Perhaps once more time has passed I’ll be willing to share more about the process. But for how I wanted to share two things:

That I got a new job!!!!! (yay!), and

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!

How about you? What have you learned while job searching? Did someone give you good advice? What was different about it than you expected?

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  1. I second #2! I too had to start a resume from scratch after 12 years. It was sooo much work, and so painful! Since then I’ve updated it about 6 times – in a year.

    I also recommend doing as Sheryl Sandberg suggests in Lean In: Apply for jobs that you haven’t exactly done in the past for but you know you can do. Just because you’ve never done it, doesn’t mean you can’t!

    • It’s so much harder for you US women. In Germany, the pregnant woman is the “holy cow”: Pregnant women can’t get fired, have the right of maternity leave and are even allowed to lie about their pregnancy in order to get a job. Me being in public service (I’m a judge), have even more privileges: I can always re-enter my job, no matter how long I’ve been at home with the children (or at least until the youngest is 16 years old! I’m not planning to stay out of the job longer than another two years). So fortunately, I don’t have to go job-hunting ever again. Lucky me – re-entering my old job is tough enough for me with 5 kids.

      • Breanne says:

        Wow — that is amazing! Thanks for letting us know what things are like in Germany. I can’t even imagine what that would be like or how that would change our lives (more kids?) Fascinating! And congratulations on the five kids! I bet you could teach us a thing or two about motherhood. Thanks for reading!

        • The odd thing: US women actually have more kids than German women! Over the last years government has started two major incentives for women to have more kids: A right to child-care for children under three and the so called “Elterngeld” (parent money) – after childbirth you get 68 % of your last average income for 12 months without working and for another 2 months if the other parent (usually the father) stays at home with the kid. Then we have “Kindergeld” (children money) – you get 154 Euro eayh month for every child as long as it doesn’t earn for up to 26 years, even more starting from the 3rd child.
          And all this is not working! Germany has one of the lowest birth-rates in the world. I admire you US-women who have children and work without that governmental support.

          • Breanne says:

            My goodness! That would be amazing! Why do you think the birth rate is so low then? I’d tell you how much we pay for infant child care but it’s so much that it sounds insane.

  2. Related to #5, remember that you’re interviewing the company just as much as they’re interviewing you. It’s easy to feel like “pick me! pick me!”, because after all that putting yourself out there, you want the validation. But you need to feel just as good about them and as impressed by the company as you’re trying to make them feel about you.

    • Breanne says:

      Good point. Sometimes in the drive to “win” you can lose sight of whether it is really the best job for you. Thanks for reminding us that the process goes both ways.

  3. I’m in the middle of the hunt, and yes it is an arduous process! I DID have fun writing my last cover letter (something that I think many people my age just skip now?); hopefully the company will have fun reading it. 🙂

    • Thanks Erika, and good luck on your search! I know you’ll find the right place, and they’ll be lucky to have you.


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