In this week's Ask Victoria: Battling negativity at work and finding new opportunities.
I received a Masters in Public Administration last year and currently do policy and advocacy work for a mid-size NPO. I am interested in continuing to do advocacy and policy work moving forward but I have been stuck at the current organization that I am at for quite a while now. My goal is to move away from an entry level position to mid-level (managerial or program administrator) position.
The results of this circumstance have come from not knowing how to strategically and effectively network and just being in a really negative place where I am currently at. Frankly, I am truly unhappy with the job that I currently have because I have plateaued, there is no where to move up in the organization, I am under really poor management, and I do not agree with the organization's mission and how they carry out their work. Is there any advice that you have to move past this negativity and not project it when I am in interviews or not let it dampen my confidence?
Also, I have attended a number of conferences/forums in issue areas that I working in (racial justice and/or housing and community development) but I never know how to follow up with people that I meet either attending or speaking at the conference. I have requested and had some good informational interviews in the past but I never know where to take it past the initial encounter. How do you follow up on an informational interview and further the conversation to be intentional about either seeking help in finding a job or seeking professional mentorship?
You’ve outlined several reasons for feeling like you are not in the “right” job for you and not being happy with your organization’s practices. You’re smart to be concerned that your dissatisfaction might come through during an interview. We tend to carry our emotions and negative thoughts around with us, in spite of our best efforts to put them aside. But there’s hope!
First, enhance your life outside of work. Reconnect with friends, engage in your hobbies or learn a new one, and get involved in other activities that make you feel alive and exuberant. Once your overall outlook starts to improve, you may see your emotions at work becoming more positive, too.
When it comes time to interview, present a more positive outlook by focusing not on what your current organization is doing wrong, but what the new organization does right.
Next, think of your current job as a training ground. There may be skills you can work on and improve while you’re still employed there, or types of relationships you can work on managing better. For example, you said that management at work is poor. How about testing out your muscles for “managing up”? What can you learn about the way managers at your organization operate and how can you better understand where they are coming from? Take note of any improvements this makes to your work. When you focus on the potential learning experiences rather than the drudgery, it can make it all the more bearable.
When it comes time to interview, present a more positive outlook by focusing not on what your current organization is doing wrong, but what the new organization does right. Research and really get to know the organization as well as you can beforehand, and let your enthusiasm for the way it does its work bubble over into your interview.
If you are asked why you want to leave your organization, again, put the focus on the positive aspects of the new organization’s work and mission, and why it appeals to you. Be able to clearly articulate the alignment between its mission and your values. A decision to seek employment elsewhere can certainly come from what the organization has rather than what your current organization lacks. Also, consider how your skills fit in with the needs of the organization. Making that solid match is key in not only presenting yourself as a great fit for the job, but showcasing why you want to make a contribution to this particular organization.
Another concern you brought up in your note is how to network effectively. It seems like you’ve been doing something right though, as you’ve been meeting contacts at conferences and forums and even setting up informational interviews with them. That’s great! Another way to expand your circle is to look to fellow graduates and other connections you met in your grad program (congratulations on your MPA, by the way!) as they can be a wonderful source of warm leads.
As you’ve probably noticed, there are a lot of resources on how to network. If you feel you want a refresher, take a look at the many articles on Idealist Careers covering this topic, such as 20 ways to network that don't feel like networking, Authentic networking, Networking to find a job, and When networking isn’t working. Once you’ve actually established that connection though, what might be unclear is how to move on to the next step.
Ask yourself what else you’d like to learn from this person and in what way: Would a day of job shadowing be helpful to you? A series of future interviews on specific topics? Monthly in-person updates?
One tactic I like is to follow up with the person you interviewed and share with them an update on your progress. Think back to your conversations and what goals you talked about. Now, “progress” does not have to mean, “I have five interviews set up for next week!” or “I know how to break into the field now!” Perhaps the person you interviewed suggested a book or other resource, you’ve read it, and have some notes on next steps that you’re going to take. Check in and let them know where you are on your journey. Show appreciation for the initial advice they gave you, outline how it helped, and and ask what their recommendations for your next steps.
If it feels awkward to ask your contact to formalize your relationship into a “mentorship,” it’s probably because it can be! Why not let the relationship form organically? There is a lot of buzz about mentorships, but what people don’t necessarily mention is a lot of times, these relationships form over time rather than a point in time where your contact officially becomes your mentor.
Using the idea I suggested above, your ongoing interaction with your contact becomes the basis for your mentorship. Ask yourself what else you’d like to learn from this person and in what way: Would a day of job shadowing be helpful to you? A series of future interviews on specific topics? Monthly in-person updates? Introductions to others in your field? Present your ideas to your contact and let them take the lead on the commitments they can make based on their schedule. Also remember that the relationship is a two-way street and that you might be the person with valuable information to provide your contact at some point.
Etta, I hope my insights are helpful in your job search and I wish you the best of luck!
To your success,