If you follow me on twitter, you may have seen that I recently got a new job making more than 14k more than I am making in my current job! As promised, here is some info on how I did it. And in case you saw that tweet, I will also write another post later about how I negotiated my salary.
I will start by giving some background on my career path so far. As a teenager, I entered the workforce in the service industry. My first job was as a hostess in a restaurant, and I soon became a bartender and server, which I continued doing for about 14 years (In fact, I still do this as a side hustle every few weekends). I got my undergraduate degree in Psychology in Canada, and then moved to Hawaii to do my Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology. As part of that degree, I had an internship working as a mental health professional in a hospital setting. This internship was notoriously challenging, and the clinical supervisor was renown for making his interns cry on a daily basis. Nonetheless, I managed to survive the year-long unpaid internship, and was only one of a group of interns to be offered a job at the end. Due to the fact that I was a Canadian working in the United States, I was only able to work for one year on what is called Optional Practical Training (OPT), before my visa expired, and I had to move home to Canada. There was a very expensive, involved, and convoluted way to possibly extend that visa for 6 years, but I chose to go home to face my student debts head on, and to be able to see my family more frequently than once per year. Having fought my way through a notoriously challenging and competitive internship in a hospital, and having come out of it with an offer of employment, I thought I was well positioned to be able to find a job in my field when I got back home to Canada. At that time, I was also considering looking for work outside my field, because having worked in a high-burnout environment in the hospital (working primarily with Schizophrenia and Methamphetamine addiction) I was curious about what else might be out there. All of this is the context within which my job search in Canada began.
I started sending out resumes to a variety of places that I thought might be interesting, and there were a couple things I learned quickly about the millenial job market.
- Almost no one will respond to your resume.
- I wasn’t just sending my resume out blindly, I was tailoring resumes and crafting cover letters specifically to each employer I reached out to, and with the exception of 1-2 cases, I got no response whatsoever to the emails. Just silence. Crickets. I applied to many places in my field, many outside my field, and then after a couple months I started getting desperate and just sending resumes to completely random things, like manning the front desk at my yoga school, and I even got turned down for that.
- Even volunteer positions are competitive and difficult to get.
- This was one of the more shocking things I discovered. I thought that since I had a master’s in clinical psychology, and experience in the field, surely I could easily get a volunteer position. In fact, even the majority of volunteer applications I sent out received no response whatsoever. I eventually was lucky enough to get a really great volunteer position in my field, but even that took a solid 6 months to get.
- If you don’t have connections, it is unlikely that anyone will even talk to you.
- This has got to be the main take-home message that I got from this overall experience. Without connections, it is incredibly difficult to get any employers to speak to you, let alone consider you for an interview. I realized the importance of this during my search, and set about building my network of connections in Canada. Ultimately, connections were what finally got me a job in my field.
- Work experience outside your field and life experience can actually hurt you.
- Disclaimer: I disagree strongly with this idea, but it happened it me anyway. I was called a “late bloomer”(higher risk for hiring) on my HR assessment because I moved to Hawaii to do my Master’s instead of entering my field directly out of university. My many years of bartending were also counted as “unemployment/gaps” in my experience. Apparently I had enough “protective factors” that they hired me anyway, but it was interesting to see the ways in which my life experience and time in other types of work were actually used against me.
So what did I do?
I don’t want to sugar coat this like it was easy, because it was not. This was a long process and required a lot of work. In fact, at one point I had almost given up, and I sent in a question to Farnoosh Torabi on her Mo’ Money podcast, and she actually answered! You can hear my question, and her advice here.
- I took any job I could get.
- I started off by finding and taking a bartending job because I have so much experience doing it that it makes those jobs easier to get. I did that for almost a year until I could finally get an office job. About office jobs: don’t get me wrong; I actually make a lot more money working as a bartender than I do in an office, and unless I become a heart surgeon or an advanced computer scientist, that will always be true (yeah, servers and bartenders in busy bars make that much). However, I really wanted the office lifestyle; I wanted to sleep at night, have health benefits and a pension, and to have evenings and weekends off. Having the freedom of evenings and weekends off so that I could spend time with friends and family, join sports teams, and have a consistent sleep schedule is incredibly important to me.
- I took an office job outside of my field, and below my level of education.*
- When I couldn’t get responses to any of my resumes, I took the only office job I could get. After sending out hundreds of resumes over the course of a year, the only response I got was for something called an “administrative assistant” in the government of Canada. Most people probably know what admin work is, but I did not. I also didn’t have any other options, so I took it. I quickly discovered that what it meant was that I was a secretary: organizing someone else’s calendar, triaging their emails, answering their phone, and making lunch reservations. It was a bit like waitressing without the money. This job ended up being the golden ticket for me, but I would actually caution against this route for a lot of people. Something I discovered by doing this is that, at least in government, taking a low level position as a “foot in the door” can actually hurt you. The reason is this: people in government can be really mentally attached to “which level you are”, regardless of what your professional experience or education might be. That is, by accepting a job at a lower level, I was automatically disqualified for jobs that I might have qualified for had I been coming from the outside with identical experience & qualifications. Let’s say, for example, that a job in my field was a pay level 8, but I had accepted an unrelated job at a pay level 4 to get a foot in the door. There are strict rules that you can’t jump from a pay level 4 to an 8 (you can to spend a year minimum at each of the levels in the middle), even if your education would have you come in at an 8 if you came from the outside into an appropriate role. For this reason, I might have had a better shot at certain jobs in my field had I never accepted the one at the lower pay level.
- I networked like crazy, even with people outside my field, and I took advantage of every opportunity that came out of that.
- One of the benefits of taking the low-level administrative position, was that I had face time with the high-level executives of every department every single day. I took this as an incredible opportunity, and made sure to develop positive professional relationships with as many of them as possible, all while continually emphasizing my education, skills, and experience.
- I talked to everyone I knew about my professional situation, my experience and education, and what I was looking for.
- In order to make sure my message was out there, I continually introduced / defined myself in terms of the professional identity I wanted/had education and experience for, not the one I had. I told many people about my degrees and past work experience, as well as my interest in finding my way back into my field. I did this because you never know what connections the person you are talking to might have. In fact, ultimately, the connections that helped me to discover the most relevant opportunities did not themselves work in my field at all.
- I joined committees of interest.
- Due to the fact that I found my role organizing calendars a bit mind-numbing at times, and because I longed for something to become more engaged in, I joined some committees I felt would be interesting to me. This was great because it was a good way to learn more about the organization I found myself in, it was a great way to network, and it felt interesting and meaningful. This was the type of thing that really kept me going while I was engaged in finding more meaningful full-time work.
- I volunteered for interesting projects.
- Apart from the committees, I also volunteered to help run new interesting projects that were being rolled out. One of those projects actually ended up being in my field, and so it was appealing both because it was interesting, and because it was something I could potentially add to my resume and LinkedIn.
- I entered job competitions just for the practice.
- I actually entered and went all the way through a competition for a job I was not entirely interested in, just to have the practice going through competitive processes. My reasoning was this: if I practice on this competition for a job that I don’t really want, then I will be ready to compete when the job comes along that I do really want.
- I dressed for the job I wanted, not the job I had.
- I made sure to always be conscious of the professional identity I wanted to build, and to make sure to portray myself in that light at all times. In my admin role, I was surrounded by executives all day long, so I constantly looked to them to learn how to model myself, and to think about which professional identities I saw that I would most like to emulate.
- I met with people who I thought might be able to teach me something.
- I scheduled meetings just to talk to people about what they did, what they knew, their experience, or other interesting information I thought might be available. Often I would talk to the person in advance and say something like “Hey, that ________ you were talking about sounds really interesting, do you think you might ever have 30 minutes to let me buy you a coffee and pick your brain?” In my experience, people were always quite open to this, and I gained a lot of valuable information this way.
- I accepted my “beginner” status, and opened my mind to learning.
- I think I came off of my internship in the USA feeling like a bit of a know-it-all. One of the most valuable lessons I learned in this process was the value of “beginners-mind”. This is a yoga term, but what I mean in this context is this: It is highly valuable to always think of yourself as a beginner and be open and willing to learning new information, and to discovering that there might be things you didn’t even realize you needed to learn. This beginner mentality has been incredibly valuable to me, and I would argue that it is actually very freeing to be open to not knowing it all.
- I joined my professional associations.
- I joined 3 professional associations in my field. This was a costly($$$) endeavor, so I didn’t do it all at once. This resulted in being in online groups, being on email lists, and receiving written material about my profession that helps to keep me current and involved.
- I updated my LinkedIn with every professional change that happened.
- I didn’t even have a LinkedIn at the start of this process. Now I look forward to adding new professional certifications and experiences on it (yes, I’m a nerd). I haven’t gained anything that I know of specifically from this yet, but you never know who could be looking at it.
- I bugged my real life friends in the field to endorse my skills on LinkedIn.
- I listed a bunch of my professional skills on LinkedIn and then got my friends who worked with me and could attest to them to endorse them. I also had the great fortune of randomly having one of the psychiatrists I used to work with go on and endorse a bunch of them all on his own.
- I got a volunteer position in my field.
- This was actually difficult to secure, and I applied to various places. I applied to a variety of community programs, and with professors at the university in town to help with their research. I ultimately got the one I was most interested in after about 6 months of trying, which was great because they listed a minimum 1-year wait for it.
- I applied for 2 different professional licenses, and then listed the pending application on my resume and LinkedIn.
- In conjunction with joining my professional associations, I also applied for 2 different professional licenses in my field. Even though I hadn’t received the license yet (which I will eventually), I listed that I had applied and was waiting on my resume and on my LinkedIn. This was ultimately instrumental in securing the job in my field that I finally got. The new employer was willing to accept me, having seen my application information (which I provided), and knowing that I would eventually be granted the license.
- I applied for every opportunity, even outside my field.
- I applied to everything that came my way. I ended up entering a competition at work for something completely outside my field, but at a much higher pay level. I am still in that competition to date, and honestly, if I hadn’t gotten this job, I likely would have taken that position just to make more money and do something more challenging and interesting.
- I left the department I was in.
- This comes back to the “stickiness” of government pay labels. That is, you get this label put on you, and it gets very sticky and difficult to remove. Ultimately, I had to leave the department I was in, in order to have my education and experience recognized.
- I never gave up.
- There seemed to be a strong culture around me of pushing people to give up. I can’t count the number of times someone told me something like “We all have degrees, nobody gets to actually use them.”, or “We have it good, you just have to accept what you have and be patient.” It seems that many people have decided to give up, and they want you to do the same. It can be really hard to let the opinions of these naysayers slide off your back. If you really want something, you have to ignore these opinions and just keep working and pushing. Good things come to those who work for them, and if you keep at it, you can achieve your goals.
After a long time of working at it, trying every angle, and never giving up, it all finally paid off; this week I signed a contract to start a new job where I will be working in my field, AND making almost 15k more than I am making in my current job. This was a long and difficult struggle. I would say the hardest thing about it was maintaining motivation and not giving up when it seemed that I as making no headway, or when people told me to just accept things as they were (which happened a LOT). I refused to give up, or to listen to naysayers, and I am so excited that it finally paid off. I hope that some of these ideas will help you in your journey. Remember, don’t worry about the naysayers; if you are determined enough, and you do something small almost every day that will help you move toward your goals, then eventually, it will pay off!
As always, thank you for reading.