In This Episode
It’s the start of a new year– and with that inevitably comes resolutions to get out of a soul-sucking job and into a life-giving one. But job hunting can be really frustrating, and the process can be opaque. Laura Mariani, a neuroscientist-turned-recruiter, joins host Anne Helen Petersen to answer listeners’ questions about deciphering job postings, inquiring about remote work policies, and pivoting industries altogether.
Got a workplace quandary you need help figuring out? Head to www.workappropriate.com and let us know.
Anne Helen Petersen: Hi, everyone. I’m Anne Helen Peterson. And this is Work Appropriate. [music break] Do you remember the first time you heard the term The Great Resignation? Do you remember how weird it felt that people had come up with this term for people quitting shitty jobs with no accommodations for the way we live today? I felt the same way when I first heard about, quote unquote, “quiet quitting” a term that started on TikTok but was eventually co-opted by writers at the Wall Street Journal as a sort of warning sign, like, beware, your workers are quiet quitting, when in fact, quiet quitting is just deciding that you’re going to stop murdering yourself for your job. We know now that the Great Resignation was largely made up of service workers who didn’t want to put up with service worker bullshit and other workers who didn’t have childcare and simply couldn’t go back into the workplace. We also know that quiet quitting wasn’t a thing, at least not the way that like The Wall Street Journal was talking about it. It was a long festering realignment, a quiet reckoning, and a rejection of hustle culture. And while the economy has definitely changed over the last six months, there are layoffs all over. Everything costs more. Bosses keep talking about the need to tighten belts because everyone, bosses, employees included, are rightly haunted by the ghosts of the Great Recession. I don’t think that we’ve abandoned the idea that there are better ways to work and that people should feel empowered to leave shitty workplaces to find better ones. So today, because it’s the beginning of a new year, I wanted to talk with someone who’s become the best low key job hunting coach I know. She’s a recruiter, and she’s also had a very interesting path to that position. And because of her back story, which you’ll hear more about, she is both incredibly empathetic to people looking for new jobs, particularly in new industries, and particularly skillful at identifying and illuminating the often very hidden curriculum on how to make that happen. [music break]
Laura Mariani: My name is Laura Mariani and I am a senior scientific recruiter at a biotech company called Resilience. Prior to that, I was a scientist myself. I did a Ph.D. in neuroscience at Emory University and had a prior career in academic biomedical research. So I made a big pivot into recruiting, but I’ve been having a lot of fun doing that for the past six years.
Anne Helen Petersen: Part of the reason that we’re talking today is that you are part of the culture study discord, and we have this whole channel, it’s a private channel about job hunting. And there are a lot of people in there. And I think this has something to do with just people who naturally start to read the newsletter, people who are like, I did all of this training to do this one particular type of job or be in this one sort of industry. And I have no idea what other skills I have. And you are very, very good at saying, here’s all the other skills that you have and also here’s how LinkedIn works.
Laura Mariani: I really empathize with people who have decided that they want to change careers and don’t know how because that was me in 2016. And so I really wish that I had had better support at that time in my life and I try to pay it forward a little bit by taking what I learned the extremely hard way and trying to smooth out that process for other people as much as I can.
Anne Helen Petersen: There’s a lot of help for like, here’s how you get a job in this field, but there’s a lot less help in, here’s how you change fields. So I think that that’s part of what we’re going to to try to be helpful with today. So, Laura, when you say that you learned about it the hard way, can you tell us a little bit more about what made it really hard?
Laura Mariani: So once I decided around the end of grad school that I did not want to stay in academic biomedical research for, I think all the usual reasons why people decide that they want to leave academia. I knew in theory that I had many skills, but I did not understand a process that would help me map out what those skills were and how they were valuable in a very different context, outside of an academic research lab, I didn’t have a lot of friends who had personally done that because most of my friends were people very similar to myself who were looking for postdoc jobs.
Anne Helen Petersen: Totally.
Laura Mariani: So I did a lot of just looking up jobs on LinkedIn, searching for things like neuroscience, Ph.D., which is like not a thing [laughter] that people think that they are looking for.
Anne Helen Petersen: Right. Right.
Laura Mariani: And so it was really hard to understand. Okay, I have to think about myself as like a different type of person and a different type of worker and scientist, which is a job that really becomes very central to your identity. So it’s an emotional process to feel like a vocation that has become really defining for you is suddenly not who you are anymore. And to feel a little bit like, well then who am I? [laughter] And how do I make a living?
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. And I think that career switching can be traumatic. I know that I had a trauma from leaving academia. I think any time that you have to leave a career or trajectory, not entirely of your own will, in part because of a shortage of jobs. If you get laid off like you’re just forced in ways that you weren’t in complete control can lead to some trauma. And like I knew that I had kind of moved past it when I stopped dreaming about my dissertation advisor being sad or like disappointed in me. But it took a long time for me to stop, like, putting the Ph.D. after my name. Right? Because that is something that was such a norm. It took a long time for me to start even saying, like, I’m a journalist, because that to me felt like, oh, that’s not who I am.
Laura Mariani: Mm hmm.
Anne Helen Petersen: So when we talk about job switching, I think sometimes if you’re moving within a field like, okay, I’m changing a small piece of the puzzle, but when you’re moving from an entire industry into another one, you’re starting a whole new puzzle and like, how, you don’t even know where the edges are.
Laura Mariani: Mm hmm.
Anne Helen Petersen: Did it even just the name recruiter when you started thinking about that, were you like, is this who I am?
Laura Mariani: Yeah, it’s funny. It used to be that if I went to a party with people who I didn’t already know from grad school, and they asked me, what do you do? I got to say, oh, I’m a neuroscientist. And people like the reaction you get to that is amazing. And people will say things like, wow, you must be really smart. Which is like, lots of people are smart and lots of neuroscientists are book smart, but not necessarily smart about everything. But, you know, it, it creates an impression.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.
Laura Mariani: And then when you switch from saying that to saying, oh, I’m a recruiter, like a lot of people now have very negative associations with somebody that they’ve had an interaction with who was a recruiter. And that interaction didn’t go in a way that they enjoyed. Which I totally get. So I think it just definitely you’re presenting a very different kind of face to the world when you define yourself by a career that has suddenly become quite different. And so for me—.
Anne Helen Petersen: Right.
Laura Mariani: That was a journey of maybe my job is just one of the things that defines who I am as a person. And my life actually has a lot of other stuff going on in it. But also I try to, you know, create positive associations with at least this recruiter when I interact with people at work now.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. And I think that at least for me, like when I think of recruiter, I think of you. So that’s a positive association.
Laura Mariani: I’m glad.
Anne Helen Petersen: So our first question is a pivot question. This is from Michelle and our producer Melody is going to read it.
Michelle: I work in a virtual call center. I hate it. I’ve only recently realized how much my unhappiness with work affects my overall mental health. I’ve worked in this industry for my entire adult life, so about 20 years, no matter which type of customer service you do, be it auto insurance, cable banking, health care, tech support, or many others, they are all the same. They all have unrealistic expectations and a push for 110% performance every day. I’m sick of drinking the corporate Kool-Aid, so to speak, and I need a change. But my resume is all call center work. How do I pivot to something completely different? Any tips to discover other types of jobs I’d be good at?
Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So this is a two parter, and I want to take the second part first. So in our very contemporary job seeking landscape, where should Michelle be looking for jobs right now?
Laura Mariani: My answer to most questions along the lines of how do I find a new job is I’m so sorry, networking. And I want to break that down a little bit if it’s okay, because I think people hear that and they immediately think of like going to a big networking event at a community center or a business conference or something where everyone just exchanges business cards and they’re like dying inside imagining that.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yup. 100%. [laughter]
Laura Mariani: And I think you can be yourself and form connections with other people at like a human level and be a helpful person to others and receive help in return. And that’s basically networking. And so for somebody like Michelle, I would sort of break that down in a couple of different ways to try to get information about what are the paths that exist from working in a call center for many years to doing something different.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.
Laura Mariani: Because Michelle didn’t really express a specific new goal other than like, I just have to get out of here, which is relatable. I have been there. [laughter] So I would say that, you know, the first thing I would do is think about who are your former coworkers who have gone on to do something else? Reconnect with them, tell some war stories with them about the stuff that’s happened since they left and hear about where they are now, how they like it and how they got there. They will have the most useful advice for you because they have done exactly what you’re trying to do.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.
Laura Mariani: And you can look them up on LinkedIn even if you haven’t talked to them in a couple of years. And it’s not weird to reach back out to them because they will remember what it was like when they were trying to do it. And if they’re nice people, they will want to help you because they will remember how hard it was for them.
Anne Helen Petersen: 100%. There are other networking opportunities that are just figuring out what other jobs exist.
Laura Mariani: Mm hmm.
Anne Helen Petersen: It’s kind of like a job fair back when we were in college or in high school where you’re like, oh, there are so many other things out there because so often our understanding of what jobs are out there are limited to what our immediate circle is doing.
Laura Mariani: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.
Anne Helen Petersen: Even if you like someone who like a brother or friend or a sister in law, whatever it is, who works in a company where there are other things, I think sometimes we think automatically like, oh, what jobs are open at your company? It might be more like, what are jobs that people do at your company?
Laura Mariani: Absolutely. And that was going to be another piece of advice that I would have for Michelle is, you know, you mentioned that you’ve worked in a call center setting, but in multiple different industries. So who else do you know in your own family or circle of friends or somebody who might be a friend of a friend who works in those industry is doing something not at a call center. You have relevant industry knowledge from, you know, banking, health care, these industries where you have provided direct support to their customers, you know, the pain points—
Anne Helen Petersen: Right.
Laura Mariani: —because the customers are telling you about them. I bet you have ideas for like if I was in charge, I could fix this.
Anne Helen Petersen: Uh huh.
Laura Mariani: And that perspective is really actually super helpful. So somebody who works in that industry in a different setting might have some ideas for you about how you could apply what you learned doing that direct customer service in a different context, maybe something that’s more behind the scenes in in operations or administration. It’s hard for me to give that advice and speak about every industry, including a lot that I’ve never worked at. But you may know people who have that industry specific knowledge who could help you translate what you’re already good at.
Anne Helen Petersen: So what do you say to people who say, like, my resume is really flat. I’ve done the same thing, or it looks like on paper right now, I’ve only done the same thing over and over again. How do you translate that into something that seems more dynamic? That’s the first part of the question. The second part of the question is even someone who is in a call center, if we already are acknowledging that, they probably know where the pain points are like, I feel like they could actually probably be a pretty good consultant in some ways. But also, what’s the language that you can use to describe the skills that you have that makes those skills seem really dynamic and invaluable?
Laura Mariani: One piece of advice of sort of generic resume advice that I’ll give is that I always want to think about when I’m coaching somebody on how to make their resume better. Think about if you’ve been successful in writing your resume and you’ve gotten the interview. What are the stories that you want to make sure you tell in that interview that put your best self forward? And so usually that’ll be about a specific problem that you solved or a specific accomplishment that got you kudos from, you know, the VIPs. It might be you invented a new process that is way better than what the old process was. And it saved everybody a lot of time and hassle. So I would think about what are the most impressive stories you can tell about your current job, your job, two jobs ago. How would you frame that? What did you accomplish? What did you change? And then I describe writing your resume as writing like the clickbait headline for the story that you’re going to tell when you get to that interview, even to the point of like, you can even use some clickbait tricks. Like one innovative strategy led to 50% cost savings. And like, [laughs] you don’t have to say what the innovative strategy was in your resume, especially if it’s like, oh, it’s going to take a long time to explain. Just get them hooked and then they have to call you to find out what it was.
Anne Helen Petersen: Totally. Well, and the other thing is, make yourself the protagonist of any story, right? Like let’s say it was like you and three other people who came up with this new design for something. You were the star of that. But it doesn’t mean that you don’t say that you were working in a group, but you say like helped lead a group or you know what I mean? Like instead of the supporting actor, you are the the main attraction of the entire event.
Laura Mariani: Exactly. And you can just, you know, say, working with my team, we decided that this was the best path forward and my role was to do the specific part of it, because I think most people understand that we all work in teams and being able to get stuff done as part of a team is a really critical factor in your success in any job.
Anne Helen Petersen: And so I think, you know, she’s looking at the fact that I’ve always worked in call centers. Maybe she could also emphasize just how many different industries she has worked in instead of like, oh, I’ve only done call center work. It’s more I’ve done customer service work in this industry and also in this industry to just make it to seem more like she’s done a lot of different types of work.
Laura Mariani: Exactly. And the other thing I would think about is when you talk about call center work, you might be thinking about the mechanics of I have to take this many calls per hour or I’m going to get dinged for my productivity. But think about it more in terms of like what are the types of problems that you’re solving for people and what are the themes that you can pull from that? Because I think ultimately every job ad that exists is a company saying, help, I have a problem and I need you to fix it for me. So let’s talk about the types of problems that you’re really good at fixing.
Anne Helen Petersen: I love that. So okay, so to overview, our advice would be to talk to people that have worked in the call center with her before and moved on to other industries and find them via LinkedIn and also reach out in other networking capacities to other people that she knows just to think about other jobs. And then when it comes to her resume, to really think dynamically about here are all the ways that I have solved problems. Here is how I have become the protagonist in the movie of my life.
Laura Mariani: A thing that I like to say about resumes is every resume is a marketing document, so you’re not necessarily putting your entire life story and all of the stuff that you’re running away from at your current job. You’re putting your best foot forward and thinking about how to put the right spin on work that you’ve done and work that you know how to do in a language that will make sense to a new employer who might be coming from a very different context and solving a slightly different type of problem. [music break]
Anne Helen Petersen: Our next question is from Mary, who wants help deciphering job postings.
Mary: I’m curious, while frustrated actually about the different verbiage companies use in job descriptions, in postings regarding hybrid and remote work opportunities. I’m actively searching for a job and I feel like I frequently see a listing for remote work. But when I get halfway through the rack, it says they’re giving preference to people who live in a certain area so that they can come to the office on an as needed basis or preference given to people living in certain states, which I’m assuming is for tax purposes. So then why did you say it was a remote job? In a similar vein, there is no good time during the interview process to ask what the company’s remote work policy is. If you ask too soon, it looks like you’re being lazy and all you care about is working in sweat pants. But it’s actually really important information that a candidate needs to know. How much will I be spending in gas? Do I need to buy a new wardrobe? Is my day care the opposite direction of the potential office? It’s way harder to job search now than it was pre-pandemic, simply because the job descriptions are just so vague about the actual job location.
Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So this is a complicated one, Laura. What have you noticed about postings basically post-pandemic for hybrid and remote opportunities?
Laura Mariani: Yeah, I think LinkedIn has actually put some stats out about this where it’s something like, you know, right now in December of 2022, maybe 14% of all the job postings on LinkedIn are listed as remote. But those jobs get 50% of the applications because everybody is looking for those remote jobs. And also, when you think about it, anybody in America can apply for that job in a non remote job, you know, is going to be limited to mostly people who are in one city. So it’s definitely a moment in time where things are shifting. And during these times of change, like we don’t always do a great job of figuring out how to use our old tools in a new way or make new tools that will work better. And, you know, you’re right. There are sometimes administrative and tax reasons for limiting a position to workers who live in a state where the company is already doing business. But other than that, you know, why are they listing the job as remote when they don’t really mean remote? I think it’s because they don’t know exactly what they want or maybe they don’t all agree on what they truly need for that job. And so it’s just genuinely tricky to figure it out, especially if this is a manager who is still not used to working with remote teams or with teams that are a combination of people who are remote and who are in person.
Anne Helen Petersen: Could this theoretically be a recruiter, manager or exec team mismatch in terms of the recruiter knows this is how we get a bigger pool, this is how we get better candidates. And then the team itself is like, but, we kind of want them to come in. Like, that would be nice. And as you said, we don’t know how to integrate a fully remote person into our team. Is it, do you see that?
Laura Mariani: Yeah. I mean, I think for the type of roles that I am recruiting for, there often are very good reasons why the person needs to come on site. Like if this is somebody who works in a lab, they need to physically go to the lab to get their work done.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yes.
Laura Mariani: I don’t have to physically go to an office to get my work done because I just make phone calls and Zoom calls and write emails. And so, you know, being a recruiter is very remote friendly. So there are genuinely different needs for different types of jobs. But yes, I think as the recruiter, my point of view is always, let’s make the candidate pool as big as possible so that I can find you someone and get this filled and remove this task from my plate and move on to some of my other tasks. But there are, you know, lots of people who, you know, might be on the other side of the table saying, well, they could theoretically do the job remotely, but if they could come in person, that would be a value add for X, Y and Z reasons.
Anne Helen Petersen: Right, right.
Laura Mariani: So it can be a genuine preference where you can see the value of having that person who can attend special events or meetings or whatever once a month maybe. And that is hard to do if they live on the other side of the country and if you have to fly them in every time they do an in-person activity.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. And I think that that’s hard too, because I think that people realize, well, I can apply to this job. But unless I am the most spectacular candidate in the whole world, I’m going to be at the bottom of the pile. So why should I apply to this job? So is it actually remote? Does that make sense? Like it’s just a frustrating. I can I can just feel the quagmire that this question writer is in.
Laura Mariani: Yeah, it’s tough. And I think, you know, the calculus is different depending on your area, too, because you might live in an area that has quite a few job options that are local to you, where maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal if you had to come in once or twice a week and you can live with that. Or you might be in an area where there aren’t a ton of employment opportunities within a reasonable commute of where you live. And so you really need remote jobs to kind of broaden your access to good employment opportunities. So it’s just genuinely tricky. And I think the degree to which a particular type of job can work really well in a 100% remote capacity is going to vary depending on the type of job that you do.
Anne Helen Petersen: Totally. The other thing I think that we should address is that second part of the question, which is when do you actually ask those hard questions about how remote are we talking about how what are the actual expectations? Which point in the interview process would you suggest asking those things?
Laura Mariani: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a really basic question. And so I would say in your initial phone conversation or video call or whatever with a recruiter or with a hiring manager, it’s really important to have clarity about that. And if you live in a different city from where they live, they will probably assume that you intend to do the job on a remote basis.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.
Laura Mariani: If they want you to relocate, they should be asking you whether or not you’re willing to relocate in the first call. Otherwise, what are we doing here? If it’s a job that is local to you, but you would prefer to do it remotely. Then I it does genuinely get a little bit trickier to navigate because then you’re doing this dance of I theoretically could come to the office every day, but I don’t want to.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, and I would be unhappy if I did. Right. I feel like sometimes people, they’re like, okay, well, I can I can make this promise and then figure it out when the job starts, when in reality, they’re kind of setting themselves up to have a miserable job experience if they’re already kind of lying to themselves and lying to their, lying’s too strong of a word. They’re telling a story to themselves about what they feel like they could do if they had to in order to get this job that otherwise sounds good.
Laura Mariani: Yeah. And I would say, if you’re in that situation where you’re trying to figure out if they’re going to want you in the office every day because you do live locally, but you would prefer to be hybrid or remote. I would suggest framing it as you know, in my current role, my work from home schedule is three days a week or whatever, and I have found that that works really well for me. I would be curious to know kind of what this team’s norms are around flexible work schedules, remote work options, etc., and then just kind of let them talk.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, I think that that’s such a great framing, right, because it’s saying here is how I have worked really well over the past couple of years. And I would be curious to see if I will be able to continue to work really well in this capacity. One thing that I see come up a lot is people really obsessing over these sorts of hypothetical questions before they’ve even applied to the job before it is something that they will have to consider at all. And I know that it takes time to apply to jobs. So sometimes you have to think about it before you do it. But sometimes there’s just this a kind of a putting the cart before the horse freaking out over what if this is the scenario before you even know if you are under consideration for the job?
Laura Mariani: Yeah, I think just as a general rule, I would say if this is a job that interests you that you think you would be good at and you have the time to put in multiple applications for different jobs, let them be the ones to rule you out. Let them be the ones to take you out of consideration. Don’t talk yourself out of the job that you might be great at. That might be a great match for you before you even had a single conversation with somebody about it.
Anne Helen Petersen: Our next question is about filling out the culture of a potential job, which isn’t always what’s promised in a job posting. Here’s Heather.
Heather: When searching for a job, how do you assess if the culture is really friendly to caregiving responsibilities? I’m in a job I like, but there is absolutely no chance of promotion or raise. The job has a ton of flexibility and is truly friendly to caregiving responsibilities. Kids are otherwise. I have toyed with exploring other opportunities since the lack of upward mobility gets to me from time to time. But how do you know if a company will actually be caregiving friendly? For example, work from home wbe something comes up, okay with the camera off, or understandinging if a meeting needs to be moved or change due to caregiving.
Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So this is similar in some ways to our last question, and that it can feel really tricky to ask questions about cultural expectations during the interview process. But Laura, what tips do you have for kind of sussing out these more subtle expectations that Heather is asking?
Laura Mariani: There’s a piece of this related to, you know, is this job going to be friendly to caregivers? That is about policy. And you can absolutely get at that in a fairly straightforward way. Some of it might be spelled out in a company benefits guide in terms of family medical leave, flexible work hours. So some of that stuff you should be able to get a straight answer about relatively early in the process of determining whether or not this is a job that you want to take. But you’re right, a lot of it does come down to culture, and companies will often do a lot of work to try to describe and codify their culture, but they don’t always do a perfect job of living up to that.
Anne Helen Petersen: Right.
Laura Mariani: And what the culture feels like can vary a lot across different teams within one company. You can ask people about it directly while you’re in the interview process, and that is one great way to gather some data, especially if you ask multiple people. You want to be listening for whether or not they’re giving you consistent answers.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.
Laura Mariani: And what I recommend is rather than asking them, you know, an open ended question, like, tell me about the culture. I would sort of flip the behavioral interview back on them and ask them a tell me about a time question to get them to really give you an example of what it’s like to work there. So can you tell me how this company supports work life balance? I would love to hear stories about how you strike the right balance for yourself in this job and how the company supports that. Or if you’re talking to a manager, you could say, you know, I think over the past few years, we’ve all had to solve some big challenges on the work life balance front. Can you tell me about how you work with your team to provide the right support and flexibility to give them good work life balance? And what you’re looking for is can they give you a specific example of how they’ve been able to adapt processes on their team to support people who are living a whole life outside of work as well?
Anne Helen Petersen: And I think it’s hard, too, because sometimes people say, oh, we’ll just look to see if there are any moms on the team. But different moms and different dads and caregivers can have different you know, if you have someone full time helping out at home as as a caregiver like that can totally change the dynamic. So it’s not as simple as just like, is there a person who is in this role on the team? Are you allowed to be like in the interview process? Could you say, can I talk to another mom? [laughter]
Laura Mariani: So I think if you ask that, then you’re outing yourself as a mom, which might not be something that you want to do, even though it is illegal to discriminate against somebody in a hiring process because of their gender or their family status. Most companies like to avoid talking about that subject at all so that there’s, you know, not even a glimmer of impropriety about their hiring decisions. One thing and this is on the company side, not necessarily something that you as the candidate can ask for, but I have seen some companies that will proactively say we have a lot of different employee resource groups here. We have a women’s group, we have a parents group, we have an LGBTQ group. If you would be interested in connecting with somebody from one of those groups in addition to your formal interview, we can help set that up for you. So I love it when companies proactively offer some extras like that about the culture separately from the evaluation process, just to give you a place to ask those questions that is not tied directly to the person who will be your boss.
Anne Helen Petersen: One other question I have is, is it too risky if they have like a friend of a friend who works at the company, can they be like, okay, tell me truthfully, what is it like to be a mom at this company or will that like filter back? Do you just have to be careful with it?
Laura Mariani: I think it’s tricky, but I think. If you’re going to make a big decision about whether you’re going to take on a new job, especially if you’re somebody that has caregiving responsibilities and a lot of other stuff going on in your life. So you really need to strike that right balance if you’re going to be successful. For me personally, that is a risk that I would take.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.
Laura Mariani: One thing that I have done when I was interviewing for jobs is, you know, often they have you interview with a lot of people in a leadership role because those are the people who make hiring decisions. If they don’t proactively set you up to interview with at least one person who would be a peer to you.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.
Laura Mariani: You can ask to be connected to that person to just say, I would love to speak to somebody who does this job about what it’s like and to ask them some questions about the day to day. And hopefully that person can give you the scoop a little bit as well as yes, if you have personal connections to this company, a friend of a friend. If that person’s not connected to the team that you’re interviewing with, I would hope that they would give you kind of an unbiased view on what their experience has been.
Anne Helen Petersen: This kind of connects to something that I think about a lot, which is that a lot of millennials and people who also were new to the job force during the Great Recession, I think they’re just very scared of asking any hard questions, of being like asking for anything during the job process, because it seems like somehow you’re disqualifying yourself. And I know that that’s not true by any means of all people or all of that members of that generation or people who lived through the Great Recession. It’s more like how do you approach a job interview with some of that confidence even in this moment right now, when a lot of companies are pulling back a little bit from hiring, they’re still trying to find the best person for the job. You’re not going to be disqualified for asking to speak, to a peer.
Laura Mariani: I want to be sensitive to the fact that jobseekers are in a position where they just inherently have less power than the person who’s deciding who gets the job. And so that can feel like you’re in a really vulnerable position, especially if you’re currently unemployed and you really need to find a new job to pay your bills.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yep.
Laura Mariani: And sometimes people who are in that situation will be like, I have kind of a bad feeling about this, but I really need a job, so I’m going to take this job anyway. And sometimes, you know, that’s the only decision that feels workable for you. But if you’re in a place where you have multiple interviews lined up and you know, you’re getting signals from the market that you are a strong candidate, that you’re going to have options. I think you can reclaim a little bit of that power and realize that, again, these companies have a problem, that they need your help to solve and you have some choices about where you’re going to bring your skills to solve those problems. So you can be in that situation a little bit more discerning about which is truly the best match for you.
Anne Helen Petersen: And I think someone in Heather’s position, too, where she has a job that is fine and has flexibility, that allows for her caregiving responsibilities. But she’s clearly also yearning for like more challenges, more advancement. Like there’s just there’s something else that’s missing. But she still also has the power of already having a job that is adding to your your your power in the situation in a way. So when people are in that position, I think they can have a little bit more confidence in trying to figure out if I’m going to leave. I want it to be for the right thing. I don’t want it to be for something that’s just like a lateral move that doesn’t do anything else for me.
Laura Mariani: Absolutely. I think Heather has the luxury of being really picky about where to go next. And so, yeah, you can kick the tires a little bit and confirm that this really is something that feels like a good choice for you.
Anne Helen Petersen: I love the metaphor of kick the tires, too, because she has a car so she can stay in her good car or she can try to find this like an amazing car if she can find it. [music break] Our last question is from Cynthia, who is wondering about a second act in her career.
Cynthia: I’m 49 years old and trying to pivot to a new career after 22 years of being a teacher. My question is layered. How do I overcome ageism as I look for a new way to pay the bills? And do I really need to do more schooling to do so? I have a bachelor’s, a master’s, and almost a Ph.D.. Which industries are open to smart people with lots of experience, but who are mid-career and expecting a living wage that reflects their years of experience?
Anne Helen Petersen: So, Laura, I feel like this question is like just perfect for you. [laughter] Like, it is like, teed up you know, if only this person was like a biology teacher, it’d be even more perfect. But so let’s break it down into parts. So I think first let’s think about the ageism. And I would also hide in the kind of reverse credential ism like the over qualification piece of the puzzle here. What would you do in terms of framing applications or even in looking at different industries when it comes to this person?
Laura Mariani: Yeah, I think on the ageism front, there are a couple of tactics that you may have heard in the past. Like leaving the graduation years off your resumé, depending on your work history too. If you have a long string of jobs in teaching that dates back 22 years and you feel like that’s dating yourself, you can focus your resume on the most recent two or three jobs, you know, maybe the most recent ten years of your work experience, and then collapse everything else into a short list that just says additional experience and maybe you don’t put in a year on those.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.
Laura Mariani: So that camouflages your resume a little bit and makes it harder to calculate your exact age.
Anne Helen Petersen: And that’s not considered like lying or anything like that, right? Like you said, it’s, a, resume is a marketing document that is picking out your strengths and just not paying attention to the fact that, and, you shouldn’t be excluded from jobs just because you’ve been doing something really well for a long amount of time. Right. It’s like you’re kind of avoiding other people’s [laughs] bad discriminatory tendencies.
Laura Mariani: Exactly. You’re making it harder for them to see a graduation year and make a snap judgment about you when they know nothing else about you besides your age. And it’s not lying. I mean, if you have to do a background check or something as part of getting this job at the very last stage, then they’re going to ask you for your employment dates for all of your past jobs. But yeah, you know, your resume is not something that they’re going to like hold against you in that context. They’re going to ask you separately to provide all that information.
Anne Helen Petersen: And to be very clear, there’s a real difference between underselling the number of years that you’ve been doing something and overselling the number of years that you’ve been doing. [laughter]
Laura Mariani: Exactly. And, you know, again, a resume you’re kind of selectively editing to portray yourself in the best light. All of the things on your resume should be true. [laughter] Let me be very clear about that.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yes, yes.
Laura Mariani: Don’t make up anything that you didn’t do and put that on your resume.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yes.
Laura Mariani: But you can frame the things that you’ve actually done in multiple different ways to make yourself the most competitive possible candidate.
Anne Helen Petersen: So what do you think about this question? And I feel like this is such a question of people who’ve been in academia of like, well, I guess I need to get another degree in order to go into another career. Right. Because that’s where if you’ve been in academia, that’s what you’ve been taught. The the path towards employment is by getting another degree. So we don’t know a ton about this person and what they teach or what their experiences are. But what do you think about when it comes to credential ism and expanding the time to get more to more degrees, that sort of thing? What’s your thoughts?
Laura Mariani: Yeah, I think there are some industries where that additional training can really pay off and open doors for you.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.
Laura Mariani: But I think in general, employers are more interested in experience that you’ve gained on the job than they are an experience that you’ve gained in the classroom as a student. And so even people who do decide that they really want to go back to school to get training because they’re making a big career pivot into something very different, and they would benefit from a more structured curriculum to help them learn a bunch of new stuff. I would advise those people to look for training programs that will include internships or co-ops, where you’re actually getting some on the job training as part of that new degree.
Anne Helen Petersen: Right. Or like boot camps that are really well reviewed and that are low cost or subsidized in some capacity and that lead into an internship. Right. That are giving you that on the job experience. I think that a lot of my my advice about like don’t go into deep student debt in order to pursue a career where the job may or may not be there. That kind of holds to this as well.
Laura Mariani: Yeah, I agree. The good news is that teachers have a lot of really incredible skills that allow them to pick up new material quickly. I’m sure there are all kinds of different curricular standards that have been imposed on Cynthia over the years and required a lot of pivots in the classes that they’re teaching. So moving into a new field is not going to necessarily be easy. But I think once you get your foot in the door in a new industry, at a new company, my hypothesis is that they will be pleasantly surprised by how quickly you’re able to pick up the new lingo, the new skills, and help them solve their problems in new ways.
Anne Helen Petersen: What are some jobs? Because I know we’ve we’ve talked about this in the discord in various ways before. But what are some jobs that you have seen teachers or just broader industries that teachers have gone into because they think that in some ways is the total stopping point is just there is no imagination of what different careers there could be other than I guess I could teach in a different way or in a different place or a different school.
Laura Mariani: Yeah.
Anne Helen Petersen: So yeah.
Laura Mariani: And I think a lot of teachers immediately think, okay, right now I’m teaching children in a classroom. So what if I just go teach adults at a company and work in corporate learning and development?
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.
Laura Mariani: It can be really competitive to get those jobs right now because a lot of teachers have already had that idea.
Anne Helen Petersen: [laughter] Yes.
Laura Mariani: And over the past couple of years have been looking for other options. And also, you know, candidly, often those functions are one of the places where cuts are made, when the economy is tight as it is right now, because they’re not necessarily contributing directly to a company’s bottom line. My advice to Cynthia would be similar to my advice to Michelle, our first listener question in terms of just looking at your own network, who do you know who has left teaching and where did they go? Who do you know in your personal network? You know, that works in a completely different industry that might have advice for you on where somebody with your skills could add value to their company. And in general, I think when you think about what a teacher does, you have to work with students who are coming from a lot of different backgrounds. Figure out where they are. Meet them where they are. Break down a complex topic for them and get that information across in a way that is helpful. Communicate really clearly and effectively. Manage an incredible workload in terms of grading, you know, project management to keep sometimes multiple different curricula all moving forward. You know, you have a lot of great skills. I think the communication skills the teachers develop are very applicable in a sales context.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.
Laura Mariani: Because ultimately what you’re doing when you’re selling a product or service to somebody is explaining to them why it will be helpful to them. And, you know, recruiting also uses a lot of those same skills. So when I’m working in my current job as a recruiter, I feel like I’m flexing a lot of the same muscles that I did back when I taught college students.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. And I think sometimes there’s a tendency to only think of like, what did I do in my, like, in-person interactions with kids? And or if you’re in different parts of academia, like, what did I do in my research? And that’s not applicable to anything instead of thinking about. Oh, and then also I was on this committee that like planned all of these events or I worked in curriculum, developing all of these changes, or I did an audit of our department that involved all of this, like accounting of, of where things were going and what teachers were doing. And there’s just so many other parts. Oftentimes the parts that like aren’t necessarily the the life giving parts of teaching, but you’re still really good at them. And if you’re moving away from teaching and want to be in something that’s more sustainable, something that has a more solid quality of life, quality of living, those are parts that you can bank on as well and find joy in instruction and one on one interactions with students in different ways.
Laura Mariani: Absolutely. And I think you bring up a great point, which is that when you’re making a career pivot, it may be the work that you did that was perceived as kind of a distraction from your main job that is most helpful to you in making a pivot to a very different type of job. So none of the skills that I developed working in a laboratory setting are relevant to what I do now. But the skills that I developed as a teaching assistant or as somebody who volunteered for a lot of different universities service committees back when I was a grad student.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah.
Laura Mariani: Those skills and accomplishments in terms of, you know, I was able to plan this event and I raised this amount of money and I brought all these different stakeholders together to get them agree on the best plan of action. That has all been really helpful to me in my new career. So I think if you’re thinking about making a pivot, try to think really expansively about all the different types of projects you’ve done, even the stuff that your current boss maybe is less interested in because your future boss may be very excited about that work.
Anne Helen Petersen: I love that. And I also think, you know, that last part of your question is something that I definitely felt when I was coming to the end of my years in academia of like what industries are open to smart people with lots of experience who are mid-career and expect a living wage that reflects their years of experience or expertize. And there’s a lot of them. And I think sometimes we get our we get stuck in jobs that teach us not to value ourselves and not to think of ourselves as people who have a lot of expertize. But we do. And we just have to figure out how to articulate that.
Laura Mariani: Absolutely. And I think, you know, the last thing I’ll say is I don’t want to downplay how hard it is to make a big change like this. And a piece of advice that I often give to folks who want to switch careers is to think about it in terms of kind of two axes. One is what I call affinity, which is what do you really want to do? What do you have a passion for doing? What is the type of work that you really enjoy? What is your quote unquote “dream job” if you have one. And the other access that I talk about is accessibility. So based on what you’ve already done, what kind of job are you a pretty good candidate for on paper right now? And the goal is that you’ll be able to kind of max out on both stats, but it might be that you have to take a relatively accessible job that you know already is not what you want to do forever, but that is a step in the right direction toward a new path that you have a really high affinity for.
Anne Helen Petersen: What advice do you have, just as a final advice to all job seekers about getting through this moment right now? My advice is to find a group. I would love to know yours.
Laura Mariani: That’s a big one. [laughter]
Anne Helen Petersen: I’m like, can you give a graduation speech on how to find a job? [laughter] It could just even just be a mindset like what would be the mindset that you would encourage instilling, like cultivating in yourself as as you go on with this job search.
Laura Mariani: I would say be open minded and curious and focus on connecting with other humans because you’re going to have a much better experience connecting with other humans than you will connecting with page after page after page of job posts on a website. You’ll learn a lot more spending 30 minutes talking to a human being than you will spending 30 minutes scrolling through job ads most of the time.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. Laura, this has been just wonderful. I’m so grateful for your expertize and insight today. If people want to know more about you or just to talk to you, where can they find you?
Laura Mariani: You can find me on the LinkedIn. [laughter]
Anne Helen Petersen: Awesome.
Laura Mariani: And please search for Laura Mariani and connect with me there if you feel called to do so. I am also on Twitter for the time being @LauraMariani. I’m also on Mastodon. I am @email@example.com.
Anne Helen Petersen: Awesome. Thank you again. This has been so great.
Laura Mariani: Thanks so much for having me. [music break]
Anne Helen Petersen: Thanks so much to Laura Mariani for joining me today. And thanks to you for listening to Work Appropriate. If you’ve got a workplace quandary, you want help figuring out, get in touch. You can find submission guidelines at WorkAppropriate.com, or you can send a voice memo with your question to Work Appropriate at Crooked.com. Some of the episodes we’re working on are feeling like your ambition has left you, learning how to rest, and untangeling legal issues at work. We’d love to hear from you. Work Appropriate is a Crooked Media production. I’m Anne Helen Peterson, your host. Our executive producers are Kendra James and Sandy Girard. Melody Rowell is our producer and editor. Alison Falzetta is our development producer. Music is composed by Chanell Crichlow. Additional production support from Ari Schwartz and a special thanks to Katie Long and Sarah Geismer. You can follow me on Twitter @AnneHelen or on Instagram @AnneHelenPetersen. You can sign up for my newsletter at AnneHelen.substack.com. Next week we’re talking about what to do when you feel like your very identity is causing problems at work. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and find us there every Wednesday.