How I Landed A Six-Figure Job After a Six Year Hiatus
I am many things.
Mom, entrepreneur, writer, blogger, photographer, wife, sister, daughter, project manager, basketball player, traveler, super chef (in my own lil’ kitchen), friend, singer (best karaoke in cars!!), organizer, dancer (killer moves, here), dreamer, doer.
Only one thing at a time (rare).
All of them at the same time (often) .
Did I hear you go, “whoa!”?
But, here is a fact: Each of us is actually more than just one thing. Ya!
For instance, one is not born to be a father only. They are typically a father, a storyteller, a chef and a coach .
Therefore, each and every day, we all are walking in our strengths, with our things firmly tucked in, taking on one task after the other. Which then translates to, multi-talented.
With this understanding planted in my mind, when it came time for me to think about entering the job market again, I had all my open buttons..well, buttoned up.
But, before I give you surefire ways to land a job, I want to share with you the process because the beauty is in the process.
We are still shivering in the not-so-sunny California in March (its been raining for months now, which is good because there has been a drought for the past six years) and I am ready to head back to New York. But I need to a) get my husband on board b) have a kick-ass plan that doesn’t suck.
With weeks of endless convincing, I finally get my husband to be ok with the idea, and I inadvertently promise a plan, with no idea on how I am going to execute.
Plan involves = me giving corporate America/workforce a try one last time by May.
I make some cold calls contacts on Linkedin and via emails to all my past co-workers/friends. I tell them that I am looking for a role in any field- finance, HR, compensation, business analyst, QA, yada yada. I spruce up my resume to a single page, and I am ready to rock and roll.
One of my friends sends me three recruiters’ information, the other tells me about a PMO role at her husband’s company, and a few don’t respond. I am cool with that.
My mind gets racing – I have two eggs to crack – one via recruiter and the other via a direct interview with the hiring manager. It's been six long years, I have forgotten the rules, and don’t know where to begin, which, as I now look back, turned out to be a blessing.
Fast forward, May, I am interviewing for the HR opening (not too excited to go back to an HR role again, but still not closing off any options at the time) as well as for the Project Manager role (something I have never done before, and honestly, couldn’t even understand the requirements of the resume).
Step # 1: Never be mediocre
I push myself for the PMO role because it sounds exciting and challenging, and if I get the job (BIG if) then I know I will walk away with a great skill set. I enroll my sister’s help to decode the job posting, I go online and study about lifecycle of a project, different testing models, Scrum, Use Cases, User Story, JIRA stories, waterfall….everything I could on PMO. I also read up interview questions on Glassdoor for similar roles by the same company I am interviewing with.
Time Commitment: 2 hours (broken into slots of one hour) each day
Step # 2: Act and practice
I act out the answers to common questions when I am in the bathroom or alone at home – in front of the mirror. I also turn on Facetime on my Mac, and watch myself talk (I am scheduled for video interview because I am in CA at the time, and the role is in NYC). I also practice with my sister and my husband – I let them take the job description, and quiz me off that. I act and practice and act and practice and act until it’s all common sense to me.
Time Commitment: 20-30 minutes acting each day; 15-20 minutes of practice, depending on sister and husband’s schedule
These steps, when repeated daily, allowed me to truly get into the mindset of a project manager. I had a good idea of what it meant, and what was expected of being a PM. But, the real test came during interviews (I had 3 rounds with about 4 people).
Here were the common questions asked of me:
Why do you want this job, and what you want to get out of this role?
Why do you think you are an ideal candidate when you have no PMO experience?
How can you add value with no experience?
What were you doing while you were not working for the past six years?
Shiver me timbers. Not.
I knew I had huge competition for this role, but I did not let that deter me. I quickly realized and made note of my unique strengths, which would make me perfect for the job. The strengths I wrote and explored were:
Being a mom (yes – I’ll explain in a minute)
Being an entrepreneur
My previous corporate roles
BEING A MOM
I right away told them that I wanted to take a break from corporate life was because I wanted to raise a family, and stay close to my kids for however long it was possible. I sold them that being a mom is like having the insane ability to multi-task, which is a crazy awesome talent to have as a project manager.
BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR
When I was home with the kids, I had started my wedding photography studio from ground up, to keep myself occupied. In birthing another entity, I had donned the hats of marketer, accountant, photographer, artist. My action or inaction was directly linked to the business results, which meant that by hook or by crook, I had to get things done. And, I did. I convinced the interviewers that by running a business aka a continuous project, I had learnt the art of getting things done, of coordinating efforts of multiple parties and of tracking/measuring results. I sold them on the idea that I would approach my projects as an entrepreneur, and that would set me apart from the rest.
MY PREVIOUS CORPORATE ROLES
I kept establishing a connection between my previous roles and that of Project Manager, and told them that implementing company wide initiatives in my previous roles were akin to handling large projects involving international coordination. I sold them on the idea that if I could handle conversations/team across different regions, I could easily get everyone to work with the same deadlines and results.
Basically, I drew parallels.
Worried about knowledge of business – Private Bank vs Investment Bank? Me? Nah!
I assured them that I was a quick learner, and gave them examples of how I learnt the ropes of running a business as a newbie and that I was successful at some of my previous corporate roles even without having any prior experience in them.
BONUS STRATEGY # 1: I searched online and found email addresses of all my interviewees (it is easy to find corporate email addresses) and within 4 hours, sent them all a personalized ‘Thank you’ emails.
BONUS STRATEGY # 2: I also wrote a personalized ‘Thank You’ email to the recruiting manager at the firm – very casual and full of gratitude. This also helped me because I was able to negotiate salary with him, and get him to get approval on the number that I wanted.
As tempting as it was, I never let the ‘unknown-ess’ of the role or of the line of business stop me from being confident. I consistently sent them the message of “I did my homework on what it means to be a project manager, and I can deliver no matter what” during my interview even though I did not have the faintest of ideas how I would actually execute at THAT time. Ofcourse, I eventually figured it all out, and excelled at it. But, the reality, it is also true for most of us, ie, be able to morph our skill sets to the job on hand.
I negotiated salary, without being unreasonable, and landed on a number closer to what it was when I had left the workforce. You could argue “what about inflation adjusted?” , and I would argue “new company, new line of business, new role, returning from six years sabbatical – going to pick my battles smartly, buddy.”
Always be confident
Do your homework diligently
Remember, there are ways to make your skill sets relevant to the job you are applying (unless the job specifically asks for particular diplomas and certifications)
Don’t spend time talking about “time away” – focus on what you can do for them now/going forward
Set clarity on expectations of both parties (work hours, flexible arrangements, etc)
Never short sell yourself – be crisp on matching your skills with the job requirements (which ties into doing homework diligently)
Have a pleasant disposition when facing tough questions, and no harm in starting your question with a smile
Follow up the interview with a short and sweet personalized ‘thank you’ email
Always negotiate salary (being in a previous compensation role, I can tell you that)
Be fiercely original, and own it (it’s ok to let your personality shine through)
So, tell me, what are some of the common objections you had (or have) for yourself when you returned to workforce after life changes?
Do you wish you could have done things differently?