Sunday, May 11, 2014

Reflecting on the Job Search Process

Some Stats:
  • 17 Informational interviews (8 in person in DC, 9 on the phone)
  • 10 Physical business cards collected (I had no idea this practice from the 80s was still in use.)
  • 9 different online placement services registered for (This is a complete waste of time and never generated even one lead.)
  • 57 Cover letters written / resumes sent for posted positions
  • 9 Screening/ first interviews
  • 4 Lengthy exercises completed after screening interviews (3 of which led to offers)
  • 23 Total job interviews (13 in person, 10 on the phone/Skype)
  • 5 Job offers (3 Interview processes terminated after I accepted an offer.)
  • 86 Days of Job Search (27-Jan-14-wrote first cover letter to 23-Apr-14-accepted offer)
Ratio of First Interviews to Applications: (9/57) 16%
Ratio of Offers to Applications: (5/57) 9%
Ratio of Offers to First Interviews: (5/9) 55%

So from the 'stat shot' above my main conclusion is that I had a pretty low conversion rate for my applications, but once people met me, I had a solid conversion rate from interview to offer.  Maybe my cover letters were crap.  I tried hard.  I do not know.  (Part of the reason is that the app number is a bit inflated because in the beginning I was applying for some jobs I was not quite qualified for.  I now think that is a complete waste of time.  For every job posting they will get 1 zillion qualified applicants, why would they even look at an applicant missing one of the desired qualifications?)

  • Of the 5 offers I ultimately received, I had an introduction or some kind of connection for 3 and the other 2 were cold, unconnected applications.
  • In interviews people only asked me about my time at Accenture, even though I left there in 2009.  The work I did for a small agency was irrelevant, despite being essentially the same.  Big firm management consulting experience is viewed as some kind of talisman.
  • HR screening interviews are absurd, because the girl from HR (always a girl) does not understand the job you have applied for, and could not perform it, but attempts to assess your ability to fill the position.
  • HR/Recruiting personnel are the club bouncers of the job application process, irrelevant and drunk on their own power.
  • I still CAN NOT BELIEVE how many people were willing to meet me for informational interviews. It is shocking. It is a waste of their time.  And yet they agree.  Distant connections and friends of friends spent an hour with me on the phone or even in their office.  NO ONE I asked for an informational interview said no.  Not a single person! I met VPs, Directors and in one instance, a CEO.  My only rationale for this is that the HR/recruiting prices is so broken that meeting people and expanding your network is the only way to identify and hire quality resources. If I were billed for the 17 hours of informational interviews I got for free from senior resources, the value would be over $10K.  It is shocking to me that this is the natural course of events.
  • Some recruiting blogs will tell you that even when interviewing in this era of business casual, "Dress for Success" is still required.  That is complete BS.  I was always overdressed for my interviews in a dress and matching cardigan from Banana Republic with low heeled 9 West pumps. At least in the non profit space, casual clothing was the norm and I was a weirdo that escaped from a Talbots or Ann Taylor catalog. Dress young and hip if you can pull it off.
  • Devex are a bunch of jerks that wouldn't let me PAY to come to a job fair because I wasn't DEV enough.  Well, I got a job in the field anyway and you guys can GTH if you ever want anything at all from me.
  • Jobs posted on job boards like Idealist get 1 zillion applicants per position.  Identify 20 or so companies you want to work for and look at their online internal job posting page to find roles you qualify for.  Many of the postings on job boards have already been filled or are no longer current.  Check the company pages for new postings regularly and apply ASAP for roles you are 100% qualified for.
  • I was notified that my LinkedIn was viewed by almost everyone scheduled to interview me, so worth it to make sure that everything there is scrubbed and shiny.

Searching for a job is the worst, most soul crushing experience. Every single day of it I was sure I would never work again.  You can't even get a job bagging groceries any more (at least in DC the Giant is self-bagging).  I was sitting in my basement firing off cover letters that felt like messages in a bottle from a desert isle. It felt hopeless and impossible.  It was hard to see I was making progress.  I HATE asking for favors and sorting through my LinkedIn for friends of friends I hadn't talked to in years to ask if they would introduce me to someone at their company seemed soooooo transparent and self-serving.  I was ashamed.  I owe SO SO SO SO SO many favors now. If I can ever help anyone to get a job so help me I will do anything I can do.

Interviews are complete agony.  I struggled to find a balance to describe my accomplishments so I did not sound like a pompous ass and also so I did not sound like pathetic loser who has never achieved anything.  Confident but humble?  Principled but flexible? It is an exercise in contradictions. It is a hard tone for me to strike.

I owe so many people thanks for help with informational interviews but also advice and help with the agonizing self-loathing and indecision the job search brings. "Should I use a colon or a comma here?" with the implication that the right answer gets me the job and the wrong answer loses it.  Maybe the course of my life hinges on if I save this file in .docx or .pdf? So many of you listened to me complain about the job search, advised on clothing, helped with wording choices (managed or led?), discussed job options and supported me in one way or another.  THANK YOU!!

86 days seems like a terribly long time, but actually now I think that part of it is just a long recruiting cycle.  Just the other day (in May) I got an email asking to schedule a screening interview for a job I applied for in February.  It takes HR a while to pull all the resumes and sort through them.  The bigger the company, the slower they move. 

During those 86 days I worked pretty hard on the job search.  I was either researching job boards, writing cover letters, tuning my resume, completing exercises, emailing to ask for a connection to an informational interview and attending interviews (informational or aspirational). I did not do a whole lot of anything else, though I did take 3 days off and visit family in Raleigh at one point. I would say I spent over 60 hours per week on job search activities.

In the end, for the offer I accepted, I never actually wrote a cover letter.  I went in for an informational interview, mentioned a job that was posted on their website to ask if I was the type of applicant they were seeking, and was referred to a screening interview from that and went on from there. They met me before I was an applicant.  My second option though, and one I considered very seriously, was a complete cold call online application.  I sent them a PowerPoint in addition to my cover letter and resume addressing each qualification and function listed in the job posting and explaining how specifically I had already succeeded at that task. Maybe that is nerdy overkill, but it worked in that instance.

So, if you are thinking about changing jobs, my opinion based on this process is that you should get a new one before you leave your old one.  If you're between jobs, hang in there.  You are not alone and the situation is not as dark as it seems. Aim to connect directly at the peers and supervisors you would have at your ideal employers and avoid HR and recruiting as much as possible.  (Unless you were also in a sorority, then go nuts). 

Saturday, May 3, 2014


I have great news.
Maybe the best news of my life.
Okay, maybe not my achievement, but I was right there.  I am so excited. I am over the moon.

You remember Application Boot Camp.  20 of the top kids from ASYV in their final year spent an extra two weeks in the village working on university applications after the end of the year.  It was hard, and we had no way of knowing at the time if it would work out.  I have recently learned that 4 of those students will receive full MasterCard Scholarships!!! 

They are the ones who worked so hard, overcoming incredible backstories, getting impressive grades, studying for the TOEFL English exam and the National Exam. They are the ones who wrote the essays and filled out the applications. But I was right there, and I helped. I helped with getting the TOEFL test paid for and scheduled.  I helped with looking up all the forms, editing the applications, explaining terms like 'address' (no one has one in Rwanda), First Name, Family Name, Surname (they just do it different there) and about 1000 other application fields.  I helped to organize the camp and research the different processes for each school.  I've never been more proud of a work output in my life.

Here's the news:

  • Libia Niyode will attend the University of British Columbia in Vancouver
  • Innocent Nzayisenga will attend McGill University in Montreal.
  • Jeaninne Ingabire will attend Arizona State University.
  • Immaculee Mugwaneza will attend Arizona State University.

Deepest of thanks to the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program who is providing total scholarships including airfare, stipends, books and all expenses for these four great kids to the partner schools ASU, McGill and UBC. I may never use Visa again.

Here's a quick hall of heroes. Rwanda, rest of world, get to know your future leaders:
Libia is seated in the center, smiling
Libia Niyode studied History, Economics and Geography in high school.  He was the school valedictorian, with excellent grades all 4 years.  He scored a perfect 73 (yes the scale is out of 73) on the national exam! He is an extraordinarily dedicated kid, always studying. He loves to play and watch football (soccer) and I know he will love UBC. (Somehow I don't have a good photo of Libia. That is CRAZY.  I will have to take one when I go to visit him in Vancouver.)  Libia was also received a full scholarship to McGill University, but chose UBC. Libia wants to study economics at University.

Jeaninne wearing a cute bow at s fashion show in the dining hall with her buddy Julien.
Jeaninne Ingabire was third in her class by GPA, which is an amazing feat given that she studied the dreaded Math, Physics and Computers combination, and no one in the school is ever awarded good grades in Math. She was the point guard on the basketball team.  She is so independent and needed very little help with her applications.  (She was also accepted to MSU, but didn't get a scholarship there.  That is a miss for Sparty.)  She will be kicking ass at ASU.  Jeaninne may pursue Women's Studies at university.

Immaculee looking like herself...
...and here, a bit more dolled up.
You remember Immaculee Mugwaneza, who wrote the essay that was Part I in this series.  She is my inspiration.  In high school she studied Math, Chemistry and Biology.  She wants to study modern agricultural techniques to take back to Rwanda. Macky, as her friends call, her has overcome a lot and I am so proud of her.

The one and only Blameless, (Innocent Nzayisenga)
Innocent Nzayisenga studied English, French and Kinyarwanda for his combination and also had a great score on his national exam and 4 years of excellent grades.  Innocent is a singer, songwriter and a music producer.  He also got in to ASU, but chose McGill.  He wants to study journalism, but may have to put that on hold while he tours with his album. Do you know anyone who knows Pharrell? I am pretty sure Pharrell and Blameyface will be besties if I can just make the introduction.

 You remember when I blogged about my top 6 students:
6 scholarly young men
As it stands now, Innocent, in the top right, is headed to McGill.  Claude (top left) and Pacifique (bottom center) have been accepted into Bridge2Rwanda.  B2R is a one year prep program that helps promising students improve their TOEFL and SAT scores and apply to many universities.  They have a great placement ratio and I am really hopeful that those two will end up with scholarships as well, so three out of six with very exciting futures indeed.  My other three sons (Maurice, Serge and Jean Claude Du) will go to university in Rwanda.  They didn't quite achieve their dreams yet, and there has been some disappointment, but I hope that striving for these scholarships taught them some lessons and this was just one step on the way to their own success.