Taking My Own Advice

This post appeared on November 23rd, 2009. Posted by Steven Joiner, whose last day as a Career Transitions Director at Idealist was Friday November 22nd, 2009.

When I finally made the official decision to move from Portland, OR to Kansas City, MO and therefore to also find new work, I found myself thinking, “Well, you’ve talked about how to make career transitions for years now. Looks like it is time to follow some of your own advice.” I admit that I had these nightmarish visions of doing all of the research, networking, and job developing that I advised others to do… only to have it all go awry.

The good news is that the tips and tools in our Idealist Guides to Nonprofit Careers and our workshops seem to be working out quite well for me!

There are two chapters in particular in the Guide to Nonprofit Careers that framed the first steps of my career-transition approach: Networking and Tools for the job search: Researching all the opportunities in your chosen location.

This is how the information from these two chapters looked in action:

After I created a list of the organizations and individuals with whom I most want to talk, I started emailing folks and setting up informational interviews during a week-long trip to Kansas City. This meant that while I was delivering my cat to my new home, I could also get myself on folks’ radars so that they: a) knew I was moving to town and b) knew the kind of projects I’m interested in working on. I found that this approach was incredibly effective since, after 5 such meetings, I found that I was hearing the same names over and over. That is always a good sign.

The next step was to earnestly roll out the power of my network. Why did I do all this research before talking with my network? Well, I wanted to get the lay of the land and to therefore be able to target the “asks” I was making to my network. It is a lot more productive to say to a contact, “I’ve been talking with X organization, as well as doing some research on Y organization, all in the context of exploring my professional interest in Z area. Do you know anyone there whom I should contact?” than to say, “So, yeah. I’m moving to Kansas City. Know anyone?”

Turns out that just about everyone I’ve contacted in my network knows someone in Kansas City—either connected to my target organizations or my areas of professional interest—and everyone is eager to pass those names along. The result is twofold:

1. I have a huge list of people (over 30 at this point) to email and meet with once I get to Kansas City.

2. As I reach out to this list, I get a variation of the same sentiment: “It’s really great that you’re moving to Kansas City! Get in touch once you’ve settled.”

The second statement, let’s talk when you’re officially in town, reminded me of the advice we give in the guides: you usually need to be local in order to “close the deal.” So, while I don’t have any guaranteed work lined up, I feel really confident that I’ve set myself up well for taking the next steps on my career journey. It was also very affirming to see that this method for job development (rather than job hunting) is effective no matter how near or far you are looking.

This entry is by Steven Joiner, (former) Director of the Career Transitions Program and author of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers.


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