Prepare, practice, and persist
The woman we are discussing today was a victim of sexual harassment and came to me after quitting her job. She asked me not to identify her, so we will call her Barbara.
Barbara said that her whole career up to the time she met me had been the result of “falling into things.” When she had to leave suddenly without anything waiting in the wings she was “a little out of whack, frustrated and really didn’t know where to start.”
The jobs Barbara had “fallen into” had all gone well for her. The majority of her experience was in marketing and she had been very successful at helping very small businesses become very large businesses.
When I talked to her, something kept coming through loud and clear. She liked teaching. What she called marketing really was teaching people how to use her employers’ products or services. However, what she enjoyed most was training her staff, or leading teams in developing training materials. She was also skilled in information technology. Barbara needed a focus, so I suggested that she merge the two skills.
I identified a niche within training and development called eLearning (training people over the Internet) as a better job fit, and packaged her as an eLearning Specialist.
Barbara felt that was right on the mark, so we put together a whiz-bang résumé that positioned her to be that training and development professional.
Though I knew that she could do well at eLearning and enjoy it, Barbara had to be able to show potential employers her expertise in a field she had not heard of before.
She began by researching organizations involved in eLearning and talked to the hiring authorities, asking questions about the e-learning sector, about the company and about the career path of the individual with whom she was speaking.
As a general rule, people are very responsive and positive. She asked questions like, “My research indicates that the top three problems in eLearning are 1,2,3. Would you agree? Is that the case for your organization?”
She brought her research back to me. I then helped her put together a script to show people that she’d done her research and get them thinking that “maybe this person can help me solve some of my problems.”
Barbara also applied for jobs while developing her eLearning expertise. One position was with a Government department that is notoriously slow to fill a position – usually 12-14 months – so slow, she had forgotten that she had submitted a résumé to them.
Ten months later, when she finally got a call from the government it was a big cattle call, where a lot of people are invited in and only a few make the short list. The position was that of a Learning Design Specialist making very good money, and she really wanted it. I then helped her as a job coach. Barbara made the shortlist of 25 candidates.
Her next step was to prepare for an unusual interview, not a panel of people asking questions, but an in-basket exercise simulating a typical day on the job. There were six topics – four questions per topic. At the bottom they listed the competencies and the organizational behaviors they were looking for in their answers – exactly what they needed. She didn’t have to speculate what they wanted, which took out the guesswork and game. All she had to do was present it well.
Barbara was hired for one of the three positions. She designs training materials and decides whether it should be paper-based or electronic training.
She also provides advice on the design of training material, as project manager, and does the professional development classes for her colleagues.
She is there during pilot training to see what works and what doesn’t, which gives her the opportunity to see how people view the material and react to it before it is launched.
There are 50,000 people within her portion of the government. “A serious audience, and there are no “off the shelf” products for their training. It is very specific and very unique.”
The best part is she loves her job. She said, “Even though I have to get out of bed at 5:30 in the morning, I can’t wait to get going, to find out what am I going to get done today.”
I usually advise my clients to get to know the hiring manager, because people hire people they know, but it is illegal to do that in government jobs. A person needs to resort to Plan B, which works in all situations – prepare, practice and persist.