by Jane Rubinsky
A Strong Focus
Sharon wasn’t even looking for a job when she first came to GetFive. “I’d left my previous job of five years and was starting my own business,” she explained. In her weekly small-group strategy sessions, there were people looking for jobs and others who were “doing their own thing,” so she expected to get a lot out of it, but perhaps not as much as she did.
“I was about to take what they offered, but then I started thinking, wait, that’s not what they said in the class; you’re supposed to negotiate.”
“I got approached by a company, and wasn’t really interested at first,” Sharon recalled. “I said, ‘Why don’t I work part-time for you?’ But they said, ‘No, no; just come in and let’s talk about it.’” Afterward, she decided she really was interested – and got the job. Now she’s in the enviable position of balancing her business with her new position. “I do events for a media company – exactly what I was doing for myself and what I’d done previously for a university,” she says with justifiable pride.
Sharon credits her small group with keeping all of her efforts on track. “As you know, it’s kind of hard not to get distracted when you’re not in an office environment,” she admitted. The weekly presentations on Club job-search topics were invaluable; as a result of the lectures, she was ready with the appropriate interview questions, and she followed up with a terrific influencing letter. “I think that got me the job, even though they came to me,” she added.
But the kicker turned out to be negotiating her salary. “I was about to take what they offered, but then I started thinking, wait, that’s not what they said in the class; you are supposed to negotiate,” she recalled. After a talk with her coach, Ruth Robbins, Sharon asked for more, and got it. “It wasn’t a lot,” she said, “but it was important that I asked. I read somewhere that women never really do that; it’s usually men who ask for more. So I wanted to counter that.”
Your web presence is “super important,” Sharon pointed out, “no matter what your background or what kinds of jobs you’re looking for.” A veteran LinkedIn user, she built up her profile for networking – which paid off when the person who would eventually become her new boss spotted her profile, asked to connect, and then decided to interview her based on comments from a contact they had in common.
“Sharon came every single week, and she was a real sharer,” said her coach, Ruth Robbins.
“I’ve helped people “just because,” and people have helped me “just because.” It’s the law of the universe: You reap what you sow,” Sharon explained.
She also participated in FastTrac, a program at SUNY’s Levin Institute for entrepreneurs. “That’s where Sharon really started to get very organized,” Robbins said. “She had a very focused vision of doing business events with a strong Africa focus. That niche really pulled her in. She’s very wise on the Internet. Her new job and her business are kind of contiguous. And I feel very proud of her!”
Evaluating an Offer
LinkedIn was the job-hunting tool of choice for Marcia, who began ramping up her marketing plan to find a job in human resources after giving herself some time off to decompress and think about what she wanted to do. She also used job boards the recommended way: not to search for openings, but to find out who the key people were, and identify somebody who could either introduce her or provide her with some information. “From there,” she said, “it was a matter of meeting with individuals, gathering that information, and doing the follow-up influencing letters so that person would pass you on to the next – possibly even to HR or the hiring manager, so that you could actually secure an interview.”
Meanwhile, Marcia was able to secure some consulting work, which kept her going financially, “but also helped me explore whether or not I really wanted to do the consulting piece,” she said. Then she was contacted by a search firm – “and it was a retained search firm,” she explained. “One of the ways to find out pretty quickly, but in a nice way, whether or not they’re really invested in you, is to pose the question in a positive way when they contact you. You say, ‘I assume that you are retained by the actual organization.’ At that point, the search firm really has to tell you, ‘Yes, we are,’ or they’ll tell you, ‘I’m not really sure; I’ll get back to you.’ And if it’s the latter, you pretty much know that they’re essentially filling orders. So you have the option then of deciding whether or not you want to continue working with them.”
The other bit of advice she shared (“and as an HR person, this is a bit of a gem,” she confessed) is to try and obtain a copy of “what’s called your total reward – your base salary plus all the different benefits, and the value of that. Then, when they get around to making you an offer, you can really evaluate that offer properly. There may be areas such as additional vacation or a sign-on bonus that will help you get to the place where you’re comfortable and feel truly valued for what you’re actually worth. If you don’t have that information, sometimes the base salary may seem lower than it really is; the value of the benefits can lift you considerably, depending on the circumstances.”
As vice president for a non-profit that helps underprivileged children stay in school, Marcia now feels truly valued. “Marcia is smart, articulate, and she followed the methodology,” said her coach, Chip Conlin. “But she did it on her own terms. She knew when she was ready to start. We would talk about the marketing plan, doing the exercises, and updating her resume, but she had the mindset to know when it was time for her to take the proverbial two steps forward.”
Try and obtain a copy of “what’s called your total reward – your base salary plus all the different benefits, and the value of that. Then, when they get around to making you an offer, you can really evaluate that offer properly.”
Ben came to the GetFive with what he described as “a portfolio that’s a little bit different. I’m involved in the arts, and I came here as an actor.” He’d been working in university administration and had also earned a degree in creative writing while working – but budget cuts spelled the end of his job.
Ben faced “an embarrassment of riches” when two additional job offers wound up on his plate.
Ruth Robbins, Ben’s GetFive coach, immediately understood that his search wasn’t just about getting a job; it was about finding something he loved to do. “And I really appreciated that,” he said. “It was like career therapy.” As they talked, Ben realized that he had a dual vision: “I wanted to work in university administration for the security and benefits, but I also wanted to teach. I love teaching. So that was both the problem and the solution at the same time.”
Several months before his layoff, Ben had interviewed for a job at another university that he didn’t get, and had been savvy enough to follow up with his interviewer and ask for feedback so that he could do better in future interviews. “And she wrote back this really nice email that was very informative, so I kept that in the back of my mind,” Ben said. “Then, when I got laid off, I thought, what the heck, I’ll email her again.”
She was kind enough to forward his information to someone in HR, whom Ben met with. “And then the HR person heard there was an opening that she thought would be good for me, so she passed my CV along to the supervisor.” Robbins coached Ben through the phone interview, as well as the first and second interviews – “and I nailed it and got the job,” he said proudly.
My small group at GetFive “helped me to know that we are all in this together, and that there are other people struggling just like I was,” Ben said. “It helped me be proactive with tangible goals and it gave me hope.”
But Ben faced “an embarrassment of riches” when two additional job offers wound up on his plate. A staff member where he had earned his writing degree recommended him to the chairman of the department for a part-time teaching job, and he was also offered another job in the theater department. “Ruth advised me to wait on those until I got a firm offer on the first job, and that’s what I did. I wasn’t as excited about it originally, but it turned out to be perfect because it was more money, less stress, and allowed me the flexibility to teach.” He accepted the administrative job at one university and teaches two days a week at the other.
“It was difficult, but we just cleared things up, moment by moment,” said Robbins about Ben’s options. “It’s so great that you can straddle both possibilities; this is the best outcome.”
Initially nervous about fitting into his small group at GetFive, Ben discovered that it provided great support. “It helped me to know that we are all in this together, and that there are other people struggling just like I was,” he said. “It helped me be proactive with tangible goals and it gave me hope.”
Jane Rubinsky, a journalist and writer/editor for non-profits and businesses, is a GetFive member.