Career Change Neepery

When I go to the library to pick up my books that are on hold, I often browse around and come home with a bunch of books that look interesting at the time.  This time I got How to Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric.  Of course, who can resist an alluring title like that?  Especially when working on a career change!

It’s got an interesting exercise that I hadn’t heard of before.  It’s the “reverse job ad”.  Instead of looking at what a job advertisement wants, you advertise what you have.  So you write a half-page about yourself, but it doesn’t include any previous jobs or qualifications.  You write about your passions, interests, skills, and any dealbreakers.  For example, you might write that you speak Norwegian, love cats, make excellent pie.  Your personality is bubbly but impatient and you hate sports.  You want a job with flexible hours and not in a cubicle.  You are habitually messy, and passionate about reproductive rights.  Or whatever it is.  Don’t specify the job you’re looking for.

Now here’s the interesting part.  You send this “personal job ad” to ten different people who have very diverse jobs and backgrounds and lives.  For example, a police officer, vet tech, organic gardener, banker, cartoonist, bus driver, accountant, teacher, doctor, and a welder.  Ask them to be very specific about what kind of job they think you should have, based on the description.  The book uses the example, don’t say ‘you should work with children.’  Instead say, ‘you should do charity work with street kids in Rio’.

You are likely to get a wide variety of answers, some of which you’ve never thought of before.

#2 is skeptical that following these exact steps would work well anywhere outside of, say, Southern California.  But maybe a more muted and more professional version that’s presented informally (say verbally at a cocktail party, or as a facebook/blog post).

Has anyone done something like this, or would you?  How would you describe yourself?

32 Responses to “Career Change Neepery”

  1. Mrs PoP Says:

    This is actually fairly similar to what I did on my last job search, which was fall 2008. Searching for a job as the stock market was crashing wasn’t the best timing on my part, but such is life.

    I wanted to relocate to where Mr PoP was living (a smaller job market than where I would be moving from), so cold emailed about half a dozen people active in the business world (mostly PE/investment shops) in that area describing myself as analytical with experience/interests in finance, technology, and education, but that I mostly just have a fascination with interesting problems. For the firms that mentioned “green” on their sites, I mentioned I’m a bit of a hippie as well. (This is probably all still true today, though I’d swap out education for real estate I think.) Then I included my resume and asked for a meeting to talk about opportunities local to the area. Out of 6 emails, I got 5 responses which led to interviews and offers for 3 different jobs (not all with people that I had emailed, 2 were with contacts those individuals had suggested) that would all basically be created for me and had interesting problems that could benefit from someone to analyze them. I’ve been at one of those jobs for almost 7 years now.

    I don’t think my approach would work if you were hoping to end up in a big company since typical hr screening processes wouldn’t really respond well to this, but it certainly worked for me. I think in an ideal world, this is the role headhunters should be taking on, though in my experience they don’t think out of the box and tend to look to pair you with jobs that are carbon copies of your previous jobs rather than looking at the skill set behind the job.

    • oldmdgirl Says:

      How did you find/choose the 6 people to cold-email, out of curiosity?

      • Engineer Cents (@engineercents) Says:

        Same question! I’d probably feel comfortable reaching out to my friends and professional network but would never think to cold call strangers. Glad it all worked out for you!

      • Mrs PoP Says:

        I had a friend download a list of PE/investment shops in the geographic area from a database called CapitalIQ that she had a login for. Then I scrubbed the list (20ish on it I think) to see which looked the most interesting to me (focusing on industries/areas that I liked). I was left with a little more than half a dozen companies and I started researching principals at them. That research marked a couple off the list and left me with six names. It was actually probably a week of research and planning to send the emails. I wasn’t sure it would work, but figured it couldn’t hurt.

  2. Revanche Says:

    Hm. I’m going through this mental exercise now but never considered sending it out to people and asking for their thoughts. I often feel like only people who have worked with me (and therefore are limited to my current industry) would have a useful read on what they think I could do well. I am also interested on how Mrs. PoP selected the cold-email contacts.

  3. becca Says:

    I had some fun with this one. I can’t imagine it’ll help me find a job, but maybe I’ll post to FB for fun anyway.

    “Geeky research scientist with too many interests seeks job that will Change The World or at least reduce disease suffering. Motivated by purpose, and getting to hang out with clever people. Works well with budgets and large quantities of technical reading. Energetic realist. Does well with public speaking. Enjoys travel and particularly conferences. Gets along well with clinician and epidemiologists as well as bench scientists. Does not get along as well with MBAs, or in direct sales roles. Passionate about social causes. Dealbreakers: unethical work, concentrated patriarchy, excessive animal experimentation.”

  4. Engineer Cents (@engineercents) Says:

    I think mine would read something like
    “Data wonk who wants access to your gigabyte plus sets (terabyte plus preferred). What’ll I do with it? Who knows! Ideally something narrative. I want to tell some stories with numbers. Able to code, generate complex models, and write in complete sentences most of the time. Extremely organized project planner, but really would rather you not foist admin work onto me just because I’m female. I like to integrate information and ask questions to feel out new spaces with new stories. Would ideally be able to work from home occasionally so I can eat ricotta stuffed french toast on a Tuesday (because, what is more luxurious than that?). Dealbreakers: frequently excessive work hours, short-sighted managers, low pay, brogrammer:woman ratio > 0.5, a use of constant disapproval to ‘motivate’ your workforce.”

    And I just realized I want to be a data journalist. Whelp. There goes the life plan.

  5. xykademiqz Says:

    Oh, this is hard. I always think that what I would write about myself would not be how others would see me. And I feel like I am revealing disturbing personal secrets… But, here goes nothing.

    “Math, physics, and programming geek who loves to write and draw and who speaks really, really fast in 2-3 languages. Tightly wound workaholic who craves challenge and makes bad puns. Loves people, in small doses. Loves coffee, in embarrassingly large doses. Works well on small teams but greatly prefers to be left alone to work on problems, the more challenging the better. Hates meetings, abhors poorly run ones. Experienced teacher and engaging public speaker. Will joyfully work many hours a week, as long as it’s flexible what those hours are. Organized and efficient, yet viscerally opposed to list making. A non-outdoorsy, granola-eschewing, carnivorous variety of the bleeding-heart liberal who passionately cares about education, science policy, healthcare, and social justice. Dealbreakers: micromanaging, inflexibility with time, scheduling anything too much in advance, all time-wasting practices such as meeting for meetings sakes, people who speak very sloooowly.”

    • xykademiqz Says:

      (P.S. The liberal bit should probably not make it into even informal mock-ads, given how sensitive of an issue politics is in the US. But it’s ok for the blogosphere, I hope.)

    • Debbie M Says:

      You should do tech marketing in foreign countries (that have the languages you speak plus coffee and meat; perhaps Japan or Brazil), opening new markets for awesome products.

      • xykademiqz Says:

        Cool — thanks, Debbie M! I am a professor at a research university, and I often wondered if there would exist a non-soul-crushing job for me in the fabled Real World. It’s good to hear there are actually other careers out there where someone like me might fit.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Heh, I don’t know if the job I described actually exists. It might, though!

  6. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    If somebody sent me something like that cold, unless they were a close friend or colleague, I’d ignore it. I’ve got enough serious career mentoring to do for people I have an existing professional relationship with as it is.

    • Mrs PoP Says:

      I’m sure there are others that agree with you, but there’s a lot to be gained from short interactions like this. I believe there’s a Wharton prof (his name is escaping me at the moment, but pretty sure he has a book on the topic) that has made a career out of saying “yes” and helping as many people as possible. Those people in turn become resources for future requests and over time he has become something like the center of a web connecting people to one another at appropriate times. It’s more of delegating relationships than anything else. He benefits, and eventually most others in his web also benefit from this type of relationship as they are eventually likely on both sides of the give/take relationship.
      The PE shops I reached out to have a vested interest in seeing their portfolio companies do well. So when they run across a smart, driven individual they scan the list of companies they own and see if any would be a fit and take a couple of minutes (or even seconds) to write an email introduction between you and (probably) the CEO of that company. Now you have that introduction to the CEO of a company that’s possibly a good fit, and more importantly it comes from someone the CEO is (often literally) indebted to. There’s no guarantee, but it can start a conversation that can end up mutually beneficial for everyone.
      But again, I don’t think this would work nearly as well for big companies. Those I ended up interviewing with had a dozen or so employees. Not big places.

  7. Debbie M Says:

    I’ve never heard of anything like this, but I did once have a friend who wrote a reverse dating ad from the viewpoint of her evil ex in order to release some stress. I wish I had a copy; it was priceless. But imagine something like “Immature mama’s boy seeks …”

  8. CG Says:

    Passions: National parks, residential architecture, mystery novels, real estate, cooking, graphic design
    Interests: Research design, problem solving, organizing, writing, psychology, public health research (not my area)
    Skills: Research design, interviewing, spatial analysis, integrating and synthesizing large amounts of information into a coherent whole, editing, reviewing, writing, teaching but much better one on one
    I don’t like having a boss or having to be places at particular times. I’m very self-motivated and crave efficiency. I like collaborating but usually with just one other person at a time.

    I took a career test once in the midst of some major job dissatisfaction hoping it would lead me to the perfect job and it told me I should be a professor. I am a professor. I’d be majorly grateful for any profound insights on alternatives from the Grumpies!

    • Ree Says:

      Have you considered working as a researcher for the USGS or the NPS? They have career science tracks. And it’s not all rocks and trees. For instance, there are targeted studies analyzing how to change the psychology of park visitors, e.g. to get people to stop leaving behind food crumbs that feed non-native jays.

      • CG Says:

        Thanks for the idea! I don’t have a science or psych background. It is social science, though, so maybe I could fudge it…

    • Debbie M Says:

      You should design small tourist communities in National Parks or similar settings with vacation-long mystery themes. Tourists and their families come and try to figure out some local mystery.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I HAD THAT SAME EXPERIENCE. The career tests ALWAYS come out professor! I was totally a professor. Your skills sound like mine too (except the spatial analysis).

  9. chacha1 Says:

    It’s been a long time since I was job-hunting without the assistance of at least one recruiter. The field I work in is not really amenable to self-definition. :-) The things that I think are most interesting about me are of no interest at all to the people who hire for my kind of job.

    Before moving out to L.A., I had never visited L.A. before. I went through Martindale-Hubbell and identified the law firms that had patent prosecution practices, and sent a lot of them my resume with a cover letter introducing myself. That round of letters did get me a few phone contacts and a couple of interviews, one of which led to a temp job where I was introduced to a gang of people who have turned up in other offices where I’ve worked over the years. One of the partners in that first firm is the chairman of the department I’m working in now. :-)

  10. SP Says:

    Skilled at absorbing and organizing a mess of disparate and incomplete information and forming a logical vision of complex systems/problems. Able to zero in on the details matter, which means I can ignore extremely boring TMI details that don’t impact the big picture. Great at coming up with a path to implement my solutions, complete with contingencies and reasons why other paths are suboptimal. Love walking all day in the mountains and camping far away from civilization. Hate watching sports, pop culture moron, like to read memoirs or book set in other cultures. Motivated primarily by interesting problems and beautiful plans to solve them, secondarily by desire to build something. Eager follower of brilliant and competent people, but no other type of people. Like to travel, cook, and play with excel spreadsheets. Not great at small talk, but good at reading group dynamics and dealing with people authentically yet diplomatically. Enjoy giving presentations and working meetings, but frustrated by large inefficient meetings where the loudest people win.

    Dislikes: slow talkers, micromanagers, people who bring up minor details that don’t matter during large meetings (or any time, really), arbitrary/inefficient rules and processes, overly hierarchical structures, people who exaggerate or lie to self-promote, self-promotion in general, lazy people, dishonest people.

    Also – inability to be concise? Haha.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I basically have the ideal job for me right now, but things are kind of chaotic and it might not last. I did a lot of soul searching in my last career change. The problem is, while I believe these things about myself I have a hard time showing direct skills on a resume that obviously translate to other jobs I might consider.


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