Find Your Dream Job, Bonus Episode 46 :
Be Precise in What You Want: Daniel Thornton’s Job Search Success Story
Airdate: November 1, 2021
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.
One of the best ways to get good at job hunting is to talk to people who do it well.
That’s why once a month, I interview a Mac’s List reader who found a job they love.
Our guest today is Dan Thornton. He’s a training associate at Management Systems International. It’s a global development firm based in Alexandria, Virginia.
Dan Thornton believes in the power of referrals.
In a story you can find on the Mac’s List website, Dan says he learned about the job he has now from a coworker.
Dan, why do you love your job?
Well, I love my job because I’m able to interact with a lot of people throughout my company. So my job entails taking a lot of different sectors, whether it be the security side or the technical side, and going to them and saying, “Hey, you need information other people need to know. How can we consolidate that into a training, a video, whatever the media may be, and disperse it throughout the company?”
So I’m really able to work in a lot of different mediums, meet a lot of different people from around my company, and learn about a lot of different subjects, which is, you know, it’s very – what’s the word I’m trying to look for – it’s challenging, but it’s also rewarding at the same time. So, yeah, there it is.
Well, terrific, and let’s talk about your job search. You found the job through word of mouth. How did that happen, Dan?
So, this is – my coworker’s also gonna kill me once this story goes out, but it’s fine.
Do we need- you’re gonna out your coworker on the show?
Yeah, I’m gonna do it, Mac.
So essentially, I was at my previous company, and I wasn’t particularly happy in my position. I was learning a lot of new skills and in the kind of field that I wanted to be in, but I didn’t really enjoy my job, per se, in the visceral sense. Like it wasn’t what I really wanted to do, and so I kind of, you know, saw an open opportunity – sorry if this is a long-winded story. But I saw an open opportunity in our company, and I applied for it. And essentially, somebody within the company said, “Hey, you don’t have enough experience in this field, but, you know, get some – here’s some things that you can do in the meantime, and, you know, get that experience and then come back to us later.”
So I was, you know, a little downtrodden. But I had told my coworker, who was actually my boss and just was like, “Hey, this is what I wanted to do. This is something I really am passionate about being, and I’m glad I’m in this field, but, you know, this is my long-term career goals.” And he was really great about in-taking that information and, you know, talking about ways that I might be able to tangentially get experience in that but also do my job duties.
Anyways, he was a part of another company, and one day he just, you know, we have this conversation early in the morning. We have our check-in, and he just turns to me, and he’s like, “I’m gonna kill myself for doing this. But you need to look at this job post that just came about on LinkedIn.” And he shows me this job post, and he’s like, “Hey, I know the people at this company. This is my previous organization. You know, if this is something you want to do, I’ll support you. I’ll help you, you know, apply for this job, and I’ll give you a recommendation, and also give you, like, the ins and outs of this.”
And so, I ended up applying to the job, and then, you know, talking with somebody and getting the interview, and eventually, actually getting the job. So in a lot of the ways, the only reason I even knew that this was a job before was because he told me. So there it is.
That’s a great story, Dan, and one of the most striking things about it is that you had a relationship with your supervisor that you could talk about your long-term goals and the fact that you were actually interested in moving somewhere else. Am I hearing that right?
Yeah, I think- I’ve had a lot of supervisors before, and I think the best ones are always those who want to put you first and want to help you develop, even if that means that, eventually, you will leave. But yeah, that’s, it’s definitely true. My best supervisors have always been invested in my development. So, yeah.
Some listeners might be reluctant to share their job search goals and even the fact that they’re interested in leaving and moving on to another job with a boss. What advice would you have for them about that? If they’re reluctant to do that?
I mean, it’s easy for me to say this because my partner is more of an introvert, and she always is like, “Well, you could do that, but I couldn’t do that.” But it’s, you know, it’s hard, I understand, but it’s your life and your career, and especially if you’re not happy in your situation, you just gotta go for it, you know. Because, and if you get backlash – because I’ve gotten backlash before. I mean, I’ve literally had said that to a supervisor and them be like, “You haven’t been here for that long. You can’t do that until I’m done with you,” essentially, and it’s like, “Well, what the heck?” Like, “What am I supposed to do with that?” You know? You should be invested in me, and you should be wanting me to succeed because then if you’re a good supervisor like that, I will recommend other people to come and work for you and be that. But I think it shows you where you stand, and I think good supervisors will help you, and if they don’t help you, then that’s your sign to get out of there.
You work in international development. It’s a field a lot of people want to get into, and it’s very competitive. What’s your best advice both for breaking into the sector, Dan, and for building a career in that field?
So I’ve actually – it was so weird because I took like a tangential route to this space because, you know, I got my Master’s in education policy because I thought I was gonna go into government and whatever and we were doing, you know, one of those exercises where you map out your goals, and my goal was to go overseas again because I’m a third-world kid and that’s my inclination. And my partner just turns to me and is like, “Well, why don’t you just do that? If this is what you want to do, why don’t we actually, like, get you somewhere that you can accomplish that, instead of this whole loop-de-loop?” And so, luckily for me, I was in the Peace Corps, and I have a lot of people who do work in the international development field.
But I’ve been striving to get into this field for a long time, and so, the truth is you’re gonna have to start at the bottom. You’re gonna need to take a pm role, which is a project management role. That’s, like, where a lot of people begin, and it’s one of the very few industries I’ve seen where this is actually a thing, like, you have to start in something you don’t want to do in order to get to something you want to do. I don’t know what it is. It’s the mentality of the situation, or I don’t know, of the industry, whatever it is. But in even my organization that I work for now, a lot of people who go up through the ranks begin at an internship position.
So I would say taking an internship position is not a bad thing at all, especially in the organization that I work for. You will, if you apply yourself, and you really want to be here, they will promote you, and they’re – my organization is really fond of, like, promoting from within, and so I’ve seen a lot of people who go from intern to pm to the field that they actually want to be in or whatever it may be. But that is, and it sucks, but, like, you’re gonna be a pm. That’s what I would say.
Let’s talk more about the job you have now; you got that referral. What challenges did you face when you reached out? What happened next, and what challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?
So I reached out. So it was interesting because I knew exactly who the person was gonna be and my supervisor, they gave – they gave me the person who this is going to do, and I reached out to them, and I was like, “Hey, I’d love to have a chat about this position.” You know, get that informational interview, and she explicitly told me, “Hey, I can’t do this. You know, this is an active position, and you’re applying for it. I know you’re applying for it.” Because my coworker had given her the heads up.
So I was gonna go into this thing blind, which I rarely do on interviews these days because, you know, usually, you talk to that person and you get a sense of, like, what the job is and what the construction of all this is, and I’d gotten a lot of organizational knowledge from my previous supervisor, so I knew what the company was.
But I did not know what this job was going to be. So I was coming in blind and hot, and I was just like, “Oh my god, I don’t know what I’m gonna do. Just like focus, this is a new thing. Don’t worry about it.” I had questions about, you know, “Is this an HR position? Is this an actual training position?” I don’t know what to do.
So, that was my biggest hurdle going into this, and to be honest, I just kind of relaxed and the job description, after reading thousands of them throughout the years, I just could kind of tell this is something I wanted to do, and this is something I could do. So I just focused on that. Like I know I can do this. Don’t worry about it. You’ll be fine. And I just told myself that a thousand times before the interview happened, and that was it.
And it worked. You went into the interview.
Yeah, I guess so. I mean, yeah.
Yeah, and any other preparation besides chatting with your colleague about the organization and its history? Are there other steps you took before you walked into the interview room?
So I have a weird background. Like, I worked in a workforce program, and I was a job hunter to people, or job developer was in my actual title. So I have been through a lot of interviews, and I’ve prepped a lot of people for interviews. I’m not the best at it, I will say, but my partner is.
She’s actually the one who I would send people to to prep. We used to work in a – it’s a long story. Anyways, so she has a lot of good techniques about preparing for interviews, and she told me, “Hey, write down all of your answers and read them out loud,” and so we do this ritual a lot now. So I write down my answers, like the basic ones, like who you are, like why you want this job. Also, you’re looking at the job description. If there’s a certain point that you know you need to get to or something that seems prevalent, you write down the answer to that. Like how do I know how to do this?
And then you just say them out loud, and you say them out loud – we like rehearse. So I’ll, the day before, I’ll talk to her, and she’ll ask me the questions, and I’ll say, and I’ll give my response, and she’ll be like – she’ll tell me, “Oh, you know, be shorter here,” or you know, “Elongate, really emphasize this point.”
And I’ll get mad and throw up both my hands and just be like, “I don’t want to do this anymore. Why is this happening? Like, I hate this job prep. This sucks.” And then she’ll calm me down, and she’ll say, “It’s okay. I know you’re upset because you’re worried about not getting this job.” And then it’s, like, getting all the anxiety out because I’m also just being like, “Alright, it’s fine. I’m gonna get this job. It’s gonna be okay.” And so yeah. That’s what I usually do. I freak out before the job, so I can, like, not freak out on the day.
Alright, and it sounds like you put that on the list of before as part of interview prep. Freak out before the interview, and then be calm when you’re in the room.
Well, Kara would say that’s how I normally do it. I gotta hone in all my normalcy into that interview. So I have to just get all my craziness out before.
Terrific, and any other tips that or things that you did before to prepare that helped you, either in the interview or in the conversations afterwards?
So now that we do everything virtual, I made sure since I was working before, I made sure to block off time before and after the interview, so I could just kind of get in the headspace, like, literally a thirty-minute period before the interview and thirty-minute period after to just kind of get in the headspace of, “Hey, I need to calm down,” you know, like, I go out, I get a step away from my computer, and I get a cup of tea, and just sit down. I go over my answers. I just kept on telling myself, “Hey, this is gonna be fine.” I put on nice clothes. I know this is probably a big thing now since we do a lot of virtual interviews; I make sure that my background and, like, my camera is all set up and that the lighting is right. I’m a bald man. There’s a lot of reflection coming off this dome. So, like, make sure I don’t look ridiculous in the shot, and, you know, get it ready and sit down, and really just like prepare myself.
And then afterwards, I just I don’t think about it. I tell myself, “There’s nothing to think about. It’s over. It’s totally done.”
I wanna change gears, Dan, and in addition to your job search, I mean, you had been looking for work for a while, and about a year and a half ago, you started a podcast about looking for work, and you were out of work at the time. The show is still on the air. It’s called Will Work For Podcast, and you talk very candidly about your past job searches on that program.
Did that show help you find this job?
I wouldn’t say that this – well, that would be not giving people enough credit. I would say yes, in portion. Like we’ve talked to a lot of coaches, and hiring managers, and people throughout this whole year and a half, and it has opened my eyes. It’s given me strategies to use. It’s helped me focus on my life goals. You know, in-taking this information from these other people and hearing their processes have helped us start to, like, apply that in my own life. I don’t always do such a great job of it.
But yeah, I would say that it’s definitely changed my way of thinking in a lot of ways about how to reach out to people, how to, like, set right life goals. Even when I was looking for the job, and I did actually get the job offer, it was like, how do I actually negotiate? What do I do? I’ve talked to so many people from across so many different sectors that it has given me a more understanding of how to approach this process. Which is just nerve-racking, and you want to die all the time. But it’s just been a very good insight.
Was it difficult to talk about your own job searches on your program?
I guess. I don’t know. I’m a pretty candid person, and I just, I’m all about, like, getting it out there. You just gotta get it out to me. Because if you let it get in you or, like, if you box it up, it just consumes you. So part of the process in the beginning, really, was me and my podcast partner, Brendan, we were both out of work, and we just had all these questions, and all this, you know, anger, confusion, just all of the feelings going doing this. And we had done it so many times that it just it seemed so unending at some times, that we just, one of our questions was just like, “How do we get this done? How do we talk to somebody that’ll make us feel better about this?” And yeah. So that’s kind of what it all came out. So I just kind of channel that all the time.
What’s the best job search advice you’ve heard on your show?
The best job search advice. The best job search advice – one of the things I keep – I literally quote to Brendan all the time is when we talk about, you know, finding your tribe, and we’ve heard people talk about this in different fashions a lot in different ways. It’s about finding those people who help prop you up and help push you through this hard time in your life. You know, and sometimes you need to go seek those people, whether they be mentors, whether they be – whoever they may be, people in your life, people outside of your life.
You have to be a little brave, and try to find those people who can prop you up and get you to where you need to be, and some of that, some of the times, it’s about having hard conversations with people who you know, to say, “Hey, I want this and I need your support on this, and I need your support in this specific way.”.
And because I know, I think a lot about, you know, people who don’t have – we talk a lot to people about, you know, going on LinkedIn and expanding your network. But I think a lot about those people who come out of high school, who don’t have, you know, the network and the support system that I might have and others might have. Whether it be wealth or just people in their lives to give them that guidance, and it’s not easy to do that. But I think if you could start at small steps and really find and really target those people who can do that to you and prop you up and support you, then I think things will be better. They can help with that guidance.
And finally, Dan, what’s your number one job search tip?
Number one job search tip and this is something that’s taken me a long time to figure out is, and you, and Mac, you’ve told us this before, it’s, like, don’t focus on the job descriptions and finding the jobs. I think that’s the biggest thing, and what I mean by that is I used to spend an incalculable amount of hours on Idealist, on Ziprecruiter, and all of those sites, all the sites that everyone’s already heard of to find the jobs. And I was just like, there’s – a friend of mine used to give me a piece of advice, and it was, like, you need to apply to fifty jobs a day, and I really ingrained that in my head for a long time.
This, like, if I’m not applying to five or ten jobs a day, then I’m failing essentially, and that’s just quantity over quality, and I’ve – it’s taken me a really, really long time to learn this. But it’s more about finding the places and the organization that you want to work for and then digging into it and getting that job. Because that’s the only way that you’re, A, gonna be happy, and B, gonna put the amount of effort that it takes to really get that job.
Because you know, Mac, you’ve told me this before, a lot of other career people have told me before, it’s about networking, and, like, really letting people know who you are in order to get that job that you want. And that takes a lot of time, and if you’re on those job boards and you’re just applying to those jobs, you’re really just taking away time from what you actually should be doing.
Well, Dan, thanks for sharing your story. To learn more about Dan Thornton’s job search, visit macslist.org/stories.
And check out the Mac’s List website for dozens of other success stories.
I also hope you’ll check out Dan’s excellent podcast Will Work 4 Podcast and listen to him and his co host Brendan.
On the second Friday of every month, we add a new interview with a Mac’s List reader who has found a dream job. Go to macslist.org/stories.
In the meantime, thank you for listening to today’s bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job.
This show is produced by Mac’s List.
This is Mac Prichard. See you soon.