Preparation should be your number one priority when searching for your next job. But how do you prepare well for a job search? On this bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job, Jessica Ventura shares how she prepared for the interview process by gathering specific questions for her potential employer. Jessica also talks about how to leverage networking to learn more about the needs and opportunities in the position you’re applying for. Learn more about Jessica’s career history below in this installment of our Success Stories series.
Find Your Dream Job, Bonus Episode 59:
Creating a Meaningful Life: Jessica Ventura’s Job Search Success Story
Airdate: December 5, 2022
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 Jessica Ventura. She’s the legislative director for Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan.
Jessica Ventura believes in the power of her network.
In a story you can find on the Mac’s List website, Jessica says the encouragement and advice she received from people who know her well helped her get the job she has today.
Why do you love your job, Jessica?
Yeah, that’s a really great question, Mac. Well, you know, like I talked a lot about in my article, I learned early on that one of the ways that I could find meaning and also create positive change in my own community was really by impacting policies at the systems level and the previous jobs that I’ve had, they all have allowed me to think creatively and strategically about passing legislation, and really, they have allowed me to collaborate with a diverse group of people as well.
I’ve been very fortunate to meet all sorts of people from different backgrounds and have learned something from all of them. In that time period too, you know, I’ve been able to work with legislative members or staff, other lobbyists, and partner organizations, including the secretary herself, and really, when I think about it too, and I step back, you know, not once did I think that as an undocumented student who grew up Portland, that I would get an opportunity to help pass legislation as a career.
And so, I love my job right now, and even previous jobs that I’ve had, too. I have felt respected, seen, and heard, particularly in my current job, which means a lot to me. I continue to feel an immense privilege and responsibility, and just an honor to be able to do this work right now.
Let’s talk about your job search. What was the biggest challenge you faced?
Yeah, you know, it’s kind of, it’s really funny. When I was writing the article, when I was trying to write the responses to your questions because, at the time when this particular position, the legislative director for Secretary Fagan opened up, I actually was not looking for a job. I was really happy working with the Oregon Department of Education. I loved my bosses, and, you know, while it was challenging, navigating COVID and just even seeing the impacts on my own children and being a part of the team making decisions that were impacting them, I was still pretty happy there.
But I think at some point, you know, the position opened up, and something in my gut said, okay, you probably need to look for something else now. It’s been seven years. You have passed a lot of great legislation for the Governor and for the Director. Maybe there’s some other policy areas that you can focus on that would create meaningful change for Oregonians, and I thought, you know, Secretary Fagan is such a dynamic person that I really wanted to go in and help implement her vision for Oregon, and decided to apply and, you know the rest is history.
In your article for us, Jessica, you talked about how it was hard to leave your last job. You accomplished a lot there. You enjoyed your colleagues and your experience, and you talked a moment ago about listening to your gut. How did you know it was the right time to leave?
Yeah, I think, you know, I feel like in many ways I grew up at the Oregon Department of Education, in the same way that I feel that I’ve grown up inside of the Legislature. I think there was a point in time where I felt like I had done all that I could to make the team that I had created the best team I could. I felt pretty accomplished, and I felt like I had enough relationships with people there that I could step away, and I had built a program that would be able to sustain or would be able to, or another person could come in and either improve or, you know, just get rid of it or whatever.
But I just I felt like I had done all the things that I could, based on my abilities to make the greatest impact at the Department of Education, and I felt kind of a sense of peace once I realized that I could take my time to really look for something else, and be more intentional about how I wanted to take my next steps.
So, I think for me, it was just really kind of taking a step back and looking at my career and the seven years that I was there and asking myself, well, am I happy now with all of the things that I’ve accomplished? And if so, maybe it’s now time to look for something else.
In your story for us, you said you were encouraged to see this job posted on several websites. Why was that a positive sign for you?
Well, you know, I don’t know. It’s so funny. Maybe it’s fate, or maybe it’s just things are just meant to happen. But I saw it posted several times on most of my social media, you know, accounts that I have, like LinkedIn, those like personal private job Facebook groups, too, that I’m a part of, and it just kept popping up, and then, you know, I started to realize, oh maybe, maybe that is kind of the next step, and for me to try to make the decision as to whether or not to even apply.
I really had to talk to other people. For one, because I think, as a Latina woman, you know, I have, generally, as Latinas, you have to get a lot of encouragement to apply to jobs, and this particular position really felt like a next-level Legislative Director position. So I needed to find out whether or not I was a good fit, if the skills and the experience that I had would complement the Secretary and her team, and also whether or not the Secretary’s team would be a good fit for me, because it is a two-way relationship.
Tell us more about those conversations with your friends and colleagues in your network as you explored whether to apply for the job or not. What kinds of questions did you put out there, and what kind of information did you get back?
Yeah, you know, I spoke to a lot of mentors. I spoke to a few folks that worked for the Secretary at the time and still do. And really, I just posed a lot of questions about, you know, what are the needs? What is the team like? What is the culture like? You know, as a mom too, and I have two younger kids, I have to juggle the children’s education and really center them in many ways, and so I wanted to get to know whether this really high-profile position would still allow me to continue to be a mom first and foremost.
So a lot of the questions I asked were just really around that. Just tell me about team culture. Tell me about the needs, and then I had a lot of, you know, points to make about my experience in creating systems within the Oregon Department of Education and whether or not that’s something that would be valuable to the Secretary and her team.
And then, yeah, I just, you know, I also called the previous person that had my position, and, you know, I thought it was important for me to hear from that person, too. Just to hear about their perspectives and also to help me and inform myself about, you know, the next steps on whether or not I would apply.
So you were interviewing, in effect, people who were going to be hiring for this job or worked just as much as they would eventually be interviewing you, and I think it’s terrific. How did you know how to do that? How did you learn how to do that? Did someone teach you? Did it come naturally? Tell us more about that.
You know, I’m gonna say something nerdy. But I always have been fascinated with the application and interview process in any of the positions I’ve had, and so, a lot of the skills that I learned about how to apply to positions or how to talk to people about jobs, I really have just Googled everything. I, you know, I when I was preparing, kind of, questions about how to ask the people that I was reaching out to, I would just kind of type in like, you know, how do you do an informational interview? What are some of like the standard questions that you can ask?
And having kind of a set standard of questions then allowed me to tailor the conversation, and I would be able to bring in kind of my own experience and just say like, well, you know, I used to do this. Would this be helpful? But really, just kind of having a set of questions that I would ask people were really helpful.
Once you did apply, you were selected for interviews, and you met with two separate interview panels, and these are often very formal conversations. They happen in large organizations, public or private. How did you prepare for that, Jessica?
Yeah, particularly in state jobs, it can be a little intimidating. So for this position, and even the previous position that I had at ODE, I had two different panels, and for this one, I, essentially, what I did was I looked at my resume. I, again, looked to the internet and found, kind of, the top most common questions that you get in an interview process, and really tried to write out my answers prior to those meetings, and I had those answers with me, and what I have found, even when I was at ODE, applying for different positions, is that those top five questions are used in almost every single organization.
And so, there’s variations of it. Right? But I just found those questions and wrote up some answers, and then when I was being interviewed, I had my notes with me, and if a question was similar enough, I already had my talking points ready and ready to use.
It’s a fascinating point. People wonder how they should prepare for interviews, and your research showed you that the questions and the opportunity to prepare the answers, they’re just hiding in plain sight. They’re available via Google. Aren’t they?
Yes. Yes, they are, which is kind of funny when you think about it.
Well, in addition to the formal interviews, you also met with the Secretary of State and her Chief of Staff. What was your approach to these conversations?
Yeah, you know, for those conversations, you know, the Chief of Staff was in both interviews, and then the final one was with the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary. But for those particular, for that second interview, for me, was really more about showing them my, like, who I am. Right? As a person. My personality and the things that make me, kind of, my authentic self.
So for me, it was really important to talk about things that we all had in common and also talk about sort of the skills that I would bring to the table. But, you know, I really wanted to bring more of a connection because, you know, I’m going to be, or I am involved in a lot of conversations, and so, to be able to get to a place of starting with trust at the very beginning was super important for me.
You have more than ten years of professional experience now. How has your thinking about your career changed since you graduated from college?
Yeah, I think it’s changed a lot. I still remember when I was an intern, senior year of college, my first internship was with Senator Burdick, and I remember just thinking back then, like, oh, I just, I gotta work a lot. I gotta figure out how to make something out of this, and, you know, when you’re at a college, you’re kind of just taught by society that that’s what you need to do. Right? Is that you have to put your career first, and even as an immigrant myself too, I’ve kind of had that mentality of, like, pulling myself by the bootstraps and just really working hard, and working hard will pay off eventually.
I think when I became a mom, my thinking around my career changed a lot. Actually significantly. I started to really think about how do I still feel like I’m making an impact to my community here in Oregon but also make sure that I’m being present for our children. And that’s really hard. It’s really difficult. Because if you don’t have, you know, managers or supervisors or bosses that are really family-friendly, it’s really hard to get to a place to be able to center the children around career. Or even family, whatever type of family you’re creating.
Because I spent so long at the Oregon Department of Education, and people really got to know me, and really I, you know, I grew up a lot at ODE. The first position I had there was right after graduate school, as well, and I already had my oldest son by then, and then, you know, my manager, she’s so great in allowing me flexibility, and particularly as the children have entered, you know, kindergarten, first grade, I really have had to think about how do I structure my day-to-day. So that if I need to be able to go pick up the children or I need to do something around them, that there’s people that will understand that I gotta do what I gotta do, which is be a mom.
Finally, Jessica, what’s your number one job-hunting tip?
Yeah, you know, the number one thing I always tell my friends or folks who are just genuinely interested in interviewing tips is, just go to Google and, you know, look up how to interview. There’s a lot of resources in the internet about like the top questions that, you know, companies will ask you or even the top like five questions that you should be asking your employer. I think folks often forget that this is a two-way relationship, and you want to make sure that you’re also asking questions and posing questions to the interview panel that will help you make a decision about whether or not that position is a good fit.
Well, thank you for sharing your story, Jessica. To learn more about Jessica Ventura’s job search, visit macslist.org/stories.
And check out the Mac’s List website for dozens of other success stories.
On the second Friday of every month, we add a new interview with a Mac’s List reader who has found a dream job. Again, 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 next week.