Discovering New Career Paths: Hannah Fattor’s Job Search Success Story

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Find Your Dream Job, Bonus Episode 38 : Hannah Fattor

Discovering New Career Paths: Hannah Fattor’s Job Search Success Story

Airdate: March 1 , 2021

Mac Prichard:

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 Hannah Fattor. She’s the development coordinator at Junior Achievement in Portland, Oregon.

Hannah Fattor knows what a difference building a portfolio can make in a job search.

In a story you can find on the Mac’s List website, Hannah explains how she got the experience and the work samples she needed to get the job she loves.

Why do you love your job, Hannah?

Hannah Fattor:

It’s a really detail and story-oriented job, and I really appreciate being able to write grants and be able to write persuasively. To convince people and inform them enough so that they feel moved to give to my organization. And I also really like working as part of a small team because it means that I get to do a huge range of things in my job. I get called into different projects for different departments all the time and it keeps it interesting.

Mac Prichard:

Now you had a different career goal when you set out after college; tell us about that and how you became interested in working in development, especially raising money for nonprofits.

Hannah Fattor:

Yeah, I graduated from the University of Puget Sound with a degree in creative writing and a theatre minor. I really wanted to do dramaturgy work, which is researching the background of particular plays so that you can inform how they are produced and give more information and depth to the actors’ performance or choices made about the sets, or the costuming, or things like that.

I really liked the research aspect of that and I loved theatre but it was really hard to get a job in that field, and especially on the west coast, it was extra difficult. And so I was kind of just working in set construction, and doing some internships, and I started hearing more and more about grants and the importance of grants and getting funding for arts organizations. And so, I started looking into what grant writing entailed, and I thought that it was a really cool opportunity to sell people on why something was important to me and make it important to them as well, and so, I started looking into ways that I could get into grant writing.

Unfortunately, the best way to get into grant writing is to already have written a bunch of grants. So, instead, I started looking for ways to get involved with nonprofits in general, because nonprofit organizations are the ones, for the most part, that need to get grants and have grant writers. I spent some time working as an admin-assistant for an organization called Spoon and got my grant writing experience there, and then was able to transition to Junior Achievement and begin writing grants for them.

Mac Prichard:

When you were at Spoon, Hannah, you were hired as the administrative assistant but you also had the opportunity to write grants, too?

Hannah Fattor:

Yes, I think that was a little unusual. I came into the job being very clear about what I was interested in, which I think helped. I was…in the first interview, I said that I was happy to do admin work and curious about getting experience in that, but that I was also really curious about grant writing, and it took a while but I was able to move into that. They were very accommodating with my interest on that one and, again, it was another really small team nonprofit, so I worked in a bunch of the different departments doing projects for them.

Mac Prichard:

Do you think the small size of the organization made a difference? Sometimes people sign up to work in an organization and they’re told, “Well, you’re supposed to do this. Don’t go outside of your box.” Do you think there are more opportunities when you work in a smaller outfit?

Hannah Fattor:

I definitely think so. I feel like the nonprofit world, too, people tend to wear a lot of hats. It is helpful to get jobs in nonprofits and small businesses if you’re able to do a whole bunch of things. Like, I learned about databases there as well, so I have that skill and learned about website development a little bit. So, I can kind of do a little bit of everything thanks to having that experience with a small team where you don’t have a ton of…experience on a small team, you get to learn a lot from each other.

Mac Prichard:

When you sat down to write that first grant and the ones that followed, where did you turn to for advice? Did you have a mentor, did you look at books, did you get involved in professional groups? How did you figure it out?

Hannah Fattor:

I actually took a grant writing course previously. I think that was in March of 2015. There was a Grants USA course that did professional development and I signed up. And it was just a two-day intensive on how to write grants and where to look for them. And then, a lot of grants will sort of walk you through how to do them.

There’s a lot of grants from organizations that are teaching grants; they’ll almost teach you how to write them as you’re writing a grant. Southeast Uplift does a really great job with this, I’ve done work with them for other organizations just on a volunteer basis and writing a grant to get funding from Southeast Uplift, they walk you through it. There are usually tutorials or webinars that people will hold or meetings that will walk you through the whole process of what information you need to collect, and how you should structure everything, and what is the most persuasive argument.

Mac Prichard:

One of the things that struck me as I read your article for our website is that you appear to have taken a long view. You knew you wanted to break into development and you knew that it would take time to get the experience and the work samples that you needed to persuade an employer to hire you to do this full time. Is that, in fact, the approach that you took, Hannah, and how did you arrive at that strategy?

Hannah Fattor:

It was actually very difficult. I got out of college and I was fully prepared to dive into whatever work I thought was really interesting and I was really excited about. But I realized as I kept running into hiring walls, that it counts to have experience in the field that you’re interested in, and people want to see that you’ve put in the time and the effort to get good at something before they hire you for it. Just because I fully believed that I could write grants didn’t mean that other people would believe that. So, I had to sit back and be patient and keep looking for opportunities to build my skills and prove that I could do this kind of work, and then I could find a place that would hire me to do this work.

Mac Prichard:

How did you figure out what mix of work samples and experiences that you might need to persuade an employer to hire you full-time to do development work?

Hannah Fattor:

I think it was a range of grants and I wanted to prove how committed I was to getting into development. Moving from administration to development, I wanted to prove that I was capable of doing it and excited about it. And so, I volunteered with some organizations, and I still do, doing grant work for them when they don’t really have a lot of funding and just honing my skills in a setting where I’m not being paid for it. It’s not the ideal way to survive but it was a good way to build experience. And I just had a day job and then I was volunteering at these other organizations, giving my grant expertise and honing my writing skills with them.

Mac Prichard:

What advice would you have for a listener that wants to create the kind of portfolio that you put together?

Hannah Fattor:

I think I would say, go looking for organizations that are interesting to you and pretty small and need your help. I’ve done some volunteer grant writing work for the Southeast Portland Tool Library, which is very small and only open three days a week, but has a really good service that they offer to people and has a really good community. So, trying to write grants for them is a pretty good selling point and the community that they have is really great to get to know, and you start just meeting people and getting their experience and their stories and realizing how important that is to grants. Looking around in your community for a need that you can fill, letting people know that you’re interested in grant writing and would like to learn more about it and do it, and I think people will generally, over time, remember that that’s something that you’ve talked about, and start reaching out to you with opportunities.

Mac Prichard:

Your current job at Junior Achievement, it took you about 8 months to find it; was it hard to look for work that long?

Hannah Fattor:

It was difficult. It’s very much a right time, right place, right situation, for getting a job is what I felt. The ones that stick around. I did temp jobs for a while, and while that was super useful to just get experience in various workplaces and get very good at adapting quickly, finding a job that’s more permanent and that I’m going to feel settled in and grow in a particular direction, in this case, development and grant writing, finding that perfect job just takes time and having the patience to wait for the right opportunity and realize what the right workplace is for you and feel like you’re really supported in your role. I think that’s all really key.

Mac Prichard:

I was impressed in your article for us that you mentioned that you told friends and family about your job search and your goal, what you were looking for. How did you find that helped you, Hannah?

Hannah Fattor:

Well, it was super helpful just to get encouragement from people on a basic level. Friends and family were really supportive of my goals and encouraged me to keep applying for these kinds of jobs. I would get burned out for a week and then get right back to it, and people saying, “Oh, have you made progress with that?” Or, “Where are you with grant job searching?” It was really nice to have that, and then on another level, them just kind of keeping their ears out for me and seeing what opportunities were out there and passing them along.

There’s a really great network community that you’re just already a part of with the friends that you have and the family that you have, and I think using that as a good starting point to network in general with other people and professionals that you have in the industry that you choose to go into.

Mac Prichard:

In addition to letting people know what you were looking for, you also shared your resume and your cover letters with others as you drafted them. What difference did that make, Hannah?

Hannah Fattor:

I have some friends who are very good writers and very experienced in editing and cover letter work. And the feedback that they gave me was super helpful. Having an outside perspective to read how you’re selling yourself and encourage you to talk yourself up in places where you’re not really diving into what you really have to offer, that’s really helpful and really encouraging. People believing that you can do that work and wanting you to succeed, and indicating where you can tell people all about your accomplishments and successes is really nice to hear.

Mac Prichard:

As you look back at your search, what do you think was your biggest challenge?

Hannah Fattor:

I think my biggest challenge was the fact that I was moving into a pretty competitive job description. Grant writing is not everybody’s favorite thing to do but the people who do it are really dedicated to their work and generally stay in that field for a really long time. So, I knew grant writers and had worked with grant writers that had been in the same job with the same company for decades. And so there’s not a lot of turnover in that and I think people think it’s risky to hire somebody who’s really new to grant writing when they have somebody who they know is experienced in it.

I also definitely believed that I could get into this work and was just kind of committed to doing it.

Mac Prichard:

How did you overcome that challenge, as you addressed that?

Hannah Fattor:

Persistence for the most part and just being very clear on what I was able to do and what I knew I still had to work on, but how I was going to overcome that lack of experience.

Mac Prichard:

When you reflect back on your job search, Hannah, what didn’t work?

Hannah Fattor:

I think what didn’t work for me was applying for job descriptions that were pretty general or just kind of adjacent to the work that I wanted to do. So, sometimes the way something was worded, it would sound like it was in fundraising or grant writing, but then it would turn out to be in events. So, I feel like I wasted my time and a little bit of other people’s time on interviews where I hadn’t realized what the job was just by the way that they described it in the original posting. So, I guess, trying to be very specific and look more closely at what job descriptions read and who had written them, and how clear they were with what the job was going to entail.

Mac Prichard:

Finally, Hannah, what’s your number one job hunting tip?

Hannah Fattor:

My number one job hunting tip is to let people know that you are job hunting. Just sharing that out there in the world and having, even a vague idea of some of the things that you would like to do, I think that could really help you focus on what you want to accomplish. And it can also let people know that you’re looking and have you in the back of their mind when they hear about opportunities.

Mac Prichard:

Well, Hannah, thank you for sharing your story.

To learn more about Hannah Fattor’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.  Go to macslist.org/stories.

Thank you for listening to today’s bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job.

Some fields are naturally more difficult to get into, and require more than a professional resume or great cover letter. There are jobs that can’t be won without experience in the field. But how can you get that experience before you get the job you want? On this bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job, Hannah Fattor shares how she used volunteer work to hone the skills she needed for the position she wanted. Hannah and I also discuss how working at a nonprofit gave her the opportunity to begin getting the experience she needed to build her portfolio. Learn more about Hannah’’s career history below in this installment of our Success Stories series.

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What do you do for a career? Who do you work for?

I initially wanted to work in performing arts organizations as a dramaturg, which is a position that relies heavily on research and writing. My priority was to stay in the Pacific Northwest, though, and as I looked into local dramaturgy jobs, I saw that I would need to gain some administrative experience so I could play many roles within an organization. I took administrative temp jobs for a few years while building sets and teaching at a local children’s theater, and I kept hearing about the importance of applying for grants to fund theaters. Grant writing appealed to me because I like being able to explain a project and why I am excited about it, and grant writing includes convincing people that a cause I care about is worth funding. I began looking for jobs in the broader nonprofit world and gradually gained more experience in grant writing and donor database management in the roles I sought out. I currently write grants and proposals for Junior Achievement as the Development Coordinator, as I have a strong belief in the value of the youth education programs they offer. I also do volunteer grant writing for a couple of small, local organizations with services I believe in supporting.

How long did it take you to find this job?

It took me two years to feel like I had built my administrative, researching, and writing skills enough that I could tackle a job in development. When I felt ready to make the leap into nonprofit development, I spent eight months searching and applying for jobs that included grant writing, donor database management, and communications. I started my job at Junior Achievement in mid-September 2019.

How did you find your job? What resources did you use? What tool or tactic helped the most?

I spent a lot of time searching on Mac’s List for grant writing and development roles. I initially spoke with a few grant writers to get a sense of the industry and how important it was to build my development experience. I also would tell people, if my job came up in conversation, that I was interested in grant writing and development. Letting people know that I was looking for jobs in a specific industry was helpful because almost everyone I talked to, from my aunt to strangers at parties, was eager to tell me about possible contacts they had or jobs they knew of that included grant writing or development. My mom and my friends encouraged me to keep applying and helped me hone my cover letter and resume.

What was the most difficult part of your job search? How did you overcome this challenge?

Early in my job searching, I realized that I had to have the background to prove that I am a capable employee. I got a lot of rejections because I was trying to get my first development job when I only had a small amount of prior experience. I had to be patient and take time to build my portfolio of well-written proposals and examples of my database management skills and funding communications. It was important to have tangible evidence of my value as an employee and coworker. Ultimately, I believed in my own abilities and kept applying to nonprofits that had strong missions that I supported. I was sure I would find a fulfilling, interesting, creative career as a nonprofit grant writer and development coordinator, and my persistence paid off.

What is the single best piece of advice you would offer other job-seekers?

Talk with other people about what your dream job would look like. Even if you do not have a clear idea of the industry you want to work in or a name for the work you want to do, talking about the individual tasks you enjoy can sometimes lead you to a career you had never heard of. There are a lot of job titles and job descriptions, so saying aloud what you want to do with your career can help generate ideas, and other people can help you brainstorm what to search for.

Why do you love your job?

I thrive on a combination of variety and routine. Creating grant proposals involves a lot of creativity within a strict structure, and I like finding ways to answer routine questions while also communicating my passion for a project or organization. As a Development Coordinator, I get to work on small details and with a lot of data, and I have a clear calendar of deadlines, but I also get to build social media campaigns and fundraising communications as opportunities arise. Our organization also puts out an informational podcast that I produce, which has been a wonderful opportunity to build on a hobby I started a few years ago. I work hard to stay connected to Junior Achievement’s mission, too. Having a connection to my work is important because I want that personal passion to come through in the proposals I write.