Networking is crucial, not only when you’re looking for a new job, but even before you find your first one. Your college professors can be a great resource for networking with leaders in your chosen field of study. On this bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job, Elizabeth Mead and I talk about how she used LinkedIn and her university contacts to find companies that reflected her values. Liz also shares how she began fostering connections at a young age and how she used those connections to get informational interviews that ultimately led to her dream job. Learn more about Liz’s career history below in this installment of our Success Stories series.
What do you do for a career? Who do you work for?
I am an account coordinator for Maxwell PR + Engagement.
How long did it take you to find this job?
I started my job hunt about three months before graduation. My interview process with Maxwell took about a month and a half, and I started at Maxwell a week after graduation.
How did you find your job? What resources did you use? What tool or tactic helped the most?
I utilized all the contacts I gained throughout my undergraduate career – mainly my professors, former and current supervisors and professional contacts. I researched my contacts’ connections and facilitated several networking interviews throughout Portland this way. After meeting with someone from Maxwell, I applied for an account coordinator position and started my interview process.
What was the most difficult part of your job search? How did you overcome this challenge?
The most difficult part of the search was knowing that most of the applications I sent out were never read. As frustrating as that was, I knew that the personal connections I was making through my networking interviews were much more likely to lead to a job opportunity, and focused on creating more connections rather than sending in more applications.
What is the single best piece of advice you would offer other job-seekers?
Networking is far superior to sending in a large number of applications. It is also worth noting that in-person interviews are much more natural and informative than over-the-phone interviews. If you can meet in person, you should.
Why do you love your job?
I love the amount of collaboration at Maxwell and the amount of opportunity. We don’t have set roles the way other agencies do. If there is something you want to try or explore more of, you usually are able to.
Find Your Dream Job, Bonus Episode:
Fostering New Connections To Grow Your Career, with Liz Mead
Airdate: July 8, 2019
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, find 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 professionals find fulfilling careers.
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 Liz Mead. She’s an account executive at Maxwell PR.
Liz Mead believes networking is crucial to landing any job. And she thinks this is especially true when you’re right out of college.
Liz says she was able to talk with leaders in Oregon’s public relations industry because of the connections she made as a student.
And one of those conversations led to a job interview at Maxwell PR where she works today.
Liz, welcome to the show.
Hey, thanks for coming to the studio. You’re an account executive at Maxwell PR, it’s an agency here in Portland, Oregon. Liz, why do you love your job?
Oh, well, there are a few reasons, the first and foremost though is the people that I work with. I’m a big people person and what gets me out of bed is the connections and the relationships that I have. And everyone that works at Maxwell, we all come in, we give 100%, we try new things. It’s definitely not an agency where you just do one thing. Every day looks very, very different, and it keeps it exciting; it keeps me busy and keeps me growing.
Well, you’ve been at Maxwell PR now for about 2 years. Why is it a good fit for you, Liz?
For many reasons. First and foremost, there’s never been a day where I’ve come into work and I haven’t felt like I’ve learned something new. Our agency’s really great about letting you try anything that piques your interest, whether that’s inside traditional PR or outside of it and that’s something that was really important to me.
It’s also a midsize agency; there are about 35 of us and that’s something that I knew I wanted to go into when I was looking for a job, rather than a larger agency and it just keeps it to where we all know each other, we’re all friends, we all have those unique relationships with each other, and keep building on those as we build on our careers.
I also do like that it’s in food and bev and particularly that we work with sustainable brands. That’s something that’s increasingly important to me, especially as some of the issues of the day come up, and so having clients that I can really stand behind and get behind is a huge part of why I like working at Maxwell.
Now, when you started at Maxwell, your position was account coordinator; you’ve been promoted and you’re now an account executive and that happened after about a year. Tell our listeners how that happened, Liz. What was the process? How candid were you with your boss about your goals and interest in moving up? What did you have to do to make that happen?
Sure. I think that’s a process that definitely looks different for everyone. For me, I am the type of person that tends to be quite direct. I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut if there’s something that I want to talk about and so when it came to around a year, I started just having a conversation with my manager about it and I was really candid with her.
I told her, “This is something that’s important to me that we just talk about as a continued part of our growth process.” I let her know that I didn’t expect to get promoted right away but that I wanted to start taking a look at that job description and really identifying areas where I could be stronger or grow in, with that path in mind. And that’s something that we’ve kind of continued on with. And letting her know that that was important to me early definitely led us to have the kind of relationship where we talk a lot about where I could grow, where it makes sense for me to grow, when it makes sense for me to delegate, and it just made that promotion happen really naturally rather than, kind of, going in and demanding it. It was more of a process and a way that we grew together, to get there.
Well, let’s talk about your job search because, again, it’s been just over 2 years since you started work at Maxwell PR. How did you find out about that first job?
Sure. I did a lot of research when I was still in school. I knew that I wanted to go to Portland; really I knew that I wanted to stay in the Pacific-Northwest so I did look at Seattle and San Francisco as well, but Portland was the goal. I knew that loved this city and that I wanted to be here and so I just started going through professors’ LinkedIns and making those connections, asking them to introduce me, and a big part of that was not only learning more about the agencies but trying out whether or not they would be a fit for me. I knew that there were certain things that I really wanted in a job.
I wanted it to be close to my values and have a community-oriented part of it, a sustainable aspect to it, and so really kind of weeding out what worked for me but also where I could grow most and help the agency was a big objective as I went through that process. And so when I ended up having my informational interview with Maxwell, I’d gone on a few by that point and I had some questions under my belt that I knew I wanted to ask, and that really helped me identify whether or not it was a fit right off the bat and then also just to be excited about it. I think that that’s a component a lot of people forget about but showing excitement about the agency and what you’d be doing there and showing people that you would be a fit with that culture is so important when you’re having those conversations.
You had a short list of cities, you knew the field you wanted to be in, public relations, and you spent some time looking at LinkedIn accounts for your professors and other university contacts to see who they knew in companies that reflected your values and served clients that interested you.
How did you know to do all that, Liz? It’s so impressive.
I’ve always been a people person and just building those relationships was always important to me and even after I’ve entered the workforce, I still continue to try to network when I can and go to Alumni events. I’m a big believer that you can’t know too many people and if you just treat those conversations as conversations instead of interviews or high stake situations, it comes off a lot more natural and it’s always tended to serve me well.
When I was in college I really built up my connections through that. I did a lot of activism work and community-minded work and just got really used to cold calling or cold emailing early on. I think that that can be very scary but it is a really important skill to build up early and, you know, the worst thing that can happen is somebody doesn’t email you back and so I think just keeping that in mind and really driving forward, knowing that there was an end goal and that these are just people and that it’s all just going to…you know, the worst thing that can happen is you have a bad coffee date and that’s okay.
I want to press you a little bit about this because I see people struggle with learning how to look for work and as you tell your story, you’re doing so many things well. How did that happen? Did you go to the career services office? Did you have a mentor who coached you? Were there peers at the University of Oregon where you studied who took you aside and said, “You should consider doing this or that”?
That’s a great question; it was absolutely a combination of things. I think a big part of it for me was I started working really early, you know, babysitting at 12 and then had my first job at 15 and I have always worked. I worked full-time through college and I’ve always worked in customer service so really getting used to having those conversations there really helped me build up my speaking skills but I’m also a huge researcher.
I’m a big planner, very rational-brained and so whenever I’m approaching a situation, it starts with research. I listen to a lot of podcasts, I listen to your podcast, I read a lot of different job sites and just advice, questions to ask, things that you could look for, things that might happen, and I know that my strength is in talking to people.
I know that on email, I think I’ve gotten better at this over the years, but I can come off a little cold on email. That’s definitely a harder platform for me so I knew if I could get in front of people and just have a conversation, that’s where I would do best. And so, that became my goal and that’s what I did and so when I started coming up and doing informational interviews, I tried to really make sure I could do them in person if at all possible. Over the phone is the next step but I really found my success to be in person.
Even the phone interviews that I had, even when they went well, they never went as well, and so being kind of honest with myself about where that strength lied definitely aided me. And then as I talked to people, the first few interviews were always a little awkward but you learn quickly what questions to ask and even just picking up those cues of, how long is too long? Or, is a noisy coffee house as good as meeting in a conference room at the agency? And kind of learning where you feel comfortable. That, I think, aids you a lot more.
How did you decide that public relations was the field for you? Because looking at your LinkedIn page, I see you were a double major, public relations and political science. Why did you decide to move ahead with a career in public relations? At least for now.
Sure, it’s actually…it was not that easy. Political science was my love for sure, that was my love major and then I picked a rational major and that’s just how I’ve always done something. It’s like, I get to do one passionate thing but I have to do a rational thing, too.
I should add that I was a political science major, too.
Oh, so you know.
Yes, I know what you’re talking about.
I loved it, if I could have just been a political theorist, I would have absolutely adored that. And I did a lot of activism work and kind of geared myself up for that and I actually focused in nuclear weapon proliferation. That was my area of expertise and I did think that I was going to go forward in that and build a career in that. And I got to my senior year and I was already burnt out and I just said, you know, this just isn’t right for me.
And so I switched gears a little bit. I’d done a few political science internships, activism-based internships, and so I thought, what the heck? Let’s do an internship that’s a little bit more traditional PR and see how that fits and I just found it worked for me. And coming out of college, instead of focusing on the area I wanted to go into, which is what I think a lot of people do, is you figure out if you want to go into healthcare or in house versus agency or food and bev or tech and instead of that, I tried to focus more on the values I wanted to have in the company I worked for. Things, like not being pigeonholed into a particular rule but given areas to grow and having a little bit of leadership in autonomy, is really important to me, so I wanted to look for agencies that fostered that.
Those are the kinds of questions I would ask people when I met them, is, you know, what is that culture like? Is it very top down or is it more fluid? Is teamwork celebrated or is it more about those individual wins? And because those were what was most important to me, it left a lot more room to explore different areas, and food and bev wasn’t my first choice.
I should add, that’s food and beverage.
Food and beverage, yes. It wasn’t my first choice and I ended up loving it and you know, even after 2 years, I still love what I do every day and I think it really is because of those values, of the autonomy that I have, the room I have to grow and so I guess that’s, you know, just a piece of advice that I can give, is if you just kind of focus more on what actually makes you happy day to day rather than the type of material you might be working on, that can you give you a little bit more wiggle room when you’re looking at different companies.
Liz, what didn’t work in your job search?
You know, I submitted a lot of applications and I never got a call back from anyone I didn’t have a networking interview with and I don’t think…I think that there are so many people out there and I think being in the agency now and having been on the other side of that table a few times, you realize people are so busy and they don’t have time to look at your materials so much of the time. And I think that if you just submit a cover letter and a resume, no matter how good it is, at that entry level, a lot of time I think it just gets looked over. Not because it’s not good enough or not because you don’t have the skill set but because people just don’t have the time to review them.
I think remembering that you’re not going to hear back from every agency and a lot of time it won’t have to do with you. It’ll just have to do with their capacity and that definitely was a learning experience for me.
As you tell your story, I’m hearing that you found that people were willing to meet with you. It took some effort to set up those appointments but was there an agency that you had set your heart on that you couldn’t get in an informational interview at?
No, I don’t think there was. Whenever I was doing the emails, and it’s been a while, so there were plenty I didn’t hear back on, but one I hadn’t set my heart on anyway. For me, it was more exploratory and there were agencies that I thought I was really going to love and then I’d have that informational interview and realize that it wasn’t a fit for me so that did happen, absolutely. But whenever I asked someone to meet with me, I’d always try to give them a time base so you know in the next couple of weeks, for example, because I found that if you left it too open-ended, they’ll flag it, leave it in their inbox, and then forget about it a month later. I have absolutely been guilty about that, you know, at work, for sure.
I think having, kind of a clear deadline but then outside of that, really just whatever works for their schedule and saying, “I’d love to meet with you in person but I understand if you can only have a phone call and I’d still just appreciate that.” And just being appreciative of their time, acknowledging that they’re taking time out of their schedule to meet with you, first and foremost, I think, really makes people want to meet with you. And over the emails I have received as well, those are the ones where I’m like, I’m going to fit this into my schedule because you know, they clearly know that I’m busy, they’ve had that thought process, and they still want to meet with me on my terms and I appreciate that.
What’s your number one job hunting tip, Liz?
It’s not to worry so much about the work at the time. Worry about whether or not you can see yourself there long-term, worry about whether you can see yourself actually getting along with your coworkers, working well in that team. Because there’s going to be so many times when you don’t love what you’re working on, the project isn’t interesting to you or it seems methodical or whatever. You’re not going to love every part of your job but I guarantee you that what will keep you coming in the door is if you love the people you work with. And so really just try to imagine yourself in that culture and that workplace and coming there every single day when you’re in those interviews, because that’s what’s going to keep you coming back, is if you actually care about who you’re working with. That’s going to be what makes you want to work harder is if you want to support those teammates.
Pay more attention to those relationships.
Well, Liz, thanks for sharing your story.
You can learn more about Liz Mead’s job search by visiting macslist.org/stories. Check out the Mac’s List website for dozens of other success stories. Every Friday we add a new interview with a Mac’s List reader who’s 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.