How to Explain Why You Left Your Last Job, with Andrew Peters

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Find Your Dream Job, Bonus Episode:

How to Explain Why You Left Your Last Job, with Andrew Peters

Air date: December 10, 2018

Mac Prichard:

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 Mac Prichard, founder and publisher of Mac’s List.

To get your dream job, you need clear goals, great skills, and a good network. You also have to know how to look for work.

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 shares how they did it and offers their best job search tips.

Our guest today is Andrew Peters. He joins us from Washington, DC. He’s the associate director at Arabella Advisors. It’s a certified B corporation that works with philanthropic clients to create social change.

Andrew Peters knows the value of relationships. He also says you need a strategy to make the right connections.

In an article you can find on the Mac’s List website, Andrew shares how he asked his LinkedIn connections to give him insights into the job he has now. One of these contacts even forwarded his resume to the hiring manager.

Andrew says it also helped to put himself in the hiring manager’s shoes when he prepared his application. And Andrew said he was candid with interviewers about why he was leaving a previous job after less than a year.

Want to learn more? Join us in the Mac’s List studio now as we talk to Andrew Peters.

Andrew, welcome to the show.

Andrew Peters:

Hi, it’s nice to be here.

Mac Prichard:

It’s a pleasure to have you. Now, as I mentioned in the introduction, you are the associate director at Arabella Advisors.  Andrew, why do you love your job?

Andrew Peters:

That’s such a good question. I love my career, I’ll say, because I get the opportunity, through many different jobs but this one in particular, to feel like I’m doing something in the world that’s creating change.

Especially now, at Arabella Advisors, with all that’s going on in the world and how it can make us, or make me, I won’t speak for everybody, but make me stressed and bite my nails. It’s nice to have the ability to work on solutions.

That’s something that I get to do at Arabella Advisors.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it sounds like a terrific opportunity. Now, let’s talk about your search, Andrew. When you were looking for the job you have now, what was your biggest challenge?

Andrew Peters:

Well, my biggest challenge was one of the things you just mentioned. It was sort of a mental challenge around leaving the job I had with only nine or ten months on my record. I thought, “How am I going to overcome that in this job search? How am I going to prove that I’m not a flight risk?” That proved difficult, a little bit. I sort of thought of and bounced ideas off of people who had done it. I thought of some strategies to address that part of my resume.

Then the second challenge I talk about is just trying to think about the eternal question of what do I want to be doing? What do I want to do with my life? And taking one step in the direction of figuring that out by trying something that I knew I had the skills for but hadn’t really tried before which is philanthropic consulting.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s dig into to both of those points because I know our listeners will be interested. Let’s talk about the first one, Andrew. I think many people may find themselves in that same situation in their career.

They’ve been in a position for less than a year and they see another opportunity and it excites them but they think, “How am I going to get in front of a hiring manager who might think I’m a job hopper or I’m unhappy in my current position and might not be such a great candidate as a result?”

How did you deal with that?

Andrew Peters:

Well, there are a couple of ways. I will never know, Mac, who did not look at my resume or didn’t read my cover letter because they saw that. I do know that a couple of people did; I had a couple of interviews at the time. I think one way I approached it was being head-on in the cover letter itself and saying nothing disparaging at all, ever, about where I had worked.

Just talking candidly about the kind of transition I was looking to make. Talking in aspirational terms about what I wanted to achieve in my current job, how the fit was not right, and how I was looking to achieve that at the organization that I was applying to.

I’d say one thing is just being very candid in the cover letter. Then, to be quite frank, I knew, because that might be a barrier for some people, that I was not going to be successful or  I thought I was not going to be successful unless I had some sort of connection. Some sort of in, somebody could forward the resume or say a good word.

I tried to look for that as well.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so you knew that that question might be front and center for some hiring managers, “Why does this applicant want to make this change?” You dealt with it in a forthright way, it sounds like.

Andrew Peters:

I tried to, certainly. Again, for some, they may have looked at my resume and said, “That’s no good. That’s a red flag.” I had spoken to a couple of people in Washington and I feel like here, I can’t speak for all place, but here it seems that that’s relatively common. That people leave jobs pretty frequently and it seems to me to be a little bit more of a trend.

I spoke with people who had done it. I talked with them about what they had done and they said, you know, no sense in trying to pretend it’s not there. Most hiring managers seem to be understanding that once in a while you get into a job that just isn’t right and are looking to do something different.

I ran with that and I tried to confront it head-on..

Mac Prichard:

Let’s talk about your second point. Getting clear about what you wanted to do next. How did you do that, Andrew? Because we all struggle with that in our careers as we develop new interests and new skills. What worked for you this time?

Andrew Peters:

I think I’m getting to the point where I’m realizing perhaps I’ll always be asking myself what I want to do with my life. For me, it was looking at the job market, looking at things that were available and thinking, what is a combination of something I could do? Something I had the skills to do, that is. Something that I think I might enjoy because there’s no guarantee that you’ll enjoy it but you can take a good guess by asking people what the job is like.

Does that job contribute meaningfully to the world? That was important to me. I looked at those factors and thought, “Gosh, this could work for me. It might not be where I spend the rest of my life…” (I hope my boss isn’t listening to this podcast) “…this might not be where I spend the rest of my life.”

But I was confident at the time, and I’m still confident, that it was the right step and that it was a good step for me. To explore something that had an alignment between the skills I had and something that I felt was going to be meaningful.

Mac Prichard:

I like those three factors that you laid out there, Andrew, because the first one, “something I could do,” many people stop there. They apply for jobs that they could, in fact, do but often they spread themselves a little bit thin. They’re not as successful as other candidates who might also get interviews but have other reasons that drive them besides just wanting to do a job that matches their skills.

I think that was really smart on your part to think critically about that. Andrew, once you found the position you applied for, you talked about this a moment ago, you used your connections to get insight about the organization. Tell us more about that.

Andrew Peters:

I did. I sort of reached…I was in a fortunate position to reach back through my networks to former colleagues and former bosses who had connections to the organization and who knew people who worked there and currently do work here and that was via Linkedin.

I waver on how valuable Linkedin can be sometimes but in this instance, it was very helpful in identifying people that I knew who knew people at my current firm, Arabella. I was able to work through them and ask them politely to facilitate an introduction and they did. I think most people want to see you succeed in this world. Everybody said yes and was able to get some firsthand intelligence as to what the job was.

Then was able to also sort of forward my resume to people who worked within the firm already. Which I think was very helpful. I understand that the job was… that there were many applicants for the job. It was a pretty competitive position and so I think that was very helpful.

Mac Prichard:

One point you make on your article on the Mac’s List website is the person who forwarded your resume was not somebody you knew directly but they were a connection of a LinkedIn connection, weren’t they?

Andrew Peters:

That’s right. Yes, it was. It was a friend of a friend, so to speak, and it was someone I had chatted with quickly on the phone. I said, “If you know the right person and you’re willing to forward it to that person within the firm who’s looking at resumes, that would be really helpful. No pressure, it’s not a hard ask. It’s only if you feel comfortable.”

And that person said, “Yeah, I feel comfortable doing that.” They did that for me and I think that’s something that you’ve actually talked about, Mac, in blog posts and in your book, which was, people are willing to do favors for you even if you think they might not. They’re willing to have an informational interview. They’re willing to help you out in ways that you might not expect.

Even people who don’t know you very well. It helps them, it helps you, and it gives everyone a good feeling, I think.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I certainly have had that experience in my own career. I hear stories like yours from other job seekers almost every day. People who they don’t know particularly well, or maybe they’re someone they met through someone, but these folks are willing to do a small service.

I think that it helps, Andrew, as you did in this instance to have a very specific ask. “Would you be willing or feel comfortable passing my resume along to someone inside the organization?”

Kudos to you for making that ask. Aside from those conversations you had with former colleagues who knew people inside the organization, what other steps did you take during your search for this particular position that helped you be clear that this was the right move for you?

Andrew Peters:

What did I do? I obviously read through the website which is sort of 101, though there’s only so much information you can get from the website. One other thing I did is, I looked at people who had this position. You very generously titled me the Associate Director of Arabella Advisors, though I am one of several associate directors who project manage at Arabella Advisors.

I looked at the other associate directors on LinkedIn and looked at their backgrounds, looked at what they’d done, looked at where they’d gone after Arabella, and sort of got a sense of their career trajectory. In the housing market, you might call it comps. Who is comparable to me in this firm and where do they come from and what are they doing?

I saw a couple of things, Mac. Which was one, people had done quite well. They’d come from great places and gone to great places, but also that I had a differentiation. I was similar to some of those people at that level but I brought skills that were a bit new and different.

I thought, okay so not only might I fit in, but I might also be able to have some sort of a niche within the organization. I think my preliminary assessment is that I’m right. I’ll let you know in a year.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Well, what other recommendations would you make to listeners who want to make move similar to yours, to find a job that they can love.

Andrew Peters:

Yeah, I’ll say two things, maybe three.

One, I don’t know if I put this explicitly in the blog post but it gets really daunting and you can get really down on yourself. I think that…I’m hopeful that if people listen to this, they find some tips and find some tricks but there is one tip or one trick. That’s not to get down on yourself if your job search doesn’t go the way you want.

I’ve had my share of heartaches of not getting positions that I really wanted. I know how that feels. Just be confident in your skills and know that you do have them even if you perhaps don’t get that feedback from the jobs that you want. To remain in that confidence.

To that point, I think that the second thing I’d say is, and we talked about this a little bit already, you can go through job lists or get recommendations for open positions from former colleagues and think, “I could do that. That’s something that I’m able to do.” But it’s not necessarily something that you would be passionate about. It’s not necessarily a good fit for you.

You’re just sort of satisfying the basic requirements for the job. It’s a trap that you fall into when you get desperate in job hunting. I certainly have, where you apply for things that you think, “Oh, I could probably do it” or “I might have to learn a couple of things but I could get there.”

That’s fine to learn things on the job but, I don’t know, I suggest that you take a critical eye to things that you really feel like you’re qualified to do. If you were reading your own resume you would think, “No doubt about it.” That this person could do this job and the things that person doesn’t have are gettable skills or learnable things.

If you don’t have it, just address it head on in either the resume or the cover letter. Say, “I’m looking to gain XYZ skills,” or, “I have a history of building these skills on the job,” etc.

Those are the two things I’d say, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, terrific. Well, we always close our interviews, Andrew, by asking our guest about their number one job hunting tip. What is yours?

Andrew Peters:

My number one job hunting tip. It’s probably to pick a couple of people in your life, people who you worked with or who you worked for, and don’t lose hold of those people. Maybe two or three people and just say, “I am going to get coffee or lunch or drop a text to or telephone call to…” (probably not a telephone call in this age) “to these people on a regular basis.”

Let those people be your sort of bedrock of your network. I’ve certainly let people fall out of my network and just because I didn’t put in the time to build those relationships. If you start early, you can have a really strong bedrock for life.

Mac Prichard:

Excellent advice. Well, thank you for sharing your story, Andrew. Listeners can learn more about Andrew Peters’ job search by visiting macslist.org/stories.

And 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 has found their dream job.  Go to macslist.org/stories.

In the meantime, thank you, our listeners, for downloading today’s bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job.

One of the most difficult obstacles to overcome in a job search is leaving your job for a new one after only a few months of being there. Will potential new employers see you as a flight risk? And how can you overcome the appearance of being a job-hopper? On this bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job, Andrew Peters shares the strategies he used when he left his job after only 10 months. Andrew and I also talk about how to use your network, including people you may not know very well, to get your resume in front of the hiring manager and how to build relationships so that you have connections to draw upon in the future.

Learn more about Andrew’s path to career satisfaction below, where he wrote about his career for our Success Stories series.


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

At different times, I’ve called myself a lobbyist, an advocate, and a policy professional. I started my career working with large philanthropic clients in health and health care, transitioned to a narrower focus on state law and policy for several years, and now am returning to work in philanthropy.

I recently joined the team at Arabella Advisors, a certified B Corporation that works with philanthropic clients to create social change across many sectors, including health, environment, human rights, education, and more. My role as a consultant at Arabella is to work with clients who are interested in making investments in advocacy and policy change.

How long did it take you to find this job?

It took me about about two months of searching to find this particular job posting, and then another three months to go through the interview process.

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

I am based in D.C., and I subscribed to a service called Brad Traverse Job Listings, which is an amazing site for government affairs, policy, communications, and government positions. Most of them are in D.C, but there are listings from all over the country. This is the second job I have found from Brad’s service. The job had also been listed on GlassdoorLinkedIn, and a couple other places.

After applying, I mapped my connections to Arabella Advisors on LinkedIn. I saw that two of my former colleagues were connected to people that had worked at Arabella, so I asked them for a connection to those people. I spoke with one former employee to get a sense of the organization, and a former colleague passed my resume to a current employee.

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

One of the hardest parts of this search is that I had only been with my former job for about 9 months. It can be difficult to explain a short period of employment to prospective employers. There are lots of guidelines out there about how long you need to be at a job before it “looks good enough” on your resume to leave, many of which I had to ignore.

I was honest in my interviews about my reasons for wanting to leave and my intention to find a better employment match. I praised my former employer in interviews, just noting that the role I had was not for me.

Another challenge for me was being realistic with myself about the jobs for which I could solidly demonstrate expertise. Sometimes, you’ll look at a job description, tick through the qualifications, and, whether or not you have the experience to back it up, you’ll think, “yeah, of course I could do this.” That’s a rationalization trap I have fallen into and it has led to a lot of rejection.

This time, I tried to put myself in the hiring manager’s shoes and ask whether my resume and cover letter spoke directly to the experience they were asking for. I admit that trying to get into a recruiter’s head might be a recipe for disaster, but thinking hard about whether a job was really a good fit is an important step.

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

Make sure your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile are all perfect: good design, concise bullets, no typos, and quality content that speaks to the position(s).

Even with a perfect package, job-searching is a stressful and painful process. With each job I applied for I started to imagine what it was going to be like and what I’d do once I got it. I got emotionally invested, and I think that’s pretty natural. But that also means it hurt more when I didn’t get the job. It’s really easy to let your sense of self-worth get run down by rejections, especially if the process takes months or even years. My advice, even though it’s difficult, is to stay confident in your talent and abilities.

Why do you love your job?

I am a week into work at Arabella, and so far I really appreciate the passion that my colleagues bring to their work. They’re deeply professional and very motivated to help clients achieve positive social change. It’s exciting, and feels like a great fit.