Networking is a valuable skill to take into a job search, but only if you go into it with the understanding that not everyone you spend time with will have a job to offer you. On this bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job, Alex Dolan and I talk about how talking to others helped him during his job search, even if it was just a friendly conversation. Alex also shares why he hired a career coach, how to do research on your dream job, and why putting yourself out there is the most important thing you can do. Learn more about Alex’s career history below in this installment of our Success Stories series.
Find Your Dream Job, Bonus Episode 45:
Networking During COVID-19: Alex’s Dolan’s Job Search Success Story
Airdate: October 4, 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 Alex Dolan. He’s the senior director for global outreach and marketing at Global Electronics Council.
Alex Dolan believes in the power of asking for help.
In a story you can find on the Mac’s List website, Alex says he got invaluable support from a career coach and professional groups in his field.
This groundwork helped Alex prepare, so he was ready when the right opportunity presented itself.
Alex, why do you love your job?
I love it because I have a background in the arts, and so as I grew up, I wanted to be doing something creative, and I also wanted to be doing something socially relevant, and this kind of does both of this. So as a marketing professional, I get to flex my creative chops, and the Global Electronics Council is doing something really important for sustainability. I get to be a part of that and drive that mission.
Well, tell us briefly about the mission of the Global Electronics Council.
So, they are formally the Green Electronics Council and now the Global Electronics Council as of this year. They are a global organization that is bringing more sustainability to technology, and that means electronics, things like phones and computers, and copy machines; everything that has an electronic component can be made better for less environmental impact and have less environmental impact, to be ethically sourced. Have, you know, more effective labor practices and more ethical labor practices, and so this, basically, tries to drive that sustainability within the technology sector.
Well, let’s talk about your job search, Alex. Now, you moved to Portland in March of 2020, the very day our state went into lockdown because of the COVID pandemic. What was it like looking for work during those first few months of the pandemic when there were hiring freezes and double-digit unemployment?
It was definitely different from any other search I’ve had, and I would say I was gonna make a joke saying it was very lonely. But the truth is, one of the things that I really liked about coming here is that Portland, I think the demeanor of people is people have been very generous with their time. Even by phone and by Zoom, and it reminds me of when I first grew up in Boston, and Boston was a smaller town when I grew up, and then moved to San Francisco in 2000, and at the time, San Francisco was basically a small town. Oakland hadn’t come up, and San Jose hadn’t come up, and that area hadn’t been the tri-city megalopolis that it’s become, and one of the things that appealed to me about Portland is Portland still; it definitely feels like a city. But it’s small enough that it feels personal, and so when I moved up here, it was strange because all of my conversations had to be remote. But I did feel people were really generous with their time, and I had a lot of friendly people that helped me out.
And was that challenging when those were particularly scary times in the spring of that year and summer? Did you find it difficult to get people to make time to talk to you?
I didn’t find it hard for people to talk to me. But I found like you were saying, there were no, for at least you know, three to five months, you know, there just was a hiring freeze everywhere. So I had to go in with the expectation that the person I was talking to probably wasn’t gonna be offering me any kind of job but just linking me to other people.
How did you manage that change in expectation and keep your morale up during what must have been a difficult period?
I’ve moved several times, and that helped me prepare for it. So from Boston to San Francisco to New York City, back to San Francisco, up to Portland, and through that, I created this methodology of job searching where the first thing I did was just do research on the town and just see who’s – what companies are doing interesting things, and sometimes you can do that work remotely and sometimes it’s better to be in a place to do it.
So I didn’t expect going into it that I would be able to snatch up an opportunity in two weeks. But I started doing the seed work when I was still in California and tried to see what industries were popular. As a marketing professional, you know, I have the ability to – my skill set, what I do for a living can plug itself into a lot of different industries.
So I looked at what industries were emerging. What kind of companies, what size companies you know, what was a small start-up, or you know the Nike or Intels of the world. What was a large corporation, and then you know it’s really easy from the outside to realize, “Oh, Nike’s here,” but you have to really peel back layers of the onion to see what innovative companies are emerging, and not even, you know, not even startups, but established companies that don’t have nationwide buzz yet.
So a lot of my initial work was just research on who’s here.
And how did doing that kind of research help you in your job search? Many listeners, many people might just start sending out applications. But you did the research first. How did that help?
It helped me to identify what I wanted to do and who I wanted to affiliate myself with. And it also, you know, the thing about doing the initial networking and, you know, I don’t discourage anyone from just wanting to throw their applications out there because if the job market’s hot, you take advantage of it. Right? But in the situation that I was in where there was a job freeze, it was good for me to just start getting into the habit of talking to people, and that’s where it helped me. Because I think there’s the whole adage of luck favors the prepared, and so, just by having conversations with people, maybe they went nowhere. In some cases, they’ve, you know, turned into friendships for me.
But at the very least, if you’re, chances are if you’re looking for a job, you don’t have as much contact with people as you would if you had a job, and so it helps mitigate that feeling of isolation just to talk to people, and if you go in with that expectation and don’t expect anything from it, at the very least, you’ve had a good talk with somebody.
One of the groups of employers that you targeted in your search was smaller companies doing innovative work. How did you identify these companies, Alex, and then get in front of their hiring managers?
Some of it was LinkedIn, some of it was word-of-mouth. So these are things that emerge when I talk to people. Some of it was associations. There’s an association that was very helpful to me called the Technology Association of Oregon or TAO, and the folks that run that were very generous with their connections. And so they were also able to point me to things like, for me who’s somebody who’s coming from, in my case, robotics before I go here. But I was interested in seeing what technology companies were emerging. That association or any association that represents an industry you want to work in, I would look for that because they will have visibility into companies that maybe you don’t know about.
Once you join an association like that, what’s the best way to make the most of your membership when you’re doing a job search?
I would say a few things, and I think it’s different now, and hopefully, it will be different a year from now when, hopefully, the pandemic’s behind us. But when I first arrived, it was doing a lot of virtual meetings. So, in addition to TAO, there was a city planning organization. There was just Zoom calls I could sit in and be a fly on the wall and then introduce myself. And maybe after that meeting, if there’s somebody I felt connected to, I could reach out to them on LinkedIn and just say, “hi,” and it wasn’t weird because it was a cold email.
So I think if you were to be able to do this in person when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic, I would just have coffee and lunch with people when I was in New York or when I first moved back or San Francisco. I bought people a lot of coffee, and there’s something about being right in front of somebody and just enjoying the space with them that creates a connection that Zoom does not.
Do you approach those conversations, whether they have been virtually or in-person over coffee, with a specific ask in mind?
I don’t, and that might be different from when I was searching to another type of job market. I feel like if I went in – whenever I’ve gone in guns blazing, it’s never really worked out for me, and the same thing, like, it’s the same thing with me. If somebody comes at me and I feel like they’re trying to get something from me, like it’s a snake oil salesman, it turns me off, as it probably does a lot of people. So I try not to go in with, like, this hustle of “what can you do for me because I just don’t think that really gets you anywhere.
I’m reminded of this. There’s a guy that I met who was doing a similar scouting trip to San Francisco when I was living there, and he just reached out to me and said, “I’m out in San Francisco, I just want to meet some bright people. You want to have coffee?” And it’s like, I knew what he was doing, but it worked. I was like, I have no good reason to say no to that. So I had coffee with him, and I’m still in touch with him. He’s a good guy.
So I think going in with just a human approach and not expecting anything is a good way to go. And I think part of that is, if you are – someone’s either gonna want to help you or they’re not. If they’re just gonna stonewall you, then it is what it is. But if somebody is the kind of person who would want to do something for you, that will come out anyway. And you’ve probably experienced this when you’ve talked to somebody for an hour, and you get to know them, and you like them, there’s that natural inclination of, “Oh, maybe I can do something for this person,” so that will come out, and I wouldn’t push it.
In your article for us, you mention that you worked with Jenny Foss, a career coach here in the Portland area. Why did you decide to hire a career coach?
Part of it – and again, very high praise for Jenny Foss. She’s wonderful. Very generous with her contacts, deep expertise, and just an exuberant energy that, as somebody who, you know, you need to get your spirits picked up if you’re going looking for a job. She really helped with that.
A few different things, the practical reason was I wanted somebody who knew Portland. Part of it was I wanted somebody to make introductions. But I wanted somebody to give me a landscape in the same way that if you’re hunting for a home or apartments, it may help you to have a realtor drive you around the neighborhoods just so you know what the area’s like. Having a career coach that knows Oregon and Portland really helped me just understand the business community here, how it worked, who was in it.
I think, too, for somebody who might be more junior or has never hired a coach before, they can help you formulate a methodology to your search that you may not have thought about. For me, I’ve done a lot of this, so I didn’t need that as much. But somebody like Jenny can help you out with that, as well.
What advice do you have for a listener who is moving to a new city where perhaps they’ve never lived and may not know anyone?
I would say start your research before you’re going unless you’re one of those people who are moving for a job and have to be there two weeks from now. But assuming that you’re planning on moving somewhere, just start doing the research beforehand. There’s no reason you can’t at least get a general sense of the city. If there are things you like to do, like, for example, I’m a writer, as well. So tapping into things like the local writing community, in this case, Powell’s obviously does wonderful things. Finding out, so there are activities; if you like running, I mean, there are ways to meet people. For me, I have a dog. I go to the dog park a lot. I met a ton of people last year that I’m now friends with at the dog park. Just think of things that you like to do. And is there a group you can do them with? That’s the easy way to meet people. I would also say that – you know, I’m gonna stop there.
What do you think was the key to the success of your job search, Alex?
A few things. I think it again goes back to luck favors the prepared, where if you do – the way I search for jobs, I end up having to talk to a lot of people and apply for a lot of things before I find a job that is really a match with me. And if you are like that person, just doing leg work, and honestly, part of it is the practical logistics of getting you in front of somebody that might hire you, and that isn’t always gonna be easy to find. I mean, you might find somebody you really like, but they may not have a job to give you, or that job just got filled. You know, you really have to meet a lot of people to find that opportunity that’s gonna work with you.
So a lot of just do the work, and the other thing is there is a physiological component, and it gets underplayed. But there is a certain amount of confidence. Like the thing that turns everyone off if they’re hiring is if somebody comes across as needy, and it’s horrible because we all need jobs. We all need a sense of purpose, and it’s a lot easier to have that confidence when you already have work, and if you don’t, there’s a little hunger that comes across when you’re talking to somebody, and that, it’s hard to get over.
But the more you talk to people, the more social interaction you have, I think the more you can overcome that. So when you get in front of that right opportunity, you kind of have your mojo back where you can present yourself as your confident self and not feel like you’re, you know, trying to pick someone’s pocket.
What didn’t work in your job search?
I’d say, if you’re looking for career coaches, be very mindful of who you work with. Jenny was wonderful. I talked to another career coach who I worked with who I will not mention by name but was not very helpful to me at all, and so I would say it’s like, you know, it’s sort of like dating kind of. But talk to a lot of career coaches and see what they offer and see who you gel with. Call their references and see what they have to say about them. Some people will be enormously helpful to you, and some people will not, and so, especially if you’re gonna spend money for the coach, just go into it making sure you’re comfortable with what you’re getting.
Finally, Alex, what’s your number one job hunting tip?
I would say the number one is to do the leg work. Yeah, I mean, the more you put yourself out there, and I know if you’re listening to this and you’re looking for a job, I have absolutely been where you are. I know it can be an ego-shattering experience. But the more you get into the habit of putting yourself out there and just don’t expect the job, just get out there and start talking to people. Just have coffee. Just enjoy being in the moment with somebody. That leg work that you’re gonna do will pay off. If not now, the sixth person that’s connected to that person that you just had coffee with will turn into something.
Thank you for sharing your story, Alex. To learn more about Alex Dolan’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.
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.
Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson writes our social media posts.
Our sound engineer is Will Watts. Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show.
Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.
This is Mac Prichard. See you soon.