Find Your Dream Job, Bonus Episode 49:
Networking Opens New Opportunities: Melissa Erickson’s Job Search Success Story
Airdate: February 7, 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 Melissa Erickson. She’s the director of development at the Saturday Academy. It’s an educational nonprofit that engages young people in hands-on, in-depth STEAM learning by connecting them to community experts as educators and mentors.
Melissa Erickson believes in the power of networking.
In a story you can find on the Mac’s List website, Melissa says that networking allowed her to feel confident in her skills and get job opportunities she wouldn’t have otherwise.
Melissa, why do you love your job?
I love my job because I get to network. It’s kind of a passion of mine, getting to know different people, and in the field of fundraising, a lot of it is just relationship building, and so, I get to go out and, you know, right now, virtually, and meet all different people and chat with them and get to know their passions, and what they support, and tell them about the amazing work of Saturday Academy.
I also get to plan amazing events. We had a really fun Signs of Wine event last night at the STEAM wine bar, and I feel like you get to connect with people, and you get to share your passion and the amazing work that the organization does. So that’s why I love it.
Tell us briefly about Saturday Academy. What do you do day-to-day?
So, Saturday Academy provides after-school classes in STEAM education, taught by experts in the field, to second through twelfth graders. We also have summer camps that have extended hours, also with second to twelfth graders, and we provide apprenticeships in science and engineering that connect ninth to eleventh graders to internships for eight weeks full-time in the summer at companies in Portland, Eugene, Corvallis, and southwest Washington, and they’re all companies that are in the STEAM field so OHSU, Nike, HP, the engineering department at OSU, and the like.
And for out-of-state listeners, HP is Hewlitt Packard, and OSU is Oregon State University, and those are great organizations to be connected with.
How did you find out about this job in the first place, Melissa?
I found the listing on Mac’s List, as well as LinkedIn.
And when you saw the job there, what did you do next?
Usually, when I’m looking for jobs, I save all of the jobs that are of interest to me, and that’s possible on Mac’s List if you have an account, and also on LinkedIn, and then, I set aside time to go back and look over all of the job descriptions of each job I’m interested in, and then, I start crafting my cover letter to fit what they’re looking for, as well as my resume, and then, I just spend an entire day sending out all of my resumes and cover letters to each job.
I want to talk about Saturday Academy. But I’m curious, when you’re doing a job search when you see a job that interests you, do you end up applying every time? Or do some not make the cut?
I don’t apply to every job. It sort of depends on a balance of several things. Do I feel confident in my skills to do the job? Do I know the salary range? I feel like if jobs don’t list their salary range, I’m less likely to apply because I don’t feel like it’s fair to put the time into applying and then find out they don’t pay a salary that fits what I’m looking for.
And also, I look into each organization to make sure that their company culture is positive. I do that through Glass Door, and I, you know, ask around before I apply. Because looking for a job is just as much of a job as actually working, and you don’t want to waste your time applying to jobs that, in the end, you wouldn’t enjoy working at.
So, you moved ahead with the application to the Saturday Academy. Once you sent it off, what steps did you take after that?
Well, normally, I start doing my research on the organization a little bit deeper. I start getting to know their mission statement. Who are the companies that they partner with? What is their impact in the community? And the history of the organization? Because I want to prep for the interviews, and I oftentimes look for people that know the organizations so I can ask them some deeper questions.
Were you able to identify people at the Saturday Academy that either knew who worked there or had connections?
I was able to talk to a few different contacts at corporate companies who knew of the Saturday Academy and their mission and had supported them with funding. I also discovered that my brother-in-law took Saturday Academy classes, and he now works at Tesla. So, that was inspiring to know that they had an impact on his life.
As you had those conversations, what did you learn, and how did you apply that information to your candidacy?
Well, I learned a little more about the impact of the organization in the community, and I found out they’ve been around since 1982. They’re a pretty well-known name in most households for Portland natives. My husband knew of them immediately and said, you know, everyone knows about Saturday Academy who grew up here because they have been serving the community with innovative STEAM classes outside the school hour for thirty years.
And I found out that their executive director, Jackie Wirz, was originally the dean at OHSU and that she was an amazing person to work for. I found out from funders about the great work that they’ve been doing to impact their community. So, that really inspired me to want to work at Saturday Academy.
Reading your article for the Mac’s List website, you talked a lot about the importance of networking, both in this particular search and in your career. Why do you think networking is so important, Melissa?
I think networking is so important because living in a city like Portland, which can be quite small – it feels almost like a town compared to where I grew up in Philadelphia – everyone knows each other, or they know someone, who knows someone, and that’s really part of why people get jobs here. I feel like it gives you a leg up if you know people in the community because you’re not just a name on a paper. When you apply, you have more deeper connections to the organizations you’re applying to.
Your network can also tell you about job openings that aren’t posted yet, which is actually super beneficial because sometimes, by the time a job is posted, they may already have someone internal that’s applying, or it’s a very popular position, so once it’s posted, they’ve already got enough applicants, and so finding out about jobs before they are even posted is super beneficial.
Also, it just helps to have great references. If you feel like you’ve kind of extended your references from past jobs and you want to have someone in the community working in a different industry, that you’ve worked with on a project or, you know, they can provide a different background on your work with them, that’s great for references.
And they can introduce you to other people, and that’s what’s amazing about LinkedIn is that if you know someone, they have also a long list of connections that you may not know yet, and that can introduce you to more people in the industries you want to pursue jobs within or, you know, it’s kind of a connection to other people who have job opportunities for you.
Networking is a skill that may not come naturally to many people. How did you learn your networking skills?
Sort of self-taught. But I used to be really shy, and one of the things that got me out of my sort of shell was traveling the world and having to be the only person in a hostile or, you know, trying to navigate a new city, and I was forced to walk up to strangers and ask for directions or make new friends. And so, that really helped me, and I know that’s not something that everyone can access. But I think putting yourself in new situations is a positive challenge for someone who is an introvert and wants to learn how to network.
If you look up networking groups with sort of focus on women or focus on people in your industry, that’ll give you sort of an opening when you attend because you know that you have a connection with those people because of, you know, a shared interest.
And I usually look for the person in the room who isn’t talking to anyone. Because I still have a hard time walking up to groups of people who are all in conversation already, and there’s always someone, you know, over by the food or standing on their own checking their phone. I usually just try to walk up to them and strike up a conversation.
You have to get really good at small talk, which I know some people are uncomfortable with. But I think asking where people grew up, or their favorite sports team, or favorite band, or favorite restaurant in Portland can help you open the conversation and then lead into deeper stuff, like the work that they’re doing and how you could possibly find a job or any of that.
And then I think, you know, it doesn’t stop at networking. You have to keep up with those connections. Exchange business cards, get their LinkedIn and keep in touch with them. Because you may meet a bunch of people at an event, but if you don’t follow up, it won’t really lead to any connections down the road that help you with getting a job.
In addition to networking, another skill you talked about in your article for us that made a difference in getting your job at Saturday Academy was practicing before interviews. What kind of practice do you typically do before a job interview? And did you do anything special before you went to talk to the people at Saturday Academy?
Well, the first thing I do is research the organization. Because they want to know that you know who they are, what they do, what their mission is, and it’ll help you develop the questions you ask them in the interview, and that is just as important as the questions they ask you. Because it shows that you really put some thought into the job. So, number one is do your research.
Number two, and this is something that I learned from my husband, who works for the state of Oregon, is a system called SOAR. Where, you know, every interview they ask you, tell us about a time when, and you have to come up with an experience in your life, and they’re kind of hard to come up with on the spot. So, SOAR is a way of framing your responses which, it’s an acronym for Situation, Opportunity, Action, and your Response.
I learned from actually a training on interviewing that – write out of a few different experiences you’ve had that were positive or negative, and you learned from them – following that formula. Be prepared so that when they ask you questions, you’ve already got a few experiences in your back pocket, and it makes it easier, so you’re not reaching in the moment and feeling flustered, and also, practice with someone you know.
My husband and I, when we’re preparing for interviews, will practice talking about ourselves, coming up with your elevator pitch about who you are and what your experiences and what you bring to the table, and just going over those questions with him has really helped me feel more confident when I go into an interview.
So, you were doing the networking, you’re practicing before your interviews in general, but in particular, before Saturday Academy, you’d send in your application. What happened next, Melissa? They called you in for an interview. And how did that process go?
It actually was very fast compared to other job processes I’ve had. So, they had me do an interview over the phone with Jackie, the executive director, and then she invited me back to have an interview the next day with the board, with a few board members, and then after that interview, she asked me if I would meet with the entire board and the staff for a third interview, and then, that happened within three to four days, and then she asked me to meet her for coffee and offered me the job. So, it was actually one of the quickest sort of processes I’ve gone through. Sometimes, I’ve had upwards of five to six weeks worth of interviews with one job before I was hired, and this one, she said she felt really confident about me and didn’t feel the need to interview that many other people.
How did you prepare for all those conversations, particularly in such a short period? It sounds like it unfolded over the course of a week, and those are very different situations. One-on-one coffee is one setting, but meeting with the full board of directors of an organization is a very different situation. What kind of steps did you take to get ready for those conversations?
Well, like I said, knowing as much as I could about the organization and their history was the most important for me. But also, I knew that they were gonna ask a lot of questions about my skills in fundraising since I’m the director of development, and so, I actually talked to my previous supervisor, who was the director of development, about the skills that she has in that role and what she thinks my experience is and how it would apply to this role, and she helped really boost my confidence in myself, and the work that I had been doing at Adelante Mujeres.
Also, I’m just, you know, getting used to virtual interviews, and it is a little bit difficult when you’re on a Zoom call with several different people, and I feel like I prepared by just, honestly, taking a few deep breaths. I didn’t want to be stressed or come off flustered, and there’s only so much preparation you can do when you have back-to-back interviews, and I had to just tell myself, if the job was meant to be, it would work out. To feel confident in myself, you know, by looking over my resume, looking at my skills, all the work I’ve done, believing in myself, talking to those people who believed in me, and just go in and, you know, smile, and, you know, you can’t really make eye contact on Zoom, but that would normally be what I would do.
But, yeah, I just feel like you just, at the end of the day, it’s really about how you come off to the people, and if you can talk about yourself, and relay to them that you feel like you’re the perfect fit, and that’s really what I tried to do.
Well, finally, Melissa, what’s your number one job hunting tip?
I would say networking if you’re looking for a job in Portland. Knowing people is so important because they’re gonna help you with those connections, but they’re also gonna help you know who to connect with.
Also, know what organizations are looking to hire and what organizations are good to work for. Because I applied for some jobs and then talked to someone who previously worked at the organization, and they said, they didn’t enjoy working there, and so to not waste my time, and it’s good to kind of know those people, and they can give you the backstory on all the companies and the people to work for, and not work for. So, really start building your connections through LinkedIn, and when we can get back to networking in person, join a group. Get out there and meet people. That’ll help you, I think, the most.
Well, thank you for sharing your story, Melissa. To learn more about Melissa Erickson’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.
This is Mac Prichard.