Setting Clear Priorities and Knowing Your Purpose, with Jennifer Eskridge

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Find Your Dream Job, Bonus Episode 42:

Setting Clear Priorities and Knowing Your Purpose: Jennifer Eskridge’s Job Search Success Story

Airdate: July 12, 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 Jennifer Eskridge. She’s the community outreach educator at the Oregon Poison Center. It’s based at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon.

Jennifer Eskridge believes in the power of self-assessment. She gave herself time and put in the work to get clear about her career goals.

In a story you can find on the Mac’s List website, Jennifer also says that working as a contractor during her job search helped her connect with others and market herself to employers.

Jennifer, why do you love your job?

Jennifer Eskridge:

I love my job because it’s so rewarding to teach the public about really important and life-saving information and watch that realization sink in. This happens with adults, it happens with kids I talk to, and it’s just so powerful to see that processing of information, and them taking it out to their everyday life.

I love my job because I get to talk to the public. I get to communicate this information in lots of different ways: I get to teach, I get to talk to small groups, I get to work on social media, and write, and communicate risks and emerging hazards. There’s always something different going on, and I get to learn a lot in my work. And OHSU is really supportive of these learning opportunities, and because it’s an academic medical center, there’s just a huge network of opportunities to learn and grow, go back to school for more education or get more credentials.

Mac Prichard:

For those who might not be familiar with the work of the Oregon Poison Center, I think locally you’re best known for your hotline that helps the people turn to when they have urgent questions about a substance.

So education is central to what you do, but it’s not just the hotline is it, Jennifer?

Jennifer Eskridge:

That’s right. The hotline is sort of the bread and butter of what we’re known for, and doctors, nurses, and pharmacists staff that hotline 24/7, and provide emergency treatment and resources for poison emergencies.

But my role is really unique there because I get to go out and work on the prevention side, before people might be exposed or before they might interact with a harmful substance. I get to talk with them about how to be safe.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s talk about your job search. One thing that struck me when I read your article is that you used job boards but you did this selectively. Tell us more about that.

Jennifer Eskridge:   

I found this job through a popular online job board, and I found that those can be really helpful but only if you really know what you’re doing, what you want, what your end goal is. And for me, that meant knowing my purpose. And I had to put in some pretty serious time and energy to define what that purpose was for me and what I wanted my job to look like. And it wasn’t just about the job title or the qualifications- those things on paper that might match up- but what was the actual work I was gonna be doing? Did the workplace and the team I was going to be working with align with my values and was I gonna like what I did every day?

So, I had to do some parsing down, some clarifying, a lot of self-reflection, and work to sort of identify those things. And once I had whittled all that down, I was able to identify the work that I really wanted to do, and the jobs that matched that just started surfacing for me. And I was able to present myself in a way that was really clear and authentic to hiring managers and during interviews.

Mac Prichard:

How did you do that self-assessment before you started looking for positions on job boards? Did you do it on your own, Jennifer? Did you have help? Did you turn to friends?    

Jennifer Eskridge:   

My process was multi-faceted. I did a lot of reading and I have some book recommendations in my job search success story online. A lot of journaling. I also had to look back at positions I had in the past or positions I knew were out there, and study those job responsibilities and really hone that down. I also talked to some close friends and people who I knew who either went through a job transition or decided to make a shift in their career paths. And learning from their processes helped me on my way. Not only did it just reassure me that a lot of people change course or make those corrections in their career path, but also learning from their processes. So, what worked for them, what didn’t work for them? How can I apply those lessons to my own situation, and think about what will help get me where I need to go?

Mac Prichard:

How did you know how to take these steps, Jennifer? Did you have a mentor who encouraged you to talk to others or do this journaling? How did that happen?   

Jennifer Eskridge:   

It was a little bit of trial and error for me. I think I had applied for a few jobs that looked like they might be a good fit but it was a little hard to write the cover letter, and maybe in the interview I didn’t do a great job of explaining why I wanted the position, right? And I think hiring managers and recruiters can tell if you haven’t sorted yourself completely. They can tell if this is just a job to you.

Once I was sort of able to define that dream job for myself and I had a really clear picture of it, I was able to communicate my goals really clearly, and I could talk about my learnings in a way that built trust with people.

I can’t say this process will necessarily work for everyone but it was something that helped me feel good about where I was going and where I had come from.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s talk about networking. How did networking help you during your job search, and what kind of networking did you do?

Jennifer Eskridge:   

Networking is a really powerful method that I think a lot of people encourage in the job searching process and in career development. I would say my experience with it has been a little bit different because I’ve worked in a lot of jobs that are in a highly regulated industry, like the public sector and health care. I had to use my network to verify who I am as a person, as an employee. Rather than using those connections to get a job or to get an interview, I used my network to verify things about myself that I really wanted a future employer to know.

So, an example would be I’m in an interview and I’m discussing a project I worked on, and I could describe some of the partners and the people I worked with, knowing that those folks are connected to the place I’m trying to get hired at. Those examples and those relationships were checked by interviewers, by hiring managers, and they could verify who I am and the type of work that I’m doing. So, it sort of worked as a bonus reference in my case and it was something that was really meaningful to me as an employee because people could really learn more about me and what I’m about.

Mac Prichard:

That’s a terrific strategy. How did you come up with that? Did you hit on that on your own or someone help you figure that out?

Jennifer Eskridge:   

That actually came about through some trial and error, and really, a realization that those traditional networking processes that you read about or you hear about, maybe in the private sector, weren’t working for me.

I might hear about a position but it’s hard to get through red tape sometimes when you’re applying in the public sector. There’s a lot of qualifications and there’s lots of reviewing of applications and different committees before you even get in front of an interview panel. So, I decided I needed to try a different approach with my network, which I still will say is a very powerful tool, but I just had to use it in a different way.

Mac Prichard:

And I love the fact that you knew where you wanted to go and you started your networking conversations around that. Speaking of networking, what’s your best networking tip? Especially for people who might be reluctant to do networking at all?

Jennifer Eskridge:   

My best networking tip is probably to get connected to causes and people who are doing the type of work that you admire, the things that you share in values system, things that you look up to, people who are doing things that you want to emulate in your own career.

I think it’s really powerful to learn things from people who work in your own industry but also people who work in other industries and learn from them. As you see what they’re doing, as you see their contributions, you can start adopting elements, and characteristics, and actions that fit within your value system and your perspective on the world. And you can take those things and make them your own. And I think over time, as you develop those things and your skills become honed, your personal brand really shines through.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned in your article for us that working as a contractor helped you in your job search. Tell us more about that.

Jennifer Eskridge:   

Contracting was a great opportunity for me to provide the time and space for my process to sort of unfold.

I needed to sort of be out of the busy, hectic stressful career path I was on at the time, and contracting allowed me to work at my own pace, control my schedule a little bit differently, and reconnect with folks that I really needed to spend some time with. And that meant phone calls, that meant using LinkedIn, that meant doing some reading, catching up on some research I was interested in, and it really allowed me to continue pursuing those elements and those areas that shored up some missing pieces for me.

So, once I gave myself that time and space and did this hard work of identifying what was really important in a job I was looking for, I was able to get to a place where I was ready to sort of go back into the more structured work environment

Mac Prichard:

Before you took your current position, when you were contracting, you had left another formal job and the contracting was something you were doing between positions as you did your job search, is that right?

Jennifer Eskridge:   

Yes.

Mac Prichard:

Well, when you reflect back on the job search as a whole, what was your biggest challenge?

Jennifer Eskridge:   

My biggest challenge was identifying the work that I really wanted to do and what that job looked like. So, once I got a little bit more clear on that, those opportunities just started surfacing. And I think everybody’s process is going to be slightly different but I had to focus on those priorities that were most important for me. And those changed. You know, by the time at got to this point in my career, those things were different than they were early in my career when I was maybe more focused on the job title and the promotional opportunities or the responsibility. I came to a place where I really wanted to like the work I was doing, find that rewarding, and to like myself as much as I did the work.

Mac Prichard:

What was the key to your success in your job search?

Jennifer Eskridge:   

Having patience with yourself and giving yourself that time and space to figure out where you wanted to be, where I wanted to be, was really important for me. And I think once I did that, it sort of opened up a whole new outlook. I previously had been in several different jobs for a couple of years here and there, and I got a little off track, and I needed that opportunity to get myself back on track. And I can honestly say that I really love my job and that’s a really important thing for me. So, I think that it worked and I really recommend people giving themselves some time and space to do that.

Mac Prichard:

What didn’t work in your job search, Jennifer?

Jennifer Eskridge:   

What didn’t work was trying to apply and pursue positions that did not reflect the type of work that I really wanted to do. So, sometimes you might find yourself just applying for jobs because they’re out there and on paper, you might be a match for it. But that’s not always the best reason to apply for a job or to pursue an opportunity. And I think, as I mentioned, recruiters and hiring managers can tell if there’s something missing there; if that clear purpose that passion about the work is not there, you may not come through as an authentic candidate.

Mac Prichard:

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

Jennifer Eskridge:

Knowing your purpose is gonna go a long way to getting you where you wanna be. And it could take a while. My process worked for me; you may have one that’s different for you, but give yourself the time and the space to get there.

Mac Prichard:

Thank you for sharing your story,  Jennifer.

To learn more about Jennifer Eskridge’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.

Too many people think that job boards are the magic ticket to their dream position. Yes, job boards serve a purpose, but only when they are used strategically. Instead of applying to every job you qualify for, it’s worth it to first take some time to figure out your end goal. On this bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job, Jennifer Eskridge shares how she defined the exact type of position she wanted. Jennifer also explains how she used networking to verify her career purpose.  Learn more about Jennifer’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 a Community Outreach Educator at the Oregon Poison Center. The Oregon Poison Center is a free 24/7 emergency management resource for the public and health care professionals.

Located at OHSU, the Oregon Poison Center serves Oregon, Alaska and the territory of Guam and is staffed by nurses, pharmacists and doctors with specialized training. The mission of the Poison Center is to prevent poisonings and to minimize adverse effects of exposure to drugs, poisons, chemicals and natural toxins.

As Community Outreach Educator, I educate the community about poisons, prevention methods as well as promoting the services of the Poison Center. I accomplish this through community partnership, presentations, community events, social media and traditional public health education.

How long did it take you to find this job?

I spent some time contracting before I pursued this position. I found the change of pace refreshing and important to the job search process because it allowed me to explore what was out there and define what I was looking for in a job. Contracting also forced me re-engage with my professional network in a more intentional way. Marketing my business required a level of engagement that for me, naturally evolved into meaningful dialogue that ultimately played a vital role in shaping my job search.

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

I found my current position through a popular online job board. I subscribed to several of these during my job search. Setting search parameters and subscribing to auto generated email notifications helped streamline the process. Setting aside time to regularly look through the searches and emails is really important because employers may only leave a position posted for a couple of days. If it’s your dream job, you don’t want to miss out!

I have not found traditional networking for job searching purposes applicable in every industry, especially those with highly regulated/structured hiring practices. In these situations I would offer a slightly different perspective—use your network to confirm who you are. As appropriate, in the application or interview, don’t be afraid to describe specific projects and partnerships with relevant organizations and people you have worked with in the past. If it’s a direct hit, the hiring manager will confirm your role with their colleague and hear about your good work. This is a bonus reference, and coming from someone your future boss already knows makes you a stronger candidate.

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

The most difficult part of my job search was deciding what I really wanted to do. I had to give myself the time and space to work that out. Once the type of job I was after became clear, I could consider what it would mean for my personal life, career trajectory, etc. Understanding and accepting this before I even interviewed for the position I’m in now gave me a tremendous sense of peace about my future and confirmed I was on the right path.

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

Don’t give up on who you were made to be. If there is a purpose set within you, it is there for a reason. Have patience and stay focused. But most importantly, put in the work. Sometimes the job search is hard because we don’t have a clear enough picture of what we want to do. For me this meant self-reflection, reading, and hashing out what really mattered. I had to ask myself some tough questions and prioritize the aspects of a job that were most important. Once I was able to identify and commit to what was most important, the job search became clearer and the right opportunities surfaced. I also sought out friends, colleagues and connections who went through job changes and became curious about their process and what they learned. I’m a firm believer we can’t make these big life changes in isolation.

Book recommendations:

Why do you love your job?

I love my job because the work I am doing and my workplace culture aligns with my values. I am passionate about health promotion and disease prevention and have the opportunity to impact my community directly. I love the variety in my work and the flexibility, creativity and freedom to identify and respond to community needs. My colleagues are very smart, engaged professionals who take pride in their profession and go the extra mile to serve the public. I love being part of something that meets an important need in my community.