Staying True to Your Values: Steph Routh’s Job Search Success Story

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Find Your Dream Job, Bonus Episode 47:

Staying True to Your Values: Steph Routh’s Job Search Success Story

Airdate: December 6, 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 Steph Routh. She’s the strategic communications manager at the Sightline Institute. It’s an independent, nonprofit research center in Seattle, Washington. 

Steph Routh believes in the power of working for herself, her community, and her values. She also understands how hard it can be to look for work. 

In a story you can find on the Mac’s List website, Steph says that finding jobs that match her values has been central to her career. And she encourages all job seekers to remember what it’s like to be an applicant the next time you serve on a hiring committee. 

Steph, why do you love your job?

Steph Routh:

I think the thing that I love most about it is, it’s like I’m getting paid to be myself, and I get to show up every day with people who are passionate about finding policies that advance a more sustainable, affordable, just world and who also care a lot about each other. 

Mac Prichard: 

And tell us briefly about the work of the Sightline Institute.

Steph Routh:

Sure the Sightline Institute is based in Seattle, but we research and advance policies throughout the Pacific Northwest, and with the Pacific Northwest as a model to ensure that it is a livable future for everyone. So climate justice; affordable, abundant housing; a robust, inclusive democracy are just a few aspects of our policy work that we’re committed to.    

Mac Prichard: 

Well, let’s talk about your job search, Steph. Now, what attracted you to this position at the Sightline Institute? 

Steph Routh:

I felt like every moment of my existence had brought me to that door. I mean, and it sounds lofty to say, but, you know, they work on all of the policies that I care about. I was former Executive Director of Oregon Walks, and they have worked on both transportation and walkable urban environment, including abundant, affordable housing. I worked a lot on inclusive democracy, you know, and have been, in my volunteer and my professional life, for the last twenty, twenty-five years, and they’re working on the same thing. How to create an inclusive democracy, and also I’m an aunt. I have a niece and nephew who both live in the region, and that’s the role that I care the most about, and the idea of advancing policy that ensures – not to put too fine a point on it – but they don’t inherit a firey hellscape is meaningful to me as an aunt.

And so, when they had a strategic communications manager position come up, I was just like, yes. I have done a lot of communications, and I’ve done community organizing. Please put me in coach.   

Mac Prichard: 

And you made that same point in your article, and you brought it up again a moment ago how, when you saw the posting, you thought, everything I’ve done in my career has prepared me for this position, and it’s got to be so gratifying to find a job like that, and I’ve also talked to other candidates over the years who’ve told me they had that situation, the same reaction when seeing a posting. What did you do, Steph, to show the hiring manager that, in fact, your career had prepared you for this, and you were the right candidate?  

Steph Routh:

Oh, that’s a fantastic question because, like a lot of people, I’m in my mid-forties. I’ve had a lot of different jobs in my career, you know, and there’s a lot of things that I could say that I don’t have, and I think that you know as – when we come into a job search, one thing that I am sometimes susceptible to is coming at, like, this scarcity concept, of like what am I not? What do I need to have that I don’t yet have? Rather than, what is the abundance? What do I have? How am I a fit? And then, how do I explain that to the people who I want to be my future coworkers? And so, for example, they are a policy think tank. I was an opera performance and theatre double-major. Like it’s not obvious, but through a lot of my jobs, I can piece together, I can look at what are the things, what are the aspects of each of my previous work experiences that were most valuable to me? And when I piece those together, it points directly to the type of job that I want, and I knew that being a strategic communication manager at Sightline was that.  

Mac Prichard: 

Any tips about how to demonstrate that the skills you acquired in one field in your story, example, for the arts, for example, translate into work at a policy think tank? Because again, many job seekers will say, well, I’ve got the skills but just not in that world. What worked for you when you were showing the managers at Sightline that your skills were indeed transferable and made you the best candidate for the job?  

Steph Routh:

I think, first of all, as someone who is a theatre major, I look at a cover letter, and I think this is a storytelling document. Right? Like the resume tells you where you have been, like, that’s the chronology. Those are the details, but the cover letter is really what develops the narrative around what are the skills? Who is the person that you are that you are bringing to this space, to this opportunity? And so, looking at what a job position, a description, entails. Like what are the things they’re looking for? And not just the skills and experiences, but what are also the attributes? And, you know, taking that, thinking of that almost as a story prompt. Of, you know, what in my life creates a nexus for this position? 

And for example, I said that I majored in opera performance. That doesn’t seem like it’s directly conducive to a policy think tank or to, you know, advocacy work with a different hat. I’m on the planning and sustainability mission for the city of Portland. But what opera performance did teach me was – I majored in breathing, and I majored in, for theatre, I majored in empathy and putting myself in other people’s shoes, and so those aspects of my previous work are directly related to patience, and empathy, and problem-solving.   

Mac Prichard: 

One thing that was striking to me when reading your article, Steph, is that you talk candidly about applying for several dozen jobs during your search and not getting a single offer until your current position, and that had to be so hard. How did you handle that rejection? 

Steph Routh:

Oh, that’s, that is a great question. Sometimes not well. But you know, as we were talking before this, you know, taking a moment to feel grief, I think, is an important part. That, you know, when you apply for a job – like I’ll just say when I applied for each of those jobs, I kind of, you know, put myself, embodied that position, and I kind of mentally moved into that job as what my life was gonna look like. And so, too, in most of those, I ended up being, you know, a runner-up candidate, and so, you know, you go through the cover letter, multiple interviews, and then the grief of that rejection is significant, and so, one, just allowing yourself to recognize that as grief, and being able to sit with it and that it’s okay to feel really bad about it, and to recognize that anger is a part of it, loss is a part of it, bargaining is a part. You know, all of these stages of grief do coalesce in part of a job experience. And then, you know, when you get beyond that, what is the opportunity? What did you learn in that time? And oftentimes, if you’ve gone through at least one interview, you’ve met people, and you’ve met people in a sector, in a type of work that really interests you. 

So what could a next step be? And so, part of that is, you know, how can a rejection move into building your network? And so, sometimes, like I’ll ask for an informational interview, and sometimes people grant it. Sometimes people cannot, for policy reasons or for time reasons. But when they can, it’s been a powerful experience and has helped me be a better candidate and a better professional going forward.     

Mac Prichard: 

As you went through those interviews and the application processes, what lessons did you learn along the way that you applied to future applications, especially lessons that might have been helpful to getting the job you have today?   

Steph Routh:

I think a big one – gosh, that’s a good – you ask good question, Mac. Oh, such good – you should have a podcast.

I think a big one is, and I’ll say in particular to women, that there’s an expectation of humility that we have. Humility is a part of, definitely, who I am, and I think that is to at least some extent gendered. So to get beyond that and to feel comfortable owning work because no one does any work by themselves. Right? We all do work in teams. I mean, even I was this sole-staff person for an advocacy organization, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to say what I did. I could only say what we did together, and so to feel comfortable packaging your own accomplishments in a way that feels true, that is true, that is not a lie, while also recognizing the team’s effort was, I think, my biggest barrier because I don’t like to ever say that what I accomplished because it does feel like a lie. 

You know, I actually in interviews, at the beginning of it, I would say, like, I would actually offer a caveat at the beginning of the interview. It’s like, you might ask me a bunch of questions, but I will say what role I played. I am also here because I care about – I am here for this job within this professional community because I believe in working in a team, and so I will talk about what my role in a team effort is. But I also want to be conscious about, you know, where the sea begins, and the sand ends in terms of these accomplishments. And that at least helps me be able to say, without caveat, for the rest of the interview, what, quote-unquote, I did as part of previous jobs. So it was less for them, and it was more for me.    

Mac Prichard: 

Well, you know, often, when someone applies for a job, they are reluctant to reach out to people inside the organization, and even if they know someone, and, or if they do reach out, they’re uncertain about what to ask for as they get ready for an interview, and in your article for us on the website, you know, you talked about how you contacted people – Sightline- and talked to them before the interview, and that helped you get ready for your conversation with the hiring team. Can you talk about how you did that? And how you approached people? And what you asked for in those conversations?   

Steph Routh:

One, I had someone that I had known for over a decade, who I just adore, who was then working at Sightline, and actually one of the questions I wanted to ask was, you know, I know Sightline’s work. I value it. I admire it, and also I want to make absolutely sure that it connects with my values. So it was like, what are all the tough questions that I can’t ask in an interview but that would define whether I would want to spend the time on an interview and on a job search? So I felt pretty comfortable asking them. 

But then I also asked, I asked other folks who were, you know, regular donors who I knew had, who had had conversations. I felt so strongly about this particular job that I was willing to call in all of the – call in my entire community and have conversations with people who interacted with the organization, and be very open and clear that this was the job that I wanted, and that I wanted them to be part of that success story. 

Mac Prichard: 

And when you reached out to people outside the organization who were colleagues or friends, and you asked them to contact the employer on your behalf, what did you ask them to do? Was it just to say Steph’s a good egg, or you should hire her, or what was the ask? 

Steph Routh:

That’s a great question. You know, oftentimes, I didn’t know that I had an ask at the beginning of the conversation. It was more like, what can I do? Like, I asked a friend who I knew had some relationship with the executive director, but I was mostly asking like what – do you think that I’m a good fit for this? And, you know, what might set me apart? What do you think that they’re looking for? And then she was like, well, I know Alan, I could just talk. You know, why don’t I just send him an email? Like saying, like, we’re talking right now, and you are actually interested, and I was like, well, that would be great. 

I think it’s kind of the – in some ways, at least for me, it almost felt like asking people for advice helped them feel like they were a part of this story, and then, oftentimes, they would suggest ways that they could help, and they weren’t always ways that I even knew that they could offer help, and that’s where, going back to humility, I think that’s where humility does show up in a good way. That you can be like, hey, I don’t know what I’m best about in this role. Like, how do you see me? And then they’re like, oh, I think you’re great, let me just tell everyone. Like oh, that would be neat like, yes, if you could do that, I would say yes to that.  

Mac Prichard: 

What difference do you think this preparation and these conversations made once you became a finalist for the job? 

Steph Routh:

I think at that point I had felt, oftentimes, in especially a final interview, you’re going in with, like there’s you, and there is a panel of other people who are all looking at you, and having had a number of those conversations in advance of that interview, I felt like I was coming in with a community. That it was not just me on the other side of that table; it was me and Shelli Romero, who you had interviewed before from Rose City Chica. It was, you know, friends who work at Sightline and friends who have been committed to that organization in other ways. So I felt less alone. I felt more confident, and I felt prepared.   

Mac Prichard: 

Well, it’s been a great conversation, Steph. What’s your number one job hunting tip? 

Steph Routh:

Get therapy, if you possibly can, with the caveat that our current healthcare system definitely could use a rewrite. But, you know, as we were talking earlier, the job search can bring up a lot. It can bring up grief. It can bring up elation, and hope and rejection shows up in a lot of different ways in our – throughout our lives, and so, if you can get therapy, right before a job search is a great time to do it.    

Mac Prichard: 

Well, thanks for sharing your story, Steph. To learn more about Steph Routh’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 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 and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

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 next month. 

       

What happens when you find the job you feel you were made for but your background and experience don’t seem to fit? You may have all the right skills but in an entirely different field. On this bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job, Steph Routh and I talk about how to present yourself in such a way that hiring managers can relate your experience to the position they’re hiring for. Steph also openly shares how she overcame major rejection in her job search, and the lessons she learned that led her to finally getting hired for her dream job. Learn more about Steph’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 have joined a variety of workplaces filled mostly with people I love, doing work I find meaningful. I’ve co-founded a theatre department at a public school in Thailand, led post-tsunami disaster recovery teams, served as executive director of a statewide advocacy organization, coordinated coalition work regionally, managed local campaigns, and knocked on a lot of doors (that’s an incomplete list! If I worked with you and it’s not listed, know that I love you and want to catch up soon!). I now work with Sightline Institute, a think tank providing leading original analysis of energy, economic, equity, and environmental policy in the Pacific Northwest. I also serve as co-director of the Portland Underground Graduate School (PUGS), but that is a story for a different day.

But who do I work for? I work for myself and my community, in joyful service to my values, with love for those around me, in pursuit of a just future. The idea that any corporation owns me is something I am constantly in a state of unlearning.

How long did it take you to find this job?

My entire life, three years, it fell into my lap. All three are true. When I saw the job description last summer, my first thought was, “Every step I have taken up to this moment has brought me to this door.” I had been working as an independent contractor for about three years, and by the time the job posting came around, I was looking less for a full-time job than I was searching for a home team for policy work.

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

A few friends had shared the posting with me. Even though I knew of Sightline’s work, I still researched them before applying by speaking with people who worked for, with, and near them, and by reading up on their past policies to make sure their work fit with my values. Especially for a communications role, this is critical for me. I’d much rather work a factory or service job (which I have done many times) than put messages into the world that I can’t in good conscience stand behind. Sightline passed all tests.

During past job searches, I often got to the final round of interviews but didn’t get the position. So I asked my talented friend, Shelli Romero of Rose City Chica, LLC (whom Mac’s List previously interviewed!), for advice on how to up my interview game. I also told my friends that I was excited about the position, and it’s, umm, possible that a few may have sent independent messages to Sightline staff in support. (Thanks team!)

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

Others have said it, and it bears repeating: Looking for a job is grueling. I applied for at least 40 jobs over the past few years and was a finalist for many of them. This means I spent the maximum possible effort without securing any of those positions. After the first devastating few processes, I changed the goal post for myself. My goal became exploring new possible futures, meeting people, and having good conversations. This is not easy, because, you know, the bills aren’t going to pay themselves (related: Sightline advocates for Universal Basic Income). But this helped me keep body and soul together during a meandering search. On a couple of occasions, the hiring organizations became my clients, which I don’t think would have happened if I had seen a job rejection as a dead end in the relationship.

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

For job-seekers: Get therapy if you possibly can. The job search can bring up a lot, and it’s important to have someone to talk to. Your friends love you, but your best friend is not your therapist. Let your friends be your friends, and let a therapist be your therapist. Note: It’s frustrating that therapy is not easy to attain because of our healthcare system! I was only able to find therapy later on in my search, and what a difference it made.

For people hiring: Please communicate with candidates during your hiring process. Candidates are expending emotional and physical labor; they are doing you a favor by applying; and the odds are not in their favor. Even if you can’t offer them the job, you can offer resources, informational interviews, and support in the industry or field that you are all in together. This contributes to the health of your network and is a solid way to demonstrate gratitude for candidates’ efforts in ensuring a great talent pool!

Back to job seekers: When you get that job, and you end up on a future hiring committee, please see the above advice for people hiring. You know what it feels like to be a candidate. Be the hiring team member that you wish you had met on your journey.

Why do you love your job?

There is so much to love about my job. I think the biggest thing is that the organization’s culture prioritizes staff as human beings first (and they’re amazing human beings), and people working in a specific capacity second. It’s wonderful! It makes me feel closer to my colleagues and more generous and present at work. Also, I love everything that Sightline works on. It’s like I’m being paid to be myself, and I’m learning and challenging myself every day to do better. The first time I heard one of our researchers say, “What are we wrong about here?” regarding their latest work, I fell in love with Sightline all over again. It’s one of the most important questions we can ask. Normalize being curious; normalize being wrong; normalize learning and growing.