The Power of Relationships, with Elizabeth Lattanner

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Find Your Dream Job, Bonus Episode 29: Elizabeth Lattanner

The Power of Relationships

Airdate: May 11, 2020

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 Elizabeth Lattanner. She’s a principal communications consultant at Portland General Electric.

In a story you can find on the Mac’s List website, Elizabeth says she got her dream job because of the power of relationships and networking.

Elizabeth, why do you love your job?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

I love my job because I get to work for a values-oriented company that provides an essential service to its customers, while working on some of the most important issues, like climate change, that we face today, and I work with a really dynamic team of talented individuals.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about your job search. What was the biggest challenge you faced?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

Well, I came to Portland from Washington DC and it was a brand new city to me, soI had a lot of things to learn. Both about the landscape of opportunity, building relationships, building community and friendships, and so I was really starting from ground zero and needed to build from there. And so one of the biggest challenges was introducing myself to this community and trying to get in front of the right people, so when the right opportunity became available, I could compete for that job.

Mac Prichard:

How did you do that, Elizabeth? I mean, Washington DC is 2,000 miles away and we have lots of listeners who are in one city and want to move to another. How did you get in front of the right people?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

My strategy was to start with my existing network and community in Washington DC. And I worked on Capitol Hill in my previous position, and through that, I got to know people who worked for Senator Merkley, Senator Wyden, Congressman Blumenauer, from there, helped leverage their contacts on the ground here in Portland, to start building out my network.

And so I think it’s really important for job seekers to think about who it is they already know and have relationships with, and then ask those folks to see who it is they might know in this city where they’re trying to move.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, and the 3 people you mentioned are all members of Congress from Oregon, so you knew people in those offices, or perhaps even the members themselves, and you started there. Did you have other people that you knew in your home city, or rather in Washington DC who knew people in Oregon?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

I had a few people from my network. I went to the University of Notre Dame and I think the power of the college alumni network is something that has been very helpful to me throughout my career. And so, I tried to look through my fellow alumni contacts, as well as the people I was already connected with on LinkedIn and Facebook, to see who I knew that lived in Portland, Oregon. Did I go to high school with anyone? Did I know anyone through college or other affiliations? And started to do my outreach from there.

Mac Prichard:

Some listeners might say, “Well, Elizabeth, you worked for US Senators, you had great contacts, but I don’t know anybody.” What would you say to someone like that?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

I would say that it’s still important to think about your family, your friends, the community you already have. Whether that’s where you went to school or an activity you love, like a recreational sport that you play, or kind of thinking about who you might know from different experiences in your life who might live in a city and then asking them. The worst thing that they can do is say they don’t know anyone but you’ll never know if you don’t ask. And so getting in touch with those friends, family, friends of family connections, and asking if they have anyone in their network who they think might be helpful for you to meet with.

My mom’s college roommate and her husband live out here and are very well connected in the nonprofit community. They opened a lot of doors, and so it’s a matter of getting creative beyond your existing professional network to really think about, “Who are the people that I can get in front of?” And even if it’s just grabbing a cup of coffee and meeting an interesting person, and they don’t necessarily know about a specific job opportunity, at least you’re starting to build a better network in your new community.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about, once you made those lists, you started reaching out to people, what was the ask, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

I asked for a few minutes of folks’ time to sit down, to learn about their backgrounds, their careers, and to receive any advice they might be able to offer about my search. I wanted to be respectful of people’s time and very specific about what I was looking for. And in my transition to Portland, I wanted to get out of the field of politics and into the nonprofit or values-driven private sector.

And so, my questions for everyone I met with were not only getting to know them, because I feel like you can learn so much from people’s stories, but also asking them, who is on their radar and what organizations, which organizations are doing really exciting work? Nonprofit, private sector.

“I’ve been really impressed with company XYZ because they’ve been doing this in the community.” Or, “I recently met with this person and they’re on my radar because I think they’re a rising star and I think they’d be really great teammate to work with.”

And so those specific questions helped me identify the companies and the people who I wanted to work with or I hoped to work with someday.

Mac Prichard:

What did success look like when you walked away from those conversations, whether they were by phone, or skype, or in-person? Was it getting the kinds of facts that you just described or were you looking for other things, too?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

I was looking for additional contacts. I really treated it as, whenever I met with someone, I had a specific ask for 2 or 3 other people who they would recommend that I continue to speak with, and I tried to be very deliberate about continuing to fill my schedule with these informational conversations. I had dozens of them. But I also wanted to get on my radar organizations that I couldn’t find through, say, internet searches or regular news coverage. I wanted to know if there were under the radar organizations or companies that were doing good work, that I hadn’t been exposed to yet.

What was really interesting, part of my conversation was I got a view into the B-Corp community, which is very lively and vibrant here in Portland, and I think a very neat community that probably wouldn’t have been on my radar because a lot of those organizations are really small. And so, that was a really neat thing that came out of my informational conversations.

Mac Prichard:

I know that in your article you mention that you did 125 of these meetings over the course of 4 months. That’s about 8 appointments a week, so that’s a lot of research, and in the end, how did that help you get the job you have today?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

It was a lot and I will say that it certainly kept me very busy but I really appreciated it when I found the opportunity that I ended up taking in Portland General Electric. I had a good network of people who I knew had either previously worked with or alongside PGE, or had some affiliation with Portland General Electric who I could bounce some ideas off of and say, “Hey, do you know the team that this person would work with? If so, what are your impressions? I’m thinking of applying. Do you think there are any interesting challenges I should address?”

And, as I was trying to make the transition, one of my other challenges was talking about my government and political experience in a way that made sense to corporate America.

The network that I was able to build and the conversations I was able to have, especially with fellow communicators, I think, very much helped me in having a better interview with Portland General Electric because I was able to talk about my experience in a way that I thought applied better to a company rather than a politician.

Mac Prichard:

To be clear, you didn’t know anyone inside Portland General Electric when you started your search?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

Correct.

Mac Prichard:

You had these conversations and then, because of them, you eventually met a number of people who either worked inside the organization or knew people who did, is that correct?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

Yes, yes. Portland General Electric hadn’t been on my radar; which I think is the neatest thing about my story is the more I learned about the company and its mission and how it served its customers, and then when I went through the interview process, I was so impressed with the people that I was interviewing with. And when you go into an interview, they’re interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing them, and whether or not you want to join that team and I knew I wanted to be a part of that team.

Mac Prichard:

You were able to get insights into what mattered to Portland General Electric when you put together your application material because you’d created that network, and you started building it before you even moved here.

Elizabeth Lattanner:

Yes.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, and then, once you got the interview, I think one of the challenges that many people face is that they want to switch sectors like you did. You were working in politics, you wanted to move into business, how did you persuade the people you met with that your skills were transferable?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

I think a lot of the ways that I was able to articulate how my skills would translate is in some of those situational questions that you get in an interview. “If you were faced with a crisis communications problem”, or, “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with issue management or something that didn’t go your way.”

I had plenty of examples of that from my experience in politics and I was able to then tie it up with a bow at the end and say, “This is how I would apply that particular situation or the lessons learned to work at PGE.”

And I feel like being able to articulate how you work for an elected official and how that translates into working for a company or a brand or an organization is something that you get better at over time.

Which, I feel like my 125 conversations allowed me to hone my story and how I was translating those skills, which better prepared me for those interview questions. And so, I think in a lot of ways, practice makes perfect in trying to articulate how it is you want to transfer your skills from one sector to another.

Mac Prichard:

Those informational interviews allowed you to road test the reasons why you thought you would be an attractive candidate to an employer in the business sector. It’s, again, a big number, 125, and it’s clear how you found those people. Why do you think people said yes to a meeting with you? Sometimes a listener might get ghosted; they reach out by email or they call people and calls go answered, emails go unreturned. What do you think made a difference for you?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

That still happened to me and I think that people are very busy and I tried to do a follow-up or two, knowing that emails get lost. I think you have to be persistent, as we’re all busy and we all receive far too many emails. And so, I think persistence is key and then I also think that knowing when to let a contact go and move on to the next one is important and having that perspective of, “Okay, this is a busy time for him or her and I need to move on to my next contact.”

I mean, I’m incredibly grateful for the generosity of folks’ time and I would say, as a community, I was really impressed with the people of Portland in being kind and generous to sit down with a stranger from the far East and chat through my job search. And my background is interesting to some folks who are politically inclined, and I think they wanted to, perhaps tell some stories. But I was really impressed by people’s generosity and willingness to give 15, 20 minutes.

I tried to be respectful of folks’ time and not drag out meetings but it’s the kindness of strangers, frankly.

Mac Prichard:

How did you learn how to do informational interviews, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

Capitol Hill is an informational interview capitol. It is very much an industry in which you network your way into positions, which I feel like isn’t the most perfect or equitable way to get a job, however, a lot of hiring goes on through informational interviews or internships to full time hire process and so over the course of my career in Capital Hill, I both asked for informational interviews and did a lot of them. With college students, young people moving to DC who just wanted to talk about how it is you navigate Capital Hill and I would always say yes to them.

Whether it was a fellow Notre Dame alumni or some stranger who found me on the internet because I felt like it’s so important to open doors to all people, to be transparent as to the path that brought me to my career and hopefully some piece of that can be helpful to them or I can offer them some advice as to how to hopefully spend their energies to get to the job that they dream of.

Mac Prichard:

Many job seekers track their progress during a search by counting the number of applications they send in and you’ve talked about the number of informational interviews you had. I’m curious, how many jobs did you actually apply for?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

I probably applied for fewer than a dozen jobs. Which compared to the number of informational interviews is very skewed and I think perhaps that has to do with both my previous experience of having a network lead to a lt of my positions in Washington DC and not necessarily a formal application process but also just sort of waiting and the timing involved in finding a good senior level position in a city like Portland so it’s just a matter of people are very busy and I tried to do a follow-up or two, knowing that emails get lost. I think you have to be persistent as we’re all busy and receive far too many emails and so I think persistence is key and then I also think that knowing when to let a contact go and move on to the next one is important and having that perspective of, “Okay, this is a busy time for him or her and I need to move on to my next contact.”

I mean, I’m incredibly grateful for the generosity for folks’ time and I would say as a community I was really impressed with the people of Portland in being kind and generous to down with a stranger from the far East and chat through my job search and my background it’s interesting to some folks who are politically inclined and I think that they wanted to, perhaps, tell some stories, but I was really impressed by people’s generosity and willingness to give 15, 20 minutes.

I tried to be respectful of folks’ time and not drag out meetings but it’s the kindness of strangers, frankly.

Mac Prichard:

How did you learn how to do informational interviews, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

Capitol Hill is an informational interview capitol. It is very much an industry in which you network your way to positions, which I feel like isn’t the most perfect or equitable way to get a job. However, a lot of hiring goes on through informational interviews or internships to full-time hire process. And so, over the course of my career in Capitol Hill, I both asked for informational interviews and did a lot of them. With college students, young people moving to DC who just wanted to talk about how it is you navigate Capitol Hill, and I would always say yes to them.

Whether it was a fellow Notre Dame alumni or some stranger who found me on the internet, because I feel like it’s so important to open doors to all people, to be transparent as to the path that brought me to my career. And hopefully, some piece of that can be helpful to them or I can offer them some advice as to how to hopefully spend their energies to get to the job that they dream of.

Mac Prichard:

Many job seekers track their progress during a search by counting the number of applications they send in, and you’ve talked about the number of informational interviews you had. I’m curious, how many jobs did you actually apply for?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

I probably applied for fewer than a dozen jobs. Which compared to the number of informational interviews is very skewed. And I think perhaps that has to do with both my previous experience of having a network lead to a lot of my positions in Washington DC and not necessarily a formal application process. But also just sort of waiting and the timing involved in finding a good senior-level communications position in a city like Portland. So, it’s just a matter of picking your shots and just kind of going all-in once you’ve found something that you’re really excited about.

Mac Prichard:

You were very selective about the jobs you applied for, weren’t you?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

Yes, I wanted to be intentional and be serious when I put an application in, and then leverage my network when I had applied to, “Hey, do you know anyone here and could you put in a good word?” Or, “What do you think about this team?” Or, “What do you think their challenges are that I should address in the interview?” And so I wanted to put in 110% for those that I applied for.

Mac Prichard:

You were between positions when you were doing your search, so you weren’t working full-time during the four months or so that you were looking actively. How many hours a week were you spending job hunting?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

It was pretty much a full-time job. Between the informational interviews, like you said, I did anywhere from a half-dozen to a dozen a week, sometimes 4 in a day. And so, it was a lot of logistics and planning and emailing and thank you notes. And in addition to searching online for positions and applying for positions, so I mean, I would say I was working at least a 40-hour workweek, inconsistent and an ebb and flow style.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah but no more than 40 hours. Some people might spend much of that time applying for positions, you spent most of it talking to others.

Elizabeth Lattanner:

Yes.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, what didn’t work in your job search, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

Great question. Some of the conversations I had, I perhaps should have declined the connection but I was in a, “I will accept every connection offered to me.” And so there were some, perhaps, informational interviews that I should have declined to respect both my time and theirs but I felt an obligation to follow through with every connection that was made for me. And there were some days where I feel like the lack of open positions became frustrating because there wasn’t a lot on my radar.

And when folks asked, “Oh, well, what have you applied for?” And I would say, “Well, nothing in the past week but I’m open to these types of positions.”

So part of that is out of your control but I think that the unknown of not having those positions on the radar and feeling ill-equipped when you go into an informational interview and being specific about where you’re throwing your hat in the ring for.

Mac Prichard:

What’s your number one job hunting tip?

Elizabeth Lattanner:

Build relationships. I think that my case is quite extreme when it comes to the number of interviews but I feel really good about the relationships I built here in Portland, not only from a professional standpoint, but friends and additional community and I look forward to hopefully crossing paths with a lot of the people that I met with throughout my career.

Mac Prichard:

Thank you for sharing your story, Elizabeth. To learn more about Elizabeth’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.

Long-distance job searching can present unique challenges, from figuring out what your new city has to offer to meeting the people who can potentially help you in your search. On this bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job, Elizabeth Lattanner and I discuss her move from Washington D.C. to Portland, and how she leveraged her network in D.C. to begin building a network 2,000 miles away. Elizabeth also shares how she used the power of informational interviews to find the companies she wanted to work for. Learn more about Elizabeth’’s career history below in this installment of our Success Stories series.


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

The bulk of my career so far has been in communications for federal elected officials and campaigns in Washington, D.C. and Indiana. When my husband and I decided to move to Portland, I decided to leave the political sector, but wanted to remain in advocacy-related communications for good. I searched for a communications position at a values-driven company or nonprofit organization, ultimately deciding to join the external corporate communications team at PGE.

How long did it take you to find this job?

I arrived in Portland in early September and accepted the position with PGE right before Christmas.

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

I am a big believer in the power and value of relationships. Before I moved to Portland, I met with my colleagues in Washington, D.C. who worked for Oregon’s federal elected officials and asked for recommendations as I started my in-person networking in Portland. During my nearly four-month search, I met with approximately 125 people in the Portland area who were kind enough to take the time to have coffee and informational conversations. It was helpful to hear how those folks got their start in Portland, how they found their current positions, and what advice they could share about navigating the job search. Learning about each person and their background allowed me not only to meet dozens of people making a difference in this community, but also helped me to identify organizations to target in my search. The one question I asked everyone I met with was: Who are the people and what are the organizations that stand out to you doing impactful, important work? From there, I met more and more people in Portland doing innovative work for good and found the opening at PGE. When I saw the opening on LinkedIn and decided to apply, I asked folks I had met along the way for their feedback about the company and the team and was pleased to hear the company had a reputation as both an industry leader and hyper-engaged in the community. As I went through the interview process, I was impressed by the people on the team I would be joining and their vision for the company’s future and determined PGE was the best next opportunity for me.

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

As I was attempting to switch sectors, my biggest challenge was identifying and articulating how my political and policy skills from years in Washington, D.C. and on campaigns would transfer to a corporate or nonprofit environment. The informational conversations I had with fellow communicators here in Portland in the corporate and non-profit sectors, as well as particular episodes of the Mac’s List Find Your Dream Job podcast, were extremely helpful in that effort, and I learned new jargon and ways to relate my previous work to a new sector.

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

I will offer two: First, be kind to yourself. A job search can be a rollercoaster of highs and lows, and it can be difficult to see past the most immediate disappointment or frustration to the happy ending of landing your next opportunity. Second, meet with anyone you can. I never turned down an email introduction or contact information for a new person to meet with. I met dozens of dynamic, fascinating people along the way who were both helpful in offering feedback as I applied for actual openings and in helping me identify the people and places I wanted to work for. I hope many of my informational interviews will lead to future colleagues and friends.

Why do you love your job?

I get to continue to tell stories that make a difference. I am part of a high-performing team at a company that is firmly rooted in the community and is driven to lead the region and the nation on some of the most pressing issues of our time: carbon reduction, transportation electrification, energy efficiency, and much more.