Working with a Professional: Aaron Kier’s Job Search Success Story

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Find Your Dream Job, Bonus Episode 57:

Working with a Professional: Aaron Kier’s Job Search Success Story

Airdate: October 3, 2022

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 Aaron Kier. He’s the director of employee experience and inclusion at Act-On Software. 

Aaron’s company helps you grow your business, create smart product engagement strategies, and support exceptional brand experiences.

Aaron Kier believes in the power of asking others for help. 

In a story you can find on the Mac’s List website, Aaron says that asking friends and colleagues to give feedback on his resume and interview skills made a big difference in his success. 

Aaron, why do you love your job? 

Aaron Kier:

That’s a great question. You know, I think I do the work that I do because I actually do care about people, and so, actually getting to be a big source of influence and impact on what people are doing in their everyday work is incredibly rewarding. It’s tough, but it’s rewarding. 

We spend a lot of time in our jobs, and actually making that the best experience it can be is important work. I think it’s something that has been sort of downplayed for a very long time, and I think it’s come more and more into the spotlight, for which I’m very grateful, I guess, getting to do what I do. It’s great. 

Mac Prichard:

Tell us more about Act-On Software. What work do you do there for the company? And what does the company do? 

Aaron Kier:

Yeah, so we do marketing automation response software, and I am currently a team of one. It’s a new role and a new initiative, actually tackling, as I said earlier, employee experience. 

So it’s a little bit touching and being hands-on with every sort of facet of what people experience from the moment they’re hired through the moment they exit the company. Just working very closely with HR but also kind of being the leader of culture. Really helping to codify some programs, put things in place that hadn’t been touched before. It’s just sort of every facet along that employee life cycle if you think of it that way. 

So helping with learning and development, and really making that more intentional. We’ve rebuilt our values which are becoming very much the foundations of cultivating the culture and environment that we’re striving to put together, and it’s just everything that kind of builds upon that. It’s all of those programs and processes. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about your job search, Aaron. How long did it take you to find your job at Act-On Software? 

Aaron Kier:

That’s a great question, Mac. I think I’ve got three different answers for that. The first is probably five years, and then the other is something like four months, and then the best, most bright and shining answer is two weeks. 

So I was doing consulting work for about five years and keeping a finger on the pulse, and always keeping my eyes open, and continuing to apply for jobs during that time, thinking, eventually, I want to be able to put down roots somewhere. That sort of ebbed and flowed along the way. It wasn’t always a focus because I was really busy in the consulting work I was doing.

I had ended a contract, and so that was about four months of definitely doubling my efforts and really applying a lot and doing a lot of searching a lot of talking to folks. And then, from the time that I actually applied for this role at Act-On until I accepted an offer was just under two weeks. So it was a very quick process. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk more about that. To build a successful consulting practice takes time and effort, but focus, and you did it for five years. Was that your goal, Aaron? To build your own company or your own practice, or were you doing that while you looked for a permanent position? 

Aaron Kier:

Great question. Initially, it was circumstance. The job market was not what it is now when I first started doing that. I thought I was going to look for a permanent job and ended up doing a couple of short-term assignments and realizing pretty quickly that there was really an incredible opportunity in that. 

I had said to people, I feel like that, you know, a four or five year period felt like twelve years worth of professional development. It was incredibly intensive to be stepping into assignment after assignment, working with completely different companies, completely different leadership teams, really having to confront a variety of different needs and issues, and just coming up with whole different solutions. 

It was really bolstering skills in relationship building when you’re stepping into, you know, companies, working with the various levels of leadership. Lots of different personalities, as you might imagine, and figuring out how best to communicate, how best to influence, how to really sell like the right solutions for that particular company in that time dealing with whatever it is that they’re dealing with. 

So it was, I think, just in terms of analytical skills, problem-solving skills, communication. And I would say, too, the other piece of it was it really catalyzed, I think, my own values and my vision for what the world of work really can and should be. Which I think is kind of where my career has been headed all that time. 

So it was a little bit circumstance. But I pretty quickly realized, you know, this is a really good thing to be doing at this point in time and tried to be a little bit more intentional about the types of assignments that I was taking on. Just to get my hands on as wide a variety of work as I could. 

Mac Prichard:

And you did it for five years, and along the way, in your article for us, you said that you kept applying for jobs and you kept getting rejected. Why did you keep applying for work when you had this successful consulting practice, Aaron? 

Aaron Kier:

You know, when you’re doing people work, there’s something about- when you’re doing people work as a consultant especially, while it can be challenging and exciting to step in and propose solutions, be part of helping to build something, and then sort of see it launch, you walk away then. 

You don’t actually get to see the product of that work. You don’t get to see the outcome. You don’t get to see how it’s actually playing out in the day-to-day lives of those particular employees. You also don’t have an opportunity to come back in and iterate and improve upon the work you’ve done. 

You just leave it behind, and I wanted to feel like I was actually part of something. That it was something that was enduring that I could build those relationships and be helping people that I could see day-to-day, and challenge myself to continue to improve work I’ve already done. It’s different. It’s just a completely different thing to feel like you’re part of something rather than the outsider. 

Mac Prichard:

So you had your practice for five years. Then you decided to launch a new job search, and you said that you did that for four months, and at the end of that period, in two weeks, you got an offer from Act-On Software. 

What did you do during those four months, Aaron, that was different that perhaps led to that offer from Act-On Software, that you didn’t do during your previous five years when you would occasionally send out job applications? 

Aaron Kier:

In all honesty, Mac, I think I was doing the work the whole time. I think I mentioned in the article that it really feels a bit like a game of chance in a lot of ways. I had continued to, you know, iterate, edit, and update my resume. I think that that was probably the biggest change. 

I really got very serious and worked with a really close associate of mine who is really an expert and incredibly insightful about the inner workings of HR and talent acquisition, and created a few different templates for various focuses with my work. Because, as I said, when you’re touching every single part of the all-talent life cycle, I felt like there were a number of directions I could go. 

And so, I had sort of base level resumes for three different focuses, and then when I was applying, I’d go through all the steps of trying to customize and use keywords and really prioritize and organize things to best suit that search. I’ve been doing that all along. 

So I think the way that I explained it in the article, having been doing the work I was doing, part of what I felt like I saw was some real flaws in the hiring process. Feeling like HR and talent was a little bit broken. I didn’t realize exactly what that looked like from the other side. I had an idea, but I didn’t really see it intimately. 

And at the point that I got the call from Act-On, I think that I had looked at about, I had applied for thirteen jobs that I would’ve considered incredibly similar. This was the only recruiter that called me. And she called me within a half hour of me actually submitting my resume. She called me within a half an hour. And yeah, it was only two weeks of a number of interviews, and I was offered the job; not only offered the job, but offered a higher level role than what they had posted, and going to like the stretch point of the salary. 

So it was kind of the right place at the right time, having someone who really saw something that other people didn’t. So I think we have an exceptional recruiter. We really do, and I’m grateful to her that she saw through things that other people apparently didn’t. 

Mac Prichard:

There’s so much in life that we don’t control, and I think many listeners will agree with you that the hiring system can be improved, and certainly, there’s lots of room for improvement there. 

But what in your job search that you could control do you think made a difference in those four months when you were looking for work that ultimately led to this offer from Act-On software? 

You mentioned working with a friend who was a great writer who gave you terrific advice. In your article for us, you also talked about practicing your interview skills. That’s another thing you can control. What did you do differently as you worked on your interview skills? What steps did you take to improve them? 

Aaron Kier:

I’d been networking a lot. So I think sitting down and meeting a lot of different people, kind of being able to tell my story, hear their story, respond, was just good practical exercise. 

And so, that same friend who helped with my resume also kind of walked me through some of, you know, we looked at like the typical questions. Like how do you actually give your elevator pitch? How do you talk about your strengths? How do you talk about your successes and the things you’ve accomplished? 

And really trying to codify exactly what that looks like to really be able to say what the impact of that work is. Which can feel really strange and kind of nebulous in the work that we do because when you talk about employee experience, some of that’s anecdotal evidence at best. You know, it’s a lot of feelings and experience. So it’s a little hard to really give a concrete example of that, and she helped a lot in figuring out how to really put that into numbers for some of those real practical, financially motivated leaders to kind of understand what it was I could accomplish. 

But kind of walking me through some of those answers, and giving me a chance to talk and have somebody objectively say, you were good here, you could be better over there, that wasn’t as clear as you might think it is. It was helpful. 

And, I think beyond that, I really want to say, too, you know, talking about the work that I did on my resume; as much as we may think that resumes are a little outdated, outmoded, and we wish we could put them to rest, that’s not the reality that we live in, and so I think being very mindful that it’s hard to put yourself on paper but making that the strongest it can absolutely be is really your best tool in a lot of ways. 

And understanding kind of, as I was saying, that impact, and, you know, the sort of, what exactly it is you’re bringing to that company and what you can do for them is a really important thing to be able to communicate in writing. 

Mac Prichard:

In your article for us, you said that, quote, “You networked like it was your religion.” close quote. But you found a position at Act-On Software through a public posting, not through the hidden job market. Now, Aaron, would you still recommend informational interviews and other forms of networking to job seekers? And was that helpful to you, eventually, when you did start talking to people at Act-On Software? 

Aaron Kier:

You know, I don’t think that I’ve had a network connection that has put me in touch with a job. But what they have done for me was, as I said, a lot of that really catalyzed my values and my vision, and a big part of that was in connecting with other people that were in similar industries or adjacent industries to what I was doing. 

A lot of those people have remained really good professional colleagues and connections. People that I still talk to. People that I feel like have helped me grow in terms of my thinking, helping with my professional development in a lot of ways. So I think I would not say that it was a waste of time by any stretch. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it was what helped me find a job, but it didn’t hurt. 

And I know that I’ve got a lot of people out there who were advocating for me. That’s the other piece that I would say, too, is that job hunting is tough. It can be very demoralizing, so having people who believe in you, people who see your value and can reinforce that too, is incredibly valuable. 

Mac Prichard:

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

Aaron Kier:

Tenacity, I guess, in many ways. You know, having an incredible support network really really was more important than I can say. I think not getting discouraged even when things were discouraging. 

I think at some point, also, and I think I mentioned this in my article, recognizing that I had done everything I could do in terms of making my resume the absolute best it could be, knowing that when I sit down and have a conversation in an interview, that I’m going to do well in that moment, and that that’s everything I can do, and from there, it’s really about the person who’s reading that application and reading my resume, and whether something’s gonna speak to them or not. 

Not taking it personally. Which is harder than it probably sounds. But that was, I think, that was what really got me through, was going, it’s gonna happen when it happens. And, you know, if an opportunity passes you by, it’s probably not the opportunity you were looking for. 

Mac Prichard:

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

Aaron Kier:

I think it’s what I’m saying about really making sure that your resume just shines as bright as it can, and represents you the best that it can, and don’t give up. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, thank you for sharing your story, Aaron. To learn more about Aaron Kier’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 and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

Our sound engineer is Matt Fiorillo. 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 week. 

Have you ever considered starting your own business while still looking for your dream job? On this bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job, Aaron Kier shares why he continued applying for jobs even after starting his own consulting firm. Aaron also talks about how he used the power of networking not to find a job but to get better at looking for one. Learn more about Aaron’s career history below in this installment of our Success Stories series.


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

An elevator pitch for what I do is tough — essentially, if it touches the everyday experience people have working in the company and the culture that surrounds them, my hands should be on it in some way. I’m an advisor, a strategist, a change agent, and an advocate. Depending on the size of the team and the scope of the initiatives I’m working on, I can also be the project lead, communications manager, procurement specialist, sales rep, and so on.

Getting to this place in my career has been an interesting journey. I started in agency recruiting and account management and was eventually promoted into a position managing learning and development. When I moved to an in-house talent role, I got to take on diversity and inclusion strategies, an onboarding program, a performance review structure, and an equity-first professional development initiative. Connecting the dots and creating a cohesive through-line for this range of people programs was the work that became the foundation for my holistic approach to employee lifecycle strategy.

I currently work as Director of Employee Experience & Inclusion at Act-On Software. The role and the initiative are new, so I’m constructing whole cloth and from the ground up. It’s exciting, overwhelming at times, and fulfilling to see the fruits of my labor and make a real impact in such a short span of time.

How long did it take you to find this job?

I suppose the answer is either almost five years, a little over four months, or just two weeks. I knew I was ready for a fresh challenge, but it was a different market, and that initial search was rough. As a result, I took contract gigs and quickly recognized the exponential professional growth it created, so I became quite intentional about each new project I pursued.

Upon ending a contract assignment that wasn’t the right focus for me, I decided I was ready for a broader scope of responsibility and the ability to make a longer-term impact. I doubled my search efforts for a full-time role, and about four months later, I ran across the posting for my current position. Whether it was kismet or just a really astute recruiter, I got a call within about two hours. Two weeks later, I accepted an offer.

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

Career coaches are going to be angry with me for saying this, but (especially pre-COVID) I networked like it was my religion and never found the “hidden job market” or any other magic bullet. I made some truly wonderful connections, but those didn’t result in jobs or even real leads.

My novel approach? I searched job boards, set up daily notifications, and applied quickly to everything that fit and sparked my interest. That’s it.

I also worked with someone I trusted and respected to create several versions of my resume, which focused on different roles. With each application I submitted, I customized keywords and rearranged strengths, projects, and duties to align with the posted description. I can’t honestly say whether it made a difference, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.

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

I never stopped applying. Or networking. Or revamping my resume. Over those four years, I submitted more applications than I want to admit. I’d been saying for some time that recruitment and hiring were broken, but I really hadn’t understood the depths of how true that was. It was brutal and incredibly demoralizing to be doing big work as a valued consultant driving broad initiatives where I was coaching C-suite execs, yet I couldn’t find an interview for a full-time role.

I don’t really think I overcame it — it hurt most every time. The best I could do was to remind myself of all I’d accomplished and that I was damned good at my job, then put it away and start fresh tomorrow.

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

Work with someone reliable to create a strong and polished resume — someone who’s a good writer but also understands hiring. Pay a professional if you can afford to. Have someone give you feedback and pointers on your interview skills. Once you know those are solid, recognize that job hunting is a crap shoot, and don’t let what happens from then on out shake your confidence. It isn’t you.

In those four months of nearly full-time job hunting, I applied to at least 15 roles that I consider comparable to the one I’m in now. Several rejected me almost immediately; most just never responded. Looking at the exact same experience and qualifications, one person out of 15 understood what I was bringing to the table. Enough so that the extended offer was for a higher level role and above the budgeted salary range.

It only takes one.

Why do you love your job?

I do what I do because I genuinely care about people. My “why” is making people’s lives better. The line about how much of our lives we spend at work is a little worn but true. Our jobs may take up less space in 2022 than they once did, but it’s still a huge time investment. So, how we feel — whether we’re supported and safe and seen, and whether that experience is empowering or toxic — has an enormous impact on people’s success, well-being, and lives away from their desks.

I get to shape that experience by removing roadblocks, improving equity and access, ensuring people have resources and tools for their success, and building leadership approaches that support empowerment and autonomy. When it works, it’s incredible; when it doesn’t, you keep pushing because it’s important. What’s not to love about that?