Seeking Professional Advice: Joel Schoening’s Job Search Success Story

Everyone’s job search story is different, but each individual story can inspire and empower others who are on their own unique path. We love to hear how our readers have found rewarding careers in Portland, and we want to share these stories with you to inspire you in your job search and to help us all better understand the local job market! In this job search success story, Joel Schoening, Director of Communications for Oregon Environmental Council, shares how working with a job search coach and practicing for interviews proved invaluable. 

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

I often describe myself as a public interest communicator. I like the work of communications and also feel a need to distinguish my work from a side of the field that is deservedly viewed with skepticism. My professional career started in academia. A few years after receiving my Ph.D. in sociology, I realized that I wanted to live in Portland, and I wasn’t willing to wait for the right opportunity to open up at one of the few colleges here. 

So, in 2010, I made the jump. It was an absolutely terrible time to make a career change and move across the country. Anyway, I combined my interests in participatory democracy, social movements, and organizational development with my teaching, research, and analytical skills and built a career in community engagement and communications for big policy and infrastructure campaigns. 

My current work at the Oregon Environmental Council spans the full range of communications work from strategic communications planning to writing and content creation, media outreach and coaching, internal and board communications, marketing, and the overall organizational management as a member of the leadership team.  

How long did it take you to find this job?

It took me about six months. I was laid off from my previous employer as part of a restructuring. That hit me pretty hard and I took a few weeks to reflect before I really got active. Once I rebounded I was working on my job search probably 20 hours a week. 

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

Shout out to Mac’s List! So many great resources. In addition to all the tips, I really appreciated hearing stories from other job searchers. That helped keep my hopes up. I also hired a job search coach. This was a tough investment to make while unemployed but it was really helpful for a few reasons. There’s a lot of variation out there in what “job coaches” do. 

What I got was professional advice on my resumé and cover letter, guided practice and great feedback on my interview skills, and some additional networking. For me, the advice on the written materials and the interview skills was priceless. Once I had that, I was regularly in the final rounds of the hiring processes. This gave me the confidence to make sure that I was looking for a good fit, and not just desperate to get consideration. 

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

Applying from a position of unemployment was challenging for me. I’m no good at unemployment. I wanted to work, so it was really hard to remain reflective and patient and to make sure that I was looking for a good fit, not just any offer I could get.

To be honest, I’m not 100% sure I did overcome it completely. But I do know that at the time I accepted the offer from OEC, I was advancing in two other hiring processes in which I felt like I was a very strong candidate. When the offer from OEC did come I felt like I had a choice to make and that was empowering.  

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

Practice interviewing with someone. Record it if you can. Then watch yourself as if you were the hiring manager. It will be painful at times but you’ll develop some new skills and some self-awareness about your interviewing strengths and weaknesses that will be super helpful when you’re doing the real thing.

I’m a pretty calm person. I know that, but I didn’t realize that in an interview my personality sometimes comes across like a wet blanket. I had to “ham it up” a little, which would make you laugh hysterically if you saw what “ham it up” looks like from me. 

Why do you love your job?

I was excited about OEC because I was joining the leadership team as a director and because I was joining an incredibly respected environmental policy and advocacy shop. Those two things continue to be what excite me about the work. Every day we are in the weeds working on policy solutions and getting our members, our partners, and elected leaders excited about those solutions. 

People listen when OEC speaks, which is awesome, and a big responsibility for our communications work. It’s also fun because we get some great wins. For example, did you know Oregon is on track toward a 100% clean energy grid by 2040? That happened just last year and OEC was a big part of it. Don’t get me wrong, climate change is scary AF, and there’s way more to do, but we’re actively making meaningful progress. That feels good.