Staying True to Your Values: Steph Routh’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, Steph Routh, the Strategic Communications Manager of Sightline Institute, shares the importance of community and staying true to your values. 

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.

About Steph

Steph has 25 years of professional experience encompassing organizational development, policy research and advocacy, program planning and implementation, curriculum creation, communications, and fundraising. She served as the first Executive Director of Oregon Walks. Steph is Strategic Communications Manager at Sightline Institute, Co-director of Portland Underground Grad School, and currently serves as Vice Chair of Portland’s Planning & Sustainability Commission.