How I Found a Job in Portland, Oregon: Mac’s Story

Whether we’ve come from out-of-state or grew up here each of us has a story about how we landed our first job in Oregon. Here’s my story and the lessons I learned.

In the spring of 1991, my wife Kris and I were living in Boston where I was finishing up a master’s degree in public administration. After almost a decade in New England, the two of us wanted to try a different part of the country and we were attracted by Oregon’s quality of life.

By July of that year, I’d accepted a position as City Hall communications director for Earl Blumenauer, now a Member of Congress, but then a Portland City Commissioner about to run for mayor of Portland in 1992.

How did I find job in Portland while living in Boston, 2,536 miles away? Here’s what worked for me and what I’d advise anybody doing a local or national job search to do:

Know your goals

I had a specific job objective: I wanted a senior communications or policy staff position with an Oregon elected official, a political campaign, or a university. Having a well-defined goal helped me determine who to call for informational interviews and made it easier for people to share contacts and leads.

Use your networks

I tapped into as many networks as I could — family, friends, classmates, alumni, and colleagues. It was surprising how many of my best contacts in Oregon – a place I’d never lived — came to me from people I knew in Boston or in the Midwest where I grew up.

Informational interviews work

If I relied on publicly advertised job postings alone back in ‘91 I would still be in Boston. The best opportunities I discovered, including the one I accepted at City Hall, were never advertised. Doing informational interviews (here are six tips to get started on informational interviews) allowed me to introduce myself to employers and learn about upcoming positions.

See also  5 Ways to Cure the Portland Job Search Blues

People will help you

During my six-month job search I reached out to more than 100 people for advice. Many were busy and prominent: the speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, the governor’s chief of staff, and state and local elected officials. In spite of often packed calendars, almost everybody made time to see and help me. I can count one on hand the number who said no.

Homework pays off

Even in the pre-internet days of 1991 there were many books, people, and even rudimentary online resources available to me in Boston that I used to research possible Portland employers and people I might contact for informational interviews. Doing that kind of research made my search more efficient and gave me an edge in job interviews.

You’ll make many friends along the way

It’s a cliché, but true: every city is a small town. Since moving to Oregon 21 years I’ve had a rewarding communications career working with non-profits, government agencies, and elected officials. And many of the people I met here during my first job search in 1991 became coworkers, colleagues, and even good friends.