it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news, with more accounts of success even in this weird time.

1. I wanted to share some good news! I work in a fairly niche industry. For the first five years out of college, I worked in the for-profit side of my industry. I enjoyed it for the most part, but it is an industry with some challenging culture issues and often some toxicity among staffing. After the first five years, I found an opportunity in my career path in a nonprofit management role. I honestly didn’t know if I was qualified for the position, but applied and was given an offer that I jumped at.

I had never done any type of managing before and I had a lot of moments where I didn’t think I was cut out for it. The culture was a huge improvement, but when I first started, I was terribly shy (a holdover from my childhood) and struggled to come into my own. At one point relatively early on I was on a PIP and really questioning if I was meant for management and meant for the higher responsibility that this role required.

I made a conscious choice to stay and threw myself into improvement and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. My confidence slowly grew, I came off the PIP, started to have some solid successes in the role, and I grew to be a stronger presence on the management team over the years. I started to receive better raises and good feedback and have felt very solid in my role now for the last few years.

Anyway, I’m thrilled to share that I just accepted a promotion from a manager to a director role in my current nonprofit. We have a lot of new initiatives coming down the pipeline- I’ve had a lot of opportunity to grow recently and start working on awesome new community programs.

I mostly want people to know that it is possible to overcome what can often feel like crippling shyness and confidence issues. I struggled so hard when I was younger with it. Literally, sobbing meltdowns at home if I knew I had to present for a class in high school. Through a lot of personal work (and some therapy, ha!) I now run a department at a nonprofit, speak to donors and board members, and speak regularly to college classes at my alma mater. I never thought I would get to a point of feeling so comfortable in my own skin at work and in front of other people. And I definitely never in a million years thought I would be comfortable public speaking, and I now truly enjoy the opportunities I get to do it (especially talking to college students!) I get to work for and in my community every day in a career that has been my passion since high school, and I’m so lucky to have gotten here.

2. I’ve spent my career in academia, but for some years now I’ve been thinking about leaving. I had a general field in mind, but twenty years in the academic bubble made it hard to imagine what, specifically, I might want to do or how to get there. Then, in 2020, my university underwent restructuring in response to Covid-19. The nature of my job changed—it was time to go. Around that time, a friend sent me a posting for a leadership position in a small nonprofit in the area where she lives, a place where my partner and I were excited to live.

I applied. I used your ‘a bunch of help finding a new job’ resources extensively, along with a certain other career-advice website for academics. Having been a long-term reader of your site helped me wrap my head around how to present myself differently than I’m used to doing. Your advice on interviewing—how to prepare for those “tell us about your experience with x” questions, which could have really sunk me—was incredibly helpful, and I kept your dictum of treating the process as a two-way conversation about fit firmly in mind. I didn’t try to paper over my lack of experience in the field (which would have felt awkward and uncomfortable anyway), but focused on demonstrating how my skills and experience would translate and what I would bring to the table. And I wrote a killer thank-you letter (it was remarked on), which I wouldn’t have done without the example you posted.

I got the job! Honestly, I don’t think it would have occurred to me to consider a leadership role if I hadn’t begun reading your site, which was the first time I ever really thought about what good management and leadership are. I always thought of myself as having only narrow subject-matter expertise to offer, but now I’m excited at the chance to get things done!

3. I have now been away from work for a year, but the last year was hellish. Thanks to your advice I realized that not only had I managed my relationship with my manager poorly from the start (too much info regarding health issues, which made her nervous about my reliability), but she herself was struggling in a position where our department objectives changed nearly monthly. In the ten years I’d been in the company the job description had changed at least once a year, and in the last year more like on a monthly basis. You helped me see that I’d altered my norms to accept what was toxic and dysfunctional.

When I realized my migraines had become chronic (missing 2 or 3 days some weeks) I went out on FMLA. After six months of no improvement I tried to contact my boss – only to find that she herself had retired not 2 months after I went out on leave and was facing huge medical challenges.

Short answer – I let my grandboss know that I wasn’t coming back, retired with benefits from the company, and my physicians and I have been attacking the migraine problem more aggressively with new developments in treatment options. I’m slowly seeing improvement, but the biggest one is the lack of mental stress being out of that job. Being 67 and retired hasn’t been a dream in pandemic times, but it was the right choice for me. I credit you with giving me the insights I needed to cut my losses.

4. I’ve been waiting weeks to share my own news! I worked as a high school science teacher for several years but decided to leave teaching to return to graduate school for a degree in a highly specialized, medically related field. Although I still work with teens, my background in education hasn’t always been valued by all of the professors here. In addition, I was terrified of graduating during COVID and having to find a job when so many others are out of work. But I got your book and read every article on your site about cover letters, tailoring my application materials to each position. I’m beyond excited that I’ve been offered a fantastic job at one of the top med schools in the country. As the position helps support training med school and PhD students, the interviewers loved my background in teaching.

5. A few years ago, I had been working full time as a teacher, and really miserable. I got fired from the job I thought was my dream job, and then went on unemployment, finished my masters in teaching, and then scraped by on one part-time education position, and side gigs. Then the pandemic hit, I went back on unemployment, that ran out, at just the same time my original part-time position was re-offered to me as an online role. It’s not enough to live on alone, but I have support from the folks I live with. Since then, my pandemic survival strategy has been trying to get more small/side gigs online, and with mostly flexible schedules. Think tutoring, private evening classes, etc. My background and graduate work makes me competitive for $20-$40 pay range, which is pretty good for non salaried positions in my area. All that being said:

Since November I have applied to 3 new positions. And I just accepted my 3rd acceptance, so I got all 3! Only one of them required a cover letter, but I do feel like years of reading your site is what set me in the right path. I am proud of myself for being both discerning about what jobs I could enjoy and be competitive with, and also for writing strong applications and giving good interviews. The most recent acceptance was the job I was most excited about, and the one I had to write a cover letter for – I carefully studied several of your sample letters and for the first time ever, it all “clicked” and I wrote a CL that was attention garnering, and effective at conveying my expertise. I can definitely say it’s the best CL I’ve ever written. I usually have so much trouble! So, long story short – starting in April I’ll be teaching some really rad enrichment courses to some young folks, and I definitely have your site in part to thank. I am still a long way towards setting up the work life that is going to be sustainable for me long-term, but I feel like I have made some real strides in the past years towards setting up the right balance for myself. Thanks for everything your site helps people accomplish!

6. Your blog just landed me an amazing HR job at a Fortune 500 company that I am so excited about! I started reading here after I had already submitted my resume, and I now know that it wasn’t a great one. I also didn’t submit a cover letter at all. I knew I needed to nail the (SIX!) interviews, so I read almost every related post on your website and spent hours preparing (but not over-preparing!)

The hiring manager and interview panel raved about my interviews and seem genuinely excited about bringing me on to their team. It’s a 60.5% increase in salary and comes with an annual bonus, a really nice retirement plan, and other benefits which I’m lacking right now – and half days on Fridays!

I just wanted to send a huge thank you to you and your commenters whose advice almost definitely made me the top candidate for this company.

{ 32 comments… read them below }

  1. Darth Mom*

    LW 1, I am grinning from ear to ear reading your letter. So happy for you! Congratulations on your promotion and your success, professionally and personally. Way to go!

  2. LifeBeforeCorona*

    No. 1 is an amazing story of how they went from a PIP to becoming a director. I’d really like to hear more details because it can be inspiring to anyone who is stuck and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

  3. Blaise*

    I’m wondering if OP1 has any ideas for how teachers can make presenting less intimidating?? I’m a language teacher so speaking is an absolute must lol, and presentational spelling is both a national standard for world language and also just a really important life skill. I work really hard to make my classroom a place where we all need up sometimes and it’s not a big deal at all, but at the end of the day I do require all students to occasionally present things (like twice a year). Any tips to make it less of a big deal for kids like that??

    1. neuronsandneuroses*

      Psych teacher here- a good technique is to scaffold in a way that exposes them to presenting in smaller increments. For example, presenting to the whole class is the goal. So we have them present to a partner first, then a smaller group, then the whole class.

    2. misspiggy*

      I’d suggest a very short preparation timeframe. One class on a topic, the next on putting together a poster on the topic, the next group presentations on the poster, with everyone taking turns. Posters are a valid academic presentation format, without the stress of having to prepare a speech or a PowerPoint. Let students build up to those latter skills as they increase in confidence.

      1. Blaise*

        This is an interesting idea… were you by chance one of those shy kids who struggled with presenting? I’ve always thought giving more time to prepare is better, but maybe not!

    3. Astor*

      I’m not a teacher, but my experience is to make your reasoning clear, have options available, and be willing to let the students be creative in how to meet those requirements. Can they do the presentation in-person but with pre-recorded audio? Can they do the presentation live for you (alone or with a couple friends) and provide different material for their classmates? Can they do the presentation live but be allowed to answer questions via email (or voice recording)? Can they show a pre-recorded presentation? You know what you’re looking for and so might be able to come up with some options.

      In most of those cases, it’s going to be easier for most students to get the benefits of the standard in-class presentation. But for students who find an in-class presentation particularly difficult, the additional work involved in changing formats should feel like a worthwhile trade-off. They’ll know that it’s not punative and is just another way of showing you the things you actually need to evaluate their skills. And providing those kinds of suggestions will give them more confidence to ask for something that isn’t on your list but still meets the requirements.

      1. Blaise*

        So when the teaching goal is “show me what you know”, they get all kinds of choices. But when the goal is “be able to use presentational language”, giving options other than presenting live is no longer accomplishing that goal. So these really won’t give the students the specific knowledge and experiences they need. For other projects though, definitely always best to let students basically do whatever they want as long as they can demonstrate their knowledge in some way :)

    4. Anony-Mouse*

      You’ve got the double whammy there of presenting being hard and presenting in another language being harder. I know from my language classes, being allowed to pick a topic was helpful; if it’s something the student is interested in they should be more motivated and excited to learn the appropriate vocabulary and pronunciation. But, on the other hand it was also helpful if the whole class was presenting on the same few topics (like everyone picked a topic from a list of three) because then it felt like less pressure; people would get bored and not pay full attention since the presentations got repetitive! So I’d know by the time it was my turn that all eyes weren’t on me. One teacher also let students present one on one to her, which was nice as well. Still intimidating, but less so than speaking in front of the entire class in a language you’re learning…

    5. Edwina*

      I don’t know if this helps, but I was a music professor, and when I taught beginning theory, really the only way to convey the music you’re reading or working on, is to sing it. (i.e. the musical equivalent of reading something aloud.) Well. Asking kids to SING in front of each other in a classroom is so intimidating! Oh how they really don’t want to do it. Self-consciousness overtakes them.

      So I plunged in on the very first day. First I had them sing a scale together, and pointed out that they all had mastered the basics of Western music and from now on it would just be building on that; then I singled out one of the obviously more extroverted kids, and had him or her sing it alone; then another; then would single out a shy kid, briskly and matter of factly, and I’d coax them by singing myself and pointing out I had kind of a lousy singing voice, and maybe have them sing it with me first, and then alone. Then one by one I went through the whole class. Then I did it every day that week. By the second week of the class they were all singing comfortably with each other, and the better kids were helping the weaker kids, and we were cheering everyone on. As a reward, every Friday, I’d bring in a fun song and we’d all sing it together. (Usually, it would have whatever music patterns we’d been working on, so they could see the immediate reward of what they’d been working on.)

      The trick was to do it incrementally, and to plunge in the first day so there wasn’t any anticipatory dread. I wonder if that could somehow translate to you. Perhaps the first day you have everyone speak aloud, maybe just a sentence or two. The second day you get them to do it standing up. You’re tirelessly encouraging, especially to the shy kids. “It was hard for Aurelia, but she did it! Let’s give her a hand!” Then have some sort of speaking in front of the class several times a week. Finally you’d build up to the presentations, but by then they should be comfortable with each other.

      Just a thought!

  4. TimeTravlR*

    So glad for all these good news stories, and it’s nice they credit Alison and askamanager, but I hope they know that THEY did the work to get the experience, to write the best resume, to do a boss cover letter, to nail the interview, to get the job! Yes, all credit to Alison and her great tips, but you guys are the ones that rocked it!!!

    1. Patricia McGregor*

      Hi – I’m the letter writer. No, although I wrote for help in my head dozens of times.

  5. Ali*

    For #2, what are those career-advice website for academics? Inquiring minds want to know! I have long wished there was an Ask A Manager-type site that was just for academia.

    1. merope*

      It’s not an advice-only website, but The Fora: A Higher Education Community (http://thefora.org/) has been really helpful to me. The posting population is nearly entirely academics, so they understand the unwritten (and written) norms of the field.

  6. Daisy-dog*

    #4 – Congratulations! My husband was a high school science teacher as well and felt like he would starting from scratch when he moved onto his next career. However, (from my interpretation) the interviewers for his new position were very impressed by everything he was able to accomplish in his years of teaching. His offer was above market for a new grad in that field.

    For any other teachers out there that are wanting something new: another former high school science teacher that I know is starting her career at the FBI. They’re currently specifically seeking out people with high levels of demonstrated interpersonal skills. If teaching is not your long-term passion, there are some employers out there who do recognize all the skills that you have!

    1. LW #4*

      Thank you! All of my interviewers were super impressed with my background in teaching. After all, we not only have the technical skills but also specialize in explaining complex topics and navigating tough inter-personal situations.

    2. Jack Straw*

      I think you hit on the big thing that helped me sell my teaching experience when I made the move–“were very impressed by everything he was able to accomplish in his years of teaching.” There are many, perfectly good teachers who just teach. That’s it. They do a good job, but they aren’t out signing up for state pilot programs, or leading departmental teams, or setting up new student orientation programs, or seeking out community partners for their classes, etc.

      There’s nothing wrong with that, but when you can show that you have drive, plus business acumen, plus interpersonal skills needed to receive awards, grants, etc. along with teaching skills–that’s a golden ticket. :)

      1. DRD*

        I may be off-base here, but this idea that some teachers “just teach” sounds incredibly condescending.

  7. Liz*

    LW#1 I get it; i was PAINFULLY shy as a child, and well into young adulthood. It was an ordeal for me to even simply ask someone a question, let alone anything more. I’m in my 50’s know, and while still shy in some situations, i have no problem opening my mouth if I need something or something isn’t as it should be, nicely of course!

    1. allathian*

      Me too. I hated presentations as a kid, and we didn’t have them all that often, about one every year in junior high and one every semester in high school, never in elementary. I wasn’t one of the popular kids, so the largely hostile audience didn’t help. I envy my son who had his first informal show and tells in kindergarten, I do hope things will be easier for him.

      It got easier when I joined the drama club in high school and found my in-group. Playing a role made things easier and also made it possible for me to show my vulnerability, which I was trying to hide by not saying anything. Then I got my first job at a convenience store, and that made it much easier to deal with people I didn’t know. In college we had presentations in a large number of courses. After that preparation, defending my master’s thesis was a breeze.

      My first professional job was as a market researcher, and it’s funny how much easier it got to do presentations when I knew the material at a deeper level and the audience was paying me to hear the results!

      At our team meetings now, I’m one of the blabbermouths, and I often have to remind myself to give others a chance to have their say…

  8. Stratocaster*

    LW#1 – congrats! That is awesome. If you don’t mind sharing – what sorts of things helped you overcome your shyness and gain confidence? I am on a management path at work, and while I am very excited about this, I deal with a lot of imposter syndrome and the feeling like I’m not qualified to speak up. I’d love to know what strategies worked for you as a new manager to get to the place where you are now. Thanks!

  9. Lily Rowan*

    I love the variety of good news in these! It’s not all “got better at applying, got a great job.”

    Thanks to all the OPs and Alison, too!

  10. Jack Straw*

    Congrats to the teachers who made the move. I did the same years ago and, minus really missing my students (which I’ve partially found with volunteering), have never looked back. You’ll be amazed how much differently you will feel.

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