What I learned from applying to my first job in 8 years

I did not expect to be saying this but… in November 2018 I applied for a job. (wait, what?)

I absolutely love my business and it’s not going anywhere but a job with an irresistible set of characteristics caught my eye and I decided it wasn’t 100% crazy to throw my hat in the ring.

(What in the world could be an irresistible set of characteristics that would have this business owner apply for a job, you say? Customer service - one of my FAVORITE things in this world, getting to support business owners, and something that is both part-time and short-term because I’m not looking for a full-time job)

Despite being a bit of a scary experience (it’s been 8 years since I formally applied for a job!) it was also incredibly empowering implement so much of the wisdom I’ve gained from working with clients over the past few years.

Here are 3 topics I talk to clients about almost every day that I got to experience first-hand as I applied for this job:

1. Get the story clear in your own mind so you can communicate it clearly to others.

So much of job applications and interviewing is storytelling.

When I first saw the job posting, I felt this immediate overwhelming desire to apply and couldn’t fall asleep that night because my brain was on fire with excitement.

If you’re surprised, let me tell you how surprised I was! You can probably imagine the story that was occurring in my head:

  • “Brain, what are you doing?!? Why are you getting so excited about this job?”

  • Why am I having the completely irrational thought of applying for this job? I absolutely LOVE running my own business and it’s going incredibly well!

  • Why would I want to go back to customer service?

  • Why would I want to do something part-time for a few months?

It made no sense at all in my own mind.

However, as I thought about it more over the next couple of days, I came to understand why my intuition had been so spot on and it actually made perfect sense to apply.

Now, when I got to the interview stage, I was effectively asked “umm… we don’t usually get applicants like you, why do you want this job?”

For some of you, that may be your worst nightmare! Having an interviewer ask about the career switch you’ve made or the time gap in your career history is the thing you’re trying to avoid at all costs. For me, I saw it as an inevitable question and used it as an opportunity to tell the story incredibly clearly about why this job is a great fit.

Instead of saying “I know, how weird is it that I’m a career coach applying for a part-time customer service job, it felt so irrational!”, I was able to say “great question, here are the 3 specific reasons why I’d be such a great fit for this job and why I was SO excited to apply…”.

It changed the interviewer’s perspective from confusion to complete understanding - and it landed me the job.

2. Define your non-negotiables so it’s easy to say no to what doesn’t work.

You may remember an earlier blog post about the purpose of interviews and the importance of interviews being a two-way street. Not only are they assessing you for fit, but you should also be assessing them for fit. It’s so easy to get swept up in the game of convincing an interviewer you're a good fit for a job and then totally forget to evaluate if it's actually right for you.

During this application process, one of the questions was whether I was excited to work on weekends.

I understand that working weekends is great for some peoples’ schedules and for me, I have absolutely no desire to work on weekends. None.

I immediately saw that there were two ways I could respond.

  1. I could say whatever I thought I needed to say to land the job (“Yes! I’m ready to work any time you need me!”) and then find myself unhappy in a job where I was expected to work weekends. Or…

  2. I could be very clear about what I was excited about (exceeding customer expectations and working a weekend day here and there if needed, along with a day off during the week) and what didn’t work for me (I know burnout is one of the biggest challenges for customer service folk and I’m committed to having boundaries and recharging on the weekends) and let them choose if it was right to proceed.

It’s lose-lose if I wind up in a job where I’m working weekends and miserable about it. By being clear, candid, and aware of my own needs, I felt good about my answer and was able to help them identify if I was the right fit.

3. Create options for yourself and cultivate multiple opportunities.

After the initial shock wore off of wanting to apply for the job without knowing why, I realized that one of the biggest opportunities for me was to keep up my skills in customer service. I worked in customer service for 6 years before running my business and if I couldn’t have my business for any reason, I would most likely return to customer service as that’s where most of my career capital lies.

For me, this part-time, short term job was the perfect opportunity to keep my options open in a very contained way. I don’t have to close my business and take a full-time job to keep up my skills in customer service. I get to keep my skills active a few days a week while running my business, as a bonus I get to support business owners, and in another few months, I go back to running my business full-time.

I always advocate for clients building a life filled with options and finding ways to prototype anything they’re interested in or want to have as a career.

So if you’re in interview mode…

  1. What are you terrified that an interviewer is going to ask you or notice about your experience? How can you see that as an opportunity to craft an incredibly clear story that actually lands you the opportunity?

  2. What are your non-negotiables? Needing to pick up your kids at a certain time every day? Living in a certain area to be close to the ocean because you’re an avid surfer? Whatever it is for you, be clear about the dealbreakers and don’t get sucked into anything that isn’t a good fit.

  3. How can you keep your eyes open for unexpected opportunities? How can you cultivate multiple opportunities for yourself during this job search? Is this a stepping stone job that gets you closer to your longer-term goals? Are you looking for options that keep up existing skills that you’re not necessarily using at the moment?

Using these three tactics, I was able to experience a job search where I prioritized fit for both me and the company with exciting results.

Now I get to run my business while doing a few months of customer service! I can’t imagine anything better.

P.S. For one additional tip, don’t talk yourself out of an opportunity before you even apply. I had a two-week vacation scheduled which almost stopped me from applying in the first place. In the end, it was absolutely a non-issue, and I almost missed the opportunity because I thought I knew what would be a deal-breaker for them.