Diana’s Big Move: The job search begins

After lots of trips from New York to Boston, I’m looking forward to getting settled. Photo: Rob Pongsajapan, Flickr/Creative Commons

A new series exploring one Idealist’s search for her next career move.

Hi, I’m Diana. We met recently in the post about Idealist’s Community Support Team. My coworker Kim and I answer all of your calls and emails about the site.

A confession: For the last few days, during every conversation I’ve had with a job seeker, I’ve given them a mental high five, and sent off an extra little prayer to the universe that things go well for them. Why? Because I’m in the club now, too.

I love Idealist and I’ve loved working with people like you, but life is taking me away from New York and I’m officially looking for a new gig. As I began tackling applications, a few things dawned on me – insight that I probably wouldn’t have if I didn’t, y’know, work at Idealist.

Here are some of the discoveries I’ve made so far:

1) If you’re currently employed, consider telling your manager you’re looking. Maybe.

Idealist is an open, supportive place to work, with open, supportive leadership. My managers know I’m searching, which is helpful because I don’t have to scramble for references and I won’t have to fake a stomachache to go out of town for an interview. If you’re lucky to be in a workplace like mine, you might want to disclose your decision to move on relatively early in your process.

But clearly this is not an option for everyone. Make sure you weigh the benefits against the potential risks. In her post Choosing an end date when resigning, Alison Green of Ask a Manager writes:

“Your best bet is to pay attention to how your employer has handled other employees who resign. Are people shown the door immediately? Pushed out earlier than they would have otherwise planned to leave? Allowed to work their full notice period? In any case, don’t assume that you control the selection of your last day once you give notice…”

And keep in mind that life isn’t all carefree after you come clean. While I had a hunch Idealist wouldn’t fire me just for announcing my intentions to move on, spreading the news has been nerve-wracking for other reasons. What if Idealist hires my replacement, and I still haven’t found anything? What if my move falls apart at the last minute? Before you give notice, be sure you really, really want to make this career move. Idealist’s tools for career self-assessment can help.

2) Research, research, research.

  • Even if you’re not moving, find out what organizations or companies are most active in your region and see if you can find your professional niche in that area. Is your city a haven for museums, or hospitals, or biotech? You may end up playing a similar role in a wildly different organization.
  • What are your salary requirements? If you are moving, find out how much should you expect to make. Don’t get turned down for demanding a Manhattan salary in a city with a drastically lower cost of living. I found CNN Money’s Cost of Living calculator to be especially handy. You can also see a breakdown of salaries by company, location, and title at Glassdoor.com (you may have to join to see the information you need – they give you a month for free, and offer you unlimited membership if you contribute anonymously to their database).

3) Sweat the little stuff. Seriously.

After working here I will never, ever copy and paste a form cover letter because I know it always shows. Tailor your cover letter and your resume specifically for the job to which you’re applying. Find out as much as you can about the organization or company you’d like to work for, and tell them honestly why you want to work for them and why you’re qualified for the position.

Stay tuned.

I’ll check in every now and then to update you my progress, and I’d love to hear from you, too. I’m in a unique situation since I can write so publicly about this. If you prefer not to comment publicly here, please feel free to write to me at diana [at] idealist [dot] org to share your struggles, your victories, a story of that kick-butt interview answer you came up with. We’re in this together.

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    • Scott
    • March 23, 2012

    Thanks for the resources. One I’d like to add is the Sunlight Foundations (where I work) website – http://upwardly.us/

    The tool uses census data to help you find comparable jobs in cities around the country. The idea is to find a city suitable for your goals in life like higher pay, cheaper cost of living, affordable housing and other factors.

    Check it out!

    • Diana Hsu
    • March 23, 2012

    Thanks for sharing, Scott. I’ll definitely have to check that out. 🙂


    • Brian
    • March 26, 2012

    We can do it!

    Brian in Toronto

    • William McMullin
    • March 26, 2012

    I have been struggling to find a job since I graduated college in 2004. I obtained a BBA in Public Administration and Environmental Studies with minors in political science and general business. In college, I interned with the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council doing office work. I helped lead the campus environmental group and organized educational events on campus and worked with the university for 2 years to try to get them to switch to 100% recycled paper. I also worked for 2 years in college to get a student choice dissection bill introduced in the Michigan Legislature. I networked with NGO’s to alert their members to “call-in” days I organized to their representatives in support of the bill.

    Upon graduating, I started applying to animal and environmental organizations for jobs. None were interested in me. I then started applying for clerical jobs at nonprofit organizations. None were interested in me. I then sent letters of interest to sustainability departments at businesses and universities. I offered to work for free. They weren’t interested. I then started applying for clerical jobs in the private sector at all kinds of companies. None wanted me. I then started applying for any minimum wage crap job I could find. None wanted me. I decided to intern for a state representative in Lansing to gain experience to get hired on when the internship ended. Ever since it ended in 2005, I have applied for every democratic legislative/office assistant position posted. I have only received one interview in all of the time, and it was recently in 2012.

    For the 2 years after graduating, I volunteered 50 hours/week on a ballot campaign for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to stop the shooting of mourning doves. I called supporters to get them active for the cause. I helped gather signatures every weekend for months in public places. I gathered about 150 endorsers for the campaign including national companies, nonprofit organizations, attorneys, veterinarians, and national celebrities. I came up with a successful Mothers’ Day bulb fundraiser. I helped canvass for the campaign and served as a county coordinator for my county. We won on Election Day.

    When the dove campaign ended, PETA hired me on to work in VA in 2007. After 8 months, I realized I couldn’t afford to live in such an expensive area on $11/hr. I moved back to Michigan and struggled for 7 months applying for any job I could find.

    Finally, I got a real job. HSUS, who I helped out on the dove campaign, asked me to work for them as an administrative assistant in their Central States Regional Office that was moving from Chicago to St. Paul, MN. Finally making a living wage for once and loving the work I was doing, I thought I was set for life. Although I was living paycheck to paycheck, I could finally afford to eat 3 meals a day for once. I was always thinking about how to improve the organization, cut expenses, and help our constituents in our region better advocate for animals. Unfortunately, after 11 months, HSUS announced they were closing its regional offices in another month.

    I moved back to Michigan February 2009. I found a part-time job at an insurance company processing annuity applications and doing data entry 24-26 hours per week. I made a career portfolio and sent it to every national animal and environmental organization I could find. None were interested. I contacted directors of consumer protection, liberal democratic, civil rights, media reform, and other progressive organizations. None were interested. I contacted local nonprofits such as Planned Parenthood, United Way, Goodwill, etc. None were interested. I finally got an interview at Michigan Environmental Council for a part-time administrative assistant position. I was so excited for the opportunity that I was really nervous, and I think I botched the interview. Either way, they did not end up selecting me.

    I interned for another state representative at the end of 2010, but the rep was voted out of office and the internship ended early.

    I re-contacted national organizations and offered to work for them for minimum wage a couple days week. They would get good quality help at a great deal. I would get more experience in the field, and I would be actually working 5 days a week when combined with my part-time insurance job. None were interested.

    After gaining a little experience at my insurance job, I contacted insurance agents all around the area asking if they needed any clerical help. They said they didn’t have anything but with my impressive resume and ambition, surely I’d find something soon. Yeah…right.

    Everyone I graduated with in the same type of field and who have the same interests have great jobs with NGO’s, the U.S. Senate, etc. I’m struggling just to find a minimum wage job.

    I made a career portfolio at http://www.wmcmullin.com to add to my cover letter when applying for jobs. So far, it hasn’t helped.

    I contacted Western Michigan University’s career center, but they said they won’t help me because I graduated too long ago. I then got in contact with the head of the department who went over my various resumes with me. I have one for office work, one for nonprofit work, and one for government work. We improved them, but they still haven’t given me any results. As a side note, I’ve been applying for $10/hr. office jobs at WMU since I graduated. Apparently, a business graduate from their college is not qualified to be an office assistant there. They hire Central Michigan University graduates instead.

    In Fall of 2011, I started an online Masters program for environmental law and policy at Vermont Law School in hopes someone will hire me when I graduate. I won’t hold my breathe.

    • Brandi
    • March 26, 2012

    I am really going to enjoy this series! I’ve been working in the same organization for the last 6.5 years, and now a move across the country soon has me back in the game. The process of looking and applying for positions is still exciting, although I do find myself pushing back fear. Good luck to you, and I look forward to following your journey!

    • Eugenia F. Escudero
    • March 26, 2012


    I completely understand what you are going through! Im in a very similar situation and it’s very frustrating. I’m kind of glad I’m not the only one..Have you tried reading the book, What Color is Your Parachute? It might be of some help to you.


    • Julia Smith
    • March 26, 2012

    William, thank you for sharing your story. It is a sobering one, and from the response to this post (here and over email) we know it is unfortunately common. If anyone has ideas about how we can continue to explore these themes in realistic and helpful ways here on the blog, please drop me a line: julia [at] idealist [dot] org.

    Meanwhile, did you see this NYT article over the weekend?

    “Members of Drew’s Class of ’11 are typical of their peers nationally in that their success in the job market seems to have less to do with their G.P.A.’s or their persistence and more to do with their family connections, fields of study, networking skills and luck…17% of our sample of Drew University’s Class of 2011 is unemployed. 39% have full-time jobs..74% of students who are interning are unpaid…34% of jobs involve food service, retail, customer service, clerical or unskilled work.”


    • Ronsheeka
    • March 28, 2012

    Thanks for your words of encouragement guys and good luck to all in their job searches! I recently resigned from my insurance job in hopes of finding an organization in which I can use my skills to make a difference in the lives of today’s youth and I must admit that I’m scared to death however idealist.org gives me much needed optimism!
    One love

    • Amanda
    • April 11, 2012

    William my heart goes out to you!! I’ve been on the job hunt after leaving a great job in NY to move to the West coast and it’s been really discouraging. Have you thought about working abroad to get some more experience? NGOs all over the world use volunteers and are great references.

    • Michelle
    • April 12, 2012

    Hey William. Sounds like a horrible and painful job search. I am from Michigan (actually in Lansing, figure the west side of the state wasn’t getting me any jobs) , too and am applying for jobs. If you want to email me at michelle.u.adams@gmail.com, maybe in my job search I’ll come across something that might fit you. Let me know!


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