March 24, 2021

Making a Career Pivot


Episode Highlights

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In this episode, Careerwell Cofounder James Hornick will be talking with Shandee Ewert, who recently made a career pivot into an HR Generalist role at 1WorldSync. James and Shandee will discuss the things that made Shandee successful: her proactive approach to informational interviews, utilizing her network to learn more about the field and better present her experience, targeting companies and discovering effective outreach methods, and moving on from less effective job search methods. Shandee will talk about what she learned that she’ll carry forward in her career and what advice she has for other job seekers looking to make a pivot.  

Episode Transcript

Everyone welcome to the talent insights podcast brought to you by Hirewell and Careerwell, I’m your host, James Hornick today is the first of a new series we’re calling adventures in  job seeking. It’s kind of made that name up of the cuff by that sounded cool at the time, which has focused on really telling the stories of real life, job seekers who made pivots or other career changes where we talk about.

What made their transition successful? So people who might’ve had kind of trickier job searches and how that kind of went above and beyond and complaining that job. My guest today is someone who made such a pivot recently landed a role as an HR generalist at a one role. Everyone please welcome Shandee.

You work. Hello. Good to be here. Yeah. So it’s actually, we also rebranded the entire podcast. I didn’t mention kind of so far. So for the longest time we were calling ourselves the recruiting insights podcast kind of realized that we talk about a lot of different things. So we’ve talked about hiring initiatives.

We’ve talked about how to enhance your career. We’ve talked about ages and we’ve talked about diversity inclusion, how to build a sales team, like lots of fun stuff like that. We really don’t talk about true recruiting very often. And you know, it’s kind of all encompassing. And I think that changing things to the talent insights.

Podcast is a little more accurate for kind of the different areas we like to do. But I was really excited to, to kind of chat with you because what we’ve been doing in adding career well, which is kind of our second brand, I think it’s really important to not just hear what we have to say about job seeking, but where people have actually done it.

And seeing that some of these things that are a little outside the norm. And when I say norm people who just apply to jobs online and get frustrated all the time. So let’s kind of kick that off, like. First off. What was your elevator pitch? Like when you talk to people, when you’re doing your job search, how did you describe yourself and introduce yourself to everyone here?

Yeah, so I talked about being really excited to be transitioning into human resources because I’m driven by supporting the success of businesses personnel. So I had 10 years of experience in higher education administration. And although I didn’t work in an HR department, I got experience with a whole wealth of HR functions.

So I did full cycle hiring and recruitment training. I was doing a lot of coaching of leaders and managers, employee relations. But I also really enjoyed the admin aspects. And so all the things that I really enjoyed about the work that I was doing, I realized that is human resources. And so I wanted to move into a human resources position and move out into the corporate sphere and get some experience in a different challenge.

So in addition to all of those HR, Skills that I brought with me. I also brought a lot of things that set me apart because of my higher education experience. So I’ve done a lot of project management and budgeting and event planning, a lot of equity and diversity work and had experienced supervising. I also had some international experience in my background, so that really enables me to communicate effectively across cultures and across identities.

And so when I realized I wanted to make this switch, I’ve kind of played the long game. I got an MBA with an emphasis in HR. So that enabled me to understand how HR fits into the financial picture of an organization. And so I really  wanted to move into a company that I could contribute those skills in a fast paced and innovative and a growth oriented environment.

So that was. The summary of what I was looking for, and that’s what I had the opportunity to relay a lot in informational interviews. And then expand on my story from there and tell us, I guess, got us up to speed now, like your job now at one world sync, how’d you come across that? What’s your role there?

Like, just tell us about the organization to provide a little more context still. Yeah. So the organization does product content management. So we operate in the technology space, but it’s, so it’s kind of technology and sales is the focus of the organization. And honestly, I didn’t know a whole lot about product content management before I found out about the company, but the more I read, the more impressed that I was and how I ended up finding out about the position was that I had done an informational interview with somebody back in.

January or February. So I was connected actually through my Alma mater, I had contacted the career service office of my Alma mater. It was a part of a lot of different networking that I did. So that was just one of many, many contacts. And they connected me to this individual who was also an alum. And worked in HR.

And so we had a conversation and so that individual later ended up getting a position at one world sync and said, Hey, there’s actually this opening for an HR generalist. Maybe you would be interested. And so I had maintained contact. And so she remembered me when that position was open to the, Hey, this might be a good fit for your skills.

And so I applied and I think having somebody within the company to whom. I had already told my story and kind of knew the skills that I had to offer, as opposed to just reading it on a resume or reading it on a cover letter that enabled me to get the opportunity for a phone screen. And I found that the one second on the phone with somebody, once I had the opportunity to interview, I was able to articulate my experience really well.

And in a way that resonated with employers or with people I was networking with, but it was just my experience wasn’t coming across the way I needed it to just in a cover letter or resume as well-crafted, as they might have been. So I’m really excited about the opportunity. It’s actually ended up to be a really perfect fit because I’m getting experience in a lot of different areas of HR.

And that’s really what I was looking for. So I’m touching pretty much every area in doing the day-to-day, but also long-term planning and projects. And the company is at a growth phase and it’s full of people who are really energetic and they’re visionary. And so I’m really excited to be there. And I’m also really excited to be doing recruiting and talent, talent acquisition as part of my position.

That’s something that I’m really passionate about. So the positions that we’re hiring for right now, I get to be involved in all of that. It’s really a great fit. How long was your job search in total? Yeah, almost six months. Yeah. I had finished a contract position for a higher education company at the very end of December.

So, and I started my current position. It’ll be, it’ll be a month on Friday. So almost six months. What was your initial struggle? What were you doing at first, the first month or two in your search that wasn’t really that effective, where you realized you needed to kind of change things up and try some different methods through James, I was a little naive going into the job search at first.

I knew how to get a job in higher education. I’ve been doing it for 10 years. I knew the job boards to look at. I know how to make the context. I knew the language, you know, so. I was trying to apply what I had done there to a completely different sphere. So I had started by looking at job boards. I had made a list of companies that I was interested in just by looking at lists of top companies for diversity, top companies to work, you know, all of those types of lists that you can find out there.

And it was a very, very long list. I think I had about 150 companies on it and I would regularly check these companies, job boards. I was also looking on. LinkedIn and Glassdoor and indeed, and every time I would see a position with a title that interested me and I was looking at recruiting human resources, and I have some experience in training.

So I was looking at learning and development positions as well. And every time I would see one, I would open it up immediately. And then I would read about the company and then I would decide whether or not the company was interesting. And then I would put in an application and it just got to the point where it didn’t feel organized.

It felt overwhelming. There was just too many things to watch and also. I wasn’t getting responses as much as I was catering my resumes and cover letters to those positions. I found that employers just weren’t understanding my background. They didn’t understand my previous position titles coming  from a different industry.

And I understand it. Right. Why would you hire somebody from a different industry when you can hire somebody who’s done the exact same position that you’re looking for at a different company? So when I was applying for higher level positions or kind of like the position I had now, I found that people were looking at my resume and saying, well, you don’t have experience in our computer systems, or you don’t have specific experience in this function of the job, even if I have the transferable skills.

And if I was applying for lower level positions, say very entry level or admin administrative assistant, those types, just to get into a company, they would look at my resume and say what, where you run all these processes. Why would you just want to be an administrative assistant? You’ll be bored. You’ll leave.

So. What I really needed to do was get in front of people to tell my story. And so I figured out that wasn’t working. So I started doing better networking and through those informational interviews that I was doing, one of the things that was recommended to me was a book called the two hour job search.

And so that’s. Kind of the method I use. It’s not going to work for everybody. It happened to work for me. So I adapted a lot of the things in that book in terms of how to make a target employer list. So I narrowed down my list of companies from 150 to something that was actually manageable, how to follow up on informational interviews.

Cause even the informational interviews I was doing at the very beginning, I wasn’t doing a good job of following up because I think, I didn’t know how I felt like I was bothering people. I felt like. I don’t know what I have to offer to them. I don’t want to seem like a burden. So I took a lot of the tips about how to follow up and how often to follow up and what information you can offer informational interviews, whether it be sharing an article or offering information on something, you have some expertise in those things helped me to, to feel like it was more of a genuine relationship because.

These individuals were so incredibly generous with their time and with their knowledge and are people that I hope to stay in contact with for a very long time. And I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just a one-way relationship. And let’s talk a little bit more about defining informational interviews.

Cause I think a lot of people are probably not familiar with that term and or that kind of process. Cause we always talk about in terms of networking with people and building relationships and what not. So when you’re talking about informational interviews, you don’t mean like, like a interview with a company, like a formal one, you’re more just like interviewing with people that you’re trying to network with to learn more about their company, learn more about what skill sets they might see are valuable to you or how would you, I guess define it when you were setting these up here, where are you targeting and who are you trying to set these conversations with?

Yeah. I mean, in my job search, I was also looking to build my own network in recruiting and HR, because I didn’t have a good one. And honestly, that was one of the mistakes that I made when I was planning this job transition. You know, I thought about a lot about the experience that I was getting. I thought about how I could enhance my educational background, but I didn’t think about building my network.

So honestly, I started building my HR and recruiting network to a greater degree in January when we started the job search. If I could go back, I would do that differently, but here we are. So. The conversations that I was having with people were really learning about what they did. I was asking questions about their background, about projects.

They were currently working on about ways that they were involved in the industry. So if they were involved in professional organizations, what professional organizations that they found useful, what resources have they tapped into either on a regular basis now, or when they were entering. The industry they might recommend.

What’s their company culture, like from the inside, when they do job searches, what questions do they ask? What types of companies did they look for? I talked to several people who had, had made major transitions in their careers in terms of the areas they were focusing on. So they were able to share with me, you know, I found that I didn’t like this and here’s why.

And that may or may not have been something that I would have enjoyed, but it was helpful to hear it from the perspective of somebody who had actually done it. So these were all just conversations I had to learn about people learn about their backrooms, learn about their companies, and then staying in contact because sometimes those individuals, might’ve known about a position opening at another company that might fit my skills.

Maybe a position would come open at their company in the future, and they might be able to refer me and sometimes just that referral can actually help get your application looked at. And get you to the phone interviews. And that’s all I needed was to get into an initial phone screening so I could articulate my experience better than it was showing up on paper.

Several things to unpack there. Like one you mentioned before, it’s easier to do that than it is. Like, just show it on paper. I think that if you’re looking for a job, the, one of the takeaways from this is that you just need to think of any way you can get around just the paper step, you know, and just setting up conversations and actually talking with people because.

Even if your background is a dead on fit for something, anytime you can build a relationship. And anytime you can get someone to put in a word for you or get to know you as a person, it just makes it that much easier to get past that first step. One thing I want to mention too, is that you talked about ways to follow up without being annoying and ways to provide value becomes a relationship.

That’s the thing. I hear that a lot, the following up without being annoying is like the one thing that I think that makes most people uncomfortable, finding ways to do that. So. How did you go about the followup process? How did you go about adding value as opposed to just, you know, asking questions and making it one one-sided right.

I got better at it as time went on, but any time somebody offered me advice, whether it be. Look into this resource, read this article, read this book, listen to this podcast, cast, whatever it was. I did it. We’re taking their time to share this advice. You mean that we’re giving it for a reason. So I followed up, I did those things and then I followed up and I let them know how it worked out.

Maybe it was another informational interview they connected me to. And so I made sure to follow up and said, Hey, I had this conversation with so-and-so. They were really helpful in this area. Thank you. So one, it was following up on advice. So that was a reason to, to reach back out because. People want to know that, you know, they took the time to provide this to you.

It’s kind of unprofessional to show them that you did it, but also some of the pieces of conversations that, that popped up, that I might have some expertise in. So there were some folks that I talked to who were looking at some diversity training things in their companies, and I was able to take some things that I had used in higher education and pass on those resources.

I talked to one individual. Whose son was interested in study abroad opportunities. I know something about that. So I was able to offer some perspectives on that. Now I’m not going to say that I was able to do this for everybody. And so obviously, Expressing that gratitude and making sure that in the future, I maintain that relationship.

So should I be able to offer something, whether it be help on a project or boosting one of their things on LinkedIn or commenting on their LinkedIn posts, you know, whatever it might be that I’m doing that because I want to, and it’s important to me to give back in the way that I can. So some of, some of the people, it was to a lesser degree, but some I was able to offer a little more and hopefully with those ongoing relationships, they’ll continue to build.

That’s valuable. I’m going to take that away and steal that for later. So one thing I want to mention too, like what tools did you use? So like in terms of tracking, I know at first you said you were taking on too much, so you kind of paired things down, but even still, like when you’re doing as many informational interviews as you did, I don’t know if we, you mentioned like how many, if you track how many you’ve done, but there’s some level of in order to do all this follow up and take all this advice and show people you’re taking their advice.

Seriously, you have to have be able to kind of. You know, close that loop from that standpoint, like how were you tracking your progress with everything? I did a lot of informational actually, but between 60 and 70 informational interviews over the last six months. So it was a lot and I wanted to make sure I was following up with all of them.

So I, I just tracked all the information in Google docs. So the book I mentioned actually had a system that they recommended. So I use a modified version of that system. I had a target company list, and then I had a list of. Informational interviews. When I had last communicated with people, what that communication was about what platform I use to communicate with them.

Maybe it was LinkedIn, maybe with email. And then I would add to my calendar, just Google calendar reminders each day for when I should be following up with certain people or when I should be following up on an application I submitted because without those reminders, I think I’m a pretty organized person, but I think even I would have lost track just trying to look, you got a giant spreadsheet and figure it out.

So yeah, pretty simple free tools. Any other takeaways from the experience you had mentioned kind of starting off that it’s easy to say in the moment, you know, when you’re looking for a job, you realize, man, I should have, I should do a better job at networking. But when you started this whole thing off, you realize that your network wasn’t as big in this area as you want it.

Have you thought more about that? And are there any other things like takeaways in terms of what you’re going to change, kind of going forward in your career, just always have kind of a lot of this groundwork laid out for you? Well, I mean, like you mentioned the networking, for sure. I think I. I have had this impression in the past that networking just feels slimy and it doesn’t have to.

And I think it’s all in how you maintain those relationships afterwards, too. So now that I’m employed, I’m in the process of following up with all of those 60 to 70 people. Cause I said, you know, I’ll keep you updated on how things are going. So I’m going to keep them updated and I’m going to stay in touch and closing that loop.

So not just using them for, to get a job and then. Dropping those relationships. So the networking, for sure. I think, you know, I touched on the documents, cover letters and resumes, but I put a lot of focus on that too. I mean, I think I have about 30 different versions updates of my resume and cover letter along the way.

I hired a consultant to help me make sure that the language that I had previously been using in higher education was. Was transitioning to the language that I needed to use, to express what I had been doing in human resources, language instead of higher education language. So that was really helpful, but also a lot of people who are really generous, either as recruiters and I touch on recruiters.

I know we talked about them previously as well, or from informational interviews. I get people who are willing to look at my resume. Who actually worked in the field of recruiting and human resources. So step one was working with that consultant to do that first transition. And step two was taking advice for people who were in the field.

I think initially I had a hard time letting go of some of the things on my resume because I had worked so hard to achieve some of those things in higher ed over the past 10 years. And it took me a while to get comfortable saying, you know, I just. The second page, you know, it just needs to go and maybe I can use it as examples in interviews, but there was some ego attached to it.

Yeah. I worked so hard. I see this all the time, you know, but once, once I got to that point, I was much more comfortable with the documents. They had personalizing every single cover letter, every single resume for every job application that I did using the language that they do. And that. It takes a really long time.

I never applied via LinkedIn. Cause I know those resumes often get overlooked that quick apply is so tempting, but often they don’t get responses. But working with recruiters, I know we touched on that. If we have a few minutes, I’d love to. Yeah. Yeah. I was going to say, is there anything, cause I know this is where things are.

I think it’s going to take a turn because I did want to say in general, like what, what things did just didn’t work, you know, what did you learn in terms of what you wouldn’t do next time? Or what things do you think a lot of people rely on that really aren’t that optimal compared to some other things we talked about earlier, like the scattershot approach with the cover letters, resumes in the applicant, it didn’t work.

I also want to acknowledge my unique position here. So, you know, I was looking for relatively entry-level roles. The methods that I use might not be as successful for executives. You know, you might not be able to make a target company list and then just wait till the executive position comes open.

That’s not going to work. I also want to acknowledge the challenges of the current market. So. Yes, there are less jobs out there, but also the same challenges that have always been present. Are there still. So identity-based bias in the hiring process is a very real thing that a lot of candidates are up against.

And I know I’m going on a little tender, but I, I will return. And so one of the things that James you talked about when we talked about this conversation is that we’re not denying that those things are at play, but I think the resources that the James and career are trying to offer are to provide the candidates with the resources to be as successful as they can within their sphere of influence.

So hopefully some of these things will be useful to some people, but. But recruiters are the other thing that I want to touch on. I think a lot of people, myself included go into relationships with staffing agencies, thinking they’re going to help me get a job. And it’s not recruiter’s job to at least.

You know, staffing agency recruiters too, to help you find a job. And I learned that relatively quickly as I started having conversations with staffing agencies. And that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to. I think I talked to a lot of folks with staffing agencies, including hire well, who I could tell were really invested in my success and were really willing to offer feedback about.

Resumes to do reality checks about the market or the positions I was looking at. And I found that incredibly valuable. Some people willing to connect me to other people for informational interviews, what recruiters can’t do. And I mean, JMC you’re the expert in this companies are looking for specific things.

And so, I mean, I wouldn’t, if I were in the recruiter position, if somebody is looking for somebody for an HR generalist who has HR generalist experience, I wouldn’t have put my resume forth either. Like you need to put to four of the top candidates. And so I think people get disillusioned with recruiters because they, it might not immediately help them find a job.

But I think it’s because there’s some misperceptions about what the recruiters role actually is. But James, you can say more about that. It’s funny cause we’re Shandy and I were talking about this before the call and she was like, I don’t know if I should talk about this and like, oh, absolutely.  Talk about this.

This is what I want to get into. I guess I can talk about both internal and external recruiters. Cause it’s, it’s very much a similar kind of issue in that it’s a recruiter’s job to find people who fit in immediate role that a company has, whether they’re internal or external. And I can also explain, like why you had so much of a better result when you were taking more of a kind of networking based informational interview approach.

A lot of people don’t understand that recruiters, you know, whether or not they’re internal or external, they work for the company. That’s their job. So recruiters, most people in the industry, one to help people out, but that’s more of like the positive externality, you know what I mean? You get to help people along the way you get to build some relationships, but in terms of the immediate here and now you’re, you’re ultimately responsible to work with the company.

Well, as you said, you know, finding someone who’s going to fit their immediate need. Part of the reason why we developed career Wells, because we want to do more. So career Wells role versus hire well as to actually help people become better at job seeking so they can help themselves out. If you look at how positions are made, and this can be true, whether it’s a new position or whether it’s a position that is a replacement, it starts with a business need.

Like there’s an actual need. Or some skillset or some like something that’s lacking in an organization. And a lot of times it’s the hiring managers at this phase in the process, they just have a list of ideas, a list of requirements, right. It’s never perfect. Sometimes they have requirements. They realize later on, they don’t need, sometimes they miss things.

It’s kind of a messy process and it always is going to be, and then they put that into a document. They make a list of requirements and they partner with their recruiters and say, okay, all right, guys, this is what I need. Go find it, that type of thing. That’s where it becomes a very tactical type of process.

So as you mentioned, recruiters looking for I’d use the three things they mentioned, I’ve got to find some, got these three things and I’ll get back to them. They can only have time to talk to five people. You know what I mean? So that’s, it’s my job to make their job easier by kind of nailing it. The issue is that you’re going to have a hundred, 200 people apply to those jobs and they have to get kind of filtered down by those specific hard requirements.

That’s why in situations where a job is already created, where the job description already exists and talking to a recruiter, isn’t, if you don’t fit those requirements to the T, it’s not going to be a very fruitful kind of process for you. But as I mentioned, kind of starting this whole thing out, if you’re.

Hiring managers, when they’re creating these job descriptions, most hiring managers, they just want someone who can do the job. They just want someone who they can show up, get the job done. But you know, they don’t, they don’t, they don’t know anybody. Right. So they have to make these requirements and find somebody.

So to your point, and what made you successful in the search? They knew you, right? If you can network with people and they actually, when they have all these different requirements and they’re heading, they’re trying to figure out, okay, what’s the position look for. They’re going to say. You know, this is something Shandy can do.

You know, this looks like someone that someone I already know can like can actually do this job. That’s why it’s important for job seekers, especially ones who there are some skill sets that it’s going to be really easy for them to find a job. If you’re a coder and you’re good. None of this, not necessarily, no, that’s right.

You’re going to be okay. You probably don’t. But for most people will have some kind of struggles with job seeking. And it’s a lot of times because people were too  reliant on. Waiting till jobs requirements are already written and applying to those jobs, as opposed to getting to know people who might need their skillset and building relationships ahead of time.

That way they’re already in the back of that hiring managers head, when those needs come up, that’s ultimately why you’re successful in this search and why you started seeing more success and traction as your process along. But that’s also why, as you kind of mentioned it too, like there are certain people with certain skill sets that recruiters are gonna be able to help more than others.

Most recruiters do want to help. That’s why, you know, hire well we’re creating career well, so we can actually help people become better job seekers, but it’s more of a, just a point of reference for, I think a lot of people just misunderstand how the industry and the process is structured, but once you kind of understand it, it just makes more sense and can enable you to be better at your own job search.

Absolutely. And even if you know whether or not I was ever sent a position by a particular recruiter, like I said, those relationships. I found to be incredibly valuable. They had insight into the industry that I did not have, and that I wasn’t even hearing from people who were in the industry because they’re not experts in job searching.

They just, they have their one job or maybe had worked at a couple different companies. And so I’m really grateful to hire well for the resources and the advice and the guidance that was provided to me throughout that process. And so, yeah, and. You know, like you said, the, the traction that I made, the interviews that I ended up having, I ended up interviewing over the course, you know, some thoughts that were stalled due to COVID, but five companies over the course of my job search.

Every single one I got, because I happened to know somebody who was able to refer me, whether there was somebody outside the company who referred me to inside the company or somebody from within the company. I did not get any interviews from cold applications. So that’s just my experience and people with different skill sets in different industries might have a different one.

This has been a great conversation. Anything else you wanted to mention? Anything you forgot any of their like last minute piece of advice for job seekers that might be going through a similar type of a pivot in search? I don’t think so. I think we pretty well covered it. You know, if that networking is engaged in, I think you’ll get a lot of great advice that you know, that you James can’t possibly even know about necessarily if it’s for a particular industry.

And I certainly did as well. All of those conversations, I learned a ton, whether it was about a particular company. How to better approach job searching inside of particular positions. And so I think that will, those relationships will give you the advice that you might be looking awesome. Well, we’re going to wrap it up for this episode.

Thanks again for everyone listening to the town insights podcast. If you liked what you heard and want more insights from the team visit Note to self. I need to change the URL of the. podcast page the talent insights and remember to subscribe to the podcast on apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, or YouTube Shandee.

Congratulations again, and thanks again for joining the podcast. Everyone else, we will see you soon.


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