it’s your Friday good news — Ask a Manager

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.

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