Tips for Landing Your Dream Job
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
TheLadders.com is currently doing a project where they are looking for people to provide tips to new college grads about to enter the working world. I was intrigued, but thought, 'I don't think I'm the girl for that.' Remember me? The one who walked away from two degrees and a job she fought hard to get in order to stay home with her children? But the more I thought about it, I thought why not me? After all, I did have a job and had to go through the hiring process and I did it at a horrible time when very few teachers were being hired in our area. I started to think about what would my top tips be and I realized some might be specific to the field of education but some might pertain to other fields as well. So in no particular order, here are my top tips for landing your dream job and what to do when your dream job is no longer your dream.
1. Don't settle! Wait for what you want!
I can't tell you how many teachers I see that leave college and are so desperate for a job that they will take anything. A charter school. A school in an area far from home. A job in a different state that they've never even seen in person. I'm here to say DON'T DO IT. The majority of people I've seen do this (and several have been family members) end up quitting shortly after because they are miserable. Now I'm not saying a charter school or an out of state school couldn't be the perfect fit for you. It might be and if it is, well, then take the job. But do not take the job out of desperation and because you are panicked that you won't get another job offer and you will have to sub another year. The mentality of some job is better than no job is going to set you up for failure and you don't want or deserve that!
Not settling and having patience was exactly how I got my first teaching job. After I student taught and did a long term substitute position in the same building, I knew I wanted to work there and the principal had even told me she wanted to hire me. Perfect, right? Well with budget cuts and no major retirements happening, they weren't hiring anyone that year. Many people told me not to put all my eggs in one basket and to try subbing in other districts so they would get to know me. My father even gave me this advice (he was a principal at the time so he probably knew what he was talking about.) I just kept saying, how are they going to get to know me really well if I spend a day in this district and then a day in that district and then a day in a different district? How would I make a name for myself? I decided I wouldn't do that. Instead I spent the next year subbing in the same district I student taught in with most days spent in the same building. In the spring, I got hired as a long term sub in the district but a different building. I interviewed in that building and my old building for a permanent position and ended up accepting the job at the building I student taught at. Yay! Waiting had paid off. Yes, I was a little depressed when school started and I hadn't been hired that fall but the experience I got that year from subbing was part of what I believe helped me get hired in the building of my dreams.
2. Turn every interview into a chance to get better
Before I got the my first teaching job, I had several interviews. The district I got hired in had screening interviews, interviews at the school, final interviews, interviews for long term positions and it goes on and on. On top of this, I interviewed in two other districts as well. While most of these interviews didn't turn into job offers, they did help me to become better at interviewing. I hate interviewing. I think that is common with most people. It is nervewracking. It is awkward to talk about yourself without feeling like you are conceited. If you are in the teaching profession they sometimes have this fun little addition to the interview where you get to teach a lesson. If you are lucky, it is to actual students. If you are not so lucky it is to a room full of adults who sometimes act like students to see what you would do in the classroom. Moral of the story is interviews are not fun but even the bad ones can help you out in the future.
Here's what I did. When I left an interview, I would sit in the parking lot and write down all the questions I could remember that I had been asked. If I had to do a writing prompt, I would include that as well. Then when I was prepping for the next interview, I would review these questions and perfect my answer. Now, I was rarely asked the exact same question but I was very often asked some variation of it. The second year that I interviewed, I felt like I interviewed so much better and was so much more confident. Not only did I have another year of experience to draw from, but I had been able to prepare for my interviews and have examples and buzz words ready to go so I wasn't fumbling for an answer.
3. Get experience
I think experience is the most important thing you can have in your back pocket. Not only will it help you interview better, but it will help you when you finally get hired. This was always a frustrating concept for me. How do you get experience if no one will hire you? Well in the education world there are a lot of things you can do to get experience until you get your own classroom.
-Be a substitute teacher - not always fun when you are bouncing from building to building but if you are consistently in the same building and start to know the teachers and students, you can start to feel like part of the staff.
-Try to get a long term substitute position - if you can take over a classroom for someone going on maternity leave or taking early retirement, do it! I learned more from my two long term positions than I ever did in college or while I was student teaching. Both of mine were last minute situations where the teacher left earlier than planned so I was left with little to no plans and had to just figure it out. So much learning and growth for me as an educator!
-Tutor - offer your name and number up to teacher friends or teachers you've worked with and offer to tutor their students. Parents are often asking but many classroom teachers do not have the time to tutor themselves but are happy to pass along the name of a qualified person they know.
-Volunteer - offer to help in friends' classrooms or the room you student taught in, offer to help with after school activities. I went to camp with the 5th graders at the school I was subbing at and it was an awesome experience plus a great chance to network with teachers and parents.
-Teach where you can - teach Sunday school, Bible school, latchkey, preschool, day care - anywhere that gets you relevant experience in your chosen field.
4. There are other things in life
Realize that while you are working so hard to get this job you've always dreamed of, you may come to a point where other things are more important than this job and that's okay. I always had it in the back of my head that I wanted to stay home with kids if one day I was lucky enough to have them. Don't get me wrong...I wasn't just looking for someone to marry me and have kids so I could leave the profession. It was still a hard decision. The hardest of my life. I was torn after my daughter was born. I wanted to be a teacher since I was little (like in first grade.) I worked hard to get the education and experience I needed to be successful in the classroom. I knew how hard it was to get a job once let alone to have to do it when my kids were older once I already had a Masters degree under my belt. I did not want to just walk away from it all. But I did. I knew that my children would only be little once. I would never get this time back with them. I could teach again some day if that is what I decided to do.
In addition, there are many things you can do that you may never have thought of instead of the current job you are in. I always thought, what else can you do with a teaching degree but teach? Well that is one of those degrees that you really can only use to teach but there are many other things that you can do with a teaching background. I never even knew about the world of Teachers Pay Teachers and creating and selling resources online. I had no plans to use it to make money and help out other teachers at the same time. It just sort of fell in my lap but it is helping to make it possible for me to be at home and not miss teaching as much. I also tutor and teach at our church. I'm not required to have a teaching degree for either position but I think it makes me more successful. What I'm saying, is if you feel trapped in your job or need a change or don't know what else you can do, just do some searching. You might be able to find some interesting alternatives that you never knew existed or in my case never had time to do before.
5. Be Happy
This goes hand and hand with number 4. Ultimately, you need to be happy. Now does that mean that you aren't going to have bad days? Days when your boss makes you crazy? Days when you want to quit? Absolutely. That's a job, right?
But if you aren't happy the majority of the time, it is probably time to find another option. Maybe that means transferring schools (scary but totally worth it in my experience), or getting a job in another district. Or maybe that means leaving the profession. You ultimately need to decide that, but no paycheck is that important if you aren't happy. Teaching is a hard profession. I know many people (not in the profession usually) give it a bad reputation and say how easy it is and how much time you get off, but teachers deserve every day off they get. Teaching is hard and it is not what you are prepared for when you walk out of college. You often have this fantasy classroom in your head and and what you think it is going to be like...you know...the fun stuff. Setting up the classroom so it is cute and color coordinated. Helping children who work hard and love being at school. Having awesome colleagues who are on the same page as you. You might find some of these things to be a reality and that is awesome but will also face a lot that you weren't prepared for. Paperwork, parents, observations, politics, rules and laws put in place by people who've never been in a classroom, administration, tough students...and the list goes on and on. Most of this comes with the job, so if you love your job enough, you can put up with it. Just make sure you are happy at your job most of the time because it isn't worth it to be miserable.
And there you have it...tips for landing your dream job and what to do if your dream job isn't your dream anymore. Thank you to TheLadders.com for asking me to write my advice to people about to enter the workforce. It really got me thinking and it was great to reflect back on those years right out of college while I was searching for a job. A lot has changed since then (not only in the profession but also in my personal life) so it was a great trip down memory lane.