Tuesday, January 18, 2011

how to find a job as the stay-at-home mom of a toddler

We're beginning to freak out around here. After I left my tenured academic position when Lilly was born, I was fortunate enough to receive a fellowship from an organization for non-fiction writers, which, added on to Leighton's student loan, has been sufficient to sustain us -- till now. We have about three-four months to live off of, and no income in sight. Leighton's still working on his thesis with plans on submitting this spring. In addition, he's applying for jobs like crazy, a process that started last fall when we returned from Europe, but no luck yet.

It's really discouraging and scary, the lack of jobs to apply for and the numerous rejections for positions he's way overqualified for.

One of us HAS to find income, and since my book on feminist porn is still being reviewed by a publisher in Norway, I can't count on any income from that direction either.

So I've begun to look and apply for jobs. First step was figuring out how my background and qualifications can translate into something applicable in a non-academic position.

Talking with Leighton and friends has been helpful in figuring this out. I love to read and learn and then communicate just what that is to others in writing or through talking. And I'm good at processing a lot of material quickly before distilling the main points. Most importantly, I want what I do to matter. I want to read and write about stuff that is important to a lot of people, not just a couple of scholars.

 Hence why I'm currently looking for jobs as a policy analyst position within organizations whose goal it is to affect positive change in society. Most recently was one where I'd be working part-time on a contract basis with a new project that will look at Higher Education in Minnesota.

I sent in my application before the weekend and my problem right now, is that I concluded my cover letter by stating I would follow up "next week." Which is now. All the books say you're supposed to say you'll do that, and then do it. But I can't find any specifics on HOW to actually do it. The job ad doesn't have a phone number, just an email address, so I could email. But what do I say? The point of course is to increase the chance of getting a phone call and an interview, but see, this is where I (again) freak out.

Fellow stay-at-home moms and dads of toddlers will relate. The constant foggy feeling of mush brain. Inability to complete sentences. Difficulty in recollecting things, let alone words. If you receive The phone call, you're supposed to sound professional or remove yourself to a space where you can muster the ability to do that, and I'm either constantly surrounded by a toddler who HATES it when I'm on the phone and makes this loudly and obnoxiously clear to whomever I'm on the phone with. Or, should I be so lucky that she's napping, I'm either avoiding picking up the phone or answering calls in a hushed mumbled voice.

There's also the fear of GETTING the job: will I regain sufficient brain capacity to perform to satisfaction?

I get some reassurance from the fact that I seemed and performed more sharply when Leighton and I took turns writing and being with Lilly last year. And nights are so much better now (I mean, for Lilly they're great, now if only I could manage my insomnia).

--
Now, I have composed a follow-up email of sorts. It's still sitting in my draft folder and I don't know what to do. If you don't follow up when you indicate you will, you lose credibility. But I fret.
 Any advice, suggestions? Other than a glass (or two) of wine tonight, I mean???

7 comments:

  1. Scandinavian TranslatorJanuary 19, 2011 at 10:07 AM

    Following up is always a good idea. I worked for a temp agency for a long time and they really wanted people to call in everyday and say, "I'm available for work!" It can feel silly or stalker-ish, but it definitely helps set you apart in their mind as being more interested than the other folks who can't be bothered. Translation agencies are the same. If the job application is going to a big company this works less well because you have about zero chance of actually making contact with the person who is looking to hire. Your call/e-mail/whatever will be weeded out by HR or a secretary. But it still can't hurt.

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  2. thank you, done! (now still awaiting anxiously)

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  3. I toooootally know what you mean about the mush brain factor, the phone call factor, all of it. I say just send the e-mail. Say you're just checking to see if your application/resume was received. Deal with 1 thing at a time. There is no reason to fret about a call or an interview yet. Just do the ONE task you need to do right now. Hit "Send." Then you deal iwth each new things as it comes.

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  4. thanks, Shannon!

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  5. Good luck with the job search!

    Etiquette-wise, if you said you would follow up "next week," then after seven days, including at least one intervening weekend, you should follow up. If the application didn't provide any contact information beyond an e-mail address, then simply send an e-mail saying saying that you sent an application by e-mail on [date] and that you were following up to see if they need any other information from you or have any other questions and that you look forward to meeting with them to discuss your qualifications further. Be sure to reattach all your original documents again to the second e-mail.

    Then, I'd wait another seven days, plus at least one intervening weekend, to see if they reply at all, and if not then follow up by *telephone.* That may require proactive digging to find out the name of a person to call and his or her phone number. You can start by calling the institution's main number and just asking the secretary who answers who you should ask to talk to.

    Given the economy, however, I'd caution you not to get your hopes up on this one particular job. They undoubtedly will have received many, many applications from plenty of qualified and even overqualified people, so if you don't get advanced to the interview stage for this particular job you should in no way take that to mean you're not an excellent applicant. It's just your competing in a big pond.

    Some advice for job hunting outside academia: if you really do need to get a job, you absolutely 100% need to have at least TEN active job-seeking applications out there at any given time (active meaning: you're following up on them over a two to three week period.) Each time you get a rejection or nonresponse on an application, move on to a new one so you keep ten active application processes going at once.

    Also, the majority of nonacademic jobs are actually placed where a friend or acquaintance or colleague refers you. So you need to engage in some networking with all your friends and remind them, about once a month, you're looking for a job and to let you know if their companies have anything or to refer you, etc. People forget, so you do need to remind people about once a month. Do this in person or in personal communications, not by mass e-mail. (Though a monthly post to MySpace or Facebook, if you use those, would be OK.)

    Of those ten active applications, no more than three applications should be for dream jobs that you're not quite qualified for but would love to have; four or five applications should be for realistic jobs you are actually well qualified for and would enjoy or could at least stomach for a year or two; and three or four should be for jobs that you might not enjoy but that you are qualified for and could stomach if you had to to earn money for your family.

    Another tip: if you're coming from a strictly humanities/academic background, your resume will strike many people from outside academia as not having any actual "work" experience (other than teaching, writing, or research). There are many strategies for confronting this "disadvantage"; one of the simplest is to recast your academic CV as a one-page "skills" resume where you highlight the skill sets that you bring to the table (e.g. leadership qualities, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, being a fast learner and good at teaching yourself things, etc.). Check out the resumes of friends who have successfully landed nonacademic jobs.

    If you have time, it'd also be a good idea to bolster your resume with some kind of *nonacademic* volunteer work (if you don't have a lot of nonacademic work experience), e.g. for local charities or nonprofits. This could range from computer-related training or services, copy writing, some kind of organizing, working on budgets, etc. Sadly, being a stay-at-home mom doesn't usually market you as well as, say, volunteering to update a local charity's donor list in Excel or something.

    Again, good luck!

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  6. Thanks, Simon! I did send off an email last week and heard back the following day. The person thanked me for checking in, informing they would be reviewing applications the next few weeks, and that they'd contact me if they had any questions while so doing. So I'm glad I sent that email. Now on with it.

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  7. Thanks, Simon! I did send off an email last week and heard back the following day. The person thanked me for checking in, informing they would be reviewing applications the next few weeks, and that they'd contact me if they had any questions while so doing. So I'm glad I sent that email. Now on with it.

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