Returning to Work & Shifting Gears After the Trip of a Lifetime.
Colleen took the trip of a lifetime, traveling the world with her family for a year. Once back in the Puget Sound, she started looking for corporate recruiting roles, leveraging her comprehensive career in law, business development and academic career counseling. After 6 months of dead-ends, Colleen came through our Career Catalyst program. She recently weighed 2 competing job opportunities, both in the recruiting space. She talks about her journey back into the workplace, where she hit barriers, and how working with The Swing Shift community helped her get into a role she wanted.
Let’s talk about your trip. You took a break to travel the world. Where did you go, and what caused you to make that decision? Were you apprehensive about what it meant career-wise?
We dreamed of taking our children on a trip around the world; to give the experience of understanding how privileged we are here in America, to give them a wider perspective on how others live; and to spend time with them unhindered by the intense time commitments we live with here in Seattle. So, when the kids graduated from middle and elementary school 2017, I quit my job as a career counselor at Seattle University School of Law, my husband quit his, and we took off. We traveled through 13 countries in 12 months, from Europe to The Middle East to Asia. It was honestly the best decision we ever made, and our family established bonds we would not otherwise have.
It was also terrifying: upon our return, we realized that although everyone talks about the low unemployment rate, actually getting a job is hard! We had been out of the workforce, pushing 50 and it seemed every door was closed to us. While we knew that we’d have to look for jobs after being unemployed for over a year, it was the most challenging year our family faced. It was very scary to come back and be responsible for taking care of these kids and ourselves and trying so hard to get a job, get informational interviews, applying to positions and hearing nothing in return.
When you came to the Career Catalyst, you mentioned how frustrated you were, after 6 dedicated months of job hunting. What were the biggest barriers you encountered? How did The Swing Shift help with these?
When I returned from our travels, my former position wasn’t available. I thought that seeking a position as a recruiter made sense, as my former position as a career counselor gave me those skills, and thought the economy was so good that it would be no problem to get a job.
Well, I spent 5 months cold calling recruiters at companies asking them how they got their positions, and submitted over 50 applications online, with literally zero response. While I had a number of great informational interviews, I always got the same reaction — you seem great, but you don’t have direct experience in tech or as an actual recruiter. I started to feel like I would never get a job and started to panic. I felt a lot of age discrimination; old and out of touch.
A friend told me about the Swing Shift and while initially reticent at first to invest the money, I realized I really needed help, because what I was doing just wasn’t working and I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting anywhere.
Once I joined the Swing Shift, everything seemed to fall into place. The Swing Shift gave me structure, and it gave me confidence. It is so hard to get up everyday with no structure, to have to create your own structure every day and to keep going, despite getting kicked in the face with rejection during a job search and to keep at it, alone. Having the community of other women was huge for me, I didn’t realize how lonely I was, and just talking honestly with other women about their challenges was life-changing. And a week in, I was called into an interview and was offered a position at a recruiting agency.
After 6 months of “thanks but no thanks” you had two competing opportunities on the same day. What did that feel like? How did you land those roles?
The timing was terrible! I had already accepted one job and really intrigued by the second position, but felt guilty. I went ahead and interviewed anyway at the second firm, though I felt a little conflicted as I had already accepted the first position. I got both leads through contacts: one from a former colleague at SU, who introduced me to a recruiter at an agency; and then Nancy introduced me to a recruiter at a technical agency.
It was definitely confusing and it made me realize I wanted to get the right job, not just any job. So I was lucky to have 2 offers, and I would absolutely not have received the offer from the second firm without The Swing Shift connection. I struggled with the decision, and also thought wow! I’ve been looking for months and all of the sudden, everything happens at once!
You have a rich background ranging from law, business development and higher education. Was it hard to characterize the “through-line” of those roles? How did you talk about all those skills as you interviewed?
It was a huge challenge to encapsulate my experience. I lacked a set “career trajectory” moving up a corporate ladder; I switched industries and roles and didn’t know how to talk about that. I needed help pulling together my story through my varied career path. The Swing Shift helped me realize the “through lines” of my varied career were in sales, relationship-building, and connecting people with opportunities, rather than the jobs themselves. They helped me craft how I talked about the really wide skill sets I possess. I didn’t understand those until I went through the program.
What’s the best learning you’ve encountered during this process that you can share with folks as they look to get back to work and change roles?
Use your time well. At the first session of the Career Catalyst, Keita Williams, of Success Bully, spoke about time management, and was great at breaking down how you should look at your day and when to work and when to do other inspirational things. I spent 6 months not allowing myself any inspiration or fun, I just sat at a café looking at my computer, applying to jobs, or setting up informational interviews. In hindsight, I could have been spent half of my day doing those things, and the rest doing yoga, hiking and doing things that brought me joy.
Also, connect about things that have meaning to you! Don’t wait until “I have a job and then I will do the things that fill me up.” 85% of people get their jobs through referrals or connections. Use your network, but also get out and do things you’re interested in. I started volunteering with a legal organization focused on women’s rights and it was a game changer to work on issues I care about. And recently, I started attending Meetups and other events that are focused on things I care about that are sometimes job-related and sometimes not job-related. I have made so many more connections doing that while also getting inspired about what moves me.
Learn more about The Swing Shift and how we can help you during your career transition. www.theswingshift.co