The time had come. I needed to make a move and I needed to get a head start. Therein lay the problem, where to start, how to start. I’d had one abysmal interview last year. I was so caught up in being polite and listening to what each of the five interviewers had to say that I kept forgetting to make my points and show the samples of my work that I’d so thoughtfully placed inside sheet protectors in a college-themed binder. I was interviewing at a high school after all.
I was so flustered, wearing a black suit and modest jewelry with my thick, somewhat unruly, curly hair suctioned back into the neatest bun I could muster. Nervous energy coursed through my body at the speed of light. I committed the cardinal sin of mentioning areas where I knew the school struggled without mentioning how I could swoop in with my cape of skills and experience and remedy those concerns! Ugghh! Amazingly, though, the interviewers were so pleasant that I actually walked out of there feeling like it went well.
That was of course until I woke up in the middle of the night in a full blown panic. I replayed the conversation in my mind, realizing that I’d blown it and the interviewers were just naturally friendly people. After mentally beating myself up about it for the next few days, I took stock and turned to reflecting, rather than bashing. I have never believed in regret, so why start now? I reframed that bad interview into a learning experience. I can’t change the past, but I can most assuredly use it as a springboard to a better future.
I resolved that for the upcoming school year I needed to be different, better. The stakes were monumentally higher. You see, the school where I have worked for the past nine years, with its tree-lined streets and plentiful parking was being effectively closed, “consolidated” into another school in the building. Quite the earth shattering challenge to my habit prone, introverted nature. By September, I felt like an animal caught in one of those jaws of life hunter traps in the woods. This was exactly the feeling I’d been trying to avoid by interviewing at the end of last school year. I’d spent a large chunk of the summer applying for positions I saw posted online but nothing ever came of them. I was beginning to doubt myself once again. I don’t cope well with feeling trapped. It’s just not how I operate.
A representative from the union came in and told us that we’d be guaranteed positions in the building since the student body would increase. I did the mental math and knew that wasn’t possible. I also knew that I was ready for a change; in neighborhood, student body, commute, something. I knew that the school district and union reps were projecting their best guesses because this being a new situation, no one had the real answers. Their goal was to keep everyone calm while they figured out where the chips would land. Once again, not how I operate. I can’t sit around and just let life happen to me. I started to formulate a plan. I needed to flip my internal “hustle mode” switch and reinvigorate the hunger I’d felt before I landed my current job.
I needed to ensure that I left every interview with the interviewers feeling as if there were no other person that could possibly fill the role I sought. My binder had to serve as a true portfolio, a visual reflection of the work I’d done and all of the many roles that I’ve played throughout my tenure. You see, I have a hard time talking about myself. I’m far better at responding to and expanding upon questions than running through a litany of my accomplishments. Not only does it seem self-serving to me, but it doesn’t come naturally. The aspects of my career that immediately come to mind are usually generic, not the sparks that set me apart from the competition.
I’ve always experienced the dichotomy of feeling different from everyone else while simultaneously wondering why other people didn’t handle situations based on what I perceived as the common sense approach. That was until a friend in my writing group had me take a personality assessment which showed that less than 1% of the world’s population has my specific combination of personality and sensibilities. Aha! I am Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging, and Assertive. My personality type is classified as “The Advocate”. Major lightbulb moment! It was time for me to advocate for myself for a change.
If I was going to make a successful leap, I knew I had to summon the courage to reach out and do some (wait for it) …networking. The least favorite word of the lifelong introvert. I was going to have to step outside of my independent, comfortable shell and let some people with whom I’ve worked over the years know that I needed their (wait for it) …help. This may come easy for some people, but was a major hurdle for me. I’ve been a single mom since age 19. I’ve got three degrees under my belt, am a homeowner and thankfully financially stable. Asking for help is just not my thing. Not that I’m opposed to it. It just doesn’t occur to me. My natural approach to problems is probably best expressed as “Veni, vidi, vici.”1 I tend to exhaust all of my efforts before it even occurs to me to bring anyone else into the mix.
This situation was different, though. My lackluster summer job hunting experience reminded me that available positions are generally conferred through word of mouth. It makes sense if you think about it. Of course people reach out to their trusted advisors before the general public, it’s human nature. I needed to be on the inside track. I’m quite wary of being one of those people who only reach out when I need a favor so I narrowed my list down to people with whom I’d had a friendly rapport. Then I had to think about what I wanted to say. While I knew they had some peripheral knowledge of my situation, by no means did I expect to be at the forefront of their minds.
With that in mind, I literally took a deep breath and held it while I composed an email. It went something in the vein of “hi, how are you, I really miss/enjoy (depending on the person) working with you and just wanted to ask if you could please keep me in mind for positions that you hear of that might be suitable for me for next school year.” After hitting send and seconds before turning blue, I released the breath I’d been holding.
Before I could start second guessing myself, lo and behold I started getting positive responses. “Of course”, “send me your resume”, “any school would be lucky to have you” were just some of the responses. The tension in my shoulders eased immediately, I broke into a smile. Alas, I could ask for help and still be okay. I could be vulnerable without someone taking advantage of me. Needless to say that knowledge was immensely reassuring.
I soon commenced a series of eight interviews with three different schools. Along the way, I met some amazing educators who are doing fantastic work around the city. I also met some amazing kids who are flourishing as a result. I was asked some tough and some familiar questions. In most cases, I was able to reference my handy dandy portfolio to provide a clear example of my work in that area. One principal said to me, “I’m going to give you a piece of advice. You need to get better at talking about yourself. I can read between the lines, but not everyone will. This,” he continued, pointing to my portfolio, “is you, and you’re awesome!”
That advice hit home, I took both the compliment and the criticism for what they were. I tried my best to come up with catch phrases to best define who I am and what I bring to the table but thankfully I know myself well enough to know when I need some scaffolding. When I faltered, I was usually able to flip to a page and show a clear example of what I meant. Each staff member with whom I met, made it a point to mention how much they would love to work with me. That was a major boost to my confidence! I grew more comfortable, not completely, but more. I started to wear more colorful attire and bolder jewelry. I cracked jokes and made mildly sarcastic comments. I was able to loosen up the bun and just be me.
I was offered and accepted a position at a school that I think I will love and will definitely allow me to have some new and different experiences. I have always been committed to constant learning and growth. I’m thoroughly excited and ready to embrace this new experience! I’m also enjoying the ego boost from the other principals who reached out to wish me well and express their disappointment that I was the one who got away. While interviewing will probably never be something I enjoy or look forward to, I’m so grateful for having the opportunity to meet so many awesome and dedicated educators. This experience was a profound reminder that there is a great, big, wonderful world out there waiting for us to have the courage to jump in.