Tag Archives: career

The differences between white collar job hunting and blue collar job hunting

White collar job hunting vs blue collar job huntingHere’s a post that’s been percolating for a while, based on observations I’ve made. I’ll broadly differentiate as white vs blue collar, though I’m counting, say, non-office-based sales work here under the blue collar umbrella.

Getting the job

The interview-to-offer ratio

In my experience in the white collar world, employers work hard to shortlist very few candidates and only interview a couple in person. On the other hand, blue collar employers seem to bring people in willy nilly. I am deadly serious when I say T has been to more job interviews in a single week of job hunting than I have in my entire career. So many interviews, so few offers. So much time wasted bringing someone in just for a chat. Ever heard of phone screening?

The sheer difficulty of interviewing

Interviewing when you’re unemployed isn’t too hard, logistically. But if you’re still employed?

Well, for me it’s never been a biggie. I can take my lunch whenever I want and have the flexibility to duck out to appointments during the day if needed, and make time up. For him? Breaks are strictly timed, usually at set times. That makes it pretty hard to get away for an interview during the day, unless it happens to be on the same street. And again, refer to the first point above about the sheer number of interviews required to get anywhere.

On the job

Transport costs

Speaking of that inflexibility, that often necessitates having a reliable vehicle so you can be sure of getting to work on time every day. And if you work anything outside of 9-5, you can definitely write off public transport as an option. Yet it’s probably a struggle – at the very least, when you’re starting out – to afford a decent car. So much irony: low-level job, strict hours, struggling to afford transport in order to keep said job.

Blue collar jobs are much more spread out over the whole city, whereas white collar employment is more concentrated in town. This further complicates the whole transport issue (‘just move closer to work’ isn’t that simple).

Tools of the trade

Even with discounts, we have spent hundreds, if not thousands, on gear and tools and training for him at various jobs. All that on not particularly high wages, really. True, you can take some of these with you to new jobs … but that’s if the stuff doesn’t wear out or break or expire first.

I’ve never been expected to pay for things that I need to carry out my duties at work. There was one time I paid for a design/photo-editing app out of my own Apple account and didn’t submit for reimbursement. DON’T do that by the way! It was certainly not expected, and I kick myself now for that. What was I thinking? (I was thinking that I felt grateful for the salary at my new job and I could easily absorb the cost. NOT the point.)

Careers, compromise and capitalism

just a girl in a capitalist world

Time for the latest installment in the ‘loving your work’ series! (Previously: Can we all realistically expect to love our jobs? and The job-that-you-wake-up-excited-for propaganda.)

The TLDR version: It’s hard to not feel a bit hypocritical whenever I write about this, since I’ve always known basically what I wanted to do, followed it where it led and had it work out. BUT! I am married to a textbook Scanner who still doesn’t know what he wants to do for the rest of his life. At last, thankfully, I think we’ve weaned him off the ‘find your passion’ Kool-Aid (it’s so ridiculously pervasive). At some point I think you need to choose: spend a lifetime chasing that elusive and possibly nonexistent thing, or stick with something and be able to fund the other things in life you enjoy or aspire to, such as having a family, playing sports, travel.

We all know money matters

It may not always buy happiness, but a lack of it is a surefire path to unhappiness. Money, (or lack thereof) more than job dissatisfaction, sex, housework or any other issue you can name,  has always been the toughest issue for us. It’s no coincidence the two times that nearly broke us were during times of unemployment.

As this excellent Aeon piece on happiness/meaningfulness (worth a read in its entirety) observes, “Happy people say they have enough money to buy the things they want and the things they need.”  Security of employment/resources falls in the second most important tier of Maslow’s hierarchy; ‘self-actualisation’ is just the cherry at the very top. 

The intersection of money + career has reared its head for me again recently, with my change of direction and T finding, then losing what seemed to be a 90% dream job, followed by a good job that turned toxic.

T has always worked to live, rather than lived to work.  Certain material things and being able to spend somewhat freely are important. Dog, kids, motorbike, project car – these things all cost money. And here, they boil down to needing to buy a house (not to mention all the other things that make renting here a genuine nightmare). Oh, and that in turn ties back into needing even more money. We cannot afford to wait around for years for my husband to figure out a dream job (which I doubt exists for him), and he knows it.

In short, we have dreams, and none of those dreams come for free.

Find a job that lights your fire? Fantastic, but if not, well, you’re not getting any younger and at some point you need to stick with something. The recession and layoffs aside, you can’t afford to bounce around from low level job to low level job forever, never increasing your income, or your earning potential.

What if you don’t have a passion?

When you know how you like to spend your money, but not what you want to do to earn that money, to me it only makes sense to search out a job that fits your lifestyle.

I rather like the plan laid out by Marty Nemko in Kiplinger:

My advice? Unless you’re a driven superstar, pick a non-glam career that you’d be good at… Pick the one offering as many of these characteristics as possible:

  • Moderately challenging
  • Meaningful work
  • A kind, competent boss
  • Pleasant co-workers
  • Learning opportunities
  • Reasonable pay
  • Reasonable work hours
  • A short commute

At one point in his job hunt last year, I came across an advice letter penned by Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame, which seemed like it could have been written just for him. Here’s Mike’s response to a guy seeking excitement and flexibility but with steady pay; a hands-on type of person who hates offices and gets bored easily but wants to have a family at some point. No big ask, huh?

Stop looking for the “right” career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. You can always quit later, and be no worse off than you are today. But don’t waste another year looking for a career that doesn’t exist. And most of all, stop worrying about your happiness. Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.

Harsh? Yes. But there’s truth in it. Job satisfaction is complex and happiness is not going to come from trying to figure out some inchoate passion. Every single job where he’s enjoyed the actual work has had major, potentially unsustainable inherent downsides. Lack of money/potential advancement. Physical exhaustion/danger. Less than ideal hours/schedule. And that’s before even getting to peripheral things like bad managers/colleagues.

As Penelope Trunk once wrote of his personality type, or very close to it: “The key to being a successful ENTP is followthrough. Because lack of followthrough is such a huge risk factor for an ENTP, it’s almost more important to followthrough on anything than to followthrough on the right thing.”

Finding happiness at work

Work is about so much more than your actual duties. There’s the environmental factors – commute, your physical surroundings, dress code, etc. The people factors – are you treated like an adult, does your boss micromanage, do you get along with colleagues? All these  intangible elements that can make or break working conditions, and that’s before we even get to whether the job offers variety, autonomy, challenge.

What we’ve come to realise is that in a way, this is a bit of a crapshoot. As my career hero Ask A Manager lays out:

I’d even go so far as to say that there’s no such thing as a dream job that you can truly recognize from the outside. Because as much as you think you might love doing that work for that company, it might turn out that the boss is a nightmare, or your coworkers are horrible, or the company makes you sign out for bathroom breaks and bring in a doctor’s note every time you have a cold, or you’re abused daily by clients, or your workload is so unreasonably high that you end up having panic attacks every morning.

Dream jobs do exist — when it’s work you love, at a company that treats employees well, working for a great manager, alongside coworkers who are competent and kind, or at least unobjectionable — but it’s dangerous to think something is your dream job before you’re really in a position to know.

It doesn’t have to be a choice between extremes – a $150k job you hate and a $40k job you love – there’s usually options in between. It’s hard to place any hard and fast rules on this kind of thing, but for example, I’d personally trade a ‘dreamy’ $50k job up to an ‘okay’ $80k job any day. (Adjust the numbers accordingly for your area’s cost of living…)

‘Do what you love’ is a nice philosophy and it works for some of us, but I absolutely detest it as blanket advice. At the risk of aiming too low, perhaps – just don’t do something you hate.

We rarely hear the advice of the person who did what they loved and stayed poor or was horribly injured for it. Professional gamblers, stuntmen, washed up cartoonists like myself: we don’t give speeches at corporate events. We aren’t paid to go to the World Domination Summit and make people feel bad. We don’t land book deals or speak on Good Morning America.

lthough my friends sometimes accuse me of being unromantic, I don’t believe in the concept of soulmates.  I just don’t think that there is one person out there with whom we are destined to spend our lives.  Rather, I feel that there are a number of people out there who could make us happy – See more at: http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/2013/09/23/how-to-love-what-you-do/?priorityCode=3969702399&cid=aff_cj_6150161#sthash.Sfp4gCaa.dpufAt the risk of aiming too low, perhaps – just don’t do something you hate.

Or how about letting your passion follow you? There is so much goodness to unpack in this Billfold piece on discovering job satisfaction, written by someone who was toying with taking up fulltime work in a field she volunteered in but came to realise that mission and purpose are not everything:

While I had always believed generally in the cause I was working for, it didn’t speak to a deep part of my identity. The day to day tasks, however, did excite me. I liked the variety, the creativity, the people I worked with, and the latitude I had in my role. I recognized that I had a lot more control and flexibility around my responsibilities than I had previously thought. I also loved my work environment, which included wonderful colleagues, a predictable schedule, and natural light. Ultimately, I realized that these elements were far more influential to my overall satisfaction and emotional health than working for a cause I’d believed in since I was a kid, but whose day-to-day responsibilities were a poor fit for my personality.

Life’s too short to starve for passion’s sake. It can be fun when you’re young but it gets old fast. Trading glamour/ego for more money/a normal workload is something I do not regret one iota. It’s also nice being on the side of a growing niche, rather than a struggling one – feeling positive and hopeful about lifetime career prospects rather than depressed.

At some point in my 20s, I came to the conclusion that I don’t believe in soulmates. I believe there are a lot of people out there we could be happy with.  If we waited for total perfection, nobody would ever get married. And likewise I suspect there are a lot of jobs out there that many of us could be perfectly happy with. I was pretty excited about all the possibilities when I started job hunting a year ago, and I hope I get to explore all those paths over the coming years (unless of course I lose interest in some of them, which is always a possibility).

Because don’t get me wrong: I need a lot of variety.  Honestly, even if traditional publishing wasn’t in the state it is in now, I’m not sure I would’ve stuck around forever. I was ready for a change.

Having grown up in this era, I started out with rose-tinted visions of some unicorn of a dream job. Now I’m older and wiser and perhaps a tad more cynical and mercenary.

“The work world has become a battleground for the struggle between the boring and the stimulating. The emphasis on intensity has seeped into our value system. We still cling to the idea that work should not only be challenging and meaningful — but also invigorating and entertaining. But really, work should be like life: sometimes fun, sometimes moving, often frustrating, and defined by meaningful events.” –  Po Bronson

Did you always know what you wanted to be/do?

Although my friends sometimes accuse me of being unromantic, I don’t believe in the concept of soulmates.  I just don’t think that there is one person out there with whom we are destined to spend our lives.  Rather, I feel that there are a number of people out there who could make us happy. – See more at: http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/2013/09/23/how-to-love-what-you-do/?priorityCode=3969702399&cid=aff_cj_6150161#sthash.Sfp4gCaa.dpuf

Would you tell your boss you were looking for a new job?

Should you tell your boss you're looking for a new jobLife’s biggest transitions, I’ve found, are usually conducted with an air of secrecy.

Take moving house, for example. You’ve got to find your next place to live, wait to go through the approval process, then give notice and line up the dates. Last time was relatively easy as we were crashing at my parents’ and could move immediately; the time before that we had to give notice, and balance this with getting a reference from the current landlord, who obviously didn’t know we were looking to leave. (I’m always paranoid that things can fall through at the last minute, and being homeless is my biggest fear. Like this, but without the happy ending.)

It’s a similarly delicate dance with changing jobs. Again, you never know how long it will take to find a job, and for all the processing to be done at the hiring end. Plus, that balancing of references is even more crucial here.

When I came across a blog post discussing whether you should inform your boss that you’re looking for a new job, I did a double take.

I’ve always had great bosses – but I have never had that kind of open relationship with them. Perhaps general chat in broad terms about career paths, ambitions, next steps … but I would never come right out and say I was actively looking elsewhere.

And yet, people do. I was recently chatting to someone who’s been in the same company for nearly 7 years. There were a few times, she said, when she was proactively interviewing elsewhere. Feeling stuck with nowhere to go, she’d voiced her frustrations to her boss – only nothing was happening. He was willing to act as a reference for external jobs, even. (In the end, she had leverage enough to get what she wanted, and accepted a counter offer to stay.)

Would you ever tell your boss you were job hunting outside your workplace?

It feels like I’m starting (in the workforce) all over again

It feels like I'm starting (in the workforce) all over again

I’ve been at my job for six months, and as tends to happen, it feels like I’ve either been here all my life, or just a short time.

First and foremost, it’s really challenged me in new areas – particularly my soft skills – and encouraged me to consider what I want out of work.

I’ve also had a jolt of hope that maybe having kids isn’t going to be as bad as I fear. At my first job there were hardly any women, and none with kids – only the men had families. (After I left there was a spate of pregnancies – as far as I know at least one of the women went part time; I’m not sure about the others. News is a tough biz when it comes to work-life balance.) In my second job there were lots of women but they were mainly childless or with older, more self-sufficient kids. My new workplace is overwhelmingly female and mostly young. Initially I assumed most were childless but over the months I’ve come to realise a lot have babies/toddlers and are still really put together and awesome at work.

On top of that, I’ve really had to get used to a different industry and different ways of working.


I’m used to jobs that are largely self-contained, where communication with other people is fairly straightforward and transactional. Now I find myself working on more collaborative projects and interacting with people in ongoing liaisons.

Even in a flat organisation, projects can get complicated when there’s lots of players. Collaboration gets more difficult with every extra stakeholder.I have never spent so much time re-reading emails trying to decipher them and tease out meaning. (I don’t count the countless inane PR pitches I used to get in a former life – that’s a different ball game!)

I think I’ve become a better communicator since working here, and become really aware of any times when I’m not being as empathetic as I’d like to be. I firmly believe that the best way forward is understanding where everybody is coming from, but even I find myself forgetting that principle in the quest to get things done.

I’ve also come to see what a tough job it must be to run internal comms – keeping everyone in the loop and engaged within a company. This was the one aspect of PR that most interested me at uni, and should I ever move into PR that’s probably the way I’d go.


Working with people in overseas offices has its challenges. Time zones, for one. Language barriers, for another. Cultural differences. For once, those communication theory classes I sat through at uni have come in handy. (We also had a handy workshop on cross-cultural communication recently that was nothing short of fascinating.)

It’s also made me realise how valuable face-to-face contact is. In so many cases, it’s just so much easier to have people in the same room. Email, phone, VoIP or video conferencing just isn’t the same. I’ve gotten a lot better at talking slowly, that is for sure. Even collaborating with people at our agency, who are less than a 10-minute walk away … sometimes it saves so much back forth when everyone sits down in a room together to hash things out. I’m all for remote working, but it’s certainly more suited to some types of work than others.

One thing I noticed when I came in for my initial interviews was that the super open plan layout had people even closer together than in any of my previous open plan offices – but that people were constantly breaking out and going off to tables and corners for chats and meetings. Having spaces to better facilitate these kinds of collaborations and watercooler chat is so important.


I’m been used to having the same basic framework for my work days. It’s true that no two days are the same in news, but you generally know what you’ll be doing from day to day, even if the content is different. You’ve got a newsletter/broadcast deadline to work to, or you’ve simply got to keep a rolling homepage fresh over a shift.

In many ways my work is now more reactive. I often don’t know what the day might hold. And rather than essentially wiping the slate clean at the end of every day (except for when I was working on bigger feature stories), there’s no hitting the reset button now. Ongoing projects stretch out over weeks or months, with multiple timelines in play. I’m not a naturally organised person, but I’ve had to get a lot better at it.

Have you ever had to get used to a totally new field or style of workplace?

The absolute worst things about job hunting

The worst things about job hunting are...

Thanks to a lot of hard work and a healthy dose of good luck, I’ve never really personally struggled with unemployment. Being a firsthand witness to a long job hunt, though, has definitely got me sympathising. These are the worst things about job hunting, as observed by me.

Please call in order for us to reject you

I can’t believe there are people/companies that will leave a message asking you to call back – only for them to tell you that you were unsuccessful, once you return the call. Just leave a voicemail, or send an email. Seriously.

Radio silence after in-person interviews

There’s a special place in hell for those who don’t get back to you after interviews. I get that some industries don’t screen much and often interview a lot of people in person, but I do think it’s a courtesy once you’ve brought someone in. (Personally I don’t think rejections are needed if you don’t get to interview stage, and actually prefer it this way, but I know a lot of people disagree. As a job hunter, I don’t expect any acknowledgement of receipt, just like I wouldn’t if I was a PR rep pitching a journalist – editors are busy and we’ll ignore pitches we’re not interested in.)

Super scammy sales roles

There are always SO many entry-level sales/promotion type roles promising a fast track to success for hard workers. The thing is, these sales roles are usually pretty dodgy – shady insurance companies and the like – and often just door to door marketing. If it sounds too good to be true…

The weird thing about job hunting is that you’ve got to totally amp yourself up for interviews and really commit to imagining yourself in a particular job. Then you’ve got to completely disengage and do your best to forget about it, since odds are high you won’t make it any further.

What are your pet peeves about job hunting?

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: A manifesto for realists


We all know that famous Steve Jobs speech from Stanford – the one where everyone seized on the palatable, soundbitable angle: Love your work. Don’t settle. 

As Cal Newport writes in the early pages of his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, our generation is rather obsessed with ‘following our passions’. But ironically, that’s not at all what Jobs actually did. Had he done that, Newport says, Jobs would probably have wound up as a teacher at the Los Altos Zen Center. Apple was the result of a lucky break, a small-time scheme that took off, albeit one that Jobs no doubt eventually became passionate about later.

What’s actually more important and more telling about that Stanford speech is what Jobs says about joining the dots in retrospect:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Having just finished the book, I’ve got a few thoughts to put into words. Bear with me!

The dark side of the ‘passion’ mindset

Chasing passion is often unrealistic and in many cases only leads to disappointment. Newport cites a few studies to back up this argument:

One surveyed a group of students and found the vast majority did not have passions that mapped to work/career paths – most were instead related to leisure or hobbies.

Another found that among employees who all held the same  administrative role with nearly identical duties, there was a fairly even split between those who saw their work as a job vs those who saw it as a career or even a calling – and those most likely to think of it as a calling were the ones with the most years on the job.

And yet another found that job satisfaction numbers have been trending downwards over time. “The more we focused on loving what we do, the less we ended up loving it,” he writes.

Give, and you shall receive?

What I took away from the book is that mastering your craft – which we should all aspire to – is its own kind of reward. Get so good that people can’t ignore you and will pay you accordingly … and job satisfaction follows.

It’s the same philosophy Newport has outlined on his blog; the book is his attempt to flesh this out with living examples and further depth.

It’s a pragmatic approach that no doubt most of us know deep down holds a lot of truth:

Focus on what you can offer the world, instead of what the world can offer you.

Derek Sivers, ostensibly a guy of many passions who’s done a bunch of different things, is one of the ‘masters’ in the book and is quoted thusly: “I have this principle about money that overrides my other life rules: Do what people are willing to pay for.

The law of financial viability, then, is one to bear in mind. I’ll never forget a conversation that went down in our dorm room in Grindelwald, Switzerland. Four of us were sitting around talking: me, T, a ditzy girl from Connecticut and an intense Southern guy who travelled all over the world organising and running races (marathons and ultras). We were discusing how he managed to scrape together a living doing this (he definitely wasn’t doing it for the money) and inevitably, the “passion” word came up.

“So, do what you love and the money will follow?” Ditzy Girl piped up eagerly, obviously waiting for a high five and rah-rah chirpy confirmation.

But rather than immediately jumping to affirm this, Running Guy paused.

“More like, do what you love and figure out a way to make money from it,” he said seriously.

The missing piece of the puzzle

The biggest thing I felt was missing from So Good They Can’t Ignore You was that vital first step. What do you do if you have NO idea what you want to do? (This is the ongoing problem in our household, specifically on T’s side.) How do you get started? Do you just try to get a foot in the door somewhere, assuming the basic elements are bearable – that there’s some room to grow, you don’t actively hate the industry, and you don’t hate the people – and stick with it, beavering away on the quest to achieve mastery and become a highly valuable professional?

One of Newport’s examples, Pardis Sabeti, touches on this: “I think you do need passion to be happy. It’s just that we don’t know what that passion is. If you ask someone, they’ll tell you what they think they’re passionate about, but they probably have it wrong.” From that, Newport concludes that it’s a “fool’s errand” to try figure out in advance what work will lead to that passion. Alas, that point isn’t taken any further.

Yes, he demonstrates that many of his example ‘masters’ took awhile to find their exact direction, but they generally started down the right sort of track early on; it was just a matter of honing in from there over time. It’s not super clear how they found that track to start with. Newport does acknowledge at one point that it’s very hard to start from the bottom in a new field, so if you’re genuinely floundering, maybe the key is simply finding a field that you can tolerably devote yourself to.

Finally, I don’t think that the ‘craftsman’ approach and the ‘passion’ approach are mutually exclusive. They can actually play in quite well together, which I don’t think Newport adequately acknowledges. Passion, or at least interest, was definitely an element for many – though not ALL – of the examples of happy ‘masters’ cited in the book. Take the screenwriter, the archaeologist, the geneticist. One does not complete a master’s/PhD without at least some interest in their subject! In an effort to draw clear lines and take a strong, controversial stance that sells books, passion gets thrown totally under the truck.

In closing: If you read his blog Study Hacks, you probably won’t glean much more meat from the book. He also gives a good overview in this 99U talk.

Cal Newport: “Follow Your Passion” Is Bad Advice from 99U on Vimeo.

Jobs I once thought sounded cool

Jobs I once thought I wanted to do

While I think I almost always knew roughly what kind of career path I’d take, there were definitely times during my teens when I wavered, torn between some of my other interests.

Luckily, I saw sense and stuck with the area where I had the most talent – and thus, potential to succeed. Believe it or not, here’s some of the other professions I briefly entertained:


Some things I enjoy giving advice on. Some of those things, I even might be good at – like the more practical things in life. But I’m not really equipped to deal with emotional issues. Lord knows I have my own stuff to handle. I’m fascinated by people and what makes us tick but I’m better observing from the sidelines rather than wading in.

Music journalist/publicist/performer/writer

Late nights for work? Leaving gigs early to write up reviews ASAP? Taking flak from armchair critics? Needing to form opinions about entire albums in a pinch? Not for me. I’m no great shakes as a songwriter, certainly not as a performer, and don’t have the personality to do music PR. And while pegging hit songs is one skill I do have, it takes a lot more than that to become an A&R rep, if those even still exist these days.


I enjoy fooling around with images for the blog and for work but I’d be terrible at any real design work. I lack visual flair and don’t have a style of my own (just scroll through my archives and you’ll quickly see what I mean).

Financial planner

I don’t think I’m the only PF blogger who’s briefly considered this. Thing is, I’m really only interested in the lower level, psychological aspects, not the serious finance stuff. I don’t think I’d ever feel comfortable advising anyone on how to invest their money, and there’s no money in helping struggling people learn to budget.

Software testing

Getting paid to essentially try and break stuff? Sweet! This wasn’t ever really a job I wanted to do myself, but it did cross my mind this might be up T’s alley. Then I started having to do the odd bit of testing as part of my job … and quickly realised how tedious it gets. It’s repetitive and painstaking work that would drive either of us up the wall.

What other careers have you considered, if any?

Career tip: Play to your strengths

One thing that stuck with me from my  recent training session on mentoring high school students was the strengths based approach.

It seems so logical. Focus on your strengths, rather than solely on tackling your weaknesses. Yet I realised I have not been doing this at all.

For example, an ongoing goal of mine for, oh, a couple of years now, has been to brush up on my coding skills. Yet every time I dived in, trying to dig into CSS, or even starting the Javascript module in Codecademy, it was a CHORE. I didn’t enjoy it, and I wasn’t particularly good at it. The other day I managed to break my blog thanks to a stray < in one of the PHP files. I used to think the concept of testing was pretty cool – essentially trying to break things on your site – but actually doing it on my own blog and the site I work on is bloody tedious.

(On that note, there was a great piece on Mother Jones recently about how computational thinking is the new literacy – the ‘learn to code’ movement is great and all, but programmers need to be able to think about WHAT to build, too, in order to meet needs and solve problems. I definitely felt this during my brief brush with Javascript; it was cool to write code that actually DID something active, but realistically when would I use it?)

I don’t have the patience, I don’t have the natural bent, and I don’t have the desire, since there are no obvious benefits. I’m confident in tweaking code – poking around and figuring out what pieces to change in order to get elements doing what I want them to do. Writing code from scratch – not so much. Getting to the stage where I’d be good enough to do it in my professional life is beyond my capability – and it’s probably not going to be hugely helpful to me. Even if I want to go down the full stack marketing route later on, heavier back end coding skills beyond basic HTML/CSS are not going to be as important as commercial nous and/or analytics. If there is talent besides programmers that we are crying out for in today’s work world, it’s digital analysts! (Seriously, we’re hiring right now.)

I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of clarity about my immediate career path lately (this is my third job, and I finally feel like I’ve found my ‘story’ – a cue for me to tweak my LinkedIn profile soon, actually) and the way forward is not to try be something I’m not. My strengths are in content, not design or development. Focusing on that – particularly content strategy, building on my production and management base – is the obvious move.

In the next few weeks I’m going to have to create a development plan as part of annual reviews at work (a totally new process to me), so now I’ve really got to think about what kinds of specific goals to commit to and how I can get there.

Any tips?

The art of selling yourself: Let’s talk behavioural interview questions

Behavioural questions in interviews: the art of selling yourself

When I interviewed for this job, I was pretty confident I had the skills required. I was mostly concerned with how to figure out whether it would be a good fit for me.

Rather than rehearsing answers, I spent a lot of time thinking about what kinds of questions I could ask to pinpoint whether this would be the right move and what the culture was like. I was quite conflicted about whether I should even be interviewing for it.

Did I mention I’m not experienced at interviewing at all? My last job was a warm lead; I already knew them well so the interview was informal and there were no reference checks. My first job grew from a part-time job, which in turn grew out of an internship. So I’d never been through an actual structured interview before.  

Some of the questions I struggled with:

Discussing projects and my role in pulling them off

I don’t come from a project-based background. The nature of my workflow means that it’s pretty constant. I suppose on a micro level, you could say I go through a lot of mini projects – every newsletter, every piece of writing, every photo shoot I coordinate. Luckily, I have gotten to work on a couple of initiatives over the past years – the joys of a lean team – that were often a pain in the ass but provided valuable work experience.

What I said: Rambled a little about one initiative I was a part of, struggled to quantify my contributions.

What I should’ve said: Next time I’d prepare and practice with one or two examples and try to put some numbers or specifics to it. My workflow will be much more project-based going forward so I plan to keep notes along the way for my own records.

Describing my communication style

What I said: I described my communication style as collaborative – I’m good at taking on board and weighing up various perspectives.

What I should’ve said: In hindsight, and after doing a little research, in the future I’d also add that I listen more than I talk, am stronger in written communication, and while I value input from others I often do my best work alone.

Describing my ideal manager’s style

What I said: My ideal manager provides clear guidance/objectives upfront, offers support when asked for and when they sense it’s needed, and champions their team and their team’s work. (The best bosses are the ones who trust you to get the job done and leave you alone to do it, IMO.)

What I should’ve said: I’m still thinking on this one. I feel there’s plenty of room for improvement, but not sure how specifically. Any thoughts?

Describing the kinds of people I get along best with – and the ones I don’t 

What I said: I get along with most people. I am not a fan of close-minded types who are always convinced they’re right and aren’t open to other viewpoints.

What I should’ve said: A better answer in the future, especially in a professional context, would probably be that I take issue with the type of person who is a talker and not a doer, a ‘not my job’ type, who isn’t committed to going the extra mile when needed. In short, people who don’t share my work ethic. Coming from a background where resources are always thin and passion plays a big part, I expect the same sort of standards from others. I’m big on work-life balance, but when you’re at work, I think it’s important to do what it takes to get the job done.

What kinds of interview questions do you struggle with? Any thoughts on answering some of these?

What kind of career do I want? How my thinking has changed over time


In reading back over some of my very first blog posts, it’s clear just how much things have changed in my life.

In particular, how many times I’ve changed my mind about the kind of work I’d like to have. It’s not just a case of me being fickle, I promise – my chosen career field is a rapidly changing one.

When I first graduated I thought I wanted to be a subeditor. Thing is, there are fewer and fewer of those jobs these days – it’s a dying art – and the hours are often crappy. It wasn’t long before I ditched that idea.

Then social media took off. Everyone and their dog was becoming a social media manager or consultant. I loved that I got to play with social networks as part of my job, but the more I did it at work, the less I wanted to do it for fun, and I quickly learned that I would want to be  more than just a ‘Twitter monkey‘. (I had to laugh when someone I follow locally on Twitter, who’s been a social media champion from the early days, tweeted that she is now looking to do a project as far removed from social as possible.)

I’ve always been a doer. I wasn’t into the top-level stuff – I’m a details person, not a visionary. I like that this, at times, allows me the flexibility to work from anywhere, since all I need most of the time is a computer and internet. But I don’t love staring at a screen all day – and I don’t think it’s been great for my health. Fortunately, as I’ve gained more experience I’ve also become more interested in the strategy behind the doing and being involved in how/why things are done. I still have  zero desire to manage people but increasingly I’m thinking I’d like to learn more about doing things more strategically and getting involved at a higher level.

It’s great to love your work. It’s also great to be able to afford the kind of life you want, and to have the kind of job that allows you to have that life outside of your working hours. As much fun as my work has been so far, I knew I had to be realistic about the long-term opportunities. Publishers are struggling to make money – but on the flipside, all other kinds of organisations are investing in content.

In thinking about what I might want to do next, I narrowed it down to a few areas I would ideally like to work in:

a) the travel and tourism space

b) the personal finance space (a cool bank, or, say, at sorted.org.nz)

c) an awesome startup (though arguably my last job was pretty close to a startup job)

Amazingly, I found a role that perfectly marries my writing chops, digital skills and love of travel. It’ll be my job to help extol all the virtues of New Zealand as a place to visit – a dream gig, really.

So far, I anticipate a lot more collaboration, a lot more meetings, a workload that ebbs and flows – more facilitation, planning and strategy alongside the nitty gritty production stuff rather than a constant cycle with very tangible daily outputs.

Overall, will I love it just as much as I did my old work? I think it’s highly likely. Time will tell; I haven’t gotten too much into the ‘doing’ yet. I dig the atmospherical aspects and am pretty sure the workload will be less relentless. All things considered, higher pay, the chance to hone new skills and better long-term earning potential don’t hurt, and are definitely factors that play into professional satisfaction.

Maybe further down the track I may have to make a stark choice between money and satisfaction, but not just yet. Phew.