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A Return-to-Work Dad Speaks - Part 2 of 2

Dave Carty is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Kent Place School in Summit, New Jersey. He relaunched after a 13 year career break. This is Part 2 of his 2-part career reentry journey. To read Part 1 of his story, click here. Dave also shared his relaunch story in an episode of our podcast, 3,2,1 iRelaunch. Listen here.

Attitude Adjustment – “Network? WHAT network?!”

First, I was supposed to reach out for help. One of the biggest obstacles I had to overcome was my reluctance to ask people for help. Perhaps it was the 13 years I spent at home with kids every day, or perhaps it was a lack of confidence, but I just didn’t feel comfortable calling up people and asking them for help. I felt I’d be a bother, or they can’t help me, or they don’t want to hear from me.  Finally someone told me to imagine that one of my friends or acquaintances was in need of help like this, but didn’t ask me. Wouldn’t my feelings have been hurt? People want to be asked. They want to help. If they can’t help they will tell you, or just won’t call you back in which case you just move on to the next contact.

Next, I was supposed to evaluate my network. What network?!  I didn’t have a network!  I had a bunch of playgroup moms in my network!  I needed to really think about the network that I had – but didn’t realize I had.  For example, I was fortunate to have volunteered with  many organizations in my hometown: Cub Scouts, Little League, Church, Basketball, Soccer, School Trustee, and then some. I had served in many different capacities using a variety of skills.   I was told to count every adult I knew through my volunteer work as part of my network. Suddenly, I HAD a network! Then I was told about this thing call “LinkedIn” and I quickly realized how my network could multiply rapidly.  

Before I knew it, my newfound network was yielding more contacts and generating more meetings and phone calls, surfacing more job boards to look at and more organizations to call.  While I didn’t have a new job yet, this was a very necessary and helpful process. My confidence was building and that once-dreaded phone call to ask for help had become a fun game of “how many calls can I make today? how many meetings or leads can I get?”.

Over the weeks and months that followed, I followed a deliberate routine of emailing resumes and cover letters and making phone calls, knowing full well that most would not generate anything at all. It got me into a daily habit and at the end of the end of the day I could honestly tell myself that I was working my butt off to find a job!  The hard work would eventually pay off, and in the meantime I was honing these skills.   

My relaunch process became a part of my story. While staying home with my kids for 13 years after 11 years as a globetrotting executive was one story, trying to return to the workforce after this break was a story in itself that many people enjoyed hearing about.. Being able to a talk intelligently about how I was approaching my job search, the methods I used and the amount of time I put in made for a valuable conversation-starter and demonstrated my work ethic to potential employers.

Focus, Focus, Focus – Right Under My Nose

When you are re-launching AND trying to break into a new field, it requires a bit more thought and process than going back to the industry you used to work in. In my case, I knew that “Phase 3” needed to meet certain criteria.  I needed to get back in to the paid work force. I needed benefits. I needed a sense of self and purpose.  I needed to establish myself in a career, vs. just a job. I needed daily adult interaction and intellectual stimulation. But most importantly, I needed to love what I was doing.

It was time for some deep thinking and honest self-reflection.  What can I see myself doing eight to 10 hours a day, five to six days a week for the next 15 to 20 years? I suppose I could just go at it, get a job, and see what happens, but I knew I wanted more than that. I quickly ruled out rock star, basketball player, etc. for obvious reasons.   On the advice of “my network”, I began to evaluate my volunteer work that I had enjoyed while I was at home with kids.  A lot of my volunteer work centered around kids, like coaching and teaching, and in and around school. A clear theme started to emerge: could I work at school? I spent all that time at the school. I was a trustee. I was a treasurer. I had been overseeing the school’s annual budgeting process for the past 12 years. I helped oversee several school construction projects.  Is it possible that those experiences might be valuable to me in this process?

Who could help me answer that question?  I tapped into my newfound network (which included two independent school heads, a school business officer, a development officer and an admissions officer as well as several other leaders in the non-profit and for profit world).  A series of coffees, lunches, and quick meetings helped me get a feel for what type of jobs might exist in the educational world that match my skills.

 

Practice, Practice, Practice – Putting it All Together

Throughout my self-assessment and career exploration, I decided to get practice in the mundane and pretty boring part of the job search process. Resume writing, resume sending, cold-calling strangers, calling friends and asking for help. The first call was brutally hard.  I held my breath and dialed. But each call I made got a little easier. And that was the point. At this stage of the process it was a numbers game, like hitting balls at a driving range.  Get the initial calls done, all the while building confidence, skills, phone manner, and refining my pitch. “Hi I’m Dave Carty and…”.

I learned a lot through these calls about the topic at hand. On really good days, I’d get off the phone with new names and numbers to call!  A very important part of this process was keeping a log of these calls and conversations -- not only to stay on top of all that I was learning and who needed to be followed up with, but as visual reminder of how hard I was working at re-launching!

Similarly, I needed practice sending out resumes and cover letters. I honed my resume-writing skills by going after any opportunity that looked remotely interesting or related to the field of education. While I knew the yield from this effort would be low, it was great practice and sometimes I event got a call or an email back!

As soon as I realized that I did have a solid network, I began to look for ways to link my network to my outreach. I would reach out to my network and ask: “Do you know anyone in XYZ company or maybe someone who knows someone there?”   If I got a hit, I made the ask, “Can you make a call on my behalf just to make an introduction or ask them to look at my resume?”   Oh, how far I had come from being deathly afraid of making one of these calls!

This went on for months. I had moments when I thought, “Am I ever going to find a job?” “Why is this taking so long?” “I guess I’m just too old”  “Maybe I shouldn’t have stayed at home with the kids as long as I did.” “Maybe I’m over the hill”.  Just as that self-doubt would start to creep in, I’d look at my ever-growing log of calls, emails, letters and meetings and tell myself, “Ok, keep it up, eventually you’ll catch a break”. Finally, that’s exactly what started to happen.

 

My First Break – If at First….

One day, I was scanning a job board for non-profits and schools and saw an opening at a non-profit called Futures and Options, whose mission was to take inner city students from some of the poorest high schools in New York City and partner them up with young professionals to serve as academic mentors and life coaches.   I loved the mission, it was related to education, it was in Manhattan -- it met many of my criteria. It was the first position that really caught my attention.  And there was something about the name of that company that sounded very familiar.  I realized that Steve, my fellow trustee from the school, is also a trustee on that board. Finally, using my network!!! I called Steve and one week later I was sitting in the office of the Executive Director of this non-profit. Not on an informational interview, not a recon mission, but talking to someone who actually had a position they were trying to fill! 

None of this would have happened without the months of practice I referred to earlier.  All that practice had landed me a face-to-face interview with a key decision maker for a job in which I was very interested.  The first interview led to a second interview and then a third – finally, I was one of two finalists for the position. The last hoop to jump through was to meet with two board members.  I left that meeting extremely confident about my prospects. But alas, I did not get an offer. At the end of the day, they wanted someone with more experience and I did not have as much as the other candidate. I had to find the positives in this defeat. I had made it to the finalist round.  I was a hair away from getting that job.  Yes, this was a failure, but I was continuing to build experience and confidence and adding to my knowledge base about the space I was trying to enter.

Soon there were more breaks and interviews, from a charter school in the Bronx, to another one in Newark, to a language immersion school in Brooklyn. All the while I was building my skills, my network was growing, my resilience was improving, and I was polishing my pitch. Just because they don’t offer you a job, doesn’t mean they can’t be a reference or a source for other job openings elsewhere. “We really liked that guy as a candidate. He was a finalist here for XYZ position.” Or “Dave this is Jane form the XYZ Charter School, I hear there is a position opening at a different charter school - would you be interested?”  

It sounds easy to say this now, but  “failing” can be very valuable. Even a batterwho strikes out, is learning about the pitcher who is getting the better of him.   He / she is taking mental notes, figuring what is needed next time to get the hit.  This is no different.  What do I need to do differently next time? How close was I?

 

Finally the Big Break – Grit Pays Off

In case you’ve lost track, we are now eight months into the job search and still no job.  I had come close a few times, but I have to admit, I was getting tired of coming close. I wanted a job!  Don’t quit now Dave! The key to not losing at something is not quitting. It may take forever but as long as you don’t quit you haven’t lost.  Not an easy mental process to endure, but very necessary. I believe they call it Grit.

Then one day, during my usual routine of checking job boards and making calls, I came across a very interesting posting on an educational job board from an excellent school. I had heard about it, it wasn’t far from me, and, more importantly, people in my network knew about it as well.  It was a position that seemed to be tailor-made for me, tapping into my diverse set of skills from school operations to construction management to global studies.  I had experience in all the right areas but knew that my weakness was not having “worked” in a school position where some of these skills were actually being used. If I was going to be a contender for this position I would have set myself apart from other candidates and definitely get in front of the decisions makers and tell my story.  I needed to tap in to my network and see if there was someone who could help facilitate a face-to-face meeting.

Fortunately the independent school world is a reasonably sized world, and when I checked with my network it turns out they were a big help in making introductions and providing references. After 10+ years of service as trustee and treasurer I had a pretty good track record and good story to tell.

Leaving nothing to chance, I began preparing.  I shined my shoes, pressed my suit, studied up on the school, and scheduled mock interviews with key people in my network. I did anything I could think of to prepare. I was not going to lose this job because I did not prepare well enough. Four months of interviews, emails, and phone calls finally led to a job offer!  And on July 15th 2013, after a 14-year “break” from the full time paid workforce to stay-at-home dad raising my three kids, I re-entered the workforce. I was a very happy relauncher.  

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