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Episode 192: How Taking a Break from a Prolonged Job Search Led to Getting Hired, with Amy Miller

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Episode Description

Amy Miller is a PR and communications expert who wrote to us a few months ago after relaunching her career following an eight year career break and a three year effort to relaunch. Despite doing all of the recommended steps to find a new job, she only got a couple of phone interviews and got to the point where she became so demoralized that she had to stop because she was becoming depressed. Things changed when Amy took a break from her job search, updated her skills, and made the decision to go into business for herself -- a decision which led to a new job opportunity. She shares how she has progressed in her new role and discusses the importance of trusting your gut when relaunching.

Read Transcript

Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. Today we welcome Amy Miller. Amy wrote to us a few months ago after relaunching her career following an eight year career break and a three year effort to relaunch. Her background is in public relations.

Here's what she told us, "I spent two years applying for jobs and for a year of that, I was hitting it really hard, going to Chamber of Commerce meetings in my community, telling everyone I knew that I was ready to go back to work. I had my little elevator speech down pat, took classes to refresh my skills, got myself business cards, made a gorgeous website to showcase my capabilities, professional photos, went to the iRelaunch conference, you name it, I did it." And she sure did. Those are so many of the top recommendations and strategies that we give to relaunchers, but here's what happened.

She said, "I don't think I ever got more than a phone interview, and I only got a couple of those. It got to the point where I got so demoralized at not even getting a second look that I told myself I had to stop because I was becoming depressed." And I also want to comment that this is a reality of a prolonged job search.

Sometimes it can do a number on your mental health and it can cause depression. So, we're really appreciative of Amy for putting that up front as part of her story. We want you to know that things changed when Amy took a few weeks off and made a decision to go into business as a consultant. We are going to find out what happened after that and how that decision made a big difference in Amy's relaunch.

Amy, welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.

Amy Miller: Thanks, Carol. It's really nice to be here.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Amy, thanks again for that very authentic and real story that hit home with so many relaunchers who read it in our private community and of course with us at iRelaunch. And, I read a little bit about your career break and your relaunch journey, but before we get more into those details, can you tell us about your pre break career and what led to your career break?

Amy Miller: Sure. So I started out my career as a print newspaper reporter and I worked in journalism and then transitioned into public relations after about five years. And I worked in public relations primarily for small agencies serving clients and a bunch of different industries. My career was very central to my life. I was very active in my career. I traveled a lot. So it was a primary source of identity for me, and I did not really think about having kids until I was quite a bit older. Actually, by the time I started trying to have kids, I went through a period of infertility. And I mention that because that is actually what led to my career break.

I experienced multiple miscarriages in a row and got to a point where I just didn't have the emotional fortitude to keep showing up every day in a challenging job. I decided to hit pause, and I went back to school and got my MBA. And so before I actually had children, I went back to school full-time, so officially my career break started a bit before I actually had children when I was a full-time student.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Got it. And boy, the points you bring up really ring true. And we talk about this at iRelaunch more broadly. But a couple of things, first of all, talking about how your career was central to your life and a primary source of your identity. At iRelaunch we talk about how when we're professionally disconnected for a long period and we're away from our professional identities, that because of how we view ourselves and also how society views people's lives, what you do for work is so intertwined to your whole identity as a person, that you can experience a diminished sense of self when you are separated from that identity. So I really appreciate you bringing that up.

And the other piece is that we talk about career breaks that are sometimes brought on by infertility. It's something that doesn't get discussed that often, and we don't have that many relaunchers who have gone on record talking about infertility being really what precipitated their career break in the first place. So I also appreciate that.

You were getting your MBA, you were a student, then you had children. And then how did you know when it was time to start looking for a job again? Was there some moment where you all of a sudden realized, this is the time? Or was it something that built up over a longer period?

Amy Miller: I would say actually that I was thinking about going back to work all along, really. I think because, I don't know, I feel like with my cohort of friends who are older moms like myself, it's like I had so much life before I had my kids, it just printed on me in a way that was very difficult to shift and adopt a different lifestyle. It really is just a completely different lifestyle.

And although I really enjoyed and cherished the time that I got to spend with my kids, I was all along thinking, "I'm going back to work. I'm going back to work." I even applied for a job. I think the first time I applied for a job seriously was actually when I was still pregnant with my second child. But it was a situation where it was a private school that was before the summer break, and they weren't going to be needing someone for six months or something. And so I went for it. So I was trying to point myself in that direction all along.

Carol Fishman Cohen: You applied for this job when you were pregnant with your second child, you were thinking about it, and take us through maybe from that point when you applied for that job, when you were then starting this what became a prolonged job search, and you did all of these things and you can say you did everything right. Maybe before we get there, can you take us through some of the details of what happened over that three year period?

Amy Miller: Sure. At first my efforts were pretty casual and I have to admit too that I was incredibly naive about this whole issue of going back to work. Probably because I had blinders on because I didn't have kids until I was older, the struggles of other working parents were just not visible to me. I was not paying attention. I just thought, "Oh, I'm going to take this break." And in the meantime, I got my MBA and I literally told people, "I'm so lucky because I've never been in a position to really just hand pick where I'm going to work, and now that I'm going back to work and we're not relying on my salary, I can be much more selective."

So I casually applied to a few jobs initially. And then I would say after about a year, I was always keeping my eye out on openings and so forth.

But after about a year, I started getting more serious about it, but I should also mention, and I think this is a crucial detail, is that we moved to a different state while I was on my career break. And I think that was probably the biggest factor in the difficulty that I had in re-entering the workforce. So I initially applied casually to some positions and I heard nothing. I didn't even get a thank you for applying.

Carol Fishman Cohen: This was from researching companies online and submitting applications online. Is that right?

Amy Miller: Yeah, for the most part. I got a couple leads from somebody who worked at the preschool or various personal connections, but for the most part, it was applying to positions that I found online in my area. And I was really targeting a narrow search area because I live in Los Angeles and I knew I couldn't commute endlessly with small kids and everything. So I was really looking in a thirty minute radius around where we lived.

Carol Fishman Cohen: A couple of things there, the commute factor is really important, especially in a sprawling metropolis like Los Angeles. I'm originally from southern California, so I'm very familiar with that layout. So there were some constraints around your search in terms of this thirty minute radius for the commute. And also you're saying you had moved to a new state, so you're establishing yourself for the first time on a personal level with your kids in every way, in addition to maintaining this job search at the same time.

Amy Miller: And I had no network. My children also are eighteen months apart because I struggled. I was older, I struggled to have the first one. And so I really felt like I had this window of opportunity, I had to go for it. So that initial period was really intense. I think anybody who has kids that are pretty close in age can say that puts you through the ringer.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yep.

Amy Miller: So I was home with small children all the time. I socialized to a very limited degree with some other moms that I met through a mom's organization in my neighborhood, but I felt like I couldn't penetrate the professional people or the professional world around me. And so at some point on that path, I think I was just Googling about trying to go back to work, and that's when I found iRelaunch online. And I'm a big podcast listener, so I immediately started listening to all your podcasts.

Carol Fishman Cohen: How great that you started by listening to all the podcasts, and now you're on the podcast. I love that. Okay.

Amy Miller: I went through the Roadmap and really started just gobbling up all of the information and resources that you guys provide, and made the decision to come to the conference. And in the meantime, I think coming to the conference was a spur to, when I came, I knew there were going to be employers there. I wanted to be really presentable so that's when I created my website, got professional photos taken, and made job seeker business cards, because I wanted to be really well-equipped for any opportunity that might arise. And so of course going through the thought process involved in creating all those resources, you really have to think about what you want and how you're going to describe yourself to someone succinctly and how to summarize the work that you've done.

So it was a really helpful exercise for me in getting prepared, and I was using resources. There's a website I found that will do a scan for keywords in your resume and your cover letter and match it to the job opening description. And I was doing all that stuff. And I should also say that, although I had this thirty minute radius around me, there is an incredible amount of opportunity within thirty minutes of where I live. There's no shortage of jobs. That's not really the issue. I became very cynical about, what are they called, the applicant screening systems?

Carol Fishman Cohen: The applicant tracking system.

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Amy Miller: Yes. So anyway, I twisted myself in knots. And also I'm a writer. So to me it was a bit painful to basically stuff my resume and cover letter full of keywords in order to get past the ATS, knowing if I did, somebody would eventually be assessing me based on my writing. And so it had to both pass the ATS and still not embarrass me as a writer. I just got so frustrated with that, and so frustrated at seeing roles for which I knew I would be great. I had everything that they were looking for. I had everything they were looking for, and did not even get a screening call. For example, once I had the screening call and the HR guy, the first time he just forgot. And then the second time I had scheduled it I was ready, but he was 45 minutes late, and then I had to go pick up my kids.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow.

Amy Miller: And so the loss of control that I felt around my destiny, I think that was really what was leading to my feelings of depression. I likened it a bit to, and hopefully people will be able to relate to this, but if you've ever been single for a prolonged period of time and you really want to be in a relationship, at some point if that gets too intense, you start giving off, I'll use the word smell. It's not really a smell, but you start directing this energy. Your mojo is no good. And that's how I felt. I was like, even if I got an interview right now, the version of myself that I would be bringing into that room would not be the best reflection of me.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Stop there for a second, because you've said so much and there are a few things I just want to highlight. So first I want to take all the way back to, Amy, you mentioned the iRelaunch Roadmap, which is our intensive framework, and it's a five stage, thirty step return-to-work process. So just wanted to highlight that it was something that Amy used and that's something our relaunchers find very helpful.

Then the other thing that you mentioned about the conference, even though at the end of the day, you didn't walk away with a promising job prospect from the conference, but for some people, and it depends on your stage, some people just having that conference scheduled as a date is like a launch moment, "Okay, it's official now, and I'm moving forward with my relaunch." And, you said you had gotten all those pieces ready to go, and what an exercise that was in preparation.

And one more thing I wanted to mention, because you said you had used a site that took keywords from your resume and matched them with jobs.There's a slightly different approach that Oliver Schinkten, who has spoken at some of our conferences, he's one of the LinkedIn trainers, and he mentioned, there are these word cloud programs where you can put your resume, you can put job descriptions of jobs that you're interested in and feed it in to this app, and it's a word cloud, and it's going to pick out what the keywords are for you.

So I just wanted to throw that into the mix as another way of getting to some of these keywords that you've talked about, apart from the challenge of having your materials be written in a very high-quality way, but also using the keywords.

I like that you highlighted that. Okay. So let's move to the discussion of what you're talking about here, about this loss of control about your destiny, and this analogy you made when you're single for a long time, you want to be in a relationship and then you're not presenting the best version of yourself.

So can you talk to us about how you got beyond that? When did you come out of it? I'm just so grateful to you for bringing this to the surface, because it is such an important issue that affects so many relaunchers, and I'll say non-relaunchers too, people who are in prolonged job searches of all kinds, right?

Amy Miller: Yeah. I don't remember if there was a key moment that really told me, “what you're doing right now is not working.” But I know that I got to a point where I was doing my best, and this is another piece of advice I got from iRelaunch, was to tell every single person that you interact with in any way that you're looking for work.

I told my chiropractor, I told everybody, I got to the point where when I was talking about it, the emotion in my voice, you could hear it. And I just knew, I wouldn't hire me if I interacted with somebody like that, I would say, "Oh, you poor thing, you need a minute." And so I just thought, I just have to take a break. I just have to stop for a little bit. And at the same time I had the premium LinkedIn account and I decided I was going to take some certifications and so forth on LinkedIn. I actually didn't really think I was going to find much value in them, but I thought it'll signal to other people that I'm trying to stay current.

Surprisingly I actually did find that the material was pretty useful and it opened up a new avenue for me that I was really interested in, which was in content marketing, which is related to public relations. It's still writing, but it's more writing for digital audiences and again, using keywords or writing for certain search parameters online.

And I did a digital marketing certification on LinkedIn and I got really fired up and excited about it. And suddenly I was interested in learning new things. I had new energy. I could see possibilities. And my work history does include, I worked for a public relations agency, but it was a very small family company of ten people.

So I had experience bidding for jobs. I knew approximately what the hourly rate for my time should be. I had a very good sense of how to scope out how much time a project would take. And so those things were not hurdles for me. I know for some people who consider going to work for themselves, that a lot of that is very overwhelming. But thankfully I already had a sense for that.

So I decided I was going to go into business for myself and just see what kind of work I could get. And I wrote in my post that when I shared with my social networks that I was going into business for myself, I got project work immediately, like, great project work.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow.

Amy Miller: I think that, and I will say that it was all coming from people in my network, in my old state. That was not really my first choice, because really I wanted to make connections and develop a network in Los Angeles. But at the same time, I thought, I'm just going to take these, I'm going to take whatever comes to me because it'll give me a chance to build a more current portfolio and give me some experience, and why would I not do that?

So I happily accepted the work that I got. I got to do some great projects. I got to learn how to podcast. I have long been a listener, but had never had the opportunity to create one myself. And I took a class in podcasting online, and so I got pulled into a lot of interesting, exciting work right away.

Then after about six months, I got a new client. I was introduced through a mutual contact that wound up being the company that I'm working for now. And I had the opportunity as a contractor to essentially test drive the company. They had the same opportunity with me, although that's not the purpose under which we entered into it, but it gave me a chance to get to know the people and see the dynamics in the workplace.

And I liked the company, I liked what they stood for. I liked my supervisor or the person I was reporting to as a contractor, who's now my supervisor. And so when an opportunity became available about six months into that relationship, I asked him, "Would you consider hiring me?" And they were happy to do that because they had a level of familiarity with me at that point as well.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, the idea that you started with them on a contract basis, it's similar to the returnship concept. Companies have a situation where you get to see an actual sample of the person's work and test out the working relationship. Actually, both sides get to test out the working relationship. You're saying you were also learning about the company and how they worked and the people there. And then they were learning about you and seeing the kind of work product you could produce. That is a great stepping stone to a full-time role, so interesting to see that. We talk about that playing out and whenever there's an example, it's wonderful to illustrate it. So this full-time position opened up, and did you just seamlessly move into it because it was very similar work or were there things that were new? Was there anything about once you were back into it because you had been out for a few years that had changed in terms of, you're talking about the digital marketing piece, was there any sort of a technical challenge that you had to overcome?

Amy Miller: I would say not too much. But I think that the work I did in the preceding months taking various courses on LinkedIn Learning and that sort of thing, I think that the actual barriers were pretty low, but there was some lingo changes that would have intimidated me if I hadn't had the chance to realize, "Oh, this is the same thing as we were doing five years ago, they're just calling it something different now. There's a different platform that does this work now, but it's the same thing I was doing before.”

Carol Fishman Cohen: I love that you're saying this, because we see this emerge as a theme across functions. So we had a PhD in multivariate statistics say, "The principles of multivariate statistics are still the same as they always were. It's just we're using some new platforms now to work with the numbers." Or our credit risk analysts will say, "The fundamentals of credit risk analysis are still the same, but now the spreadsheet tools are different." And engineers will say the same thing that there's something still familiar, even though there's another layer of technology on top. So lingo, acronyms on sort of new products and services, but I love how you say, "Oh yeah, that's the same thing as what was in the past, they're just calling it something different."

Amy Miller: So it wasn't a big hurdle. I think the biggest, maybe the bigger adjustment was associated actually with the pandemic, because I started back to work in November of 2020, and I think more significant changes to the workplace occurred as a result of the pandemic than they had during the previous seven or eight years that I was out of work in the sense that, we were using, for example I'm involved in facilitating events for large groups of people on zoom. That was not something that anybody in my field was doing prior to the pandemic. And so there was a learning curve on some of that, but I think my coworkers were only nine months ahead of me in that respect.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's super interesting because I remember for example, there was a lawyer who realized after an over twenty-year career break when she relaunched, she became the staff attorney at her law firm in charge of being the specialist in Dodd Frank, which was a whole bunch of laws and regulations that no one knew about before. It was totally new to everyone. And so they said, "Okay, you can be the specialist in this."

So the idea, as some of our librarians who are relaunching are saying, "The fundamental cataloging systems are based on the same principles, but right when we came in, we were learning a brand new cataloging system. So we just sat down with everyone else and we all learned it for the first time."

So I love when that happens or when you're doing something that, because of some external factor, in this case no one's ever done before, so it's not like other people already have this big bank of knowledge and you're just treading water and trying to keep up. That's a great opportunity. And I should say that we also had to make that leap on our iRelaunch Return to Work Conferences, which as you know, used to be in person at different universities around the country. And all of a sudden, overnight they became virtual and we had to learn a virtual platform, and Sarah Mills on our team, really led that charge fearlessly. It was exciting for our whole team.

I have a question for you, though, about when you first took the job, the full-time role at the client. Can you talk to us about level and talk to us about what level you came in at and how that related to where you had left before your career break?

Amy Miller: So my last full-time position before I took a career break was I was a Press Secretary for a US Senator. I was pretty senior in my field. And then the title of the position that I took when I went back to work was PR Coordinator. For anybody who's familiar with this segment of employment, coordinator is usually code speak for entry level.

However, really, I feel like the job was mis-characterized because the responsibilities, if you read the job description, were much more sophisticated than anything a normal coordinator would have done. It was reporting to senior level executives, presenting to the board, designing strategy. That's not something that an entry level person would do.

And so when I interviewed for the position, the recruiter told me, "Why do you want this job? It's so far below what you've done before." And I said, "To be honest, I know why you're saying that, but really if you read the job description, this is not an entry-level position and the title doesn't really matter to me."

And that's the truth. It really doesn't. I don't care. Nobody's even handing out business cards these days anyway. So why would it matter to me what it says on mine?

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's a great answer. I want everyone to rewind and listen to that again, because it's a very good script for people to keep in mind.

Amy Miller: So I stepped into the role and I had an advantage because I had been doing, I would call it, maybe one fifth of the work of the position as a contractor. But because I already knew people, I didn't have to build relationships quite as much and so forth, so I was able to step in and really start contributing immediately.

It was the close of the year, so we were in the process of creating our strategic plan for the following year, which was something that I had done a lot of. And I was able, because I didn't already have a plate full of work, I took on the project of writing the strategic plan and really thinking through a lot of the details.

And that's just, it was a real opportunity for me to shine and to share some of my strengths, because I am a writer, but I feel like another strength of mine is being analytical and so it played to my strengths. So I think that got me off on a really good footing, and I had the opportunity to present it to the board of directors about a month after.

At that point I heard from some of the senior executives in the company that they took notice of my professionalism and the presentation, and that there was awareness that I was underpaid for what I was doing, and that they wanted to give me a raise.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's great. I love that you took that opportunity to step up and head up that strategic planning process and ended up presenting to the board. That's just a home run, Amy, so great. We're wrapping up now and I'm actually going to combine a couple of questions because I was going to ask, what did this experience teach you? But I also want to ask the question we ask all of our podcast guests, which is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience?

So maybe there's a combination answer there that would give everyone some great closing advice.

Amy Miller: I think, actually, it is a great combination answer authentically, because my advice would be that although the tools and resources are invaluable and they will point you into some work or opportunities that you may not have considered, ultimately I got to a point where I felt a little overwhelmed by all the advice that I was getting. I was sharing my resume with a lot of different people, and people would often offer completely contradictory advice, particularly on the resume.

So at some point I had to recognize that I needed to step back and listen to myself, and really get in touch with what I knew about myself and how I could best navigate the situation. That's when I decided to go into business for myself.

So I would say my best piece of advice is take advantage of all the resources, get every piece of advice you can, but also know when the advice doesn't work for you, and try to have the confidence to follow your gut if it's telling you not to do something or that it's not the right thing for you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's great advice and a great way to finish out. Amy, thank you so much for joining us today.

Amy Miller: Thank you and thank you for, I just have to say thank you for all the resources that you have made available and for the work that you're doing, it's so important. And I really hope that if you ever want to launch a political action arm for this operation, I'll be there. I will be there.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Oh, I love that. It's very timely too, because of everything that's going on right now in the larger political world. So thank you so much, Amy.

Amy Miller: Thank you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And thanks for listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch,the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. For more information on iRelaunch conferences and events, to sign up for our job board and access our return to work tools and resources, go to iRelaunch.com.

And if you liked this podcast, be sure to rate us on Apple podcasts and your favorite podcast platform, and be sure to share this podcast with a friend on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media.

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