September 5, 2020

How to be effective in your job search: Lessons from my transition from IBM to myTomorrows

Last week, I left IBM and joined a company called myTomorrows. In this article, I will break down my decision process while searching for, finding and applying to a new job, to help you at your job search. I also will talk about how I managed to land a position where I think I’ll be very happy. This story has lessons in it for anyone who wants to get the type of job they want.

First of all, what do I mean by type of job? As I mentioned in my article last week, data science comes in all shapes and sizes. Just the title “data scientist” might not make you happy. Your job consists of your responsibilities, the type of projects you do, how much you interact with people and how busy/stressful it might get. Every company and every position has varying levels of each. That’s why last week I grouped data science positions into six categories with similar levels for each criterion.

Why did I want to leave?

Until last Monday, I was in the consultancy category. I realised in time that even though I liked being involved in a variety of projects which were in a variety of industries, I was not happy. I had two reasons to be unhappy: I was not ambitious to grow into the direction the consultancy role provided me and I was not happy with the amount of impact I had in the world.

Of course, these are very subjective values. You have to decide, what is important for you. You might get it wrong at first, as I did. I thought doing a lot of different types of projects would make me happy. But it turns out, having a positive impact is more important to me than doing a variety of projects.

After this realisation, my first reaction was to go on LinkedIn and similar websites to look for open positions. After a while, I got nowhere. I was not feeling good about my job search and I felt like I wasn't making any progress. This was when I realised the importance of remembering your priorities and reasons.

The job search

My main reason for leaving was that I didn’t have any ambition to climb the corporate career ladder and that the projects did not fulfil me. But when I started looking for jobs, I again ended up applying to places where I know the situation would be very similar. I simply forgot that what I wanted to do was not to “leave as soon as possible”, it was to “find a more suitable position for my needs and wants”. This is a mistake many people make while looking for a job. Just make sure to remember why you got into this search in the first place, remember your priorities and do not stretch them too far.

For example, if the reason you want to become a data scientist is to work with Machine Learning, do not apply for a job that might have you working on simple dashboard building just because the title is “data scientist”. Your energy is much better spent on applying to places that are good for you.

After I had my second realisation that I was applying to all the wrong places, I changed strategies. I adopted a top-down approach. This time, I wrote down what I expect from a job. First the must-haves:

  • I want to have a positive impact on people’s lives

And then the good-to-haves:

  • I want to work in healthcare or a related industry
  • I want a team that I can learn from
  • I want to be challenged 
  • I want to have multiple responsibilities and not just data crunching
  • I want a smaller company where things are not very bureaucratic

From this point on, I wanted to make sure I was spending my energy efficiently. What I want to learn was: is there a name for companies who are specifically created to have a positive impact on people’s lives?  The first thing that popped to mind was non-profit organisations. But I knew there were for-profit companies too which are focused on having a positive impact in the world.

And there was a name, apparently, they were called social enterprises. I learned this from Ekaterina Stambolieva, founder of a social enterprise and one of the guests on the podcast. We had a chat about what I want, why I want it and how I can use my skills (data science skills in this case) in a social enterprise or non-profit. This conversation saved me so much time and energy because it confirmed my suspicions about entering the non-profit scene. Thus, I focused more on social enterprises.

If you know people who work in places similar to where you want to work, reach out to them and ask about their journey. You will learn so much about how to approach your specific job search. That’s the reasons why I ask about their career journey to my guests on the podcast.

My next step was to identify companies that fit my must-haves and good-to-haves profile and see if I knew anyone who worked in that company. After I found a couple of people, I introduced myself and what I was looking for. The key here was that I kept the conversation on a very honest level. I made sure to do my best being myself. I didn't send a cookie-cutter introduction message. I went all-in with where I am in my career, what I want and how they can help me.

I believe that the only way to find a place where you can be happy is by showing your true colours as much as you can at the beginning. I want to work at a place where I don’t have to pose like a perfect professional worker, so I made sure my emails and messages did not sound corporate. And the magic happens when the company you’re applying for replies on the same tone. That’s when you know you get a match. If you can’t identify with a company’s tone, character or vibe, there is very little reason to try to be a part of it. Almost certainly you won’t feel like you belong there when you start.

Of course, if for you, it’s very important to work in a highly professional and corporate environment, then show that. And seek places that can give the corporate life you crave to you.

Evaluating the fit

The last step of my job search was to evaluate my options. As I mentioned before in another article, asking questions during an interview is a great idea. And that’s exactly what I did. I asked a lot of questions. I didn’t do this only to show that I was interested. I really wanted to know the answers and to understand what I was getting myself into.

When I was preparing my questions I kept my must-haves and good-to-haves in mind. I wanted to know what the main mission of the company, the culture, the size of the company, what their business model is (as in how do they make money), what will be expected of me and so on… This was important information for me to make my final decision on whether to go forward with the company or keep looking.

Job search is always portrayed as people desperately looking for jobs and companies choosing the ones as they please amongst them. But that’s not how I see it and I think you should change your mindset about looking for jobs too. At the end of the day, you cannot leave the decision up to the company to choose you or not. It’s also up to you to accept or decline to go forward with a potential position. You need to own this decision. See it as companies trying to fit your requirements and if you find one that does fit what you want, go all in and show your best effort.

My whole job search process took a long time, there were many more ups and downs than I mentioned here, I felt desperate, useless and helpless at times but everything worked out at the end. I already started my new position last Tuesday and I feel a strong fit. 

Just to recap:

  • Identify your reasons for leaving
  • Identify your priorities and stick to them
  • Have a solid idea of what your must-haves and good-to-haves are
  • Seek help from people who work in places you envy and ask about their journey
  • Be yourself when communicating with the company you want to work for
  • Objectively evaluate your options

I hope this article will give you ideas about how to approach your job search and help you make progress towards finding a job that will make you happy. Don't forget to be honest to yourself, every step of the way.