Give us a quick snapshot of your professional background.
Currently I'm an instructional designer at Windwalker Corporation in McLean, Virginia, working on a team of five other instructional designers on government projects. We collaborate with a development team on tools that we're designing -
e-learning and modern technology development learning solutions. Prior to Windwalker, I was working for another government contractor. Prior to that I was doing sales and project management for a custom home electronics firm, and I started my working life in journalism as a radio newscaster.
When was your most recent job change?
I started looking in June 2008; I started with Windwalker in November 2008.
Tell us about your job searches in the past and also about your most recent search.
My most recent searches were a different experience than those in the past. Previously, I had worked through my connections, and had a pretty clear idea about where I wanted to go. In one recent job search (prior to my last) I was moving from Upstate New York to the Washington, DC, area. I knew I wanted to live in this area, but I didn't have any connections. So my search was a matter of discovering who the employers were who were hiring instructional designers. This most recent search was much more focused because I really had taken some time to get a clear idea of myself professionally - what I could bring to an organization, the type of organization I wanted to work for, and type of work I wanted to be doing.
How did you find a job without any local connections?
I used online tools, including the typical, big national job boards. I was also fairly organized in my approach. Each time I found a resource, I would bookmark it. I updated my online profiles, I would view state job postings, and after reading those and seeing which companies were hiring, I would then go directly to those companies' job sites. That's where I think I made the most progress - I was really seeing what they were posting, and could directly update my application profiles there.
What other sites and resources did you use?
The [ASTD] Job Bank was one of the first ones I went to. I'd been aware of the Job Bank since I graduated from my college program. It was a good way to see what was out there in different categories that interested me in the field: ID, performance, work development, and the different flavors within the field. The Indiana University job site was also helpful. There were also some blogs that gave tips and listed companies that were hiring.
What were the differences this time versus the time before?
There were more similarities than differences. As a local ASTD Chapter member, I found a lot of resources. I volunteered on a project and met people there; I attended monthly meetings and special interest group meetings. I also started using (at the encouragement of one of the people I met through ASTD) the social networking sites. So I expanded the technology portion of my search - contacting previous connections and reinforcing them. That was the biggest element: seeing the importance of keeping and maintaining contacts in the field (recruiters and others whom I'd met over the course of my search).
Are you more involved in your ASTD chapter?
Yes. I understand more about its value as someone who has been looking for a job. I didn't understand in the past the value of relationships with my colleagues and even sharing posts and things like that, especially in the Washington area. It's important to be involved.
Was there any change in the way you did your search or things you observed with the downturn, especially after September?
It seemed that the earlier part [of my search] was quieter. Actually, as it got closer to November, I started finding more possibilities. I had been focusing on consulting firms. I wanted to be an external instead of inside a company's training staff. I understood soon that companies were cutting back. I did notice I was looking at the online postings, that they became fewer moving into August and September. So I was getting a bit more concerned, but I just kept moving forward.
What would you do differently in your search?
There are many reasons to maintain professional contacts before you need to do a search. It helps to be able to use the relationships you already have.
How did you keep yourself motivated?
I was determined to stay focused. I knew what I wanted and the type of work I wanted, so I was stubborn! That really helped a lot, to keep myself in any kind of a routine. Not a strict schedule per se, but a pattern of activity. I also kept talking to people. I continued to read. Through ASTD and my own resources, I identified [the time during my search] as a great opportunity to get a better grasp of my competencies. It was clear to me that the way I had been marketing myself was not correct. The expectations were different. So I did a lot of self-reflection on my skills, as well as how I would go about articulating them.
What would you offer as tips for job seekers getting into instructional design or training?
Know yourself well and know how to articulate what your skills are. Know what your targets are - your type of organization. Having a clear idea of that was helpful for me. It was also helpful to talk to fewer people and get to know them better, rather than broadcasting my resume to everyone. The contacts whom I would meet and have conversations with made way for people to make suggestions and give me leads. You have to maintain relationships with people once you do meet them. Don't be afraid to be a pest and work your relationships with recruiters. And don't make searching online the sole activity of your job search. You have to get out and network with people. You need to have that personal contact. That made a lot of difference.
Being prepared also helped to make my search a lower-stress event. If I had not prepared financially, I would have been distracted.