Long Post Ahead: Towards the end of my fellowship at the Gates Foundation, I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going to end up. I had had a series of unhelpful conversations with people in various organizations and internally. I had interviewed places and not gotten any offers. It was really disheartening. In the round about way that these things often happen, a conversation with a colleague led to a lead. I ended up transferring to a temporary assignment on another team that I thought would be good to buy more time to find something more permanent.
This new assignment had me coordinating a new model of working for data scientists and content experts such as nutritionists and pediatricians. It was very interesting and very rewarding work. The model took off quickly and soon the requests were pouring in for data scientist time using this new way of working. I probably could have stayed on that team and expanded and refined the process and really built something great. It would have allowed me to stay at an organization that I believed in and in a group that was supportive. I wouldn’t have to navigate new relationships and a new work place and all the newness that comes with big career changes. I could be comfortable and stable and all those good things. And yet…..I knew deep down that I needed something different and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to find it at the organization I was in.
My long-term career goal is to hit the C suite. I’m still waffling on CEO vs COO but I definitely want to be up there. At this point in my career that means I NEED management experience. I don’t have any management experience, at least not in the direct report sense, so I gotta start climbing that ladder. For me, I didn’t see that path where I was so while I was happy, and supported, and all those goods things, I also knew I wasn’t going to move up, at least not with any sort of speed.
While I was still applying for jobs I came across one on a job website. It was for a project and portfolio manager for the Statistical Center for HIV/AIDS Research and Prevention (SCHARP). I went back and forth on this one. The job seemed interesting, however, I wasn’t sure that I was fully qualified, never having had any formal project management training. I eventually applied after the post had been up for awhile. To make a long story even longer, by the time I got called in for an interview I had switched teams at the foundation and so was not in immediate need of a job and they had already identified a candidate. The result was the most honest interview I have ever had. At the end, the interviewer said there was an open position that I might be good for. Of course, I thought that was just a line.
Much to my surprise, I got an email shortly after asking to introduce me to the director of SCHARP. And thus began a series of interviews that would culminate with me in my current position, one that I would have never envisioned for myself, yet one that I think is very well-suited for this stage of my career. I have to admit, when the director said he wanted to talk with me about interviewing for the head of a team of statisticians, I thought he was out of his mind. From the beginning, I was very honest about the fact that I had did not have any “traditional” management experience and that I was not a statistician myself. I know that is not what we’re taught about interviews. We’re supposed to highlight our strengths and turn conversations about our weaknesses into conversations about our strengths and all that good stuff. At this point, I was just so tired of all the conversations, all the informational interviews, the actual interviews, the get-to-know you interviews that I just wanted to be really candid about what I wanted in my next position and what I could offer. The feeling of being that open was refreshing and, much to my surprise, it worked!
Since this post is already verging on way too long, I’ll save the details of the interview process and negotiations for further posts. What I took away from the spinning top that was my job search was:
- The more you can define where you want to go and what you do and do not want to do, the better off you are and the more people can help.
- Know your value – what can you contribute to an organization. Make sure you can communicate that and provide concrete examples.
- Don’t get too comfortable. If you have a big dream, make sure you don’t get stuck somewhere because it feels nice and cozy and comfy.