EP 027: L&D Jobs Series Part 1 – Advice for Job Seekers

After his recent experience finding a new job in 2019 and being let go in 2020, Joe Suarez decided to turn his misfortune into opportunity and share his lessons learned with others in the learning & development field. That kicked off a 4 part TLDC Job Seeker series. This episode of the podcast is a summary of his presentations along with helpful interjections and resources shared by co-host Cara North.

Resources mentioned:

Music created by Jahzzar.

Episode Transcript:

Cara North 0:01
Today on instructional redesign podcast, we’re gonna be talking jobs, jobs, and more jobs with Joe Suarez. So if you missed Joe’s series on it TLDCast, he had a wonderful four part series about seeking jobs during this time. And he has a lot of great sage advice, pandemic or no pandemic of great things that you should be doing in your job seeking journey. And today, what we’re going to do is we’re just going to do a quick recap of some of the things that Joe talked about, see if he still recommends a lot of the same things he talked about a few months ago, and maybe also talk about the future and what that potential looks like. That sounds like a plan to you, Joe.

Joseph Suarez 0:48
That definitely sounds like a plan. Let’s do it.

Cara North 0:51
Alright, let’s go.

Joseph Suarez 0:53
Alright. So as Cara mentioned, I did a four part series on TLDC, around job seeking. And, you know, part of the reason I did this is because I went through a month long process in both 2019 and 2020, to find a job. And I was hoping the the 2019, one would have would have stuck a little longer. But unfortunately, I was only enrolled for five months. And they had to lay some of us off because of the financial impacts of the pandemic. So I found myself looking for a job again. And I realized that in that moment, that I was in a better position than most I had just gone through this, I felt very confident that I was going to be able to either find something, another full time job or be able to just start freelancing become full time self employed. But I knew others weren’t in such a strong position. And I wanted to do something about that. And I figured I could share some some of what I know, with people. And ultimately, I landed on doing the TLDC series. So to start things off, I just want to look at things very big picture and just open with a very simple, I don’t mean it to be condescending, but just ask the question, what is the job. And I think it’s important to open with that, and understand that a job is basically a contract between two parties, an employer and an employee. So the employee agrees to perform some specified tasks or duties for the employer. And in return, the employee is given some compensation. And this is a contract that can be ended by either party at any time, obviously, the employer can can quit and leave the role, the employer can let the person go. And as long as they’re following the laws and regulations in whatever locality they’re in, that’s perfectly fine. Obviously, what happened to me was, I was let go during the pandemic, and part one of my series was just talking about my experience, but also what others can do, if they suspect they might be about to go through the same thing, and what are the warning signs to see if perhaps they’re about to be laid off. Also, I gave some advice for people for what they can do during the layoff, which controlling their emotions and listening for key details that the HR representative or the manager that’s letting the person go would would give out, and then also what to do afterwards how to move on and kind of pivot into something new and in turn, what could be a negative thing into a possible positive opportunity. So that was part one. And then in further on in the series, what I wanted to go a little bit further into is actually searching for jobs and my process for doing that. So when we’re searching for jobs, so much of the process is focused on us, right? We’re asking questions of ourselves, like, Okay, how should I write my resume? Do I have enough things in my portfolio? Or do I need a portfolio? Am I what the hiring manager is looking for? What relevant work experience do I have? So we’re very inwardly thinking, and then the the artifact that we create, the main artifact is our resume, which is this document that’s all about us. So it’s, it’s really easy to fall in the trap of thinking, Okay, this is all about me and presenting myself in a good light, which it is on the one hand, but on the other hand, it’s really about putting yourselves in the shoes of the prospective employer and what their needs are, and what their internal hiring processes are, and you know, what their needs are to fill the role that they have open. So I put together a cheesy little thing that I called the hierarchy of needs. And that’s hire spelled h-i-r-e, pun fully intended. And I meant it to be similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. So if you’re not familiar, that’s kind of the diagram of that is like a pyramid. And at the bottom are your core survival skills like you need air to breathe water, food, shelter and things like that just to live but then moving up the pyramid you have your your higher level needs, like sense of belonging, and ultimately becoming a self actualized human being. So in the same manner, we can kind of create a pyramid for both us as job seekers and that hiring organization. So as the job seeker, the applicant, our pyramid at the bottom will most likely have compensation as our base need for a job. And it might be different for different people. But generally, it’s probably going to be something where in the middle, it’s like you want your career growth and development. And then at the top of the pyramid, you want your sense of fulfillment, or to satisfy your passion. And then on the hiring organization side, their pyramid at the base is a little different, because they want somebody that’s qualified for the job, first and foremost, that’s their pyramid base. And then from there, they want to make sure that this person is professional, that they’re going to show up on time and be can be somebody that is relied upon, and then at the top of the pyramid, probably, they want to make sure that this person is a good fit for the company, that they’re going to be somebody that’s going to become an asset to the organization over time. Alright, so the reason I brought up those two pyramids is just to kind of keep in mind that your needs don’t necessarily reflect the needs of the organization. But as best as you can, you want to align those as much as possible. So for example, if your pyramid has career growth on there, and you want to, let’s say, grow into a leadership position at some point, and the hiring organization’s goals are to find somebody that they can grow and advance up in the organization over time, then your needs align. And you can come across as very authentic in the interview process by asking questions that demonstrate that your needs align in that regard. So that’s just one example of why it’s important to kind of make your your wants and desires in the interview process known. But also make sure that the fact that you’re meeting the expectations of the role shine through above all else.

Cara North 6:46
So Joe, hopefully, we can add both of those hierarchies in our show notes where people can also see them. But if I could interject real quickly, I wanted to circle back to what you were saying in that first series and thinking about, you know, what is a job and kind of where someone fits in that, by far, the best career advice I’ve ever received. And something I wish I would have gotten earlier in my career is knowing that you work for you and not an organization. So flipping your mentality from thinking about I work at ABC Company, to I am an instructional designer and ABC company as my client, I cannot tell you just flipping your mindset, how much different that I look at things now. And how much more kind of hope and control that I personally feel over my own career. And I’m always looking for other opportunities. And I’m really seen it in a way of selling myself. And I wish that was something that I have thought of before earlier in my career. But now that I’m kind of in the middle of it, it’s really a mentality that I love sharing with people. And it’s I think it’s opened a ton of opportunities for me as well.

Joseph Suarez 8:06
Excellent point. I think our goal is job seekers, obviously, is to constantly demonstrate that we are the best candidate for the role. But like you’re saying, we also need to keep in mind that at the end of the day, we’re still our core selves. It’s like that saying, do we live to work? Or do we work to live right? And what you’re saying fits into the latter category?

Cara North 8:28
Yeah, I definitely agree with that. But I think that oftentimes, especially if you’re working in a job, where you might not have as much autonomy, or you feel like you’re more of an order taker, right, I think we’ve all kind of been been there, it can be really hard to kind of see on the other side of things. A lot of times, especially right now, a lot people may feel well, I’m just grateful to have a job, even if they’re miserable in the middle of it. So don’t let that discourage you know, your worth, know what you bring to the table, and always be looking for that next opportunity if you’re not being fulfilled with the organization that you’re at.

Joseph Suarez 9:05
Absolutely. And and these might be questions and considerations that people might not be asking right now, or might either be in a situation where they feel like they can’t move or don’t want to, but I think most people are going to be at a point in their career down the road where they’re going to need to find a different job or have a strong desire to. And these types of things that I’m highlighting here in this episode are going to be relevant down the road as well. So moving on, I also want to talk about resumes and portfolios. It’s a big part of the job seeking process. They’re the main artifacts that you have. Another way to look at all this is that as a job seeker, whether you like this or not, you’re basically a salesperson whose goal is to make just one sale and that’s of yourself. And your resume, your LinkedIn profile, your portfolio, whatever personal branding, you may have all of that is like your marketing material with the intention of using that to get your foot in the door for an interview where you make your sales pitch, I like to think of it from that perspective, because all these little rules that people say, and people get hung up on about, like, how long does my resume need to be? Is it okay? If it goes over one page? Or do I need to keep it all on page? And how should I format it and what should I put on it and this and that. That’s important to kind of follow those guidelines. But the end of the day, I feel it’s safe to break those if you have a good reason to if you think breaking those rules makes you a stronger candidate or makes you shine through in some way. I say go for it, you don’t have to follow these archaic rules. And I got to the position where I told myself, if I’m weeded out, because I don’t have a one page resume or use a different formatting. Or if somebody weeds me out for those archaic things, there’s a good chance that I don’t even want to work for an organization like that anyway, so I’m okay with that. So then moving on to portfolios, if we consider the resume is like your opportunity to talk the talk, the portfolio is your opportunity to demonstrate that you can walk the walk that you can do the things that you’re claiming to do and have done on your resume is an opportunity to show that you have the proper design skills that you can do, perhaps some problem solving creativity, project management, collaboration with others, perhaps demonstrate a customer centric mindset. And for sure, show off just your overall design process. So as many of those that are relevant as you can highlight, and perhaps more, I definitely think the portfolio is a great opportunity to do that. And it just speaks in a way that your resume and even your interview can’t and it can go much farther than that I think people give it credit for, so I strongly urge people to have a portfolio.

Cara North 11:53
Hey, Joe, what are some of your Joseph Suarez portfolio tips? Can you give them a couple of tips to see if maybe they want to refurbish their portfolio? Or what if they’re starting from scratch? What are a couple tips you’d be willing to give?

Joseph Suarez 12:06
Absolutely. So my first tip is resist the urge to just have a series of thumbnail images. We’re talking about L&D jobs, you’re not a photographer. So you may find a nice template. If you’re using a hosting service, like Squarespace or something, that there’s a portfolio template where it’s a bunch of thumbnails of images, and you click on it and it pops something up. That might be great if you’re trying to be a National Geographic photographer. But that’s not the kind of jobs that we’re applying for. We’re applying for jobs and using our portfolio to demonstrate that we are competent designers. So in addition to a nice visual that demonstrates something, you also want to back that up with some descriptions. So basic descriptions, like what was this project? What was your role in the project. And if we’re looking at things that you didn’t do 100% of like, if you had some help with the content, and you were just the eLearning developer, you want to specify that somehow you don’t want to intentionally or unintentionally try and pass off the work of others as your own. And that goes as far as if you downloaded a free template from somewhere in a tool like Articulate Storyline, you don’t want to be unintentionally showing that you have amazing design chops when that you don’t. And you may even want to go as far as creating basically a case study of your best work. It can just be one, maybe two or three in depth summaries of your best projects, something you’re really proud of. And you can really go into detail about how the project came about how you used perhaps like your unique design process or some creativity, whatever you brought to the table is what you want to highlight in that case study and how the final project was reached, maybe even mention some roadblocks or setbacks that occurred in the projects and limitations and how you worked around those. All that gives an employer a glimpse into how you work, which in my opinion is worth so much more than just a few bullet points on your resume or even one sentence or two sentence description on a thumbnail. One more thing and I know Cara is very opinionated about this as well is a lot of people have the feedback but everything I’ve done in the past is proprietary and I can’t share it. And I’ll be burned at the stake for even trying. So how on earth do I make a portfolio? I know Cara’s really passionate about that. So what would you say to those people care?

Cara North 14:27
First of all, I would say think about this as an expression of you as a person. I think that in your portfolio, you can really build out maybe a dream project that you’ve had. And I know Joe on your portfolio. One thing that I love and I’ve actually referred other people to and I don’t know if you still have it on there or not was Carl’s Clunkers. You remember that one? I like it because it’s got humor, and it’s got the dry humor. That is definitely Joe Suarez and so I think that’s why I like it. That example so much because I know us a person and your personality comes through it. Right? So I don’t know why people get so hung up with? Well, it’s proprietary. It’s all that I have. I know, again, as a hiring manager, that is something that I look for. So if you have something proprietary on there, I don’t see anything stating that you have permission to share it, I’m probably not going to pass you on because our nondisclosure agreement and my organization is very complex, very rigid. And I don’t want to have my head on a platter if you work for us, and you leak our industry secrets, right? So to me, it’s an ethical thing. But if you’re looking and you don’t have any of those creative Mojo, that’s fine website that I highly recommend people to check out two of them. One is the Articulate e-learning heroes challenges. Even if you don’t use articulate software, you can still get a design prompt to think about the other is Kristin Anthony’s godesignsomething.co. So go there, and she’s got some great examples of an audience a prompt for you, and even list out some inspiration for you to think about to build out something

Joseph Suarez 16:15
Totally agree. And those are definitely some great resources. So just just to be clear, like we’re not saying that it’s not a limitation, it definitely is. But it’s not insurmountable by any means. There are tons of ways to get around it. The first is if you have access to the original source files, and you maybe you can extract something that has absolutely no proprietary information in it whatsoever. And if you can get permission to share that then great. If not, is it something that can be repurposed into something that has absolutely no connection at all with the employer. So one of the things that is in my portfolio is a comic book type eLearning course where I had some company specific things described in there, I just changed that out to Star Wars references, like whatever works, it’s like I said, it’s a challenge, but it’s not insurmountable. And the thing I like to say is that looking for a job can be your full time job in itself. And the people that really hunker down and find creative ways to make sure that they rise to the top are the people that get hired. So you kind of got to just put in the extra effort and make it happen somehow. Okay, so moving on to the actual job search itself and looking for jobs, I think there are two different strategies that I want to go over. The analogy I’m using here is casting a net like you were fishing, you can cast a wide net or a narrow net. And I think a lot of people whether they know it or not default to casting a wide net. And what that looks like is they’re basically applying to everything that they see that they think they could be qualified for, and hoping that they get a bite. And if they get multiple bites multiple responses, then they can choose the one that they like best. That’s fine, that works. And if you’re just starting out, and you’re not sure, necessarily what you want to do, that might be a good strategy. But what I recommend is figuring out the ideal job that you want to work and cast a narrow net towards that. And then if you’re not finding any open roles, or you’re not getting any responses, when you apply to those roles, that you slowly expand out your net, so that the end result is hopefully as close as possible to the ideal job that you want to have. Now what that requires is having a good sense of what your ideal job is. And I think by answering some questions, you can kind of get a sense of what you really want. So examples of these questions are, what would you like your ideal job title to be? Do you want to be a learning experience designer versus an instructional designer? Do you want to be just a straight elearning developer or you want something more specific, like virtual reality, or maybe learning game developer or something like that? So these are more niche, but then again, we’re casting a narrow net, right? Are you looking to be on the cutting edge? Or are you kind of okay, for something more steady and predictable? And then just kind of logistics of the job? What kind of organization? Are you looking for large, small, what business or segment or sectors? You know, is it higher ed, corporate, healthcare, automotive, financial sector, you know, those types of things? And just the the type of work? Is it full time part time contract freelance, what are you looking for? And obviously, you want to think about your salary as well. What’s your ideal range that you want being realistic, and basing things on the market value of where you’re at and your experience? And I also like to have what I call walk away figure, which is taking assessment of your personal finances and what’s the bare minimum that you can get by on and having a little bit of breathing room added on top of that, what does that look like from an annual salary perspective? That’s what I call your walkaway figure that you’re unwilling to work for any less than that,

Cara North 20:04
Joe, I know that money is a sensitive topic to a lot of people. But I also think that it’s an important topic. So I just want to circle back. So let’s say for example, you are wanting to work as a higher education ID, if you’re looking to do higher ed, this is something that you may or may not know, is all salaries at public institutions are searchable. So you should be able to go in, if there’s not a figure listed on that job description, you should be able to go to the institution, type in instructional designer, and get a good sense of the range of what people are currently being paid in higher ed, to make the determination if that’s a good figure for you. And as far as like a corporate salary goes, not the best. But sometimes you can get some information on Glassdoor. I know the Learning Guild has a salary calculator, as well as a salary report that they put out, I believe, every year and you don’t have to pay anything for it, I think you do have to log in and get a free Learning Guild account. But you should have access to that. And that is just basically a benchmark survey that they send out to try to see what the market is. And I know also this year, Devlin Peck actually rolled out a salary survey. So I don’t know if he’s getting ready to post the results of that or not. But I know that that’s something that he was also advertising as well. So do your homework. As far as trying to figure out what they’re currently being paid. I know, depending on where you’re located at and the org, pay is just weird, right, Joe? I mean, it kind of fluctuates all over the place.

Joseph Suarez 21:43
It really does, it’s really tough to kind of figure those things out. Those are great resources that you mentioned, another one, depending on the job board that you’re using, you might be able to see that information as well. For example, simplyhired.com is one that unless it looks like unless the employer specifically says not to it will list the estimated salary range that it thinks is for the role. And I think most often that’s actually determined by what the employer is entering behind the scenes for what the salary range is. But all these questions that I just went through to kind of find your ideal job, the answers to many of those including salary and the type of work you want to do, the timing the type of job as far as full time, part time, things like that, those become your filtering criteria when you’re searching for jobs on job boards, whether that be Simply Hired, indeed, as another one, or if you’re just doing it through LinkedIn, those become your filtering criteria. And then you can also use keywords in your search. So for example, we mentioned virtual reality and learning experience design, these become your your keywords in your search to find those ideal roles. And together, this is kind of how you start to cast your now that you’re applying for those jobs that are right in your wheelhouse that that you want to work for, in addition to just straight applying for jobs, the phrase, it’s more about who you know, than what you know, definitely comes into play. So it’s behooves everyone to work on their network and grow their network and leverage their network. And like we’ve said previously, growing your network is just as much about giving as it is about taking, if not more, so. So I strongly encourage everyone when they are being active on things like LinkedIn, or maybe some slack groups or other places that they’re networking online. Keep that in mind that it’s not about just asking for things, it’s about giving in return as well. And that has a paradoxical way of coming back and giving more in return than you give.

Cara North 23:53
I love that. I think that’s a great, great tip, especially because I know that that is the number one piece of advice that I wish I would have known earlier in my career is to network and really get your name out there. And you will find hopefully, what Joe and I have found that most folks in this profession are just real kind and open, and really want to see everyone succeed. So don’t be afraid to reach out to people. You might be pleasantly surprised on the response that that you get. So these have been amazing tips. Joe, what is the last tip you want to give for folks out there seeking jobs right now?

Joseph Suarez 24:31
Well, I have one more tip related to networking. And then I have a final piece I just want to walk through my process for how I keep track of everything that I’m applying for. And then we’ll kind of wrap this episode up. So my last piece of advice on LinkedIn and other networking social networks is to recognize them for what they are LinkedIn being the biggest obviously, for whatever reason, they’ve decided that it’s more beneficial for them to act as a social network and many people find it to be discouraging and off putting and kind of toxic in some regards. So if you’re engaging in it just my advice would be to find a way to contribute meaningfully rather than just adding noise, and generating activity and engagement just to satisfy some logarithm, don’t bother playing that game. There’s other better ways to get noticed. Then, like Cara mentioned in a previous episode, being that guy that basically had nothing but a helmet and his underwear on like, like, come on, you can be better than that no matter what you’re doing, and promoting for yourself. So like I mentioned, I want to talk about how I keep track of everything when I’m applying for jobs, because it can get to the point where you you’ve applied to a lot of jobs at a lot of different points during your search. So you want to keep track of all of that, whether it’s in just a spreadsheet or a simple word document, I personally use OneNote. And what I do is, every time that I apply for a job, I just write a little note. And it’s basically bullet point that just says the name of the place that I applied to the date, I applied a link to the job description, and any salary information I can glean. And I just hang on to that information. And then if I’m engaged by a recruiter, I quickly pull that information up, and I start a new note where I can start to keep track of everything, I have a list of generic questions that I like to ask in different phases of the interview process, especially in the room, when a recruiter calls you to screen you. Those are very helpful because you really don’t need you. You’re basically always asking the same kind of things like why is this roll open? And can you tell me the salary range? Which is a good question to ask? And I’m kind of always surprised when I’m just flat out told the salary range, I always think it should be some kind of secret. But if you if you’re the first one to bring up the topic, yeah, you’ll probably get an answer in return. So that’s a good question to ask. And so we basically, as of now gone through three parts of my four part job seeking series that I put out on TLDCast. The last one was around interviewing, but I think this is a good place to stop. We have another episode that’s going to follow this where Cara is going to talk mainly about her perspective as being on the other end of things as the hiring manager, because she recently went through a process where she had to hire someone and was in that position. So stay tuned for her perspective on that.

Cara North 27:24
Yeah, good stuff. And that all this is good stuff. And I really hope that it’s it’s able to help people. But of course, we want to hear from you too. So what are some of your best tips when it comes to finding jobs? Do you have a process? Do you have a hierarchy of needs yourself? We’d love to hear you talk a little bit more about that. So connect with us. We’d love to hear from you. So tune in next time for a different perspective on this from a hiring manager point of view. And thanks so much for listening. I’m Cara North.

Joseph Suarez 27:56
and I’m just Suarez. Thanks for listening.

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