You can’t live here, but will you hire me?
When a Talent Manager moves to San Francisco
I spend a lot of time looking at other people’s resumes. As a Talent Manager, this is a huge part of my job. Over the past 14 months, building the team at 18F, I’ve reviewed more than 1,000 resumes.
When I relocated to our San Francisco office six months ago, I saw a number of very unexpected resumes.
I was applying for a place to live.
My Housemate Resume
Everyone who has found a place to live in San Francisco has written “How to Find a Place to Live in SF.” It is a great story. It includes the dramatic ups and downs, the funny anecdotes of awkward first date like interviews, and the informational tips and tricks of the search process. Most importantly, it ends with some motivational echo of the American Dream:
Follow these rules, work hard, and be patient. Everything will be okay.
And just like the American Dream, the House-Hunting American Dream (HHAD) has its own set of rules too.
Rule #1: Have a Resume and maybe even a Cover Letter
If you’re applying to either landlords or housemates, you’ll need a resume. I included the following items: my contact information, current and past three addresses, current and past three employers, income verification, personal and professional references, and contact information for all former landlords. On this resume, absolutely include your hobbies and interests, especially if they are of the less cliched variety.
If you have a furry friend or a car, make them a resume too. Not kidding.
I followed this rule as well as the countless others in those “how to guides” and was rejected repeatedly. Like searching for a job, even when you are reasonably qualified and do everything “right,” so are thousands of others in the market. Hint: Everyone has seen the same rules, so you’re not a special snowflake.
I’d write to fifty potential housemates daily, visit ten or so places each week, and receive six rejection emails. The other four wouldn’t even bother with the standard “no thanks” message.
Dear Jamie, Thanks so much for stopping by the house yesterday. It was great to meet you. Unfortunately, we decided to go in a different direction. We know you’ll find the right fit soon. Best of luck. Sincerely, 1234 House.
After the first thirty emails, I understood just how long this search process might take. In the meantime, the closest thing I had to a home was my office at Civic Center where I kept the majority of my personal belongings in a closet.
While gaps in employment are tough spins for even the most charismatic professionals, so are gaps in housing. Telling people I live at my office doesn’t scream “pick me” in housing interviews.
However, telling people I work at my office screams “Apply Now.”
While I was so focused on my housing resumes and applying for places to live, 18F posted “We are Hiring.” The team’s inbox was flooded with applicants.
So was my personal inbox. Sadly, not with room offers.
My Potential Housemate’s Resume
I received a dozen emails from potential housemates I had contacted with their resumes attached. I was floored. These were applications for employment at 18F.
Applications wrapped in rejection.
Dear Jamie, It was so great to meet you the other day! I am sorry that the housing thing didn’t work out. I hope this isn’t too awkward, but I really enjoyed hearing about 18F. I think my skills make me great fit for your team. Attached is my resume for your consideration. Cheers, P
Awkward, yes a little. But mostly really fucking bold.
You don’t want to live with me, but you want to work with me?
I understand living together and working together are very different, but you are clearly very aware of my role at 18F. We talked about it in my interview. If I did happen to consider your resume, I’d be the one to walk you through the entire interview, hiring, and onboarding process. Understandably, maybe you’re unfamiliar with the federal hiring process, but this is an estimated four (or more) months of solid you + me bonding time and metaphorical hand holding.
You would have interacted with me less if we had lived together.
Of course, my personal, emotional reaction was to reject these 12 individuals the same standard way they rejected me. I’d reply, “There just isn’t a fit on the team right now.” It would feel so good.
I didn’t do that. Instead, I instructed them to apply separately by emailing email@example.com. I’d have the rest of the Talent Team decide without me if they merited a phone screen. After all, I was still applying for a place to live and blanket rejection seemed like bad karma.
Plus, my dark, twisted sense of humor wants them to apply and have to hold my hand for four months. Of course, that’s when they would want to live with me.
My House Sitting Resume
As it turns out, I’ve lived at almost every 18F-er’s house and then some. The only reason I moved when I did was because one was headed to Asia for a month and graciously offered me his house. Naively, I thought this was the perfect amount of time to find a permanent place to live.
I was wrong. The month came and went and I had zero room offers.
But, I did have another house sitting offer from another 18F-er. As it goes, it is always easier to get a job when you have one. And one positive, marketable experience can lead to several others. Think about all the people you know with travel plans. If you play your cards right, you can be house sitting for months. Besides having colleagues that like you (remember I’ve held everyone’s hand), here are my two suggestions for success in this business:
- Leave the house cleaner than you found it.
- Make sure the person knows *you* were there.
The first one is a given. The second one is up to your imagination. As for me, I like to leave gifts.
Now, if you want to increase your business, highlight your ability to care for life.
Often a person has something alive in their home: cats, dogs, birds, fish, lizards, guinea pigs, and in San Francisco definitely, some swiss chard. Your one job is to keep whatever it is alive for their return.
- Don’t fuck it up. People love their pets more than their fellow humans. And certainly more than they love you.
Now, I added bullets to my house sitting resume for five long months stringing together days here and weeks there. I am genuinely curious how long this could have continued, but the daily uncertainty of having a place to call home probably isn’t worth finding this out. Admittedly, I did pass several random nights couch surfing awkwardly or sleeping in my office.
For the record, I don’t recommend sleeping in your office (or in a federal building with round the clock guards). You end up working a lot and scaring security.
So, I continued to interview for a room of my own. While my landlord references and permanent housing history were a bit outdated five months into the search, the house sitting section helped a lot. In addition to the standard information, I now had a great narrative and a handful of people in this town that generally find me clean, thoughtful, and trustworthy. Isn’t it always about who you know?
That’s when I found my place.
I know just how difficult it is to find the perfect fit for an organization or even a small house in San Francisco. You never know who is applying where and when. Fit, of course, is a two way street.
Resumes (in any form) are intimate documents shared between a sender and a receiver. Both of them come to the table with their own idea on what constitutes a great fit today. Ultimately, it is when the two align unknowingly that magic ensues.
I say give the resumes a go. I’d just be prepared that any good search takes 6 months.
Best of luck.