Another Blog About Finding a Dream Job

The concept of one’s “dream job” has been a fairly ubiquitous one, and every thought leader, social media guru, and lay-person across the world has either written, hosted a podcast, or given a Ted Talk about it.

A sensible photo of my desk setup. Ps. Zadie Smith is my favorite author.

I am not here to necessarily add to that list (and yet, by writing this blog, I suppose this automatically puts me in the above list). Rather, I am widely known for not using euphemisms, for being brutally honest (but not to offense), and for my direct tone (which has only come with age and experience) and, given my job function, I feel inclined to share what has lead me to my own professional happiness.

Much to our chagrin, we live in a “grass is always greener” society. Think about it: we’re at the point in our technological culture where we can “swipe right” on dating apps, where profiles contain very little information beyond a photo (and there are so many dating apps in general, how does one even keep track of virtual conversations, let alone “settle” to date one person exclusively? Too many options!).

The same could be said about jobs (particularly in the software industry).

Presently, I have yet to encounter a software company (specifically within the Campus Recruiting landscape) who isn’t touting their “unique, vibrant” culture, their “extremely generous” benefits package, their “unrivaled” location, and their “unparalleled” values.

See how these four things alone create a dilemma for the ever-eager job seeker?

As a global university talent acquisition manager (and former educator), I meet and counsel thousands of students every year on the process of finding what will hopefully be their “dream career.”

To be clear: I am not a career counselor. Rather, I am a recovering academic, teacher, and general lover of working with students who has indeed found what I believe to be my dream job at my dream company. (Here is a video of me speaking about it).

I also don’t believe in any one definition of “dream career.”

What I do believe, however, is that by better understanding and defining one’s own needs — both personal and professional — an individual is better emotionally equipped to embark on the journey of finding employment happiness (particularly when dealing with companies who have seemingly similar corporate cultures).

In recent years, I have been diligent about routinely auditing my professional needs, and by the time Appian had contacted me, I had a relatively concrete idea of what those needs were. Although this should appear obvious, these needs should be specific to YOU, and to you alone.

Define Your Own “BQs”

“BQs” is talent acquisition speak for “Basic Qualifications,” and who’s to say that companies hold all the cards? :) One of my Basic Qualifications for a new position, for example, was that the role must be located in the Washington, D.C. metro area (I have no immediate or even long-term intentions of leaving Washington, D.C.). Location is, very commonly, most job-seekers #1 basic qualification (for obvious reasons).

A second “BQ” was that the role must be a position with clear, defined upward mobility; promotions would need to be performance-based, not position-based (to clarify: a performance-based promotion means you are awarded a promotion as a result of your performance; a position-based promotion means that regardless of how well you are performing, you may only be considered for a promotion if a position is available to be promoted in to). Correspondingly, the work itself must be intellectually and creatively challenging, diverse, and stimulating to keep me amped on the daily.

On June 7th, I was honored at the Washington Business Journal as an LGBT Executive of the Year

One, if not the most rigid basic qualification I have, is to work alongside a team of extraordinary, brilliant overachievers who by their very presence alone inspire and emit positive energy. Of course, with each successive interview at Appian, I knew I had found those who met my criteria. :) In that vein…

Join a Team Who Gives You Wings…

I cannot overstate enough the value of working alongside of a manager, peers, and direct reports who share comparable professional drive, dedication, and focus.

To be surrounded by rockstars in your industry is one of the greatest professional boons.

This isn’t a college group project; you do have a say here. But how?

Job seekers become so focused on impressing a prospective company (as they should) that they forget (or don’t realize) they have the same agency in the decision making process as the hiring team. The interviewing experience should be a two-way street; you should be interviewing your prospective team, as they are interviewing you.

Keep in mind: by not being actively cognizant of an interviewer’s/prospective teammate’s demeanor, you are disallowing yourself the opportunity to get a sense of what your life would be like working alongside of the person. I can’t tell you how many offers I’ve personally declined on the grounds of a bad/negative/strange experience with one (or several) potential teammates or managers.

(Seems obvious, right? You would truly be appalled at how many individuals “black out” and forget to ask quality questions of their interviewers, or even think critically about the aforementioned during or after their interview process).

The Appian Talent Acquisition “Squad,” circa 2017

…And Make Them Your Squad.

Perhaps less important to some, but certainly worth noting: join a team with whom you can laugh, socialize, and share personal experiences; we spend at least 40 hours of our week at work — who doesn’t want to have a little fun? :)

I’m incredibly fortunate to have the world’s greatest Director (I’m definitely not biased or anything) who ensures we have plenty of social activities outside of work (not required) to encourage greater camaraderie and team spirit (besides, we are The People Team — we bring the FUN!).

(If you’re a people manager, I can’t stress enough the importance of expressing appreciation for your direct reports via external avenues; it keeps people engaged!).

Half of the Appian Talent Team, dressed up as Charlie, our Campus Recruiting Mascot

In fact, the Appian Campus Recruiting team — a.k.a., the team I personally manage — even took a vacation together (on top of all the traveling together we already do for work!). As we tell our students: teams who vacation together, stay together!

Acknowledge that the Grass is NOT always Greener

Despite everything I love about my career at Appian — and how I’ve acknowledged it to be my “dream company” — it would be untruthful to say that there is nothing I would change. ;)

Over the past 5 years, I’ve longed for Appian to open a downtown D.C. office (where I live). If we had a D.C. office, it would save me hours in commuting, a noticeable amount in tolls, and I could rid myself of an automobile I wish I didn’t feel the need to have (to be clear: our Reston office is metro-accessible; I just prefer to drive).

That being said: I can confidently acknowledge that there is no such thing as having it all when it comes to meeting one’s Basic Qualifications.

Sure, I could find a position located within walking distance of my home, but at the end of the day, working in Northern Virginia is a fairly small compromise for the rest of my (more important) Basic Qualifications to be met.

(And lucky for me, Appian is actually moving from Reston Town Center to a CAMPUS in Tysons Corner! Super excited to be one of the only software companies in the Washington, D.C. area to have this set up — not to mention the fact that my commute will be much shorter, and I’ll no longer have to take the toll road!).

…And Avoid “Shiny Objects”

In the spirit of honesty, I am becoming increasingly disheartened by the number of young people who fall victim to the “Perks Package Trap” (a term I’m coining literally in this moment).

Perks Package …what?

Perks Package Trap = a primary reason a job seeker accepts an offer. Perks may include, but are not limited to: all meals provided by company, kegerator in office kitchen (and wine fridge), nap pods, laundry service, ping pong tables, the ability to bring pets to work (while I LOVE animals, some people have severe allergies; how are these people accommodated?), etc., etc.

(I would make the argument that this happens more with recent graduates, and less with experienced professionals, though). I also want to admit that even I wouldn’t mind some of these perks…

HOWEVER.

This is NOT to say perks aren’t fun, convenient, and generous. Obviously, perks are amazing.

What I am saying: BE ON THE LOOKOUT! DO NOT ACCEPT A POSITION EXCLUSIVELY FOR THE AFOREMENTIONED PERKS! I HAVE SEEN THIS HAPPEN A DEVASTATING AMOUNT OF TIMES!

MAKE SURE THE COMPANY IS, FIRST AND FOREMOST, MEETING YOUR BQS AND YOUR FUTURE TEAM IS BALLIN’ AND YOUR POTENTIAL MANAGER WILL BE YOUR BEST ADVOCATE AND GIVE YOU MEANINGFUL WORK AND YOU WILL HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO GENUINELY BE A SUPERSTAR.

Then, okay… the perks are fine, too.

***

P.S. Apologies for the caps lock rant; I wasn’t yelling — just, simply conveying passion. :)

P.P.S. I’m not the only one who thinks Appian is the best place to work (we won the Washington Post’s #1 Top Place to Work in 2018!).