You’ve already read the spoiler, but I’ll say it anyway: I accepted a position with an international e-commerce company only two months after our RTW trip ended! Yay!!!
Before I dive into how this process unfolded upon our return, it’s important for me to explain how I got there. From the very beginning planning stages this trip, Mike and I felt like we were taking a big risk quitting our secure, well-paying jobs in the middle of an economic depression to travel around the world. I thought my employment gap would be frowned upon and my résumé skipped over. I imagined it would take months to get an interview and even longer to be offered a job. If anything was holding me back from completely embracing the idea of a RTW trip, it was the fear of being unable to land another job that I felt good about (read: as opposed to a bottom-rung position being paid minimum wage).
I knew the trip was worth any challenges I faced when returning, but I was still worried. Instead of reading about other travel bloggers’ pre-departure experience, I was focused on their return. Obsessively. I didn’t even care about reverse culture shock. I just wanted to know about their job search experience. So during my pre-departure, in addition to simultaneously planning for the trip and our wedding, I did all I could to prepare myself for our return. I updated my resume, learned new skills (like the ones I wrote about in my article for BootsnAll) and took notes on things to think about for job applications and interviews. Looking back, I’m very happy I took the time to prepare. Some of my notes didn’t prove to be useful upon our return, but it gave me peace of mind back then and I at least had them if I did end up needing them.
When we returned to the States in August, I jumped into the job search, though I didn’t devote 100% of my free time to it. I was eager to rejoin the workforce after so much time off, but a part of me wanted to take it slow and make sure that 1) it was what I wanted and 2) we definitely wanted to live in DC. After deciding that all systems were go, I spent a week polishing my résumé. Family and friends were offering to help with everything from critiquing my resume, to passing along open positions they thought would be a good fit, to sending a recommendation. The next five weeks were a mix of time off (while I was in Florida for my sister’s wedding) and applying to less than five positions. I was very picky about the jobs I applied for. After spending so much time doing something that made me truly happy, I wanted to make sure that my next position would do the same. I made a list of companies I admire and have thought about working for in the past, and searched their career sites for positions that would drive me forward professionally. The companies I chose are forward-thinking, well-known for high levels of employee satisfaction and embrace the risk-taking aspect that has become part of my life.
When I was updating my resume in early August, I asked my uncle, an SVP in the company he works at, for advice on writing a cover letter. He said to me, “Why are you writing a cover letter? You should be using your connections to get your resume into the proper hands for an interview.” His response reminded me of an article I read that said that many job seekers leverage their professional network to help them be successful in their job search. So I looked at my first- and second-degree connections on LinkedIn to see who I knew at the companies I wanted to apply to. Ding, ding, ding! I knew before leaving for our RTW that LinkedIn would be useful for my job search, but I didn’t know how. Of course, this is different for everyone, but leveraging my network helped put my résumé directly into someone’s hands instead of sending it through a system that auto-searches for specific keywords.
I had one phone interview and three in-person interviews, and everyone I spoke with thought that our RTW was a positive thing, and they didn’t count my career break against me in any way. They asked about the trip in a curious way, like, “where did you go” and “why did you decide to do it.” I was surprised that they didn’t ask me something like, “What did you learn during your experience that you could apply to this position?” The majority of their questions focused on my last professional position and how well I would fit into their open position and work culture. I really couldn’t have asked for a better employer response to our trip.
Now that I’ve been through the full cycle of the process, I’ll leave you with the most useful tips I have from this experience:
• Network and make as many contacts as you can before leaving. Build a strong professional relationship with them so they feel comfortable recommending you in the future. Be sure to add them on LinkedIn (create an account if you don’t have one!) and keep in touch, even if it’s just through Facebook or an occasional e-mail update.
• When you return, reach out to your contacts and don’t be afraid to ask for help (with resume crafting, job opportunities or forwarding your application to the hiring manager). Let everyone know you’re looking for work, even if that means tweeting about it, posting on Facebook or writing about it on your blog. When I made it known that I was job searching, everyone from close friends and family to acquaintances and former coworkers were very willing to help me out.
Mike and I read in the The Tipping Point that those who are often the most helpful (and successful) with job placements are people you consider acquaintances (versus your closest friends). It’s not that your closest friends won’t be helpful and supportive, but they might work in different fields and can’t offer the connections you may need. With this in mind, talk to former coworkers and others who can vouch for your work ethic and performance. Do research (through LinkedIn, for example) to see who they know and if they’d be willing to put in a good word for you. It can never hurt to ask, especially if it can result in an interview!
• Think carefully about where you will apply. You’ll be at your job during the best part of every weekday, so look for positions you will enjoy. Find a company with a mission you feel passionate about, one that you see yourself being happy to work for. Startups are great companies to look into because they have values similar to RTW travelers – they take risks and are passionate about what they do.
• Don’t forget to show your own passion and excitement. Employers might think that a job is a boring next move for someone who just returned from traveling around the world. You might have to convince them that this is not only something you’re ready for, but something you also want. When you’re lucky enough to land an interview, prove to them that you are as eager for this new opportunity as you were to begin your trip. After all, it’s a new phase in your life, and that’s always something to be excited about.
This post is part of our RTW Recovery Wednesday series, in which we tackle topics (like food and etiquette differences) that have made our transition back to the USA easy or difficult. Posts offer a candid breakdown of what it’s like to return to what we used to call “home” after living in our own bubble as we traveled around the world for 14 months.