My classmate, my would-be boss
June 24, 2013 9:24 AM   Subscribe

I just realized that the contact person/potential supervisor for a job I'm applying for was in my graduating class at our tiny alma mater. This could obviously work very much in my favor, but I'm also afraid it might not for snowflakey reasons. What's the best way to approach this in my application?

So I was perusing idealist, as you do, and I came across a listing for an entry level administrative/development position at an organization that I would love to work for. The contact person listed on the posting looked familiar, so I looked her up on LinkedIn. Turns out that, not only did she go to the same tiny college I did, she graduated in the same year. (Four years ago.)

Obviously we weren't close, but our school is small enough that, were I to submit the application, she might get the same 'hey that name sounds familiar' pang. But I'm not gonna lie, I feel inadequate looking at what she's done. She's climbed the ranks at this organization to be development director, gotten an MPP. I've floated from job to job with long unemployed patches, had to quit the position most relevant to this one because of an abusive boss. My current job is unrelated to this one in any way and doing nothing good for my resume. I hear stories all the time about people not being considered for jobs because they are 'over-qualified;' if someone from my same graduation year can have the title of 'director' of anything, (that alone blows my mind) what will she make of one of her ostensible peers trying for an entry level admin job? (Yes, I know these are totally the thought patterns of a depressed person. Already in therapy.)

Still, my school loooves to play up its awesome alumni network. I might as well try and make it work for me. What's the best way to go about emphasizing this connection? Mention it offhand in the cover letter? Let the college name on my resume speak for itself? Connect on LinkedIn first and initiate a conversation that way?
posted by ActionPopulated to Work & Money (11 answers total)
Best answer: Send her a request on LinkedIn and say, "I found your name on this job listing and noticed that we were both in the class of 2009 at Tiny College. I would love to talk to you about the job and just generally about climbing the ladder in this field." If she demurs, just go ahead and submit your application and never mention LinkedIn again.

As for emphasizing your college, don't worry -- people in hiring positions learn to look for that sort of thing. If it's on your resume, leave it there. If your experience at the college is relevant (and it may well be, if you only have four years since then), then go ahead and put it in the cover letter, but don't try too hard to make it fit.

And don't worry about how awesome she's doing. Four years out of college is nothing. You're 25(ish). You have plenty of time to feel inadequate in your 30s. Until then, everyone else (her included) looks at someone else and thinks, Shit, I can't believe how together that person has it.
posted by Etrigan at 9:42 AM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

You seem to ask two questions here:

1. what if it works against me that Contact Lady and I were peers at college?
2. how can I make sure Contact Lady knows we were peers at college?

This, as you may well already have noticed, is more than slightly contradictory. However, this kind of overthinking is totally par for someone seeking a new job. I have been that beanplater.

My suggestions would be as follows:

1. decide whether or not you want this job
2. if you do, chill out about the possible implications of your connection to this lady, and just go for it
3. if you get an interview, and it's with her, then you can decide whether to bring it up at the interview. You may wish to leave it in her court whether to bring it up. But you can totally play this by ear and see what the vibe is when you get there.
4. if you do talk about it, you don't need to justify your situation at all. people do what they do. For all she knows/cares, you might have chosen a low-responsibility position because you want to spend your time and energy on other things in life. The most important thing to her will be can you do the job.

Good luck! Also, don't be hard on yourself about the difference in your career paths. It doesn't matter what you do and how much you get paid for doing it, it matters whether you're happy, and you're working on that. Good for you.
posted by greenish at 9:46 AM on June 24, 2013

Best answer: Rather than emphasizing the college connection, I'd suggest emphasizing that this is an organization/field you really want to work for/in. As someone in hiring, I don't really look at your college info and think anything in particular of it other than "huh, I went there." I want to know:
- do you want this job?
- can you do this job?

I may be biased because of my own life experience, but suffice it to say that I'm 30 and just now figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. Trust me, don't let your depression and feelings of inadequacy keep you from pursuing things. Please?
posted by sm1tten at 9:54 AM on June 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Unless this person keeps a very narrow circle of friends, chances are that she knows other people who graduated in 2009 who also don't have an obvious career progression yet and are still respectable human beings. It was early in a very deep recession.
posted by Good Brain at 10:06 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think we were in the same graduating class, and I would not see anything wrong with following the LinkedIn suggestion above (or through email, if it doesn't look like her profile is actively used.) I mean, not everyone is as rah rah about the alumna network as others, so if your email isn't returned i would not press it. If you do bring the college, you could mention say, a strong history of social justice, or something similar, and how that plays into your desire to work there. I do not think your recent job history is a blight, just make sure to emphasize the useful and relevant parts of your work history into a coherent thread. And do proper diligence on her organization, too-- even a customer service position or child care stint can be useful preparation for some non-profit jobs, like museums or anything customer/client-facing, and you may have more useful work skills than you think. People know how hard the job market is.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:10 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hey, I've been in this position, sort of. I saw a job listing, couldn't quite tell what level it was, but I was interested. Asked a former classmate who worked at the firm about it and it turned out that the position was reporting to her. She was very honest with me that I was overqualified, so I didn't apply. I felt a teeny bit awkward, but it was OK.

So I would just contact her on LinkedIn and ask her to chat about the position. If you don't hear back in a few days, just apply like normal for the position.

As for feeling inadequate, that's totally understandable. But honestly, where you are is much more common for 26-year-olds than where she is. Sounds like she knew exactly what she wanted and went after it, combined with some good luck (ie, no abusive boss), which is great for her. But you sound like you're actually in a pretty decent place for 26 (ie, you have a job, you've worked in the field you're interested in), so don't let that hold you up.
posted by lunasol at 10:56 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just apply. Let the hiring manager decide whether you're overqualified or whether the alma mater connection matters one way or the other.
posted by Doohickie at 11:36 AM on June 24, 2013

Networking is really effective for getting interviews, so use this contact. If you get the job, do what you should, and likely will do, and work hard, do good work, be fabulous, etc.

I'm envious of the people from my high school who got jobs with good pensions and are now retired. I'm impressed by people my age who have done amazing things. I'm envious of people who married well, i.e., found someone nice, smart, funny, etc., and stayed together. I have plenty of occasions to feel inadequate and some occasions to feel adequate, and once in a while, I get to feel badass. Be happy for her and learn from her. In life, I've learned that some of the marriages I envy are not-so-hot, some of the people who seem to have it all have tragedies to deal with, etc. Use envy as a prod to try harder maybe, but otherwise it's just a way to make yourself feel bad (worse).
posted by theora55 at 11:54 AM on June 24, 2013

Is there an alumni job board at your alma mater? If so, maybe she's posted this position there, too, and that would take care of at least that part.
posted by feistycakes at 2:03 PM on June 24, 2013

I don't think my choice in university has ever helped me get a job. The few times I have done interviews (either for jobs, or informational) with others who went to my same school, they have certainly commented on it, but I don't think it's ever been a deciding factor. The things that did tend to make me stand out, when I was told about it afterward, were basic stuff like bringing extra copies of resumes and documents with me to the interview and sending thank you notes afterward.
posted by JoannaC at 10:24 AM on June 26, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the helpful answers here everyone. This is a great exercise in not letting my depressed thought patterns get in the way of job-hunting/general self-improvement. My first instinct is to take some of your ideas and start shooting them down and talking about how I'm worse than that because reasons (i.e. it doesn't matter that I have a job now, it's a shit commission-only thing I'm no good at and anyone with a pulse can get), but I am not going to do that. I am going to apply to better things like a grown-ass lady.

Also, this has confirmed that I really need to cut myself off from all my school's official alumni publications, for my own sanity.
posted by ActionPopulated at 10:47 AM on June 27, 2013

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