Will my book club turn into a job interview?
January 27, 2017 12:35 PM   Subscribe

I've applied for a job I really want in a policy field that is not related to my current job. Now I've been invited by a casual friend to a book-club type event in which we will be discussing this policy field! Normally this would just be an extra fun discussion for me, but my friend also invited the executive director of the organization where I've applied. How do I behave?

I am trying to change my career path to be more involved in a particular policy area, but I've been having a hard time breaking in to this policy world. The policy area is not related to what I currently do, although I do have some things on my resume that show I've been interested in this area for a while and have some knowledge.

I recently applied to a job that I think I would be great at and that I would absolutely love. I met the executive director of the organization at a conference a while back, so when I applied I sent her a short email saying I had applied and that I hope they'll consider me. Her assistant sent me a generic email back saying they are taking a long time to hire for Reasons, but they will let me and all applicants know when they make any decisions in the process, such as making requests for interviews. That was a month ago. I haven't heard anything else from them. All I know is that the job is no longer on the organization's website as a current job opening.

Now on to my current problem: I have a casual friend who occasionally hosts a kind of book club/discussion group, but instead of a novel, we read articles on various topics and discuss them. She is hosting another one soon, and has sent around articles that happen to be about this particular policy area that I really want to work in. She has also invited the executive director of this organization where I have applied, as the ED is also a friend of the host. (The ED has also been invited to previous discussion groups, but we've never been at one together).

What do I do if the ED shows up to the discussion group? I'm kind of psyching myself out. I know I need to stay casual, but I also want to show the ED that I'm knowledgeable about the field and have interesting and good ideas! Even if I don't get the job working at her organization, she might be able to help me with other potential jobs. But I'm struggling with figuring out the right way to approach networking with her at such an explicitly not-work-related event.

I also don't know whether to acknowledge or bring up the fact that I applied for this job. I obviously want to know if there are any updates on my application, or if they've already chosen someone else (so I can let it go). It seems to me it would be an elephant in the room NOT to mention it, but maybe it's just that I care too much about this job? I don't want to be the overeager, overanxious job applicant who pesters someone at an informal social function.

What should I do? Advice on what to say/how to act/how to keep cool/how to leverage the potential networking opportunity if I already lost the job are all appreciated.
posted by alligatorpear to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd act totally normal (for a book club on public policy) and just add, "Hey, I haven't seen you since that conference! Remember that funny conference anecdote?" Don't mention the job application unless she brings it up--but go in prepared like you would for a 30-minute interview in case she does.
posted by radicalawyer at 1:03 PM on January 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't bring up that I've applied. But I would make a point to make sure I met and shook the hand of the ED, if she shows up. Just her knowing your name and that you were at "meeting-of-thing-in-field" won't hurt you.

But you're right: every interaction is an interview. (Who knows, your next job might not come from her, but from other random professional in book club?!) That being said, relax. So many jobs are less "are you the MOST qualified?" and more "will you be a good fit for the people/culture of this organization?" So, being your lovely pleasant knowledgable curious self is the best for book club. Be just as polite as you would have been anyways.

And have fun! Honestly if she's a busy ED she probably won't even come :) so there's not too much to worry about.
posted by Zephyrial at 1:03 PM on January 27, 2017 [12 favorites]

Be yourself. Be insightful. Don't press. Do renew your acquaintanceship.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:13 PM on January 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Use the opportunity to be an active listener.
posted by jbenben at 1:23 PM on January 27, 2017

trying to change my career path to be more involved in a particular policy area

Reconnect with the ED if she's shows, in essence renewing your name/face recognition to her. Ask her opinion on an issue that came up during the discussion. Similarly, make contact with any other person who may be experienced with the field of your interest.
posted by mountainblue at 3:00 PM on January 27, 2017

I would bring it up once, casually. "Hi, nice to see you, we met at that conference and I recently applied for the VP position at your organization. So how long have you known Book Club Host?"
posted by chickenmagazine at 4:58 PM on January 27, 2017

She's off duty when she's at the book club. Being asked for a job, or having to explain their hiring process, is not what she wants to be doing with her time off. It's awkward saying "no" or "not yet" to someone, and she's obviously not in a place to say "yes," so don't put her in an awkward position by bringing it up at the meeting.

Instead, act normal. At this book club, you guys are on more or less the same footing, unless her job is more prestigious than I'm imagining, so rather than being a supplicant, you are (however temporarily) an equal (albeit an equal with less expertise in the topic). Use this opportunity to be a confident, courteous, all around good person.

Be careful about stuff related to the reading topic. It will be a lot easier to say the wrong thing than the right thing. She'll have strong opinions. Everyone in the world might think a certain trend is the greatest thing, and she may know just how wrong / useless / full of baloney the idea / founder of that trend is. Questions that seem insightful to a lay audience may be ones that she's long grown sick of. In general, I'd avoid trying to be clever. The "active listening" idea above seems smart to me. Also, I'd devour their blog, social media, and Facebook to get a sense of what her opinions might be.

Last, I'd reach out to her after the club. "Hi, it was great chatting with you Sunday. Topic is something I'm really interested in, and it was nice hearing your thoughts. I had applied to your Position Name position, though I see that it's been removed from the website. If an opportunity arises that you think would be a good fit for my background, I'd be excited to discuss it with you further. Best, YourName"
posted by salvia at 6:37 PM on January 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

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