Authored by Alana Deluty - Follow Alana on Talentsky
Like many Americans, I lost my job during the massive wave of layoffs that happened at the beginning of the pandemic. At the time, I had just started a new position in psychiatry research at Brown University, after spending three years in pediatric cancer research at a local children’s hospital. Excited about my new job, I was fully committed to a life in Rhode Island, and bought a house close to my office. Being laid off and learning that the university was freezing all hiring for at least three months (which turned out to be much longer), was gut-wrenching. At the time, being laid off certainly didn’t feel like an opportunity – not even close. I panicked, and my first thought was to find another job as soon as possible, ideally in clinical research. It never dawned on me to consider other options.
There were a lot of things I liked about working in clinical research. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction from knowing my work was helping people. There was upward mobility in the field (though not in my city). I liked the physical aspect of the job, and the interactions I had with patients and study subjects. There were drawbacks too - I felt like it was a field I “fell into.” I never really gave myself the chance to think critically about if this was what I wanted to be doing with my life. More importantly, I felt like my most valuable and honed skills – writing, working with people, planning events, and managing programs – were falling by the wayside. I wished I had the ability to engage with written content, or to plan and execute long projects from start to finish. Luckily, as the president of the Fulbright Association of Rhode Island, I was able to use these skills. As a volunteer and board member, I managed grant applications, budgeting, reporting requirements, and event planning for our chapter.
Despite all this, I felt lost. If I didn’t continue my career in clinical research, what would I do? I had no idea what other options were out there, or what further education I might need to achieve those goals. In fact, I had no idea how to SET goals for myself. I had a vague idea that I would like a fully or partially remote job. I wanted to look for jobs that allowed me to read and write, plan long-term projects, and have the possibility of upward mobility in the future. But how was I going to take this mess of goals and ideas and turn it into a real career search.
Being laid off was devastating to me. I planned my life around this new job, and nothing came of it. I had intended to develop a long career at the university. It felt like the loyalty my parents, and their entire generation, felt to their employers had major benefits to them, but was meaningless to me. Ultimately, this speaks to a major cultural shift in the American labor system. Today, there is no value in loyalty – there are no pensions, no guarantees of employment, and no guarantee that your company won’t be bought out or restructured. There is no guarantee that we won’t have another pandemic, or severe climate change or major social change that completely upends the workforce and entirely restructures the nature of work. Compared to our parents’ generation, we need to be able to understand and describe our skills, and we need to be able to advocate for and “sell” ourselves. These are essential skills, and the modern worker cannot survive without them. The days of working one job, at one company, for an entire career, are long gone, leaving regular workers with the need to be expert salespeople in the marketplace of labor skills and knowledge.
Ultimately, I looked for jobs for months and months, but in the early days of the pandemic, everything was shut down, and nobody was hiring. So, I made a drastic change, and joined a volunteer program in Israel. I packed my stuff, rented my house out for a year, and moved abroad. I interned at a domestic violence nonprofit that works with Palestinian women, volunteered at a community garden, worked with youth in an after-school program, and conducted research on the availability of healthy food in low-income neighborhoods. Though this was volunteer work, I developed many transferable skills – planning, conceptualizing, and budgeting projects from start to finish. I honed my interview skills, as I interviewed people for my research project, and learned how to report on the status of a project. Between my time in Israel and my time with the Fulbright Association, I spent quite a lot of time writing grants, planning budgets, conceptualizing projects and events, reporting on projects, and conducting interviews.
During my year in Israel, I was loosely in contact with Rick Devine, the CEO of Talentsky (and – spoiler alert! – my current boss). He was launching a company called Talentsky, and wanted to tell me about it. After a few conversations, he said he’d be interested in hiring me to work on the data science team. I declined. Why? Because I had never had a title like that, I didn’t have any training in data science analysis or a Masters’ degree. I truly believed I was totally unqualified. Rick reassured me that the position was primarily managing a database of written content and interacting with clients, and that the skills I used in my clinical research positions, as well as in my volunteer work, were highly relevant.
If, in 2020, I had seen a hiring post for my current job, I never would have applied for it. The title didn’t match with the linear progression of job titles I’d had in the past, and I wouldn’t have assumed that I had the skills for this position. The bullet points on my resume did not, in any way, match what would have been in this job description. And yet – a year later, I find myself in a position that matches my skills incredibly well, one that allows me to utilize my writing and communication skills fully, interact with clients, and have a real voice in the direction our company is going. Rick’s approach to hiring – which focused on matching me to a position based on my skills, and not based on resume bullet points, is to thank for this. One downside of ATS (applicant tracking systems with online applications) is that they allow us to treat applying for jobs like throwing darts – but job applications cannot, and should not, be just a numbers game. Rick’s “white glove” approach to hiring has to be the future of employment in a world where applicants are sick of throwing resume darts, hoping to hear back, and feeling we are throwing resumes into the nothingness of the internet. Most people I know who have suffered through a modern job search feel the same way.
I wish more employers would adopt the philosophy of hiring for skills over titles, emphasize the importance of mentoring, and encourage employees to develop and grow their skills. The traditional model of recruitment clearly isn’t working for us, and neither is the model of staying in one job or company forever. Everybody brings labor value and knowledge, though it isn’t always clear-cut; hiring people only based on titles just doesn’t work. Rick describes skill relevancy as the “job security of the future”. I feel that my work experiences and skills should speak for themselves, and luckily, Talentsky is paving the way for this philosophy.