Sara Sievers Hodge’s flourishing career as a CPA at Ernst & Young took a back seat as her family grew, and then relocated from the Bay Area to the Pacific Northwest. She kept involved through part-time contract work at organizations ranging from the Junior League to Physio Foundation.
Sara came through The Swing Shift’s Fall 2017 Career Catalyst intending to clarify her career goals and expand her professional network. In Jan 2020, she landed a role with LiquidPlanner as the startup software company's Contract Controller. Sara shares how her stop and start search process transpired, including guidance for people whose career shifts and returns are temporarily sidelined by competing life forces.
TSS: Sara, when you came through the Career Catalyst, your plan was to continue in the accounting field, either for a company or as a consultant, and develop a clearer vision of your career goals. Fast forward 2 ½ years, you landed a contract Controller role for LiquidPlanner. You weren’t looking that entire time were you?
Sara: No, not at all. There were two things that delayed my search timing. 1. I had a volunteer Treasurer role that consumed more of my time than expected until summer 2019. 2. My youngest child was a Junior in high school and I found that I was still needed to help navigate the college process. I also wanted to embrace the final years of his high school athletic events, etc.
Q: Many women report that while teenagers are more independent than younger children, they need parents in more specific, time intensive ways, especially as they evaluate their education and careers. You have high school and college aged children. How disruptive was their graduations, departures (and sometimes return home) to your search process?
A: My experience has been that indeed my three teenagers needed me and my husband in more time intensive ways, especially later in high school. The college search is a soul-searching process and they need to download their thoughts and plans along the way. Listening and providing feedback took time, not just once but many times over the course of their junior and senior years. Add in college visits (to of course completely different schools for each of them) and you have filled the time equivalent of a part-time job!
Q: After these events, what was the tipping point that made you decide that it was time to start looking again? Were you discouraged? What did you do to prepare?
A: As my husband and I neared our empty nest phase, I knew I wanted to resume my search. I reached out to connections from my early career days and to current connections. Some feedback was encouraging. The advice that was particularly helpful was from a woman that is the founder of a thriving accounting firm. She told me to not underestimate the value of my experience, no matter how many years ago it was. Then she listed 5-10 positive attributes that experience gave me. I immediately added them to my resume! On the other hand, there was another connection that basically said I would not get the rate I was looking for, nor would I find a job in the technology sector. In her mid-fifties herself, she said technology companies are looking “for youngsters” (!!!). I am happy to say she was wrong on both fronts.
I also I went to the Swing Shift resume workshop in early 2019 but by late 2019 had not yet fully completed my resume update. Finally in December 2019 I saw a job on Linkedin that was intriguing. I got in contact with Nancy, who connected me with Rebecca Kraus, one of The Swing Shift Consult Partners, for a brief and very helpful resume consultation. It didn’t take much time to make the necessary updates.
Coincidentally within a week of connecting with Nancy, The Swing Shift received an inquiry from LiquidPlanner. The CEO had heard of The Swing Shift and asked "We are considering adding a professional who desires to return to the workforce a day or two per week to perform higher-level accounting work needed and coach a less experienced full-time team member to execute the balance of accounting process, procedure and operations. It appears this is exactly what The Swing Shift specializes in!"
I spoke with the CEO on the phone, then had interviews with four company employees. I did take time to prepare for the interviews. I brainstormed with my husband and practiced questions I knew would arise. It was helpful that the CEO was fully aware of my career pause, so it was not anything I had to tiptoe around. I was very up front about my earlier career, my pause, my part-time work and desire to work with their team.
Q: How did the interview process proceed? Did you do anything special as you interviewed?
A: The CEO called me a few hours after I left to say he would follow up with details but that it looked “like it would work out.” We connected via email the next week to go over billing rates and timing.
Q: What guidance can you offer to other women who suspend their job searches and might be hesitant to re-engage?
A: Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t able to fully engage in the search. Getting this role took me a year from the resume workshop to when I actually finished my resume update, and two and a half years from when I first learned of The Swing Shift and attended the Career Catalyst.
Once you are in process with the search, know that you’ll likely be nervous. I stuck my neck out asking for the role and at the rate I thought I deserved. Some of that was by email. After clicking send I was rethinking myself over and over again. But there was no pushback to my requests! We need to be ok knowing our value and making the ask. When questioning myself I was reminded of a section in Melinda Gates book The Moment of Lift (an inspiring read). She quotes a study that found that men apply for a job or promotion when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 90+% of them. (or something similar) I have to remind myself that I don’t have to feel 100% confident in my abilities to be capable of succeeding in a role.
If you are interested in learning more about our upcoming Career Catalyst please let us know! New session starts April 22nd and we're launching a brand new virtual version with even more opportunities to connect.