09/11/2015 by Ben Bolte |

What’s in a Name? Being Open in Your Job Search

How many assumptions do we make when we hear the name of something?

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That name seems… strange, random, quirky, unusual. Heard that place is not very nice; it’s too cold, too hot, too polluted, in the middle of nowhere, too far from family. Doesn’t it make sense to look past the name in order to understand what might be behind it—and what it might offer for you? The number of job seekers who take too long to discover what’s behind the name constantly amazes me. They don’t know what they’re missing.

Let’s look at some school and place names and begin to imagine. School names come from all kinds of places: local or native lore, mergers, founders’ names, donors’ names, famous people. Some of the best schools in the country have names that sound, well, a little different: Iolani, Breck, Hathaway Brown, Holland Hall, Chinquapin, St. Anne’s-Belfield, Roxbury Latin. What lies behind some schools with unusual names?

If you looked behind these school’s names, you would find: one of the longest-standing commitments to diversity among independent schools; one of the best STEM centers in America; a leader not only in girls’ education but also in classroom innovation; the highest percentage of Ivy League matriculation in the country; 95% tuition support for students; one of the first one-to-one iPad programs. When you are thinking about where to work next, look behind the name and discover what you might find.

As you do your job search, take the school’s name with a grain of salt—find out its mission, commitments, programs, resources, and especially its vibe. Oh, that means you actually have to go and visit…which might mean you have to take a plane to someplace that’s cold in the winter —or where it’s really hot in the winter; where housing costs are high—or where they’re really low; where it used to be called the rust belt; where the neighborhood is working class—or affluent; or which is a long way from family. If you are 30% interested, just get on the plane; you never know.

Years ago two young teacher candidates, seniors at Brown and Skidmore, were among the first rookie candidates to get hired that year. Where did they go? San Antonio. What’s my second point? Look beyond the name of the place. How many people know that Houston, America’s third-largest city, has as many museums as New York City? Or that Pittsburgh sells more tickets to cultural events than sporting events (and they do love their teams in Pittsburgh)? Or that Salt Lake City is closer to more world-class skiing than any major city in America? So why are Pittsburgh, Salt Lake, and Houston three of the most unpopular destinations for those seeking a new job? I have no idea.

I suspect people think Pittsburgh is still a rusty steel city—but it was long ago transformed into one of the most livable cities in America and continues to lead other metropolitan areas in that regard. The Houston economy is vibrant and the city is thriving in all sorts of important ways—though yes, August is still beastly hot (so I’m not going in August to see the Rothko exhibit). And isn’t Salt Lake just a little…different? Hmmm. Find out why Adobe, Level3, Intel, 3M and Goldman Sachs put big offices in SLC. Look a little further while you’re standing at the base of one of the most dramatic mountainscapes in North America—which is down the street from one of the most impressive concert halls I’ve ever been to (saw Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic there).

There’s way more to a school than the name and more to a place than its reputation. Take the time to find out more about both and you may not only be surprised—you may happily end up there.

Image credit: Microsoft

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