Getting out of Maine may be professionally wise (and here’s how to do it)

I interviewed my friend Robyn Kanner, an incredible designer and person, about how she went about getting out of Maine and [professionally] setting up outside of the state. We talk here about a number of things, including how she pitted a bunch of recruiters against each other to expedite the process, below.

For a little more background on Robyn, here is a piece I helped to produce [under the guise of Knack Factory] along with Jackie Ward last year. Beyond working at Amazon, Robyn and company have created and developed the incredible MyTransHealth, which launches today.

I wanted to highlight Robyn’s perspective because it is an important one that doesn’t get a lot of attention in the state. We tend to be so eager to retain talent here in Maine that we don’t spend a lot of time acknowledging that getting out into and working within different markets can be extraordinarily beneficial to one professionally and creatively. This was most certainly the case in my experience. And from a “we want all the great and amazing talent all to ourselves” Maine booster perspective, we can most definitely benefit from some of our younger professionals cutting their teeth elsewhere and bringing their hard-earned wisdom back to the state.


So it’s time to get out of Maine and work elsewhere. How does one set up in a new town?

My best advice is to get there and integrate yourself into the community you want to be at. If you love X agency and the work that they do, find out where their offices are and drink where they drink at 6p and integrate yourself into their conversation. Be where the thing you want to be doing is happening. And don’t be weird or creepy about it. I think that’s where the divide is. People are going to know you’re going to want something and that’s okay; just don’t be pushy and weird about it. Just be like, “This is the thing that I make and I noticed the things you make and it’d be cool if we could make things together.”

Why does the concept of “networking” inherently put so many of us off?

The person being entered into the conversation knows that this other person wants something from them. They might not be in a frame of mind to interact with that. It depends on the community to. In large communities, networking is such a quick thing. It’s something that happens and people know it’s something that happens. In smaller communities, you really only get introduced by way of someone who already has an existing relationship and it can be really difficult for a number of reasons. People will want to feel you out for a long time.

Setting a time limit for how long you’re willing to network or engage is important. If you go into a small town, you say, “I am going to give this city three months of me at my best and if after three months you’ve still got it and they’re not into it, then you need to reevaluate.” But it definitely depends on a multitude of factors—the size of the city, the types of people in the community, the work that you’re doing. For me, I am in design and I know the types of companies that are out here making the kind of work I want to put into the world so I am able to find those networks and integrate myself into them. If it was a smaller community, I would be at a loss.

You have used recruiters to help find you work before moving to new places. Can you talk a bit about that?

When I was in Maine, I felt like I couldn’t get out of Maine. It is the only state geographically that only borders one other state. I always had this “there’s only one way out” perspective when it came to getting out.

Through it!

Yeah, exactly. You had to go through New Hampshire to get out of Maine. I think the hardest part is when you’re in Maine, it’s hard to see how to get out. The idea of leaving is really foreign. I left because I was having a really difficult time in a city that is based on white, male privilege to get a grounding in the type of work I want to do. I had a hard time getting people to get past it so that I could do my work.

It was building up pretty badly for me. Once this hit a tipping point, I showed up for work, gave my notice, and took the afternoon and called every single agency in Boston. I would call, introduce myself, and let them know whoever it was I had run into at their agencies. And so I had all of these recruiters—15 of them—on the phone and I showed them my work and asked them to introduce me to their clients. Some said yes, some said no, some hung up on me. I basically set up meetings, hopped on a bus, and went to 10 meetings with 10 different agencies in a day. I walked them through all of my work, all of my design decisions, why I made those decisions, and I let the 10 of them know that I had 10 other people working on the same project because recruiters make money off of you finding a job. So if you put the pressure on, in a larger city like Boston, you’ll find a chance.

The reason I went to Boston is it was the easiest move. I knew the community a bit. So I moved from Portland to Boston, and from Boston you can go anywhere. A lot of interesting stuff is happening there, and it’s easy to get to anywhere else from there.

So on the way back to Maine, I got a call from this other recruiter who said, “Hey, you’re name just came up a bunch of different times in however many hours. I have a job for you. Are you in?” They scheduled a meeting for the next morning. I got back down to Boston. So contracting interviews are different from full time interviews. They can be really short. So I drive down for a few hours and half a half hour interview and by the time I leave I have a 3 month offer with a design and brand team at Staples. That turned into 9 months. Then I jumped back in the pool, got a contract at New Balance for 6 months, and then went out West to Portland.

In Portland, I sat down with a number of different agencies and recruiters. It was a very different community than Boston. I worked there for a bit, then came down to Seattle where I am working for Amazon.

For the person who is living and working in Maine, and definitely wants to live and work in the state full time at some point in the near or medium term future, what are the benefits of working out of state?

Experience. I think you are only as strong as you are diverse. If you are in Maine, you can be in a position where you become really comfortable and comfort can make really boring work. For some people, that’s where they’re at and that’s cool. For me, I really like the idea of pushing that. My best advice is if you’re wanting to go out and get these sorts of experiences, just go and do them. I know that sounds so tough but when you consider it, if you’ve made up in your mind that it’s time to leave Maine for a while and have a bunch of different experiences, once you make the decision to do that all you have left is navigation of logistics. That is by far the easiest thing to do in this. Making the decision to go is the hard part. Navigating the logistics of giving notice or dealing with your lease and everything like that are solvable.

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.