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How To Be an Ombuds Before Landing Your First Ombuds Job

I thought I was wasting my time and getting further from my dream job. In fact, I was building skills and experience everyday. 

It was 2008 when I graduated with my masters in Dispute Resolution from UMass Boston… not a good time to look for jobs. I first worked on my friend’s fruit farm, picking and crating apples and going to farmers markets throughout the week. But when the season came to a close, I had to get another job. So, I landed a temp job at Nationwide Insurance, which quickly turned into a full time position. I was working as a Personal Lines Underwriter (aka, the person who reviews and assesses “risks” and either cancels a policy or asks for remedies or changes in order to retain them as a customer.). 

Throughout the entire 3 years I worked there, I struggled with the idea that I wasn’t doing conflict resolution work. I wasn’t getting any closer to my goal of working in the field. In fact, I felt I was getting further and further from it. I tried everything I could to try to stay engaged in ADR. I mediated small claims cases for the city I was in. I even drove 2 counties away to facilitate restorative justice processes for juvenile offenders. 

What I didn’t realize was that I was also getting some of the most valuable experience working in my cubicle in the Nationwide Insurance Harrisburg Regional Office. The organization was going through major system changes while I was there: creating a centralized HR, changing health benefits options, restructuring regional locations where different departments worked, etc. I was also being yelled at on the phone almost on a daily basis. And when there was a dispute amongst team members, or between other underwriters and the agents they supported, my boss sent them to me. 

When I finally made it to an interview for an ombuds internship at the American Red Cross, I was able to speak to how systemic changes, and the ways in which they are communicated, impact organization constituents at every level. I was able to talk about how I am able to maintain neutrality while coaching co-workers with their conflicts. I was also able to speak to specifics on how I de-escalate people on the phone who are upset, which was a key part of what was needed at the American Red Cross Ombuds Office at the time. 

I thought I was wasting my time and getting further from my dream job. In fact, I was building skills and experience everyday. The timing wasn't what I expected or wanted, but it turned out to be a time in my life I look back on and appreciate. 

If you are aiming to get a job as an Ombuds or other ADR professional, I encourage you to think about some ways to build the skills, use the skills, and prepare to talk about the skills in your next interview. Here are some ideas to start with:

  • Talk to your boss or other influential people where you work. Let them know of your interest and skills in conflict resolution. Ask them to refer conflicts to you to help resolve informally as needed. Over time, you might even be able to make a case for an Ombuds Office to be set up!
    • Use this Visitors Meeting Notes Pages handout to help you structure your coaching sessions and build confidence listening while also analyzing the conflict. You can download this from the ombudsinstitute.com's homepage.
  • Pay attention to your experience within an organization through a systemic lens. What is happening within the organization? How is it impacting you and others? How does the communication look and feel? What recommendations would you have?
  • Document your experience in your resume using key phrases and terms that describe Ombuds work. 
  • Gather stories and examples of the work you do day to day that is similar to Ombuds work. Practice these stories and include them in your cover letters and interviews. Just because you don’t have a title of “Ombuds” doesn’t mean you aren’t doing similar work or using the skills. Highlight this!

I hope this is helpful! I want to hear from you: How do you or have you use Ombuds skills while in other positions? How did those practices help you in your Ombuds role? For you aspiring Ombuds, what other ideas do you have on how you can practice and prepare yourself?