We asked for your job search stories, and you delivered. At this time of year, when everyone is desperately seeking summer work, soothe yourself with advice from of a Class of 2012 alumna whose job hunt has been a long and winding road. If you’ve got tales of employment woe, advice or anecdotes you’d like to see on The Thrill, hit a blog up via Gmail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Between Thanksgiving break of senior year and mid-September after graduation, I submitted 60 job applications, had 8 interviews, got 14 outright rejections and countless ignored emails, completed 2 internships… and received one job offer, which I accepted with as much exhilaration and relief as a newly-adopted pound puppy. My boss is fantastic and I enjoy what I do, but my position is only temporary thus far, meaning that I don’t yet have health benefits or sick leave or an office phone or even a swipe card to the building. But in this climate, I don’t complain about that too often.
Because it is a meat-grinder out there, and the application process may indeed produce traumatic flashbacks to applying to college, when you thought that your entire future rode on the decision of a very small group of people who saw just a pre-packaged slice of yourself and your potential. And just as you had to have a spread of safeties, likelies, and reaches during senior year of high school, during senior year of college you’ll have to be prepared to aim a little low (or wide) and swallow a lot of frustration.
The seeming unsellability of my English major credentials made me, in my desperation, apply to be a marketing gal for the bus company that provides tours of “Sex and the City” locales, a “customer happiness associate” for a cupcake bakery, and an assistant to the publisher of “America’s favorite pencil puzzles.” I took pre-interview grammar tests for which I panicked and second-guessed my spelling more than I did on the SATs. I was once rejected from an exciting opening just 24 minutes after I applied, despite a personal connection and my most customized cover letter to date. On a summer Thursday, I eagerly scheduled an interview for Monday only to have it canceled on Friday afternoon because the company had hired the girl who interviewed Friday morning.
My search could have been much worse, much more soul-crushing demon bosses. But that one offer is all you need. And it’s true that every interview, no matter how awful, is practice for the next one. It’s true that the companies that don’t find you suitable enough are the ones that might not have been good fits for you anyway. It’s true that this whole process is about the vagaries of timing and the strength of personal connections, two things often out of your control.
But you do have some agency in the agony, I swear! Here, in the To-Do List form with which I became well accustomed as I was sending feelers into the ether, are five steps you can take that might help stem the insomnia-instigating fear that you’ll end up having to work as the guy who dresses up as Elmo in Times Square. (Though to be fair, I hear that gig has the sweet perk of “built-in sauna included.”)
Request that someone else (surely you have a crush who logs mad hours as a Writing Consultant?) proofread your cover letter and résumé. But seriously. Unless you really did serve PB&J to theatrical fashion designers, make sure not to sum up your time as a Subway sandwich artist as “quickly filled lunch orders for hungry costumers.”
Include the relevant SEO-type keywords in your typed résumé in case it is first “read” by computers, but make sure that you have an arsenal of anecdotes to call on whenever you (thank goodness!) reach a human. The fact that I had four summers of camp counseling under my belt didn’t mean much to my potential employers until I could explain, by an example involving lost children and stressed-out parents, how that experience taught me about “conflict resolution,” “optimizing resources,” and “delegation of duties.” (Also “incentivizing by way of frozen yogurt,” but I kept that to myself after it didn’t go over well the first time.)
Maintain an easily accessible record of all the positions and places to which you have applied, lest you be caught unawares in the parking lot of a UPS Store by getting a call from the HR administrator of a corporation that previously rejected you but now wants you to come interview for another department but you’ve mixed up what hiring manager works for which office so you start mildly freaking out in public while you try to remember the details of the fall-out and the openings in your schedule and whether you actually submitted a cover letter to this online posting already and what, precisely, this company does as compared to all the other ones that do the exact same thing. If you start running on template-powered autopilot, every job description will bleed together in your brain, and then no hunky delivery guy will ask what brown can do for you. (Plus first-hand knowledge of record-keeping and data management are selling points!)
Make sure your entire social network knows you’re on the prowl. Your mom’s best friend’s boyfriend’s former student’s former intern might have an in for you. (True story, though it didn’t pan out.)
Corollary to #4: Be open and courteous to everyone you meet, as you never know who might be connected to whom and who might be looking to hire The Next Fresh Face Who Happens to Know the Basics of Emailing and Excel. “Duh,” you think? You’d be surprised; handshakes, smiles, eye contact, and expressing gratitude go a long way.
Be realistic in realizing that you’re caught in a numbers game, but don’t sell yourself short. Your first job is by no means your lifetime career, and the stability of office life may have its downsides anyway, but it is feasible, with all due effort and endurance, to land a job you’re proud of in an industry you love. So take heart, and Godspeed.
Editor’s Note: There’s a happy ending to this one — the writer was offered a full-time position with the company starting March 18th. She excitedly accepted.