I know that in this economy, job searching can be intimidating. It’s intimidating for me and I’ve been working for nearly 4 years and in corporate America for nearly 3 and I, thankfully, still have my job (though I am keeping my ears open since things are pretty darn unstable).
While I’ve been speaking to quite a few of my friends and family members, I found out that there are a significant number of young’uns who are seriously intimidated by the job market. Not that I blame them, I’d be intimidated too if I were just entering the job market too. But I think that if you are creative about it you can definitely find something. I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy and often you end up with things that are not fun but it is possible to get to where you want to go if you just have the tenacity to keep trying.
So let me backtrack a bit. When I was a senior in college I was too busy playing with my friends and writing my thesis to seriously job search. I applied to Teach For America in the spring – basically at the last minute, which was silly because it is much harder to get in that way. And I toyed with applying to the Peace Corps but didn’t really get around to that. Eventually, I applied to a few placement programs for placing young grads as teachers in private high schools but I was pretty late getting to them so there weren’t many places that were still looking. So come May, a few weeks before graduation I was panicking because I had my thesis defense coming up, graduation weekend and absolutely no clue what I would be doing after I graduated. Seriously, I had no idea whatsoever, it was the worst planned thing I’ve ever done. But you know I made it through my defense just fine (whew!) and graduation weekend was somewhat stressful but it went off ok. Let’s face it managing 8 family members in a new location where only you know where things are and everyone has a strong personality always is a bit challenging. The last thing I had to do was move out of the dorms and find a place to live and a job to get me through… well the rest of my life.
Thankfully I had a few good friends in the area and I hopped through a few apartments for the first few months after graduation. Let me clarify, my mom told me to come home but home is Texas and I was a bit stubborn and refused to let her pay my way down and didn’t have enough money to move myself home. So instead I opted to stay with friends for free until I found a job. So I applied to all sorts of odd jobs – not many that I actually wanted to do – just to tide me through the summer because by the time I had gotten to graduation I figured out that I wanted to teach for a couple of years. I was convinced that I wanted to be a public high school teacher for a little while because my own had made such a big impact on my life.
So the big dilemma was how do I make it through the summer without starving and being consistently homeless and finding a job for the upcoming school year without any certification or “qualification” to be a teacher. One thing I did have going for me is that I was convinced I was smart enough and qualified enough to do the job even though I had no “credentials”. When a person is job searching I think one of the most important parts is to think to yourself, “I am qualified. I don’t care what they have written on paper, I can do this job. And not only can I do this job, I can do an outstanding job of it better than anyone else out there.” (Ok, you don’t have to have that better than anyone else out there bit, but it does help to have some confidence in yourself).
So I actually ended up with this horrifying summer job where I was basically an Office Manager… or well that’s the closest to what you could call me. I did some web design, secretarial work, cooking (they would have “catered” lunches for their employees, and by catered I mean I went shopping and made them) and running random errands. The best part is that the whole business was a little shady if you ask me, it was a ticket reseller which I didn’t think was legal but apparently it is. It’s all about how you do it. Amazing the things you can learn when you will take almost any job someone will offer you. But it was enough money to get me through the summer – enough even to let me afford to live with a roommate and not just mooch off my friends.
Oh and for a short while, in that same period I was working for the ticket reseller, I was also an “assistant” for this woman who had OCD. That was another treat, so she lived pretty far away from where I was in a really rural area. And her house was filled with papers and things and I never knew the real meaning of OCD until I met her. Let me tell you OCD is not always synonymous with clean. Sometimes it is terrifying and anything but. I didn’t really last very long with that one but it was nice to have a little bit of extra spare cash for the while that I could deal with it.
So during this time I was looking for jobs teaching. So, how did I actually do that? Well to be honest, I just sent a letter with my resume and why I think I should be a teacher and they should hire me to every public high school in the area that I wanted to live in. Surprisingly, I got a call back from about 75% of the schools I sent a letter to. To top it off I got in person interviews to probably half of the schools that called me back. One of the states I applied to had much harder rules about Certification and I’m sure there are ways around it but it was the summer and pretty tough to figure something creative out at the time but the other state (and quite frankly the one I preferred to begin with) was much more lenient in the high need areas of Math, English and Special Education.
Now I know not everyone thinks teaching is awesome and I am no longer in the field but I think it is a great experience. I mean I absolutely loathed my administration and the bureaucracy can kill you but it is unbelievably rewarding to work with kids, especially in distressed neighborhoods. Also it’s not forever and it’s certainly something to consider when you’re young. I’m not a huge advocate for using it as a stop-gap in figuring out what you want to do with your life but who knows you might actually like it. Not to mention if you teach (in the public schools) for a certain number of years they will forgive some dollar amount of your student loans. I don’t remember the exact figures because I only stayed in the field for 1 year which was too short to qualify. Personally, I think teaching is one of the greatest professions out there and if you can find a school with good administration it is a blast to be there.
Teaching aside, I think there are some key things that young grads should keep in mind when looking for a job. I have a few friends who have been really down about getting a job with the way things are going. I mean tons of very qualified people have been laid off and that is totally true. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a job for you. And that doesn’t mean that you aren’t qualified. So here are some things that you can do:
- Apply, apply, apply. Apply everywhere. Anywhere. Whatever you can find, just throw your resume in the hat and put a good cover letter in there for good measure too. If you can convince them you’re worth it, more power to you. If you don’t apply, you’ll never know.
- Don’t just look at job boards. Email HR departments. Email everyone you know and ask them to pass your resume to HR or their managers or wherever. It never hurts to ask for help. Just do it.
- Be confident when you have an interview. Don’t go in there thinking you can’t get it. They called you back, that means you’re good enough to get the job. You just have to show them that. Now let me clarify confident does not mean unnecessarily cocky.
- Be honest. Don’t be self-deprecating but if they ask you if you know how to do something and you’re not super well versed, say something like “Well, I can’t say that I am comfortable saying that I am extremely well-versed in that area but I have dealt with it and I am confident that I can pick up anything I need to know quite quickly”.
- Most of all, keep a positive attitude. If you don’t think you’re good, if you don’t think you can get a job no one else will for you. You have to be your own best advocate.
- Make sure to follow up on any job you’ve applied to. If you sent someone a letter and this is something you want really badly, call them up. I can’t say it enough, it never hurts to try.
- After an interview always, always send a thank you note – be it in writing (aka snail mail) or a phone call or an email. It doesn’t matter if the interview went fabulously or poorly, it is good practice to send a thank you note. Sometimes they’ll have you meet with too many people to remember, in that case make sure to send a thank you note to your contact and ask them to relay your appreciation to the group.
I mean let’s face it, everyone wants to hire that person who is: smart, attractive, well-dressed, organized, positive, charming and articulate. Now for the most part you can control 90% of people’s perception of you when you are at an interview simply by being well-dressed and appearing to be organized. If you are shy, it’s not the end of the world, you just have to learn how to be personable at an interview, which does not necessarily mean you have to be a “chatty Cathy”. Most of all a good attitude is composed of confidence and being positive. If you think in terms of “I can” instead of the “I can’t” mentality it will reflect when you speak to the person interviewing you. Also maintain a sense of professionalism, be personable but remember that these aren’t your friends they will be judging everything you say.