Job searching has basically been the bane of my existence for the past seven months. When I wasn’t working on a term paper, working an internship, being involved on campus, or trying to enjoy my last semester a teensy bit, I was job searching feverishly. It takes time, diligence, attention to detail, time, coffee, patience, time and, oh yeah, time. I’m still getting “You aren’t qualified emails” from jobs I applied to in October, let alone the ones I applied to last week (which, by the way, is up to like 40. *eye roll*).
While I would like to think my job search left me adorably exhausted, like this…
This is probably a more accurate depiction of my feelings.
I knew that before I did anything to prepare to move to Denver, I had to have a job first. When renting agencies ask for your first born child on the first of every month, you kind of need a steady income. What I didn’t know was that Denver has one of the most competitive job markets in the nation (although I soon realized it). I thought that getting my Bachelor’s, working through school, and good, old fashioned hard work would be enough to catch everyone’s attention. Wrong. By the grace of God, I accepted a job two days before my last final (five days before I moved) and sealed my ticket to Denver living. Phew.
But, as most twenty-somethings find out, sometimes those first jobs just aren’t exactly what you wanted. The team I work with is great, but the role I play, meh. I hate how many times I’ve said, “It’s a paycheck.” That basically goes against everything I believe in when it comes to careers, but sometimes you gotta deal for a while (see: rent = first born child, above). Also, experience. The one word that crushes every recent grads’ hopes and dreams. However, I’m a strong believer in never settling with mediocre and making situations the best they can be. Hence, why I have once again sat my butt in front of the screen and started looking for opportunities. I’ve been met with many of the same frustrations I had seven months ago, and hear echoed in my recent graduate friends’ texts and Facebook posts.
So, to all you recent stage-walking, diploma/degree wielding, fancy-pants new graduates who just joined me in the world of adulting, there are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
1. Your degree doesn’t make you qualified…
Yes, getting your Bachelor’s is super important (read: almost essential), especially in certain fields. However, “entry-level” to some companies often means, “with 3-5 years of experience.” Makes sense, right? Totally. Working during college definitely gives you a leg up, but some companies don’t count internships/work studies/etc. as actual work experience. Or they’ll give you 1/2 year credit for 1 year worked (if you’re lucky). On the other hand, other companies LOVE recent grads because they can train them into a career. On the other other hand (surprise, I have 3 arms), if you have an internship with a company, it could turn right into a job. If you’re in the last two situations, *high five*. If you’re in the first few cases, join the club.
In the previous cases, take your sour “I couldn’t work and go to college at the same time! How the heck is this ‘entry-level’?! Wahhhh.” lemons and turn them into lemonade. Job qualifications aren’t always cement, meaning companies are sometimes willing to bend for the right candidate. Gaining experience and knowledge that is relatable to the workplace is really fairly easy (hello, soft skills), and if you’re one of us who had a work study/internship, you definitely learned something. Turn your skills into a marketing platform to make yourself “the one,” despite your lack of experience. Trainability, flexibility, and collaboration are a few top traits employers like to see. Don’t let the lack of 1-2 years of experience stand between you and a job your otherwise qualified for. The worse they can do is send an email saying, “Sorry, you’re not qualified.” And lets be honest, you can expect like 100 of those in your lifetime.
2. …but it is important
Yes, my $125,000 piece of paper is definitely coming in handy (this degree bought to you by the letter S for “scholarship”). But it’s not enough. In my field of Higher Education, to get the jobs I ultimately want 10 years down the road, I need my Masters and probably Doctorate (bye-bye, social life). Looking into jobs in other fields in Denver, a masters is standard. The Bachelor’s degree is the new High School diploma, sadly. As the daughter of a welder, I completely understand that a four-year college degree is not necessary for everyone. But, for all you twenty-somethings contemplating going back to school, the job world is much different than it was 20 years ago for our parents (obviously). An Associates, Bachelors, or even just a Certificate program makes you just that much more qualified and favorable to employers. Train within your area of interest – skilled workers look for a Votech, business folk go get your Bachelors, Brain surgeons, ha, you’ll never be out of school! Personal/professional development is a buzz word, and, honestly, its kind of cool to learn new things (this may or may not be influenced by my obsession with learning).
3. It really is who you know.
If I hadn’t decided to move 427 miles across the state and start completely over with zero connections and no networks, I probably would have gotten my first job based on who I knew. Networking is invaluable. Meet people, keep up appearances, send a “Oh, hi!” email – it will be worth it. Heck, even with my clean slate, I used my Nebraska network to meet my connections’ friends to help me get semi-established in Denver. The world is actually a very small place. LinkedIn is a good place for all us millennials to network while hiding behind a computer screen, but hand-shaking and face-to-face relationship building is where its at.
4. Don’t waste your time uploading your resume
Sometimes. The new thing in online applications is the “Upload Resume” or “Connect via LinkedIn” buttons. These beautiful little monsters have good intentions of converting your information into their online input system, but they end up screwing up ALL your information. In one application, I worked at Student Worker as a Firespring under the direction of Business Administration major. Not joking. Maybe try uploading your resume once, just for kicks and giggles, but then I suggest being like every other twenty-something and work smarter, not harder. Create a rockin’ resume, turn it into a PDF, and then copy/paste your work experience from your resume right into the online application. It will save you hours and cramped fingers. Also, if you didn’t learn it in college yet, you’ll want to hone your Ctrl+V and Ctrl+C skills. You’re welcome.
5. Your paperwork is the most important part
Thanks to the Miss America Organization, I have a fantastic interview. Heck, it should be, because interviewing was basically my job. However, in job searching, you don’t actually get to talk to the people who matter in the decision making process until your interview. That means your piece of paper has to look darn good. When lamenting about how terrible job searching is, I usually say, “If I could just sit down with them, they’d see that I’m a really great human, but I’m just a piece of paper.”
Here’s some tips I was told by our College 2 Career Center at Doane: Always have a header with your information & make it match on each document (cover letter, resume, references). Keep it short, sweet, and to the point, but elaborate enough for the reader to see how great you are. Two page resumes are not the end of the world, and are actually okay. Use something that will set your resume apart, like a color, but nothing too crazy (my heading is purple & my current employer remembers it to this day).
6. Don’t underestimate yourself.
Whether its negotiating a salary or settling for a job that you refer to as “just a paycheck,” don’t settle for less than you’re worth. Now, at the same time, don’t hold out until you’re screwed, but be smart. If you’re working in a job that you hate and you aren’t using your strongest skills, you aren’t doing yourself or your company any good. A job brings you satisfaction, growth, connections, and worth. I am 100% under the entitled, privileged and ungrateful millennial mindset of a job should fit your needs, not the other way around. I’ll make do with what I have, but, by golly, I’m keeping my eyes open! I won’t rest until I love my job and feel like I’m making a real difference in my work, even if that means a lower paycheck.
Same goes for your salary – here’s lookin’ at you, women. Do not low ball yourself. Shoot high. Negotiate. 1. It’s fun. 2. You probably will get almost what you want. I always hear that women shoot low and don’t negotiate, so I make a point of driving a hard bargain and sticking to my guns. One small crack in the glass ceiling, one giant leap in my paycheck.
Let’s get real: job searching is not fun. We all feel pretty worthless after about the fifth “You aren’t qualified” email, and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s with the few pennies you have left to your name after college sounds like a good investment. Believe me, I tried to drown my sorrows in a microwave cheeseburger after overnight job searching on an AmTrak train (on my list of life regrets). Remember the thing at the beginning about time and patience? Good things come to good people who work hard. If nothing else, you are persevering, overcoming disappointments, getting better at interviewing and resuming, and ultimately, becoming better. And isn’t that why we’re here?