It’s heartbreaking to lose a job offer you think is in the bag. This feeling is even worse for recent college graduates with little experience and few tangible skills as they are forced to start, yet again, from square one.
I distinctly remember this feeling. The day I learned of my resounding failure, I took the subway home, quite visibly crying my eyes out. I looked so distraught, in fact, that a strange woman put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Whatever it is, it’s going to be alright.”
At the time, I thought there was no way she could be more wrong. I also didn’t know just how creepy it is to touch a stranger in the subway, as I was a fresh New Yorker. Over time, I learned of the awkwardness of her gesture, but, more importantly, I also learned just how very right she was.
So, let me be that strange subway lady for you if you’re a recent college graduate or if you’re searching for a job. Here are a few pointers that I’ve picked up after successfully traversing the most horrible life transition: going from college to the real world.
1 / Take some time off before delving into the real world.
Congratulations! You’ve just spent the last 16 years of your life in school. Do you really want to go right from those last term papers to resume writing and job hunting? Why not take a breather, reward yourself and learn some things before chasing that paycheck for the rest of your life?
There are many ways to give yourself a little refresher before committing to the life of an adult. You can volunteer abroad, ask for a trip as a graduation present, use your savings to travel or have a bit of a staycation; just be creative! When I graduated, I contacted every professor at my university who ran a summer study abroad program and asked if they needed a teaching assistant. I interviewed for a geology one (even though I didn’t have a geology background) and got it. I traveled around Iceland with a group of geology students as their camp manager all summer — for free.
2 / Do not get discouraged.
This is one of the more daunting periods of your life. It’s very natural to get overwhelmed, even anxious. When I returned from Iceland and started applying for jobs, I had many ups and downs. The downs were particularly rough, and I would often get so dismayed that I would get worked up and need to get away from the computer screen, thus decreasing my resume output (which would upset me further!). Short breaks after each application will allow you to stay attentive and refreshed longer.
To curb my discouragement, I decided that every five applications would be punctuated with an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” This somehow led me to Danny DeVito’s Wikipedia page. In his personal section, it mentioned he was a big proponent of the OneVoice Movement, a grassroots organization that amplifies voices of moderate Israelis and Palestinians for a two-state solution.
Immediately intrigued, I researched the organization and sent a cold email inquiring as to whether they were hiring. I was invited to interview for an executive assistant position. During the interview, OneVoice’s executive director asked how I had heard about the organization. I had prepared a lengthy answer about how I was very involved in the Middle East issue and loved social activism — but at the last minute I decided to tell the truth. Luckily, she thought it was hilarious. She ended up hiring me and telling Danny DeVito that story two weeks later.
3 / Cold email/call!
I know it sounds as futile as emailing Jon Bon Jovi, but cold emails and calls can have incredible outcomes. People get really busy; especially the ones who make decisions. The easier you can make it for them to hire you, the better your chances.
When I was hired at OneVoice, there wasn’t even a job description. Everyone was so busy, running in so many directions, that they didn’t have time to actively recruit for an executive assistant. Sometimes you just have to dangle yourself in front the right people and make it super easy for them to hire you. Even if the cold email or call doesn’t result in an interview, maybe you’ve learned additional information about that or another organization for the future. Or you can start a conversation at a later date with the contact you now have. Or maybe the organization offers you a volunteer position that could eventually lead to a job or bolster your resume for the future. All that you have to lose is two minutes.
4 / Continue doing what you love.
Applying for writing jobs? Want to run an after school program? Become a massage therapist? Whatever your intended field or your passion, don’t wait around to get paid to do it — just do it because you love it. Guest blogging on a website, coaching, volunteering, taking classes, tutoring, writing a thesis, expanding your engineering knowledge, doing an internship, serving as an unpaid research assistant, getting involved in your community. These things are all much more impressive than just working a menial job while you wait for the position of your dreams. Proactiveness like this will truly bolster your candidacy.
Also, a note about menial jobs: work them! They’re necessary interim occupations that, done right, can add value when you’re going for that dream job. Besides Danny DeVito, my work at a pickle company helped me land my first job. I started at Rick’s Picks selling pickles at a farmer’s market and doing administrative work. I was proactive at this small, collaborative company and within three months I was overseeing shipping, working with the marketing director and managing various projects. OneVoice therefore saw me as a “jack of all trades,” someone who had done a little bit of everything and acquired responsibilities quickly.
Nothing worth having comes easily. It’s very difficult to find your dream job, but I urge you to try very hard not to get discouraged. Tenacity is an invaluable trait and a veritable trademark of success.
Most of all, don’t be afraid to fail. The more experience you have and the more mistakes you’re fortunate enough to make learn from, the closer you’ll get to exactly where you want to be.
And please know, I’m always here if you want to pick my brain on career advice. Just reach out to me at Angelalduffy[at]gmail[dot]com.