On Job Hunting After College: Advice from the Top of the Mountain
Friday’s lunch break was spent inhaling leftovers while catching up on emails and skimming my Facebook newsfeed. As I filtered through the feed, I noticed a trend among posts within my circle of friends processing their recent graduation from college -- all riddled with themes of uncertainty and confusion about the road ahead.
I was this person less than a year ago. At the beginning of my journey I was wide-eyed and ready to sign my life away to a 40-hour workweek. Months passed as I continued to have no luck landing a job. I was starting from the bottom in a world full of opportunity yet also overwhelming.
I felt stuck in my job as a barista. I was also interning at a company I loved, but was waiting for a unicorn-like entry-level position to open up. My confidence began to decline, as did my bank account balance. My student loan payments began piling in, and my car was consistently on the fritz. I started to see classmates post on Facebook about their new jobs and office plants. I wanted that. Why didn’t I have that?
After nearly a year of networking, polishing my resume, awkward phone interviews and rummaging for loose change in my couch, I finally landed a full-time position. As a fellow 20-something who’s made it to the other side of the job hunt, I’d like to share what I learned in the process of navigating the job search during That First Year after college.
Here are my takeaways:
1. Your job – or lack thereof – does not define you.
As I stumbled through this time of uncertainty, I began to feel my self-worth decline. Rejection emails, though tactful and often complimentary, eventually began eroding my self-esteem. When an email said, “We feel your qualifications are not a fit for this position,” I read: “You are not capable to be a constructive part of society” or “You smell like beef and cheese” (Elf anyone?).
I also dreaded the “So what do you do?” question, which is unfortunately the standard ice-breaker at parties and networking events. What do I do? I do lots of things. I somehow felt less human because I wasn’t transitioning into adulthood with the same ease as my peers.
So here’s the deal. Making money is important. Enjoying how you spend 40 hours a week is ideal as well. However, at the end of the day, you are a complex being with unique qualities and characteristics that make you beautiful and valuable. Your job – or lack thereof – does not define you.
2. Your problems will not disappear with a new job.
Just like you can’t find self-worth in your job, you can’t treat it as the end-all-be-all, a Band-Aid that will fix your problems. Admittedly, I thought I would find some sort of closure at the end of the job hunt. I thought, Surely when I find a job I’ll be happier, more content. The truth is, even after I secured a position with a salary and benefits, I still had financial obligations that seemed daunting. Student loans, a car payment, rent, friendships and relationships to maintain and other responsibilities. You know, the usual.
Put effort into achieving balance in every area of your life. Create a budget and stick to it. Make time for friends. Call your parents once a week. Prioritize your health – both mental and physical. That kind of thing. Landing a job is just one hurdle. Your problems will not disappear once you've landed it.
3. Trust your gut.
Remember how it took me a year to find a job? Truth is, I didn’t go that long without receiving a job offer. The first offer I received was for a position in the music industry. The pay rate was, as expected, the same as my job at Starbucks, and it didn’t come with benefits or vacation time. These factors were not necessarily red flags. However, when I interviewed with my potential supervisor, I had a bad feeling in my gut. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I was feeling this way. I sensed an attitude of misogyny in his interaction with me, and I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable being alone in a room with this person for hours a day.
After the interview, I researched the company, weighed the pros and cons and sought guidance from people I respected. The overarching advice was “trust your instincts.” After consulting with friends, family and professionals in my network, I felt peace about declining the job offer I had long been working for. The job hunt was back on.
Feeling comfortable and safe is important. I’m not saying to pass on a job that will challenge you to work hard or face a learning curve. In fact, you should expect to feel somewhat overwhelmed as you take on more responsibility at your first job. I am saying you should feel empowered to trust your gut with big decisions like this.
4. Embrace the process.
I learned a lot about myself during that first year after college. I learned that my value is not dependent upon my occupation and cannot be estimated by comparison to other people. It was a tough process full of doubts and tears, but it was necessary for personal growth. I would encourage you to embrace the process that is job hunting and navigating life after college. You will arrive on the other side with more knowledge and sense of self. Hindsight is a beautiful and constructive thing.
Cheers to you on your journey!