Congratulations to the class of 2012. After four years of pouring over textbooks, dealing with roommate drama and fighting with your college's financial aid office, your college career has come to an end. This pomp and circumstance is the grand finale of the marathon of education, for most. Rehydrate with the beer at your graduation party because there is a more challenging feat that is next on your to-do list: start your career in your chosen profession in one of the worst economic periods our country has ever known. Hell, hard liquor may be needed at times to prepare for the challenge.
Exactly one year ago,in between planning my graduation party and choosing my graduation dress, I was filling out online job applications. Each application identical to the next, asking the same background information, my career experience, and educational profile. I even had a word document for all of my career site log-in information (if I had a nickel for every time a website prompted me to create a profile just to submit an application, I would have been able to retire before my career even began.)
At the time, my definition of failure was not getting a job in the exact city I wanted, doing exactly what I wanted by a specific date. The meant if I didn't get a job at a big company, working as a creative in the communications industry by June, the last four years would have been a bust. Not only did those ridiculous constraints put additional pressure on me, but it began clouding my perspective on what I truly wanted in a career. If there was only one path to get to my ultimate goal of a set career, then the likelihood of getting there was limited. As a proud creative type who prided herself on out-of-the-box thinking, my output was sending off the wrong vibe. Submitting cover letters and resumes became more of robotic operation, with slight changes that barely set each one apart. Each interview consisted of the same elevator speech about how my internship experience enhanced my educational background. The hint of desperation at the end of each interview must have been evident.
Repeat the above situation for a four month span, and that was how my first post-grad summer was spent. I was working a part-time job as a driver and dog walker, living off $100 a week which funded my travels back and forth to interviews. With every rejection email and phone call, my confidence took a dive till it was basically at rock bottom. And the most unattractive trait to a potential employer is a lack of confidence.
Life changing experiences happen when you least expect it. Mine happen on an overcast September day in the office of a global public relations firm. The woman, whom I was applying to be an assistant to, handed me a copy of my resume covered in red ink.
"For someone who claims she's a writer, your work doesn't speak as one," her voice rang out, causing my body to almost sink into the chair. At the time, I sputtered some sort of apology as I stared at the comments of my 'over use of commas' and 'lack of word choice'. Like a professional, I finished the interview with all of the enthusiasm I could muster, walked around the corner to the McDonald's and threw my guts up.
As much as those words stung me, it was the brutal honesty that I desperately needed in order to get out of the rut. I realized in order to redeem myself, I had to get my head of the clouds, focus on my job description rather than the name of a company, and show my best side. In this downward economy with thousands of other graduates with similar internships under their belt, it was going to take more than well crafted resume to start my career.
After cleaning myself up in the bathroom, I cleaned up my career search. Instead of spending hours applying to multiple jobs a day, I only submitted applications to job titles that fit my strengths and experiences. I began to look outside of the corporate world, and apply to smaller places outside of Manhattan. Instead of mass mailing my clean-cut resume, I detailed each resume in accordance of the job description. I began blogging again for my own personal Wordpress site, and reached out to other websites that accepted submissions. I also took the time to revamp my online portfolio to make sure fresh material was in place. Sure it wasn't paying my bills, but it was at least keeping my writing skills sharp and marked the start of the repair of my self esteem.
A month after my Manhattan revelation, I began the interview process for a job that encompassed everything that I wanted to do. It was a position that was responsible for a little bit of everything -- from social media management to website production. The job requirements were all skills and traits I held, it was just relaying it to the hiring managers.
During a month long, multi-interview process, I strove to prove that my creative flair, work ethic and honed skills would make me the right person for the position. Finally, five months to the day of my college graduation, I started the first full-time position of my career. It turned out to be at a non-profit in the city I grew up in, that has been around for the last three decades. My dream job was right around the corner from me the whole time I was caught in a post-grad spiral. And to think I almost missed out because of preexisting expectations.
Ironically, my one year graduation anniversary will also mark six months at my new job. I am thankful to say that I absolutely love my job, and enjoy going to work everyday. In the last six months, I have grown professionally and have watched my self-worth build up as I continue to develop as a business professional. To top it off, I will also by 23 on the same say of the above mentioned anniversaries. It may not be a landmark birthday, but it will be a celebration of being at the place I am now- professionally and mentally.
So to my peers who are chewing their cuticles down to the bone, and are squelching the urges to vomit each time a family member asks about the job hunt: be true to yourself. Tune out the expectations of your friends and families, the 'destined' career path you set for yourself and the news reports on the television about our lost generation. Take a hard look on how you want to spent 40-plus hours a week, and what qualities that position would require to make you a good candidate. By knowing yourself, not just your expectations, your dream job will be much more obtainable.