Thursday, October 31, 2013

job hunting [tips to get through the agony]

(Saga started here)

So, six months I started writing about figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. Half a year later I'm finishing the thought!

When I decided to start looking for a new job, I was completely overwhelmed. Every job I've had since I was 15 was basically handed to me on a platter. I haven't faced rejection. Before last fall, I never thought about what the average human endures when job searching. I was stepping into the great, dark and scary unknown. And I was scared - scared to fail.

My fear of failure usually manifests itself in a half-hearted effort. In school, in work, in life - I protect myself by justifying "I could have gotten that A/job/promotion/acceptance letter, if I would have really given it my all." This always gives me an excuse from success.

It took a lot of tenacity to set those fears aside and really give my job search a worthwhile effort. What I learned was that job hunting was just as scary and a lot more work than I imagined.

Job Hunting. Where even the most qualified and competent people must stoop to a level that feels near groveling to become a salesman of their own skills and experience. It required humility, patience and a lot of hard work. This  post probably isn't relevant to all of my readers, but as someone who interacts with a lot of unprepared college students looking for jobs in a competitive marketplace, I wanted to share a few of my own tips in case it would encourage or help anyone else in a similar position.

1. Revise your resume. Or better yet, update it regularly - every time you accomplish something new or take on new responsibilities, quantify and communicate them. Ask for help from fresh pairs of eyes. I got feedback from no less than four people before I started sending my resume out.

2. Draft personalized cover letters. Use a set of four to six core competencies and interests to draft unique cover letters customized for each potential job. Spend some time researching and address you letter to the appropriate hiring manager. (side note: I always sent a cover letter, even when it wasn't requested.*)

3. Swallow your pride and your nerves, and network. About a month into my search I sent an email to someone whose career I admired but had only met one time. I asked her to meet with me to review my resume and offer advice about my prospective field. It was scary, but it was the most helpful step in my job search process because it took me out of your comfort zone and helped prepare me talk about my experience and goals for the future.

4. Look often. You don't necessarily need to spend hours a day, but you should look for at least 30 minutes every few days for new posting. I looked on Craigslist, LinkedIn, Indeed, industry job boards and on the website of companies in my region. The job I found was not on any of the big job boards I spent most of my time looking on. It was only posted on the company site (because of a limited budget).

5. Read as much as you can. Devour articles on networking, resume-writing, interviewing, and marketing your skills. My previous job title was totally unrelated to my new job, but I was able to market relevant skills after realizing how to translate them directly to the new job requirements. I also, in my previous position, sought out opportunities to gain experience in my prospective field, by taking initiative in those areas (I workedhis was photography, editing, html coding and writing).

(5b. If at all possible, look before you get desperate. I was in a place where I was very ready to find a new position yesterday. It made me discouraged when the right job -or any job- wasn't coming up right away. You have a huge advantage when you're happy where you are, but always available to consider other options.)

*this is probably the single most important thing I did, and also the most agonizing and time-consuming.

Even though I realize now some of these tips are obvious, I learned them only after a lot of time and tears. For a while, I was in a cycle that looked like this: once a week I would find the perfect job, realize that I didn't meet three of the seven requirements, deliberate over how to make my not-completely-relevant experience match the qualifications listed, and try to be a balance of warm, witty and professional in all of my cover letters. Then after agonizing for hours I would send the documents, triple-check the content and spend hours refreshing, refreshing, refreshing for a positive reply. It was exhausting and discouraging.

What I ultimately learned is that you have to be just as good at selling yourself as you are good at the job you're trying to get.

My little story has a happy ending. I interviewed for a position that didn't quite fit the parameters for my perfect job. It was part-time and temporary, but it was down the street and in my industry (education). And when I got to meet the team I'd be working with, I was sold. At the time it felt risky, but it turned out that the job turned in a full-time position and was made permanent within six months. (I realize this isn't always the case and I wouldn't usually encourage accepting a job that doesn't meet minimum requirements) but I'm so glad I took this leap of faith.

So what am I doing? I'm managing the social media on a web communications team (along with doing some writing) for a local university. It's challenging, fulfilling and creative - all the things I was looking for. Eight months into and I'm still excited to go to work every morning. :-) The creative drain is apparently taking its toll on my blog writing...maybe I'll be back here regularly someday!

p.s. thank you for your kinds words after the death of my grandfather. Grief, like it tends to do, comes in waves. I appreciate all your prayers and thoughts.


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