AOL Resume Contest Winner, Zakiya Pope: More Optimistic About the Future

Like many unemployed people, Zakiya Pope carefully scoured multiple job sites and sent out countless resumes only to be greeted with a deafening silence. No calls, no e-mail replies, not even a rejection letter. Then, AOL Jobs came calling ...

Pope was selected as one of the winners of AOL's Resume Writing Contest. Her story was featured on the site, and with that exposure Pope entered the unimaginable world of employer phone calls and interviews. Now, she talks about how that one moment has become a beacon of hope.

Q. First of all, tell me how you felt when your resume was chosen by AOL to be featured on the site? That had to be an amazing moment.

A. YES! What an exciting moment when I received the e-mail and realized what it was. I always glance at my e-mail before heading out in the morning. I briefly saw the e-mail when I was heading out the door, but because I didn't recognize the e-mail address, I thought it was spam ... but something told me to go back and open the e-mail once I got on the train. Very happy I did!

Q. What had your job search been like before that? How long were you out of work, and did you ever get any responses?

A. My job search has probably been like many people in my shoes. It hasn't been filled with many rejections, more like silence or no response at all. I've been doing side jobs for a while, so I haven't been completely out of work, but in terms of being out of a career position, about three years.

Q. Now, let's talk post-AOL. What was the reaction from recruiters? How did they contact you, by phone or e-mail?

A. I received great reactions! After so much 'silence,' I became paranoid that my phone number or e-mail address was somehow wrong on my resume. I did realize, though, with the increased unemployment rate, employers are inundated with hundreds of resumes for a single position. I can't imagine each resume is reviewed. That's one reason I entered the AOL Resume Contest. Most recruiters contacted me via e-mail or Facebook. I received leads, notes of encouragement and a few interviews from the feature.

Q. I know you mentioned interviewing with Essence Magazine in one of your e-mails to us. How nervous were you before the interview, or are you one of those we all envy who never feels nerves?

A. I always have mini-butterflies before an interview, but since the interview with Essence was the first I had been on in a while, I was definitely more nervous that usual.

Q. Did you use any tips you've read on how to dress, for example?

A. I did. I wore a tailored black suit, a rosy fog-colored button down shirt and modest heels. I'm 6 feet tall and think I have to be cautious with heel height when I'm interviewing.

Q. Now, the height of ones heels is definitely something I don't think we've ever talked about on AOL Jobs. How else did you prepare?

A. I did research on my interviewer and the company before the meeting, and she is very accomplished; that definitely didn't help my level of nervousness.

Q. Did she put you at ease?

A. She was great. She made eye contact and asked general questions at first, about my education and where I was originally from. Normal interview questions. Then she had me speak about my work experience.

I was very candid and told her that my experience is more in traditional marketing and public relations. She expressed to me that I didn't have enough experience in social media/digital marketing that she was searching for. Despite my lack of experience in those areas, she saw my enthusiasm and gave me a chance to put together a business proposal. I'm still waiting for feedback.

Q. Have there been any more interviews or nibbles for jobs?

A. Yes, I'm volunteering with Serve 60. It's an organization that promotes volunteerism within communities. I hope to continue working for them in a more permanent and salaried position.

Q. Any lessons you've learned in your job search that you might want to pass on others who are still looking? Any resume tips? Interview tips?

A. Spell check, spell check, spell check. I send out a lot of resumes from my Android phone and the spell check is a little less thorough than on my computer.

Q. Another good point. Finally, in these tough times, how optimistic, or not, are you about the future?

A. To be honest, I wasn't terribly optimistic. The job market has changed dramatically in the past decade, and due to that fact, many in my generation will never see job-related luxuries that past generations received, such as signing bonuses or moving expenses. It's frustrating out there, and I was getting to the point where I wanted to put searching for a job on the back burner.

I'm sure most will agree, searching for a job is tedious and time-consuming, but I'm happy to say that utilizing different vehicles to make my resume more visible has landed me interviews I probably wouldn't have had. It's so easy to become discouraged and bitter during these challenging times; but because of this opportunity, I remain hopeful, optimistic and excited about my job search. Thanks AOL for restoring my optimism!

Update: Pope recently worked on The Boomerang Effect, a global media experiment produced by collaborative partners, SERVE 60 and The Marcus Graham Project (MGP). The project is meant to motivate the next generation to give back during daylight savings time weekend, while also creating and supporting diversity within the advertising/marketing industry.

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