Life After College: What I Learned on The 2-Year Road To My First Real Job

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I graduated from Belmont University with a bachelor's degree in history in August 2012. It's one of the highlights of my life so far. Full of optimism and excitement for the adventures that lay ahead of me, I decided to take a brief break from work and school. That brief break might not have been the wisest of decisions. I soon discovered that the job market wasn't really interested in me or the numerous recent graduates like myself.

If you happened to catch my last blog post, you might have noticed that I finally got that "real" job.

It has been a very exciting last two weeks as my tenure at the hospital cafeteria dwindled down. In that time though, I have had to look back on the last two years, contemplating the challenges and successes of my time there. Here are some of the things I have learned in the last few years I think might be helpful for people to understand about my generation and our relationship to the job market.

Looking for your first job is exhausting.

The process of looking for a job is strenuous. It requires patience, significant intellectual input, a decent bit of writing and rewriting, and an ability to handle rejection. In my case, all of this had to be dealt with while I was cooking at all hours of the day and night.

From nearly my first day at the cafeteria, I began looking for that "real" job. I took the cooking job because I needed income and knew it would be a relatively easy and reliable paycheck. (My part-time job for four years during college was cooking at Belmont's cafeteria, so I had plenty of experience.) I also knew that I had no desire to turn it into a career.

So my job search began in earnest. It was exhausting, working hard in front of hot grills and greasy fryers, only to come home and try to give thoughtful, refined energy to getting better employment.
Feedback isn't guaranteed. And that sucks.

Putting together a resume and cover letter is no small task. Resumes need to be specially tailored to each and every position, details added or redacted to show an employer that you understand what they are looking for and why. Cover letters are even more complicated. They must show that you have done your research about the company and position, have the skills to do the job and contain a very sophisticated braggadocio about yourself so as to make yourself the standout candidate.

This process is obviously not a frivolous one. I took resumes and cover letters very seriously, sometimes taking several hours to write a first draft. All this hard work, only to hear nothing from an employer after submitting my honed final application, was discouraging.

Actually, this was about the most disheartening aspect of my nearly two-year job search. I would put together beautifully crafted representations of myself, only to hear nothing back. No feedback, no person-to-person contact related to my application. Just several weeks of waiting to hear back on jobs that may have been filled two weeks prior by someone else.

Most of these jobs were for entry-level positions. Jobs which I was well qualified, or even overqualified, for. There is nothing worse than poor or non-existent communication. But it is the norm in searching for a job and it can be the most frustrating part of a job search.

Networking doesn't always work.

Many of the positions I have applied for in the last two years were because of a personal connection to the organization. Maybe I had a friend who worked there or maybe someone knew I would be a perfect fit for a position at a friend's organization.

These kind of leads always meant I gave extra effort in the application process. The human aspect of these jobs meant that I thought I already had a leg up compared to jobs which filtered my application through a thoughtful set of pre-programmed computer algorithms.

Despite the advantages that networking earned me, these positions didn't really pan out. It took a year for me to get my first interview after starting my job in the cafeteria. That first interview went well and my skills and community connections should have made me a prime candidate. That position went to someone considerably older than me who had several years of administrative assistant experience. Another position was a history teaching position at a local charter school, my degree and minor in education should have made some impression on the hiring staff. I didn't even get an interview, and later found out the position went to someone with a master's degree from Harvard.

The market is stacked against my generation. The economy is still recovering. That has meant that people many years our senior are fighting for those same entry level positions.

Sometimes networking does work.

I am sorry if I have sounded overly negative in this post. It is challenging to put a positive spin on countless hours of hard work that effectively goes nowhere.

That said, I have landed a new job, and all of my experiences over the last two years helped in my getting it. Networking played a big part in my hearing about the job. Feedback I got from previous applications and interviews helped me to develop a strong application. My time in more menial jobs provided me a very strong background in customer service, which was vital to me getting my new position.

I start my new job today on Monday, September 15. I am the new Membership and Client Service Associate at Synergos AMC, an association management company in Fort Collins, Colorado. It will be an adventure, one which has taken a long time to get started. I can't wait!
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