Sometimes jobs fall right into people’s laps, and in today’s economy we entry-level folk go to sleep at night hoping to wake up to a missed call and voicemail from an unknown phone number with a genial stranger—probably named Steve—asking us to come down for an interview that is really just a formality because he is dying to give us a job and full benefits and make sure we don’t fall behind on student loan payments.
When I wake up and check my phone, I find nothing of the sort, so I check my Facebook and Twitter and my email and decide to make some coffee. I decide that although my milk was “BEST BY” three days ago, I will drink it anyway because it will probably still be “WELL ABOVE AVERAGE BY” tomorrow. I pour it into my cereal and begin scrolling through Craigslist once again.
I check my email and Facebook and force myself back to Craigslist and Indeed and wish there was a filter for applications that require cover letters. I taste that the milk in my cereal is a little “off” and now I really begin looking for a job. I find four entry-level positions in my field and then learn that the “desired applicants” should have two years of previous experience. I find myself asking what “entry-level” means in 2013, and I linger and wonder if it is worth submitting my resume and writing another cover letter. I slurp down the milk left in the bowl, breathe in that sour smell, gag a little, take a deep breath and start writing that cover letter.
As someone who didn’t apply for jobs until after graduation, I regret not getting started sooner. If you’re still a student, do what you can to find an internship while you’re still in school! Yes, it will probably be an unpaid, thankless job, but it will be worth it in the end. You’ll have some of that mysterious, required “previous experience” by the time you graduate, which will help raise you above much of the competition. The connections you’ll make can only benefit you in the long run and you may even be hired as a paid employee after your internship has been fulfilled. You won’t be one of those college graduates stretching the truth about his/her “previous experience,” and you’ll have some legitimate references that aren’t your uncle or your roommate.
The best thing to do is to get your name out there. Apply, apply, apply. Network. Send out your resume. Take the time to go to a Career Fair at your school and hand your resume out like you’re one of those comedy club promoters in Midtown. Take advantage of your school’s career center and its counselors. Ask the counselors to help you write and review your resume, ask them about career options relevant to your major, and attend workshops with interviewing tips from recruiters. Just get out there and profit from the resources your school created to help you.
Talk to family members, family friends, friends, friends of friends, professors—the people who want to see you succeed. Sure, not everyone wants to give into some form nepotism, but beggars can’t be choosers. You will be the one making your way in this world, so why not let the people who care about you give you a hand?
You may find that the first jobs that are most attainable to you are jobs that are only appealing because of potential paychecks. These are the jobs that we are only half-interested in and are scared to step into in fear that we might get stuck. These are the cold coffee of the entry-level world: you need that little pick-me-up, but you have to force it down, and it may make you crash in the near future, but right now it is here when nothing else is. Deciding can be difficult, but why not take the job? You may really enjoy it once you get into the swing of things and there is no reason why you can’t continue your job-hunt on the side. If you’re still unsure, then try finding two part-time jobs in different fields you may be interested in and decide after a few weeks or months which career you’d like to pursue further. You have more time than you think to figure things out. It is common to not find a real career until a few years out of college.
Patience and persistence are two traits you should embody as you begin your job hunt. It is tough out there right now, everyone knows it, but you can’t wait around for Steve the Genial Stranger to come looking for you with a salary job, some fresh milk and a hot coffee. You have to get out there and shake hands and answer questions and ask questions and write what seems like too many cover letters and then, hopefully, some genial stranger—probably named Steve—will call you with a job offer.