Welcome to our career series! We’re both young professionals who are navigating grad school, first jobs, and basically trying our best to survive adulthood. It isn’t always glamorous or fun, but we can guarantee it’s real, honest, and well…us. So grab a glass of wine and read on about surviving the post-grad job search.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Searching for a job/being unemployed sucks. It took five months to get my first job after school and, unfortunately, it was only a one year contract and I was back to hunting for a job, wondering how long I’d have to wait until I’d find the perfect fit. Seven months and 223 applications later, I landed a position better than I could’ve ever dreamed. But I will never forget what a struggle it was to get there. Whether you’re a recent grad or a few years into your career, I’ve got you covered when it comes to surviving unemployment and the job hunt.
It’s going to be okay.
You’ll hear this about a million times when you tell people you’re unemployed and looking. It’s going to get annoying to hear because you think people don’t get it but as someone who actually did this, I am fully 100% qualified to tell you that it will, in fact, be okay. It’s not going to be easy or fun, but I promise you that you will not be unemployed forever. That being said, you may need to adjust your expectations. Remember that a lateral move can be just as beneficial as an upward move. Keep in mind that you may need to consider a temporary position to make ends meet — but it’s just that: temporary. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself along the way.
Make (and stick to) a routine
One of the hardest parts of being unemployed is the inevitable feeling that your life has no purpose or “oh my god why did I major in that” or “what am I doing with my life”, you know the drill. For some, that feeling doesn’t set in for a few weeks. For me, it took two days. To avoid going crazy, I had to put myself on a consistent schedule, similar to the hours I would be working at an actual job. I woke up at the same time every morning, went to the gym or took a walk, and then sat down at my desk and set out to complete my daily goal. Some days that goal was “apply to five jobs” other days that goal was “email three people in my network and get them to commit to coffee next week.” Either way, I knew I was at my desk or at my favorite coffee shop focused on the job hunt from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Know your market
Get a feel for the job market in your city/state and strategize accordingly. If you live in an area that’s oversaturated with high quality talent but has minimal openings (Hi, DC!) you may need to rethink your application strategy. Make sure your resume stands out, your cover letter is impossible to put down, and be realistic about your goals and abilities. Unfortunately in DC that often means you may need to lower your expectations. Consider applying to jobs a step below that dream job or take an internship that will set you up more experience and a stronger network. Trust me, it’s not ideal and I’m not advocating on giving up on that dream position but be realistic given your market.
Keep your skills up to date
Oh, the dreaded resume gap. Nothing sucks more than finally getting a job interview and hearing, “So why do you have this gap?” Or dealing with the opposite — getting passed over for an interview because it looks like you’ve been sitting around doing nothing for the past few months. Avoid it completely by finding something to fill the void. Volunteer in your field or offer your services on a freelance basis. I contacted several local businesses that didn’t have websites and offered to build and maintain their sites at a discounted price as a way to supplement my income and allow me feel better about using the term “freelancer.”
I also connected with a local non-profit that had almost no social media or web presence and offered to take over their comms needs. It was relatively cheap (read: free) for them and I am now able to say that I quadrupled their existing social following, gained a few hundred new fans a week, and engaged with nearly one thousand unique users with each post. Not only did it help me keep my skills up, but it also created a really unique talking point in interviews and I noticed a considerable increase in callbacks once I added it to my resume. Bonus: People who volunteer are more likely to be hired over non-volunteers.
Be prepared to deal with people who just don’t get it
Above all else, the hardest hurdle was managing the expectations of others. Thankfully, my immediate family was incredibly supportive but I struggled a little when it came to a handful of friends and older relatives. For some bizarre reason, people like to think that being unemployed is just an extended vacation. In a conversation with a friend about her morning routine, I asked why she got up for work four hours before she had to be at the office. She quipped, “well Miss Unemployed, some of us have actual jobs that we need to be ready for.” That one really stung and truthfully still does. I felt like her perception of unemployment was someone who was lazy, lacked self respect, and had no interest in being successful — but that couldn’t be any further from the truth.
Be ready for critics who think you aren’t doing enough but know that you are NEVER required to answer to them. After all, appeasing them is not going to get you a job. The easiest way I (politely) put critics in their place? A list in my computer/iPhone notes app that had a full list of the 223 jobs I applied for along with interviews, complete with dates, times, and a link to my submitted application. The overwhelming response was always, “Wow, I really had no idea. I’m shocked you’ve done so much, I hope something changes soon.” (And for the people who don’t get it…)
Whatever you do, don’t forget to keep your head up. I have friends who went a full year before finding full time work and have since landed amazing jobs. That’s not to say it will take that long but rather inspire you to know that people have had it far worse and managed to find successful careers. It may feel impossible but I can promise you that you will eventually find exactly what you’re looking for.
Clean up that resume, get a new cup of coffee and practice those networking skills and you’ll be on your way in no time!
Have any tips/advice/questions about the job search and unemployment? Let us know in the comments below! We’re always eager to learn new tricks when it comes to navigating the career world.