That’s a video of me ice skating in about 2007. As you can see, I’m a total goddamn wreck. I embedded that video above because (a) it’s moderately funny and (b) short and (c) somewhat encapsulates how I feel at this exact moment. I got a Masters degree today, which is a notable accomplishment. (Go Me!) But I got it from a program almost exclusively designed to get you a job, and … I don’t yet have one. This isn’t such a big deal — people finish graduate school without jobs all the time, including a few of my friends from the program I was in — but sometimes it’s a challenge to process. I wrote about this a little bit in April, so I won’t go too deep on it here. I’ve been in this headspace around graduation and jobs and no jobs for the better part of 4-6 months, so it gets a little boring even for me. Rather, here are a couple of observations: I’ll start with the bad, move to the good, and then hit a few things I learned. Bear in mind, writing this is catharsis at some level for me, so … thanks for reading (assuming you still are).
Not necessarily good for self-esteem: I’ve been rejected from gigs for all sorts of different reasons, but that’s to be expected in a lot of ways. The window on hiring is pretty narrow circa 2014. A recruiter may get 200 applications for a single posting — in a way, even though it never feels like this, getting to the final interview stage is a huge W. You basically got through 200 people to be 1 of 3. Still, when you’re not 1 of 1, it can hurt. What I’m saying isn’t revolutionary by any means: “When I don’t achieve something, I feel a little bit less about myself.” That’s base human nature. The harder part has been trying to network with friends and family. As you get into it, you realize that essentially you’re asking them for a favor, and you also realize that unless you have a lot of friends and family who are recruiters, you probably don’t know people who “know of jobs.” So sometimes the whole process can feel worthless, and you want to scream about why your BFF or your uncle or whoever sent you one e-mail in four months saying “Well, I don’t really know anything…” but then you realize, well, this is just how it works. Still, it can make you feel bad — like something that no one really wants.
Anger, negativity. Ties with No. 1 above, for sure. I’m in a weekly struggle within myself to not be mad at the system — which is an amorphous thing, so how can one be mad at it? — or other people. That definitely comes out here and there in posts I’ve done on this site, for sure, but for the most part I think I do have it in check and I just move from opportunity to opportunity, e-mail to phone screen, etc. It’s hard, though. I do get angry. There are things I wish I had known about my program before I started — things that maybe if I had known, I would have made a different decision. As I get on in the job process, I think about negative elements of previous jobs instead of the positive ones. I get tired of talking about myself, which can hurt you in an interview (the person interviewing you doesn’t realize you’ve done 60 of these in the past 10 days). I get scared and sad and angry and negative and sometimes I want to hide. That makes me human, but it’s also not easy.
I learned a lot. That should be the point of education, right? There’s a contextual clarification needed here, though: I didn’t necessarily think it was always challenging. In fact, for the final two semesters I didn’t even own all the books and still put up a fairly solid GPA. I did think I learned a lot in that if the classroom learning wasn’t there, it made me want to think about and research things outside of the classroom. Part of that is how I naturally am, yes, but part of it is the base coursework. It was interesting and I need to remember that. Look, you can think this blog absolutely sucks, and on some days it likely does — but I never would have started this blog and written posts about employee engagement and all that without taking some of these classes. I did learn a lot, and it did make me think about things beyond just whether I was getting an A or a B. That’s a good thing.
I learned a lot about myself. This is maybe more important than anything. This was an interesting two years: I got married, I got a Masters’ degree, and I lived in a place I had never lived before and probably never assumed I would live. That’s a lot of “life milestones” to pack into 22 months (oh, and I became Catholic in that span too). I learned a lot about who I am and what I value — and I don’t mean that in the sense of answering the “where do you want to be in five years” question, but rather in the sense of what makes me tick and what I need to remember about myself. I came in here with a whole different set of expectations for how this would go — get job, maybe start having kids — and I exited with an entirely different idea on how things unfold and how much control you have over certain elements. I think that was a valuable lesson for me. The other thing in this context is this: I have some great friends, even if maybe they can’t do anything for me on the job networking front (kidding). From afar, I’ve been able to look at their successes and figure out what they do that I don’t necessarily do, and then try to adjust some of my own cons into pros. No one has life figured out, even the people that seem to. But … your friends can be pretty great exemplars from time to time.
A Couple Of Things I Learned
A narrative is really important on the job search side. Like I said above, some recruiters will deal with 200+ resumes. A Google recruiter may be dealing with 2,000+. Even though they have an ideal around dedicating time to each one, they can’t possibly. Remember: these are people who also attend meetings, do phone screens, etc, etc. You’re realistically talking about six-10 seconds per, if that (on the resume) and quite possibly not even a glance at the cover letter (although a strong one can help). Over time, I’ve come to think that the two most important aspects of the whole process are the context of networking (making sure that whoever is recommending you does the hand-off properly) and your narrative. By “your narrative,” I mean someone has to look at a piece of paper about you and figure out within 10 seconds “OK, this person is in X-Group” or “has done Y-things.” If your narrative gets skewed — if you went from being a newspaper journalist to a nurse, for example — a lot of recruiters will just chuck your resume. It’s too hard to see the jump without context, and in a 200+ applicant pool, context is essentially meaningless. So: focus on preparing those who network for you, and focus on crafting a succinct, effective personal narrative about where you’ve been and where you’re going. Those things resonate the most.
Keep things in perspective. Some stuff sucks right now, sure. Some stuff is also great. In three years, some other stuff will suck, and some different stuff will be great. In six years, it may be the same as now with different background. No one really knows. This paragraph can get big-time cliche alert, but basically you can sum up everything you know about life in three words: It goes on. Also: it’s a learning experience. Never stop doing that, whether you’re in school, in a cubicle, traveling South America, whatever. Just keep growing and getting better and things can/will work out.
Look, people say to me all the time “Oh, now you have a Masters?! You’ll be fine!” On my best days, I fervently believe that. On my worst, I think I could be one of those Huffington Post sob stories in 2.5 years: “Man drops $XX on education, still unemployed!” I’m keeping things in perspective and I’m getting up tomorrow and grinding on the next opportunity. And to all those who have supported me, indirectly or directly: thank you so much. I appreciate you more than any crappy blog post could ever adequately express.