Friday, November 9, 2012

College degree = No job? 6 tips to change the math

Dancer leaps onto Metro
I remember my first day in D.C. when I started my post-college fellowship on Capitol Hill. I wore my gray herringbone suit with a crisp white shirt and skinny blue and red tie. As I rushed across the street onto the metro, my tie flew over my shoulder just like all the models in high-end fashion magazines and I knew I had arrived. After getting into the swing of things, I starting leaping onto the metro just like this lady. I do think my technique was just a tad sharper though.

Like many others, I just knew that summer experience was going to land my dream job right before I boarded the plane returning to Kansas. I was going to make 50K, live in a high rise condo and order take-out every day. I was doing to be a D.C. socialite. Well, despite my delusions, I didn't get offered a job, I didn’t make millions (barely hundreds), and I definitely did board that plane back to Kansas. Today, however, I do have a great job in D.C., I live in a condo, and I am without a doubt making meals 10X better than any take out this city has to offer.

When I went back to Kansas, I moved into my parent’s basement and watched junk TV. After a couple weeks, I was ready to run away and see how I would survive as a couch surfer. Upon a day of research, I realized that was not my calling and I needed to kick my job search into high gear. I offer this advice to you based on my experiences and hope that it helps those of you currently looking for work.

Photo reads, "Your MOM called! She said, 'get a job'"
1) Behave like you have a job

Don't lie and tell people you work for company XYZ, but wake up in the mornings (like an employed person would do), and make searching for a job -- your job. Take your laptop to a coffee shop, library, park, wherever, and research what your next move is going to be. 

As my mentor told me, "I doubt your next interview will consist of questions about House Hunters or any HGTV shows, so you might want to do something more valuable with your time." The truth hurt, but I can honestly say that no one ever asked for my thoughts about granite vs. marble countertops.

2) Say it loud!

Don't be ashamed to let people know you are looking for work! You've heard it a million times: "It's not about what you know. It's who you know." While I don't entirely believe in this sentiment (you should know a little about the job you are applying for), it's critical that you keep in touch with old employers, colleagues and anyone in your network. Make every conversation an interview.

Prepare a 30 second elevator speech about your experience, interest, and goals that you can share with people during casual conversation. When you’re done talking with them, they should know exactly what type of work you’re look for. Always follow up by taking them out for coffee and having a more detailed conversation.
Clock reads, "30 SEC"
3) Be informed

Since you aren't working, there is no excuse to be behind in current events related to not only your field, but the world. Diversify your knowledge of what's going on in the world to make it easier to engage with unfamiliar people, then work in your 30-second elevator speech by mentioning how you've really gained an interest in topic Q while transitioning to a new field. This also comes in handy during interviews. Be informed about the latest trends in novels, blogs and arts so you can give a relevant answer to a potential employer. No one wants to hire someone who hasn't read a book in the past 10 years.

4) Stay relevant

Shawn poses with kids after tutoring
You're unemployed, not dead. When you're not job searching you should be volunteering in your community, ideally in a position related to your field of interest. As a disability advocate, I used my transition time to visit schools in my area and talk to students about disability inclusion and awareness. This was an enjoyable experience, and served as an extra skill to put on my resume. Launch a blog, start a cooking club -- engage people with what you are capable of.

5) Don't be a robot

You've finally got an interview for a job. You want it really bad, so you put on your poker face and give the most scripted predictable answers ever suggested. Be human -- crack jokes (nothing off color or crude) and share something about yourself without being asked. In a recent interview, I was asked what I did in my spare time for fun. I was caught off guard, fumbled the answer and the interview bombed from there.

Yes, the protocol remains for some aspects of the application process (thank-you notes, follow-ups, 1-page resumes), but one thing that's faded over the years is employers' desire for perfection in interviews. Employers know that you are nervous and take that into account. Quite honestly, pretending to be perfect only sets you up for failure if you actually get the job.

6) Try not to get down

It's tough. There were days I didn't leave the basement or answer phone calls. I would sleep all day and watch infomercials at night just so I wouldn't have to be around happy, active people. Yes, the first rejection letter was disappointing, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't approaching a breaking point when the sixth rejection letter came. That doesn't even take into account all the jobs that didn't even bother to send a letter. That's even more annoying. Despite the feelings of disappointment, I knew those jobs weren't the right place for me or I would have gotten them.


Believe that the job for you not only exists, but is for you and you alone. You are worthy of gainful employment that helps you reach your dreams. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below and I will certainly respond.

Believing in you,


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