As a young, passionate graduate with a Masters from a recognized university, call me naïve to think job hunting wouldn’t be next to impossible. The comms industry is big and vast with thousands of jobs around the world being dangled in front of your face like a carrot. In my dreams I was skipping along shoving jobs I simply didn’t want out of my face and gracefully grasping a few that seemed enticing. Well, reality stinks. Job-hunting is probably one of the most frustrating and defeating tasks I think today’s upcoming young professionals are facing. If you’re not a doctor of some sort or seeking a career as a computer engineer, it just isn’t that easy. There are a few key things I’ve learned along the way (partly through my own mistakes), but in the meantime, I’m still on the hunt:
- Don’t under- or over-estimate the questionable internship.
Internships are great. They get you experience and often result in networking opportunities that could hand you your first job. The problem that youth face is the unpaid internship. Although companies are starting to brush up and realize that free labour is unjust, there are still plenty of unpaid internships out there, commonly among non-profits (seems obvious), international relations like the UN, or smaller businesses. In the UK, there is now the loophole of ‘work experience’, but work experience should be valued at what it is: an opportunity to get a taste of certain positions. I think it would be wrong to go into work experience thinking it will result in a job offer or a plethora of new network connections. It is a few weeks of being a slave. On the plus side, it’s great to get a feel for an industry or company and definitely a great use of time during university holidays. Unpaid internships are tricky: on the one hand, you could build a great network and perhaps get a lead into a future job. On the flipside, you may end up simply being used as free labour and working for a company that really has no interest or ability to hire interns simply out of a lack of job opportunities (as I’ve been told is common in the Vancouver publishing industry). My advice? Know your value. There is a certain point where you have to evaluate your self worth and realize that your work is not free. Do a few internships at the beginning (preferably for companies you’re actually interested in working for), build your network and skills, but know when enough is enough. Eventually, all you’ll be doing is supporting companies that take advantage of young unemployed professionals. If you do take on the unpaid ones, make a financial plan well in advance and weigh it out with the cost of education. From personal experience, I’m now kicking myself for throwing all my financial eggs in the education basket and not giving myself a safety net for gaining some practical skills.
- Those few years of education are for a hell of a lot more than learning.
The one and only reason I wish I could do my Masters all over again is to continue the networking I began. While professors may sometimes seem dull standing at the front of a lecture hall, they typically know people outside of academia – sometimes through their own research or their previous careers – and they actually WANT to help you (most of the time). Schools get better ratings when their alumni are employed and better ratings can lead to better funding. If you’re looking for internships while you’re in school, ask your professors who teach in that area. Find out what events or lectures the school puts on in that field. Use the careers centre (I wish I’d done this more!). I sometimes even met with my professors to get their opinion on a company I was interested in or advice on applications. If nothing else, this puts across your passion and drive, which may pay off both professionally and academically. While all of this info may seem obvious, the reality is – or at least what I found – most students don’t start this early enough. The sooner you begin networking and getting to know your professors personally, the more they’ll feel inclined to help you and remember your face when opportunities pop up. It sounds shallow, but in my experience, it’s very true.
- The Triple C: Customized Cover Letters and CVs
I’ve been staring at my CV for weeks now, and I feel I’m beginning to resent it. I feel like this silly piece of paper holds my future and the more I scrutinize its formatting and its content, the more I want to tear it into tiny pieces that I can burn one by one. I have a slightly unconventional format for a CV and after tons of feedback, I’ve decided it’s acceptable for my career track. But that doesn’t mean I’m attached to it. My roommate in London always told me job hunting is a numbers game. Employers are getting hundreds of CVs and yours isn’t always going to get pulled out of the mix. There will always be someone out there more qualified than you, so sometimes it’s the luck of the draw. With this in mind, it’s important to mass-send applications, right? Kind of. Yes, I think it’s important to get a lot of applications out there, but quality cannot be a compromise. My suggestion? Pick a few companies that you’re really interested in and desperately want to work for. Do in-depth research about those companies. Follow them on social media. Look up their employees on LinkedIn. Make a CV and cover letter that fit their brand. Yes, it’s okay to have templates of CVs and cover letters, but don’t undervalue the importance of personalized and customized applications. Another key thing I’m still learning is about communication methods: from my experience, email is not a personal method of contact. Try contacting the company’s HR or find out if you can deliver your CV in person and maybe even set up an informational interview. Emails are easily dismissible, especially in busy and fast-paced companies. And be patient, yet persistent. That may seem like a contradiction in words, but it’s a fine art. If you show continued interest and push to get your foot in the door, an employer can appreciate that, but respect the fact that these are busy people and the last thing you want to do is piss them off.
- Be a realistic dreamer.
When you’re hunting for your dream career, it’s always difficult to hear that it’s unrealistic and it won’t happen. I feel like I’ve been hearing this since before I even started hunting. Scratch that, I’ve been hearing this my whole life! I think the smarter way to approach your dream career is tactfully. Look on LinkedIn at professionals who already have your dream job and see where they started off. While there’s a million ways to get to the top and part of that journey is also luck and connections, it can give you a great idea of what sort of job titles you should be looking at when you’re starting off. Another difficult lesson I’ve had to learn is that some experience is better than none. Sometimes it’s less about the title and more about the skills you’ll acquire. For example, you may not be dreaming of a career as a PR maven, but PR offers a lot of skills that apply to other areas of communications. It’s definitely worth broadening your scope of industries and job titles, especially in your first full-time role. With that said, don’t let go of the dreamer in you. This is something I’m definitely still struggling through, but I think the key is taking the bigger dream and breaking it down into baby steps.
- Remember that this whole thing takes a while.
I feel like I’m constantly hearing about friends who just fall into jobs right after graduation, and it makes me wonder if I missed something along the way. While it’s a difficult answer to accept, the reality is those people are usually extremely lucky. Job-hunting can be a long process. The other day I spoke with a friend who’s an illustrator and job searched for nine months. That’s almost a year of job-hunting stress! What’s important is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Yes, it would be great to land a job a few weeks after graduation, but chances are it will take several months and it’s important to have some plan to tide you over until then (financially and schedule wise – if I didn’t have activities to distract me, I think I’d be a ball of depression and hopelessness by now). Developing a strategy, creating a goal, and keeping optimistic are all important things to balance in this process.
Okay, so maybe these things seem like no-brainers, but I think they’re all essential elements to keep in mind in those last years of school and in the first few months afterwards. Have I mastered them? Not by any means, but then again, most of these considerations can always be improved upon throughout your career. I’ve been told this all gets easier after landing your first job, and the career will start to flow. As a hopeful person, I’m banking on that advice.