My Job Search Journey
Today’s guest post is by Rachel Esterline.
I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not to write about my job search. From the reason behind the decision to leave the agency world to the interview process itself, it’s been a roller coaster of a journey. However, I’ve received several direct messages and emails from other young professionals who are thinking of making a move from their current job. I hope that sharing my story can help those who are starting their job search journey right now.
Last January, I started to
freak out think about where I saw my career heading. I’d always been very passionate about what I did, and I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. It’s hard to explain. Since my freshman year of college, I knew that I wanted to work at an agency. I’d focused my internships and professional development on this for several years. I’d even thought I wanted to start my own agency someday. It was very hard to accept that all I had worked towards no longer fit who I had become as a young professional.
I called a former professor and he asked me what I wanted to do. I said I was most interested in getting a job in the nonprofit sector or in higher education. It was that month that I officially began my job search, applying to nonprofits, educational institutions and even corporations. I didn’t apply to a single agency.
Here’s the part that I don’t want to admit, but will anyway: I applied for 21 different jobs between January and October. This resulted in 10 different companies conducting a total of five phone interviews and 10 in-person interviews (this includes first and second in-person interviews). I also turned down two in-person interviews – one because it didn’t sound like what I wanted after the phone interview and the other because the salary was too low.
It was exciting, frustrating and overwhelming. I had to complete assignments after a long day at work. I had to find a way to deal with the seemingly never-ending rejections from people who said I didn’t have enough experience for the position. I was thrilled every time someone called to schedule an interview and enjoyed the challenge of presenting myself just right for each opportunity.
On Monday, Nov. 14, I was offered a position at a nonprofit community foundation. I was ecstatic. Throughout the interview process, I could tell the job would be a fantastic fit. I was excited that I would get to “do it all” – from media relations to marketing to social media. One of my friends says that my face lights up whenever I talk about my job.
I never imagined my job search would take so long or that I would go through so many fruitless interviews. Between January and November, I was interviewed by two universities, a community college, a credit union, a national construction company, one of the “Big Three” automotive companies, a health insurance company, a software company and two nonprofits.
Here are five lessons I learned throughout the process:
- Only apply for jobs you want, don’t be afraid to apply above your level of experience and only accept interviews if you’re still interested. I believe it’s disrespectful to waste other people’s time. You should only apply to places you actually want to work. Go ahead and apply even if you don’t have the years of experience they recommend in the job description if the experience you have could support you in that position. And, you should only take the interview if you’re still interested in the position.
- Ask bold questions. I started to ask, “Is there anything about my experience that concerns you?” Then, when the “lack of experience” issue was mentioned, I could address it head on. Plus, it was nice to know why I probably wasn’t going to get the job (h/t to Nathan Burgess/@prcog for recommending that I start asking this). A few people stuttered. One company said, “We wouldn’t have brought you in if we had any concerns.” But, often enough, I was able to address legitimate concerns that the interviewer had about me.
- Use your connections and references. I often leveraged connections at companies to get me in for an interview. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help. In terms of references , be sure to give people a heads up. I would always send a copy of my resume and cover letter to my references, along with the job description, so they wouldn’t be caught off guard.
- Be yourself. By the time I interviewed with both the foundation and the software company, I wasn’t as affected by the pressure of interviewing. I’d started to go in with the “This is me. You either like me or you don’t.” type of attitude. A few times I said things in both interviews that were a bit too blunt. I winced when I thought of what I said, but then decided it was best that they see my true personality up front.
- Help with the transition. Giving notice at the agency was nerve-wrecking. I knew it was a bad time to be leaving, but I also knew I had to do what was right for me. When I met with my bosses to tell them I was leaving in less than two weeks, I had a list of all my current jobs. I had noted which ones I could finish by the time I left, and who could take over the other jobs. I’d begun to keep a binder of every single project I worked on for my primary client, and prepped that to be passed on. I also wrote a job description and helped bring people in for interviews.