I’m Employed!

That’s right!  I have real life, full-time, post graduation, big kid PR job.  I start today as an account coordinator for Kel & Partners, a web 2.0 marketing and public relations agency.  I’m proud that all of the internships, extracurriculars, blogging and networking has finally paid off.  I’m very grateful for this opportunity.

However, the purpose of this post is not to tute my own horn.  Rather, I just want to share some honest advice to all the other 2009 grads out there who are looking for jobs.  I’m no expert, but here are some things that worked for me:

1. I didn’t look for jobs, I looked for companies

I’m not a huge fan of job posting websites. Let’s not beat around the bush: I’m talking about Careerbuilder and Monster.  I think these websites tempt people into applying for hundreds of jobs they either don’t really want or aren’t really qualified for.  I think it gives you a false sense of accomplishment and a heightened sense of frustration when you never hear back from these places.

A friend of mine did a corporate communications internship last summer. She was a rock star intern, so they kept her around for the fall.  When she graduated in December, they created a full-time position for her.  However, before she could officially start the job, they had to list the job on a couple of websites for equal opportunity/ legal/ HR purposes.  So even though the job was created for her, they listed it anyway.  I’m sure they received tons of resumes from hopeful candidates who never had a shot…

It wouldn’t be wise to completely disregard job listing websites. There are absolutely “real” jobs listed from legitimate companies. However, I like to think of them more as job search tour guides rather than The Source of open positions.  Use them as a supplement to good old fashioned networking. Check out what companies are (supposedly) hiring on those job boards.  Check out their websites.  Go through your LinkedIn network – are you connected to anyone who works there?  Can you find out if there are any other opportunities at the company that aren’t listed online?  More importantly, what type of company is it?  What do they do, and how do they do it?  Are they deserving of your awesomeness?  It takes a long time to customize your resume and cover letter for each company you send them to.  Do not waste your time writing, editing, nit-picking and re-writing unless you actually want to work there. Your time is worth more than that.  Quality, not quantity, baby.  Quality, not quantity.

2. Informational interviews!!!!

My original contact with my company was through an informational phone interview back in February.  When you are just approaching a company asking to have a casual, informative conversation, you aren’t putting the potential employer on the spot.  You’re basically just two people, talking shop.  The advice I got from these interviews was extremely influential.  The feedback was incredibly helpful.  I think informational interviews are the new pink.

3. I kept my chin up

Unemployment is the worst. It feels like failure.  It feels inadequate, lazy, hopeless, boring – and most of all, like you are not in control of your destiny. (And I really really really hate that.)

Personally, I’ve ignored a lot of news since January, when economic things really started to go to hell. Whenever the news reporters started talking about lay-offs or stock markets or bailouts, I turned the channel and watched something happy and frivilous.  (My top recommendations include What Not to Wear, the Bachelor/Bachelorette, Flight of the Conchords and Bridezillas.)

Although being informed is important, I think having a positive attitude during the job search is much much more important.  Ignorance is bliss.  Dwelling on the thousands of workers who got laid off at a company a million states away from you in an industry that has nothing to do with you won’t motivate you to hunt for a job.  It’ll give you an excuse to mope around in your jammies and feel sorry for yourself that you graduated at such a difficult time.  That kind of information will intimidate you from trying.  You need to surround yourself with positive information.  Spite the recession like he’s your ex and keep trying.  You have to keep trying.  You owe it to yourself to keep trying.

Seriously, turn the channel, and look at every action you take toward getting a job as an accomplishment.

I hope that somewhere there is someone who will be a little inspired by this.  I’m very excited to start my professional career, and I will continue to blog about public relations and social media at this website.  In addition, I have a strong interest in career development so I may ponder that topic from time to time. (If you want to learn about career advice from someone who really knows what she’s talking about – read Heather Huhman’s column on Examiner.com.)

Last but not least, I just wanted to give a shout out to my parents, my brother, my best friends, and my adorable boyfriend – all who supported me through this journey.  Job or no job, cash-money or broke, you people love me for me and I cherish our relationships.

A Degree Isn’t a Job Guarantee

This NY Post article has me razzled.  A 27-year-old graduate of Monroe College is suing her alma mater because she can’t find a job.  I’m sorry, Gradzilla, but a career services counselor isn’t your Fairy Godmother and a bachelor’s degree isn’t a magic wand.  Just because you went to college does not mean you are entitled to a job.

From a young age we are told that if we go to school, study hard, get good grades, and go to a great college, we can be anything we want to be.  Politicians and some well-meaning yet self-preserving educators alike pound the inflated-importance of college into our heads.

This message has a negative impact on just about every student.  The truth is that college is overrated.  Not every student can graduate in the top ten and get into a really “good school.”  Consequently, those students feel discouraged about the prospects of future success just because of their academic track records.  On the flip-side, those who do get the grades and get into “good schools” can’t rely only on their education to get ahead.   College isn’t the golden ticket to success.  It is a stepping stone.

Here’s my story:  I went to school.  I studied hard. But no matter how hard I tried, I sucked at math and sucked at science.  I’m not sure which one I sucked more at.  I clearly remember third grade, little Janet, scoring less than 50 percent on some addition/subtraction homework and sitting there wondering what the eff was going on when the teacher rambled about tadpoles and ecosystems.  Honestly, I still suck at math and I still suck at science; I always need a calculator to figure out what to tip and quite frankly I don’t always understand what they are talking about on the Weather Channel.  (So I smile and nod, flip my hair, and blog about it.)

No writing award or A in English or history class could overcompensate for the less-than-stellar grades I got in math and science.  My GPA was around a 90 percent.  It was decent, but wasn’t awesome enough to get me into my dream school.  In high school, I was surrounded by the idea that failing to get into *the* college (an ivy league or something close to it) was a self-imposed life-sentence to mediocrity.  Heading to your safety school?  Get ready for a lifetime living at home with mom and dad. Scored less than a 1500 on the SAT? You might as well sign up for welfare.

In contrast, many kids succeed academically.  Some have to work extremely hard at it.  For others, it comes quite easily.  Either way, we throw them up on a pedestal, toss academic awards their way, accept them into prestigious colleges, and fill their heads with a false sense of security.

Millenials are all-too-often criticized for their supposed sense of entitlement.  I think the alleged “you owe me” factor stems from a lifetime of homework, standardized testing, over-nighters and intense pressure to scholastically achieve – all leading to the allusive light at the end of the tunnel: graduation. Students come out of college, pockets empty, heads full of theoretical facts and knowledge, slapped in the face with the fact that getting good grades and getting a good degree from a “good school” just isn’t enough.  Everything you ever worked for doesn’t cut it.  That’s not entitlement you sense.  It’s disappointment.

To peel back another layer of the issue, I think there’s a point to make about the financials behind the frustration.  Many internships are unpaid.  Extracurricular involvement is unpaid. Membership in professional organizations and attendance at networking conferences usually costs money.  Personally, I was able to do multiple unpaid internships and be an extracurricular junkie because I got a lot of financial help from my wonderful parents.  They’re generous, and career-wise they are in a position to help.  But what about the students who are paying for college on their own?  Many students work full-time just to pay for the education.  How do they fit in anything other than class work?

I feel for students like this.  As for those in this situation, in my humble opinion, I would suggest going part time and taking an extra year or two to finish the degree.  Even if it takes longer, it seems to me that it would be a much wiser investment to come out with a degree and have the time to work, intern, and network – as opposed to rushing through and graduating with no industry experience at all.

Times are different for graduates these days.  A degree doesn’t give you an extra edge in the job market when just about everybody has one.  You need internships.  You need real world experience.  You need to network.  No one will hire you (legally) to write a term paper.  You need to gain skills that will apply in a setting outside of the classroom so that you can contribute something a company can pay you for.

When it comes to college, the old saying is true: It isn’t where you go – it’s what you do with it.

College is a business.  Businesses want to make money.  To make money, businesses market themselves to you to sell you a product or service.  Colleges want you to pay tuition, so they sell you degrees.  To get you to attend and pay tuition, they market their brand to you.  They brand themselves with promises of prestige, job placement, mentorship, challenge, fun, experiences, status, and success.  And you know what?  College can be fun, but you can’t have fun if you don’t go to the party.  College can be challenging, but you can’t be challenged if you don’t go to class.  College can offer status, but you can’t earn status if you don’t network with the alums. College can offer prestige, but that means nothing if you don’t leverage that reputation and apply for a job or an internship.

I’m a fresh graduate, and hindsight is 20/20.  What I know and feel about education becomes clearer every day.  By this time next year, I’m sure that my understanding and appreciation for education will change, and deepen.  But what I know for sure is this: I wouldn’t give back a single night that I cried over my math homework or a single sunny afternoon I spent after school getting extra help from my chemistry teacher.  It taught me that things don’t always come easily.  Because of my issues and inabilities with math and science, I’ve always expected that I would have to go the extra mile to get what I want – so I do.  It prepared me for the challenge, and sometimes failure, of searching for internships and jobs.  In the end, I don’t think I needed my dream school.