I spent 17 months searching for my first job — here are 4 mistakes to avoid.
Trying to find your first job in your field out of college can be difficult. Read this recent graduate’s story and avoid making four important mistakes in your first entry-level job search.
By: Daniela Santos | Guest Contributor for Let’s Eat, Grandma
I was going through my morning routine when I received a notification on my phone. Before fully unlocking it, I noticed “job offer” in the subject line and started tearing up.
I opened the email to see if it was too good to be true. After confirming to myself that this was indeed real, I hesitantly headed downstairs, hugged my sister, and told my dad the news. In a time where I’d resorted to feeling numb, I was so relieved I began crying tears of joy. For a second, it finally felt like my life could finally un-pause.
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I’ll admit it, seeing my peers share their “I GOT A JOB!” announcements on social media took a toll on me. It felt like everyone, except me, was getting a job. What added salt to the wound was when it seemed like people had to distinguish themselves in some way because simply announcing employment was not enough to share.
Instead of having my own braggadocious moment on social media, I want to draw back the curtain to share my mishaps and remind readers that this process can be difficult.
The search for a job in my field began a little before graduating from college, but it wasn’t until this most recent round of applications that I felt truly secure in how I presented myself to potential employers. These past 17 months took perseverance, but I would be remiss if I did not admit that I made plenty of mistakes that may have delayed this process.
Mistake #1: Thinking this would be easy
I graduated a quarter early (March 2019) and believed I would get a job by the time I would walk with the rest of my graduating class in June. I partially blame this on my previous internships since I was able to get them without applying to any backup options. I wrongly believed my resume could speak for itself and that getting asked to interview meant I already had the job.
During this time, I would find and save applications, but not apply to them until it was too late and the listing was no longer up. My head was not in the right place. I was more excited about the things that could come with getting a job than the logistics of getting from point A to point B.
Mistake #2: Refusing to be an intern again
This is a good time to say that I recognize my privilege in being able to live with my parents and not feel rushed to get a full-time job right away to make rent. I was in a good place to continue to grow professionally with another internship to fill any gaps in my qualifications and become a more viable candidate.
But the Daniela in the middle of 2019 refused to see that logic. So due to my nonsensical thinking, I rejected an interview with a local publication because it was not for a 9-to-5 job…
The realization that another internship could be a good idea came after months of job searching and noticing patterns in job descriptions. I recognized that my next experience needed to build on my previous work and be centered on the type of career I wanted.
This influenced me to take a break from pursuing a career in journalism and instead concentrate on roles in the public relations sphere since that was where my internships were. My new goal was to intern for a larger agency so I could prove that I can diligently handle work for multiple clients.
This is what led me to experience life in Washington D.C. as a PR intern for CURA Strategies (you can learn more about that experience in my intern retrospective). This internship presented new challenges and taught me how to adapt to new situations quickly, preparing me more fully for my next opportunity.
Mistake #3: Blindly applying to positions
I was given advice early in my search to apply to as many jobs as possible. I may have taken this too literally.
To keep track of what jobs I applied for, I created a spreadsheet to list details about each job (not a bad idea!) But I will admit it: if I were to look at the spreadsheet for my first round of applications, I would not be able to properly tell anyone who the jobs were for or what their industries were.
Barely any of them were for PR agencies. The spectrum of jobs I applied for included administrative work, copywriting, marketing, and sales jobs disguised as marketing positions. My most random application was for a curator assistant role, even though I didn’t have any art history background!
Now, having done this for a while, I’ve learned that my first approach to job searching was setting me up for failure. By not paying attention to the organizations I was applying to, not narrowing in on roles where I felt the most qualified, and only skimming the job descriptions, I was unable to present myself in the best light possible and was essentially wasting my time.
Mistake #4: Giving up
In early August of 2019, I quit my part-time job to fully commit myself to my applications. But by late October I had halted my job search to work full-time as a bank teller in hopes of moving up the company ladder to hopefully reach their communications or marketing department.
Although there were good intentions with this move, this decision came from desperation. At that time, I no longer believed my experience and education were enough to get me an entry-level job in my field.
Luckily, one opportunity arose that I felt was worth considering despite just starting this new job. From October to about January, I completely stopped applying to jobs with the exception of one application — the CURA PR internship in D.C.! Little did I know that this break from job searching would allow me to focus all my energy on just one application and the new teller job would end up funding my move across the country.
Although I mention “giving up” as a mistake because I believed I couldn’t get the job I wanted, this low point did enable me to re-evaluate my situation and hit the refresh button, which led to my newest opportunity. In many ways, this was a “mistake” I do not regret in hindsight.
Managing an Entry-Level Job Search during COVID-19
Halfway through my CURA internship (mid-February), I started a full-fledged job search again with the intention of not blindly applying and curating my resume and cover letter to match each job description. I connected with friends from college who worked in my desired field and asked if they could review my resume. My sister was even my copy editor for a moment which was a big help too!
My new goal was to get a job in my field back in Colorado following my internship. But plans inevitably changed when COVID-19 hit and I returned home sooner than I thought. I was disappointed by all the emails from potential employers letting me know that their job postings would be halted due to the virus. As a result, I also stopped sending applications and just focused on my newly remote internship.
I then resumed this most recent round of applications immediately after completing my internship in May. The job market was not ideal, but at least companies by then were comfortable working remotely enough to open a few job listings and onboard people at a distance — at least that was what I told myself.
These past two-and-half months, despite my feeling more comfortable with the application process and using my resources more wisely, felt the most discouraging — but I was determined to not give up this time.
Although they meant well, loved ones asked if I was doing “enough” or completing the applications “correctly.” I was flooded with posts from the Class of 2020 sharing their straight-out-of-school job offers. I was even doubted by a mentor in the name of not getting my hopes up. After going through this job search process for over a year AND searching for a job during a pandemic, I soon learned to give myself room to breathe and step away from my computer.
Instead of doubting myself to the point of completely stopping my job search, I instead continuously saved new listings and applied to jobs in smaller chunks. I would not shame myself for not applying to everything that crossed my way and would focus on the positions that excited me.
When I felt exhausted, I would take a break from applications to do other things that would improve my prospects, including creating a portfolio website, updating my LinkedIn, or chatting with an old colleague/classmate.
And at long last, this new strategy landed me an awesome full-time job.
Something I wish others could have reminded me throughout this year-and-a-half is to not underestimate myself or my experiences. Job searching is all a matter of patience, being open to new opportunities, and being strategic about how we communicate our experience to potential employers.
We usually see the “I GOT A JOB!” announcements without hearing about the struggle and persistence that led to that accomplishment. I hope highlighting my mistakes and hardships can encourage others to continue their pursuit of a job and understand that everyone goes through life at their own pace. I hope this helps you to avoid feeling discouraged during this difficult time!
About the Author
Daniela Santos is a public relations professional from Denver, CO. She graduated in 2019 from the University of Denver with a double major in Strategic Communication and Political Science. When not over-analyzing films at home, you can find her attending shows or art exhibits. Follow her on Twitter @concernedvirgo or on her blog.
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