Notes From My Post-College Job Search Part 1

You know what I dislike the most about my job search? I don’t like that I often feel as if my resume and cover letter disappear into cyberspace, I don’t like interviews, and I hate phone interviews. Writing cover letters can kind of suck. Feeling like a zombie and forgetting where you’ve actually applied and where you couldn’t see any possibilities isn’t so great either. The worst part of all of it, though, is the need to put on a show.

I often feel as if I need to be initiated into the etiquette of business and job searches. I feel out of place, young, and naive at almost every meeting or interview I go to. People seem to have this odd expectation that I’m going to display a maturity and knowledge beyond my years even when I’m applying for an entry-level position. I never know how acceptable it is to admit I’m a little lost or overwhelmed. I never know if I should say that I am trying to start a career from scratch, but my job search isn’t honed in on one ultimate goal or position. I hate that even when you apply for a position that lists 0-2 years of experience, you’re expected to be able to talk knowledgeably about the work you’d be doing in that position.

I have so many questions, and I can’t seem to find answers for most of them. When is it okay to add people to my LinkedIn network? When is it all right to call people by their first names? How formal do I need to be? Am I even allowed to make jokes? What can I ask about in an interview – I know things like salary and benefits are off limits, but there’s a lot of other stuff left in a grey area.*

I don’t know the answer to most of my questions, and the majority of them don’t have easy-to-find answers available online. I have no mentor to ask and most of my friends are in a similar situation to mine. I grew up in a solidly blue collar household, went to (very good) public schools, and am now expected to enter a completely unfamiliar world.**

I am so tired of having to put up a front for recruiters. I do want to tell them about my accomplishments and what makes me a great candidate, and I understand the need for a certain amount of formality, but I’m tired of feeling fake. I don’t want to be in an interview and feel like it’s almost expected of me to fake everything from simple confidence to certainty that my Excel skills will be adequate for a given position.

A speaker, talking about career advice and interviews at Dickinson, once said you should never use phrases like, “to be completely honest” or “honestly” during an interview because it implies you weren’t being completely honest before. That may be true, and I’ve avoided all such phrases in professional situations, but there is a reason people use those phrases. I resort to such phrases when I’ve been honest while also being diplomatic, but the question calls for a more straightforward answer. I hate that I have to put up special barriers every time I enter into a professional conversation or an interview.

I would love if I could go into an interview and be myself. I don’t mean that I want to be able to go into an interview and talk about atheism and feminism and all of that, but I do mean that I want to be able to wear pants with my suit jacket if I feel like it and not worry about it affecting my chances. I want to be able to talk about my activities and my college with candor. I want to be able to admit, without trying to diplomatically twist, that Dickinson College wasn’t the best choice for me. I want to be able to admit, without diplomatically twisting my words, a lot of different things.

I want to be able to talk about my leadership experience with Secularist Students United without ignoring its purpose as a secular community. I want to be able to say that, while being an Orientation Assistant taught me a fair amount about leadership, the system was not well designed and I didn’t feel effective. I want to be able to say the truth without diplomatically twisting everything into something that applies directly to the position for which I’m applying. The truth is, most people’s backgrounds in a liberal arts college do not prep them directly for the workforce. To try to push our experiences into that framework is like trying to milk a bird.

Maybe I should just focus on finding a job for the year and applying to graduate schools. I’m starting to think I’m not quite cut out for a corporate desk job – at least not the ones available right now.

*Please note that I don’t want you to answer these for me. Seriously, don’t leave a comment telling me the answer to these specific questions – I’m simply illustrating a point.

**One might argue I entered such a world when I went to Dickinson College, but the truth is most of my friends were from relatively similar financial situations as myself.

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6 thoughts on “Notes From My Post-College Job Search Part 1

  1. MJ says:

    Hate to tell you this, but it doesn’t get much better after you’ve had several years of work experience.

    And now for unsolicited advice, because I’ve been in your position (thanks, Classics degree!) and it blows: if you’re not doing it already, volunteer like crazy. You can get good references, develop tons of basic job skills, and even develop great professional networks if you pick the right places. I’ve gotten two of three full-time, benefited jobs from volunteer positions so far. Volunteering helped with the interview (I already knew the organizational culture, and felt much less nervous) and long-term job satisfaction (I knew the organizations, the people who worked there, and the negative parts of the workplace, so I knew I could at least deal with the crappy office politics that came up once I was full-time). I’m underemployed right now, but I’ve got one volunteer coordinator who is working with me to find job opportunities that match my abilities and hounding people to look at my resume which can only help me in the long run. Plus there’s that whole “doing something of social value while you’re unemployed” thing, which helps keep me from feeling useless or bored.

  2. Don’t rely on ciberspace to land a job. Knock on doors. Hit the pavement and take something to get some experience.

    • No offense, but from your about page it doesn’t seem like you have experience in the environment I’m looking at. And then there’s the problem with your assumption that I’m not networking.

  3. Duke Mantee says:

    Say the things you want to say! Wear pants! (Like really, who told you it was unacceptable for women to interview for jobs in pants?) I’ve been on both sides of the table, interviewing for paid and unpaid internships, for corporate jobs, for temp jobs, and I’ve interviewed interns and potential staff members. You, Amanda, are at heart an honest person. So don’t be afraid to be honest. You can say how some of your experiences were not in the best environments respectfully and talk about the solutions you came up with to get around things like ineffective structures and Dickinson’s bureaucratic nonsense. Silly rules like don’t wear pants or don’t say ‘to be honest’ are not accurate. Any amount of advice you may be able to glean from the internet or from speakers will ultimately be flawed because they are speaking about themselves and their experience. You need to say ‘This is me. This is what I did. This is how I succeeded, despite these obstacles.’ Honestly, I would so much rather see you being a person than being a drone with all of the right interview answers. Don’t be informal, but don’t be afraid to be a person.

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