There are few things I’ve come to loathe more in life than searching for work. While I’ve always loved the thought of using my skills and talents to benefit the world in a meaningful way, I dread all the steps in between: the uncertainty of applications, the nervousness before interviews, the endless — and I mean endless — revisions of cover letters.
Now that I’m finishing up grad school, I’ve finally had to face the reality of looking for full-time work. Truth be told, the process hasn’t been easy: in fact, it’s been full of lots of self-doubt and setbacks. I’ve also had to deal with the competitive nature of the job market, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. But over time, I’ve identified four steps that have helped me maintain morale during my job hunt.
Create a support system
In my experience, job hunting has been stressful and emotionally taxing. But I’ve also been comforted by my support system, which consists of close friends and family members. Since I’ve been abroad for grad school, I regularly update them on my job hunt over FaceTime and text message group chats, which helps me feel like I’m not going through this stress all by myself.
Many of my close friends are in a similar place in life: Like me, they’re searching for their first jobs. The last time I caught up with an old friend over lunch, we shared life updates, leading to venting about our job hunting experience. It turns out, my friend had been feeling discouraged and frustrated by their efforts thus far, too.
Knowing that my friend understood what I’m going through helped me feel validated and reminded me that I’m not alone. We now regularly text each other about updates in our job seeking adventures.
Meanwhile, my family members, who have experienced job hunting themselves many times over, have given me helpful tips from their own working lives — such as to always send thank-you notes after interviews. They also send job postings my way if they think I’d be a good fit. Plus, they offer me emotional support: They hype me up when I get positive news and offer me hugs during times of disappointment.
When I first started my job search, I was eager to apply to as many positions as I possibly could. After applying to 10 jobs a day for a few weeks with nothing to show for it, I felt burnt out and began to resent the process of applying. What was the point of applying to so many different positions, only to be met with rejections or silence each time?
Reflecting on this approach, I realized that in prioritizing the quantity of my applications, their quality had suffered, along with my mental health. My cover letters were generic; I didn’t spend much time tailoring my CV; and I had put barely any time into my hobbies, making me feel restless and bored.
To solve this issue, I committed myself to only three applications per day. After doing this, I found that I was able to focus on composing stronger and more detailed applications, while also leaving time for activities I find fun, like arts and crafts or cooking.
Learn something new
As I scoured job boards, I found a lot of listings in my field — public policy — that interested me. But there was a major problem: Many of them required candidates to be proficient in quantitative analysis in a social science context. I barely had quantitative skills — I was a writer and liberal arts major straight out of college with no formal research experience.
Seeing that so many listings required quantitative competencies forced me to think creatively. Instead of disqualifying myself from these jobs, why couldn’t I qualify myself for them instead by learning what they needed? After all, I love learning new things.
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It was great timing — the next week, I noticed an ad in the school newsletter for free statistical software workshops. So, I jumped on the opportunity and signed up. If you’re a fellow student, it’s worth contacting your school’s career or personal development centers to see if they offer skills workshops.
I’m still working on building enough proficiency to be able to list this new software as a skill on my CV, but I feel empowered knowing that I’m using my free time to make myself a stronger candidate.
Had a bad day? Create a better one
A few weeks ago, I was elated to receive an interview for a position that seemed like a perfect fit at a company I was really excited about. After bringing my A game to the interview and getting praised by the interviewers, I thought I had finally gotten my big break — only to receive a generic rejection letter. I was absolutely crushed.
I cried for a bit, spoke to my support system, and accepted that this day, well…sucked. But the next day didn’t have to! The next day, after finishing my classes and errands, I vowed to do only things that I enjoyed. I went to a nearby restaurant I’ve always wanted to try for dinner, followed by a fancy dessert and a trip to a music store to purchase an album from one of my favorite groups.
While treating myself to these luxuries isn’t something that I could (nor should) do every day, indulging a little bit helped me remind myself that I am worthy of enjoying life and having fun. And that is something that will always be true, no matter my employment status or the outcome of a job interview.
Originally published April 25, 2022.