You’ve finally graduated. But before you toss the books, hold on.
Your journey has barely started.
In October 2019, after I got my first job, I thought that the journey was over. But over the next 6 months, I would experience some of the hardest times of my life.
It was even harder than doing a thesis, whilst on placement. The 24 year old me had thought that was the hardest part of life.
But it wasn’t.
You might experience some of this as you look for a job, or even if you’re in a job now.
You might struggle to get the HR to pick up the call, when in university, you had a nice desk to walk to whenever you needed some help.
You might wonder why no one seems to reply your emails about the job you applied for.
Or you wonder why work seems to be more about who you hang out with, rather than the work you do.
Let’s get started.
In April 2022, after 5 months of not being able to get a job, I thought it might be a good idea to write a book on this experience. (I know, it sounds like the dumbest thing to do, especially when you’re broke.)
But doing this led me to 21 different career luminaries who shared some of the best advice I ever heard.
Here’s the best of the best.
Frame it as a job search, and not a job hunt
One fresh graduate, who had been searching for a job for more than a year, said this,
Over the year, I’ve found it dangerous to describe it as a job hunt. Because it frames it as a ‘do or die’ moment.
Whereas it’s not.
You can always find the next one. And the next.
It sounds like a simple linguistic change, but it can change how you approach this particular issue.
Searching for a job can seem like the hardest thing, especially when you’ve traditionally been put on the right paths from young.
You haven’t really been placed in a situation where you’re constantly rejected.
Learn to deal with rejection
Mind you, you will get rejected. The faster you get to terms with that, the faster you will learn how to move on.
At one point after 63 rejected applications, I was close to crying. That night, as I walked down the park, I found myself asking,
Why is it so hard for anyone to see my value?
Why doesn’t anyone recognise what I can bring?
The oft-cited advice is to say,
Oh it’s their loss, not yours.
This isn’t great advice, because it brushes aside the fact that you did really want their job, and that you would slowly find yourself being brusque and abrasive with other jobs, since you have the attitude of ‘hire me if you want to, screw off if you don’t’.
Employers don’t like that.
What might work better is for you to acknowledge that it was painful, and to remind yourself of the qualities that do exist in you.
For example, you could write a love letter to yourself whereby you celebrate your qualities and how you’ve shown them in the past.
This is advice from Guy Winch, in his book ‘Emotional First Aid’, where he reminds readers to affirm themselves after rejection.
Pull those connections
If you’ve got someone who could hire you, pull the connection.
Don’t just leave it, saying,
oh that’s cheating.
I would rather get a job on my own merits.
Many jobs are filled because of personal connections, not because the hiring manager went out into the field to look at all the candidates available, and chose the best one.
Personal connections work because of trust. The manager trusts the friend who referred him a candidate, and the role gets filled.
Simply telling friends or people around you that you’re looking for a role would help.
Be clear what you don’t want
One of the biggest mistakes I made was going for interviews where I wasn’t interested in the work on offer. I did it because I thought I would get another interview practice under my belt.
Don’t. It wastes your time, and the interviewer’s.
It rarely teaches you anything, beyond confirming your doubt that you don’t really like that kind of work.
Think about it this way.
If you’re not excited by what you read on paper, would you be excited working at it from 9 to 5?
I don’t think so.
Listen to trusted individuals
Not all advice is made the same.
And when you go along your journey, you would slowly realise people trying to give you advice. They might be nice friends, or kind aunties, but hold on.
Figure out if they have the lives that you want.
If they don’t, don’t listen to them.
Because advice is easy to give, hard to implement.
During the course of our 21 interviews, I also heard lots of well-meaning advice about how to get a job. Especially when I didn’t have one.
But after a while, the advice became repetitive.
It was performance driven. They might say,
Get on LinkedIn.
Write a better cover letter.
Talk to more people and network with them.
But the real advice that worked was the one that encouraged you to focus on yourself. To dig deep within, and understand what this was teaching you about yourself.
One of the biggest helps to me was my therapist, who encouraged me to ask,
What is this experience teaching you about you?
What does this teach you about you and others?
Digging deep can help you frame this as a learning opportunity, rather than just a ‘failure’.
Realise that the job needs more than credentials, but also your people skills
If you look at the emotion life cycle we drew out below, you would realise that the deepest valleys tend to come after the job, rather than before the job starts.
As you progress in your journey in the company, you might start to see that more and more skills are needed to handle the people in your company.
Learning how to make alliances will be one of the key skills. This ensures that people can speak up for you, even when you’re not in the room.
Doing this involves spending quality time with other colleagues, such as during lunch times. It’s during these times outside of the office, where it’s less stressed, and more informal, that you begin to learn how people act, and how you can adjust accordingly.
The job is not the goal, the learning is the goal
Someone once told me,
I see jobs as learning opportunities, rather than just ‘performance opportunities’ and that helps me to take the most from each experience.
When you frame your job as a place to help you learn, rather than to just perform, it helps you gain more than just a paycheck.
It helps you see mistakes, and failures (such as when you’re issued with a Performance Improvement Plan, or when your contract is not renewed), as times to grow.
It’s during these times that lessons are learnt, and you grow and come through stronger.