Written by Peter Owens. Media by Katie Wallace.
When I graduated from college, there was this thing called The Great Recession. I was a guy with a degree in Religion and Biblical Languages and no teaching license, so the job market was pretty bleak. Unfortunately, no one had told me, and I didn’t bother to read a newspaper, so I was frustrated when I didn’t get dozens of lucrative teaching jobs flooding my inbox every day.
In fairness to myself, I had been told from the time I was a freshman that my people skills, penchant for organization, and indefatigable work ethic would land me a rewarding, high-paying job as an educator. I just kept believing that in spite of the changing landscape of the American job market, I was not going to have to look very long to find a career.
I had to learn a lot of things about getting a job the hard way, and while I am grateful for the learning experiences I have had, I also don’t want anyone else to have to go through the months upon months of soul-crushing job search process doing everything wrong and not knowing it. So here are five things that no one told me about finding a job that are actually really useful and important.
1. Let lots of people look at your résumé and cover letter. And I don’t just mean your mom. Ask your grandma, your pastor, the barista at the coffee shop, your next door neighbor – anyone you think can bring a fresh perspective to looking at what is literally meant to be your entire life on a piece of paper. I didn’t realize until a couple weeks ago that I had a really lousy cover letter. I let my best friend read it, and he said, “You’re really qualified for lots of things, but you just don’t look like it because your cover letter is bad.” That was hard to hear, but since then, I’ve been able to overhaul it completely and create something that reflects the uniqueness of who I am and what I can do.
2. Every experience you have ever had is a selling point for you, no matter how “relevant” to your job search it seems. Did you babysit your neighbors’ kids in high school? That shows that someone found you trustworthy enough to care for their most prized possession in the world. Did you hitchhike through Nova Scotia one summer? You are resourceful, inventive, and know how to get a lot done with a dearth of available resources. Do you edit the Star Wars Wikipedia page for fun? You are creative, detail-oriented, and take initiative to perform tasks. Anything you do says something about the kind of employee you can be and the strengths you can bring to someone’s company.
3. Use any connection you have; ask for LOTS of favors. One of my biggest mistake as a young graduate on the job market is that I refused to ask for help. I thought that I had to do everything on my own because letting someone “get a job” for you is nepotistic and taking advantage of unfair favoritism. Actually, I was just being prideful. Your work on its own will almost never get you a job; it really is about the people you know! Contact anyone you’ve ever met, even just as acquaintances, and ask them to be an ally for you in your job search. The best job I ever had literally fell in my lap – a friend texted me and said, “Email me your résumé right now!” and three weeks later I had a job.
4. Even if you are desperate (and that’s okay if you are!), don’t sound desperate. When you write to a potential employer, don’t ask them to “please accept” your résumé or “take a look” if they have time. Be bold! Be confident! “Let’s meet and discuss my strengths.” “I’m going to be a part of the success of your team.” You’re not asking for their time; they want your time because you can make their company better. When I was trying to get into the speaking circuit, I was told not to market myself as “cost-effective” (that sounds like “cheap”); I am highly sought after and in demand! Let that employer know that they’ll be sorry if they pass you up.
5. Lastly, BE YOURSELF. I know this sounds platitudinal and feel-goody, but it is the truth. If you have to pretend to be someone to get a job, you are not going to be very happy if you get hired. The way you are is perfect for someone’s team. In fact, trying to look like what you think the employer wants is the very thing that keeps you from sticking out! Do you write a blog about LEGOs? Are you a competitive Mud Runner? Do you crochet? The things that make you unique and special are the things that will set you apart. Now go out there and show them just how much they want to work with a creative, interesting, and irreplaceably unique person like you!
Peter Owens is a published author and educator from Indianapolis, IN. You can read more of his thoughts or book him for a speaking engagement at lovedoubtsexfaith.com.