The Unemployment Club
The Power of Connections for the Unemployed
When you’re looking down the barrel of four years of education post high school the last thing on your mind is where you’re really going to be at the end of that journey. You’re focusing on getting your papers done on time, not upsetting your professors, and squeezing in a social life when you can. But graduation day shows up like your landlord on the first of the month. You should have expected it, anticipated it, yet there it is staring you in the face asking for money (caps and gowns aren’t cheap you know). Toward the end of your senior year you’re so bogged down by trying to finish those last few requirements that you don’t realize the day you’ve been waiting for is creeping up on you. Before you know it you’re walking across that stage to shake hands with the university President (who you may or may not have actually met previously) and accepting that empty degree cover (it even tells you when you open it that it isn’t your actual degree. Helpful!) Then you’re ushered back into your chair and the whole thing comes to an end. After the congratulations, the celebration dinners, and cake you’re left with a realization. You have to get a job.
This brings me to where I am now. I graduated over a year ago and, in a rather delusional mindset, thought that I would step right into a job, after all, I am great. Who wouldn’t want to hire me? I’m smart. I’m punctual. My grades were good and I participated in extracurricular activities. How could I not get hired? I really thought that I was going to be one of those success stories; a girl hired into a fabulous company just out of college. I’d be filled with so much gusto, my mind an untapped oil reserve ready to spill its rich bounty of ideas and I’d totally carry a briefcase (because I’m cool like that). It didn’t happen that way...at all. In fact it was very much the opposite. I created a résumé detailing my education and previous employment experience (working in grocery stores and tutoring. You have to make money in school somehow) and sent it out to multiple companies expecting to hear back from all of them. I got zero responses. Not even one interview. They don’t always tell you that they don’t want you either. You’re just left in the dark staring at your phone wondering if maybe it’s broken.
My protective, narcissistic bubble had been popped and I was officially a member of the unemployment club. Once I realized this I began obsessing and fell into what my husband calls “the snowball effect.” I had learned that I wasn’t as great as I thought and was starting to believe that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t any good at all. Being unemployed left me with lots of time to allow these thoughts to fester and build upon each other until I really had myself convinced that I was blacklisted from employment. I wasn’t getting hired because of some crazy conspiracy! No matter what my husband, parents, siblings, or friends said, I was sure that I was the subject of some horrible government experiment to see how far into debt someone would go to pay for schooling that wouldn’t lead to a job in the end. Would I return to school? Get a master’s degree? Keep attending school and delaying the repayment of my loans until I’m an old and bitter woman?!
The terrible thoughts just kept building and building, layer upon layer until my husband couldn’t take my ranting and self deprecation anymore. I don’t know how he did it, but he finally got me to look around and see that I wasn’t alone. I was not the only unemployed person who couldn’t catch a break. We were all victims of the poor job market. How could this have happened to me? I think that I now know the answer to that question and it has a lot to do with who I knew...which was no one.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” It sounds like a pessimistic mindset to have when venturing into the career world, but it’s not; if anything it’s a realistic mindset. Though your education and skills (a.k.a “what you know”) will help you do your job well, ultimately it’s your connections (a.k.a “who you know”) in life that really get your foot in the door and nudge you through the interview process. It’s amazing how far a good recommendation can take someone in the job world. And this isn’t something to be ashamed of or to look down upon. You’re not cheating the system. It’s not sneaky or conniving to have connections, in fact it just might get you hired.
Networking is something that I should have started while I was in college. No, I don’t mean like “The Social Network” and Facebook friend requesting the cute guy in my writing club (though I totally did that and later married him). I’m talking about networking with people who could help me get hired in my chosen field after graduation. Universities have many resources to offer students who want to begin networking. Most, I’m sure, have a career center somewhere on campus where you can go to talk with counselors who can help you figure out exactly what it is you want to be when you grow up. Career centers also have trained staff members who can help you develop your interviewing skills by setting up mock interviews and video taping them so you can see how you carry yourself and hear how many times you say “like” and “umm” in that short time frame. It sounds terrifying, but I’m sure it would be immensely beneficial (I never did it and here I am, so maybe that says something.)
Universities also have staff who can help you obtain an internship working in your chosen industry. While I was in school, the idea of an internship was ridiculous to me. Why would I want to work for a company running errands and NOT get paid for it? It sounded like unnecessary stress to pile on top of my already packed school and work schedules. Huge mistake. This is one of those situations where if I could go back in time I would smack myself upside the head. An internship is a BIG deal. If you can manage to land one working for a company you admire they just might hire you as soon as you graduate (then you really could be that success story I mentioned earlier) and even if you intern at a company that doesn’t hire you, at least you can put that experience on your résumé and that, my friend, is worth more than any previous experience at a grocery store.
You might be reading this information as a post grad and thinking “that’s great for those who are still in school, but what about me?” There’s hope for you, too. Volunteer work should become your best friend. It’s basically the same as an internship, except you might not be helping out in the industry of your choosing. Volunteering not only helps you gain experience it also allows you to put something active on your résumé so you don’t look like you’re only sitting at home on your computer applying for jobs. Employers want to hire someone who is self motivated, someone who likes to keep busy. They won’t want to hire someone who doesn’t take initiative. Volunteer work not only shows that you like to stay busy, it’s also personally rewarding. You feel good when you help others. Not to mention someone that you volunteer with just might know a guy who knows a guy who does exactly what you want to do and he might be hiring…you know what I’m saying?
Other resources you could use might just be at your local library. Sometimes libraries have résumé workshops where they teach you how to craft a killer résumé and cover letter that is more likely to get you noticed. Some libraries might even offer other career counseling services like phone or in person interview coaching (just like the university campus). There are also many employment websites for you to join such as Monster, which has a great job browsing tool, or LinkedIn, which allows you to network with past classmates, employers, professors or even friends that might help you get a job. Even Facebook can be beneficial to helping you network as long as you’re friend requesting the right kind of people and representing yourself in a proper and professional way (no half naked photos or pictures of you drinking with your buddies every Saturday night).
Whether you’re a student, post grad, or seasoned member of the unemployment club you can benefit from networking. It’s never too early—or too late—to start connecting with people who can help you get hired into your dream career. It’s important to know that it’s not a fool proof system. Just because you have a connection doesn’t necessarily mean that you will undoubtedly get hired, but your chances greatly increase with each connection you make. So get off your couch, put down the remote, and get out there and start networking!