Job searching is the worst.
I know that’s not shocking news. Sending out application after application, putting time and effort into each one, only to get a form rejection letter — or sometimes, absolutely nothing — back is probably one of the circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno.
Not to mention the interviewing process, where you learn more and more about the job and the work environment and the people and maybe even the city, and you begin to see yourself in that position more and more — only to get rejected again. Sending you right back to square one.
If it’s taking a bit longer to find a job, this process can significantly wear on you. While you were once certain of the skills you possessed, you start to doubt yourself after the 200th time you’re not selected for the job or even an interview. You think maybe you aren’t as good in your field as you thought — maybe it was a fluke that you even got this far. It’s practically a how-to for Imposter Syndrome.
Now, I want you to take all of this and add a pandemic to the mix. Voila: a recipe for disaster.
(I just want to point out again how incredibly lucky I am that this is the worst consequence the pandemic handed me. I wasn’t evicted. I didn’t lose a family member. I didn’t have to face the terrifying realities of COVID-19 in my day-to-day life like so many others did, and I am grateful for that every day.)
I talked about this in a previous article, but I graduated from college into the pandemic. In March 2020, I was in the midst of my final semester and life was hectic but wonderful. I was writing a thesis, running the school paper, taking only classes in my major, and job searching. The week before my spring break, I was interviewing for a copy editor position at a newspaper in Illinois. The job seemed like the perfect first step for me to jumpstart my career, and I had gotten pretty far into the interviewing process at that point. But then COVID hit and the company had to eliminate the position entirely, now unable to afford to bring on more employees.
And then, for the next 10 months, I was just another unemployed college grad stuck in an endless loop of clicking “Apply Now,” “Continue,” and then “Apply” until my eyes glazed over and I couldn’t stare at the phrase “competitive salary” anymore.
For me and the millions of other graduates like me, it was hard job-searching that way — to be cut down before we’d even gotten started. After so many years of full-time schooling with a specific focus on my career, I had been so prepared to walk across the stage at graduation right into a job in my field — only for an unprecedented pandemic to get in my way. There was absolutely nothing I could do to move my future forward and start my life but sit and wait for the world to turn around. I felt stuck for months.
But eventually, I landed the right job. It took me one year, 260 job applications, and interviews at 17 companies to find it. Here are my suggestions for others:
Use Indeed or LinkedIn
I mostly only used Indeed while job hunting, but LinkedIn is also super helpful. Both sites let you save your resume, saving you the trouble of filling out your work history AGAIN, and most of the time, you can apply for a job with just a few clicks. They also offer assessments, where you can take quizzes on skills you listed on your resume and show your scores (if they’re good) to employers. That way, they can be sure you actually have the skill sets desired and it’s not something you half-heartedly threw on your resume to beef it up.
Plus, both sites allow you to create an online resume where you aren’t limited by space like you are on a traditional resume, so feel free to include that super-obscure internship from three years ago that you’re sentimentally attached to for some reason.
TRIPLE CHECK YOUR RESUME (and your cover letter)
Read it until you can recite it by heart. Politely ask all your friends and family to look it over. Ask trusted professors to give you feedback. I found out, about 100 job applications in, that my resume did not list the university I graduated from. Somewhere along the line of me constantly tweaking it, an entire line got deleted — perhaps one of the more important lines — and I didn’t even notice. Don’t be like me.
Some universities have job centers where you can have a career counselor look over your resume and offer professional advice on how to stand out to employers. Try to take advantage of that service while you can.
Research the company before you interview
This one seems fairly obvious — and it’s a pain in the ass — but it’s better than being asked “what do you like about our website?” or “what do you think of our podcast?” or whatever and not having an answer. I guarantee you interviewers recognize that blank look of panic you get when you’re wracking your brain for an acceptable answer and your mind is all of a sudden completely blank. Better to be too prepared than not prepared enough.
Ask questions in interviews
This goes hand-in-hand with my last one, but asking questions about the job, the company, etc., shows employers that you’re interested in the position, interested in the company, and that you’re diligent. Asking questions at the end of an interview also allows you to flex all that research you did earlier — if the interview hasn’t offered that opportunity yet. Asking questions like “I saw in the job description, it listed this responsibility, what would that look like on a day-to-day basis?” or “I saw this on your website, how does that typically work?” shows employers that you did the research and want to learn even more about the company — as well as helps you decide if this is the right position for you.
For me, this was a bit hard at first. It’s difficult to know what to ask when you’ve never had a “big girl” job before, so if you’re drawing a blank, there are plenty of lists to go off of online. I used this one to help me figure out what I might want to know about a job that I hadn’t considered and learned some other smart stuff to ask when interviewing.
Send a thank-you note to your interviewer
This is probably another common one you’ll see on job sites, but it really is a good habit to have. There are plenty of templates to follow online like this one on how to make your letters not so robotic. However, mine were usually pretty simple: “Hello so-and-so, Thank you so much for speaking with me today. It was such a pleasure meeting you and hearing about the position. Please let me know if I can provide any further information or answer any other questions.”
Adding specific details from the interview, especially if you and your interviewer find out you have something in common, is also a nice touch.
Keep track of your job applications, if at all possible
I know as well as anyone that when you spend the majority of your time sending off applications to similar positions all over the country with similar job descriptions, sometimes that job will get back and you will have no idea what it was you actually applied for because it was about two dozen applications ago. When this happens, it’s good to be able to go back and see “Okay, which job was this again?” This makes it super easy to jump right into research for an interview.
Some job sites (like Indeed or LinkedIn) will keep track for you, but for the jobs you apply for on company or third-party websites, it’s good to have a backup list. I started off with an Excel spreadsheet (that I gave up on around application #150, but don’t tell anybody that) where I’d list the position, company, location, the date I applied to it, which site I applied on (so I could pull up the description again), and a person of contact if I could find one.
It’s a bit of an undertaking, I know, but it does make it easier to locate things when you’ve sent out dozens of applications. Plus, it’s kinda fun, after you’ve been hired somewhere (and you will) to go back through and reminisce about the jobs that almost were.
Research yourself before an interview
This one’s a bit weird, but hear me out. If you’re like me and had a bit of a gap between jobs, I think it’s good to look back over your resume and remind yourself of your skills and experience. Especially if the experience listed on your resume is a bit older, it’s good to remind yourself of those roles: what you did, what you learned, what skills that position gave you, etc. It’s easy to forget how qualified you actually are after dozens of rejections.
If there was a specific job I was preparing for, I would always go through the list of job responsibilities and match them with the skills or experience I had listed on my resume. That way, when asked about what experience I had or what I could bring to the position, I would give specific examples from my professional history of how I was qualified.
Have a “Jobs” folder with all your best work in it
In my field, sending in writing and editing samples (we call them “clips” in the biz) with job applications is pretty standard. But even if your field doesn’t do that type of thing, I would still recommend having a “jobs” folder with all of your best stuff ready to go. Did you contribute to a big project at your last job? Send them a copy and point out the stuff you were responsible for. Or if you were responsible for adding a certain feature to the website, send them a link and tell them you were the mastermind! This might be the journalist in me speaking but always do your best to show, don’t tell.
Don’t violate any company disclosure rules or anything (and definitely don’t tell them I told you to), but if you can show your work, do it.
Stay connected with your professional contacts
Another obvious one, I’ll admit it, but having folks in your field in your corner is a big help. Former professors sent me possible job opportunities and a handful of former coworkers helped me land interviews at their companies. Not to mention, having acquaintances in your field is kind of fun.
Now with the advent of social media, staying in contact with former coworkers and colleagues is way easier. Instead of having to send each other telegrams every once in a while (or whatever they did in the ‘60s), now you can just follow each other on Twitter. And maybe every now and then, slide into their DMs with a polite “hi, how are you?
Be as honest as you can
I know the stereotypical joke with job interviewing is that you embellish on your resume to get the job with skills you don’t actually have, and then once you get it, you try like hell to make it look like you totally didn’t lie on your resume. I would recommend not doing this.
As tempting as it is, this really sets you up for failure. Especially if you’re not so quick on your feet (like me). It can be really transparent to interviewers when you’re lying through your teeth about having a skill essential to the job.
And I also think it’s important to be honest about who you are and what you want. Don’t go telling your interviewers about your crazy college stories or anything, but be upfront when you don’t know the answer to something — try saying something like “I’ve never experienced something quite like that before, but here’s a similar situation where I learned a lot.”
For example, whenever I was asked about where I saw myself in five years, I always said I saw myself working somewhere where I could both write and edit, although I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted that to be yet, which is the truth. Although this showed that I didn’t necessarily have a solid plan for myself — which might be a red flag to some interviewers — it also showed that I was open to possibilities and ready to learn and explore new fields while still establishing my passion for what I did.
Interviewers aren’t looking for perfection or someone who has all the answers; they’re just trying to get a sense of who you are, how you work, and how you would fit into their team. Try your best not to fret over the botched answers or missed questions, just try and let your best self shine through.
Make a cheat sheet!
That prep I mentioned earlier can be a bit hard to memorize, especially when you’re just starting to interview and haven’t gotten your flow down yet. I would recommend making yourself a little cheat sheet (or two or three) to remind yourself of key points or experiences to touch on in your answers, as well as questions you want to ask. (I also included a list of buzzwords to drop casually into conversation to make it sound like I knew what I was talking about.)
For me, if I don’t write something down, it’s gone from my head forever — never to be seen or heard from ever again. So this practice was super beneficial to me. Plus, with all the fidgeting and hair-twirling and smiling and nodding and “my shirt button didn’t come undone again, did it?” that’s going through your head in an interview, it’s easy for the important stuff to fall right out. Having it all written down can be helpful.
Although in some cases I was able to hide my cheat sheets, I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing if your employer knows you have notes. Again, this shows forethought and preparation on your part. Responding with “hang on, let me pull my list up real quick” instead of “ummmmm…” to the “any questions?” question sounds way better to me.
Keep your head up
Like I said before, job searching is really hard. It’s tough putting yourself out there again and again only to receive nothing in return again and again, especially when you feel like you’re really putting your best foot forward. But I think you can make it through with a mix of strategy, luck, and preparation. And hey — maybe you can find the perfect recipe for success.