Before You Apply To Your First Job, Read This
*Full transparency: I wrote this piece almost a year ago, before I was hired at my current job.
I’ve been waiting to submit my first job application for the last FIVE YEARS. Let’s be real – the partying and making friends was fun, but I only went to college because I thought it was the first step in advancing my career. I now have two fancy pieces of paper that guarantee me a job. All I have to do is mention I have a master’s degree and companies will be waiting in line to hire me, right?
HA! Wrong. So, so wrong.
Before I tell you where I went wrong, I’d like to note this post relates to anyone in a creative field. Your job as a writer, photographer, designer, etc. is different from your engineer and medicine friends’ work. That means job hunting is extremely different as well, and there are a few things you should prepare yourself for before submitting that application.
Your degree means nothing.
Okay, your degree isn’t completely meaningless. It shows you’re dedicated, hard-working, and have been prepped by experienced professors. For many people, this piece of paper means you’re committed to your field because who the hell would pay tens of thousands of dollars to get drunk and fail exams? (Ha, we all know that person.)
On the other hand, it’s pretty useless if you don’t have the skills, portfolio, and personality that makes a person want to hire you. You can be the smartest student in your entire class, but if you’re difficult to work with or don’t even have the creative spirit to bring new ideas, that means you’re not the solid candidate you thought you were.
Before you start applying, ask yourself this question: If I didn’t have my degree, what could I bring to the table?
A digital portfolio is a MUST.
If you’re a creative, your job is to show, not tell. You can list all the skills and experience you want on your resume, but no one cares that you’re proficient in Adobe Indesign if you don’t have a single piece of work to back it up.
Take a few days to create a digital portfolio. It doesn’t need all the bells and whistles – just make sure your work is easy to read and all of your links work. You can even use the free versions of WordPress, Squarespace, or Wix. You want to be able to send employers a direct url where they can easily access any kind of multimedia content.
Cover letters take FOREVER to write.
So you’ve spent three days editing and redesigning your resume and you’re now ready to send it off. But as you’re filling out that application, you realize you have the option to submit a cover letter. You might sit and think, “do I really want to write this?” The answer should always be yes!
A cover letter is your chance to tell recruiters important pieces of yourself you weren’t able to fit into your resume. You can show a little personality and tell them why you’re the best fit for that particular position. But it’s important to personalize each cover letter so it doesn’t read like a template you’ve already sent to 14 other people. This part can take a while, so before sending an application, make sure you have at least two hours to write your letter, edit, and edit again.
Don’t wait too long to start networking.
Learn from my mistake. I waited until I got to grad school to start networking with people who had my dream job. I looked at it as part of the application process, so I didn’t have to worry about meeting other professionals until I got closer to graduation.
This is so, so bad.
Even as a freshman, you’re not too young to start networking. Initiate a conversation that has time to develop into a stronger relationship over the years. That person you meet who’s now an assistant, might be a manager by the time you graduate.
Not everyone will respond to you.
This is the frustrating part. You’ve spent hours editing your resume and writing a cover letter, and the person you’ve sent it to doesn’t even have the decency to tell you you’re not a match. I personally think leaving a candidate in the dark is insensitive, but the truth is, not everyone feels they owe you a response.
This doesn’t just happen after you’ve submitted an application. You can also go through multiple rounds of interviews and never know if the hiring manager made a decision. The only thing you can do is send a polite follow-up email asking about the status of your application. But be prepared to never, ever get an answer.
That job you see on LinkedIn is most likely already filled.
Yep, that’s right. And it’s probably because of my last point. A recruiter may never respond to your application because the truth is, they’ve already filled the position. Some contracts require HR departments to post a job opening externally, or outside the workplace. But by the time you’ve seen it, the recruiter has already hired an employee’s friend, colleague, or family member who’s heard about the opening long before the job was posted.
This happened to me. I’ve had someone email me asking for my resume to give to their boss, and in the email, she told me the job would be posted online in two weeks. And as annoying as this is, it makes sense. Recruiters would rather interview a couple trusted referrals than sort through hundreds to thousands of online applications. This is the number one reason why networking is key. Make a contact so you don’t have to worry about applying through job search websites.
You will feel defeated, but that feeling will pass.
You might get excited after sending in an application and that’s completely normal. If you really want that job, you start to fantasize about your future position. But it’s important to always be prepared for unwanted news.
When I received my first rejection, I literally left class, walked home, and cried. I had gone through three rounds of interviews and felt like I made a good impression on the hiring manager. After a long nap and glass of wine, I had to accept that the timing was wrong. No matter how bad I wanted this job, it wasn’t right for me. And I didn’t know why at the moment, but I told myself I’ll figure it out later on. (Reading this post after I’ve been hired has made me realize everything DOES happen for a reason. I’m much happier now than I would’ve been at the job I thought I wanted so bad.)
After about a week, I pulled myself together and started working on other applications. Now look. I’m completely okay and writing about where I went wrong in hopes of the person reading not making the same mistakes.
Be efficient, but be patient. The job that’s meant for you is waiting for you.