Your Post-College Job Search May Take Longer Than You Think
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If you’re a college student, or have a close connection to one, you’ll be interested in this story about a 2018 grad and her job search. If you’ve been reading my blog for some time you’ll know I cover career content relating to people in all different careers and stages. So if it turns out this story doesn’t apply to you, you can be sure the next one will.
Last winter I had five college senior clients all seeking their first job, some with great trepidation. Of the five, I was least concerned about an outgoing, socially adept and directed Trinity College psych major who knew for sure she wanted to go into advertising. Sadie Cooper had been very strategic throughout her college summers and had several internships under her belt, including one in advertising. She and I both assumed she would graduate with a good job.
Since she wasn’t going for banking or consulting where the application process can wrap up as early as October, she began her search in January, in earnest. A skilled networker with LinkedIn connections coming in at around 1,500, Sadie had been making contacts for years and was well-entrenched in the agency network. Having tightened up her resume and LinkedIn profile, she began systematically contacting friends of friends, members of her sorority at Trinity College and other schools, alumni from both her high school and college in marketing and advertising, and contacts from her previous internships.
Sadie was soon having several calls each week with prospects. Some were more promising than others, some provided direct leads, and others encouraged her to stay in touch. She did. She sent each person a well-written and enthusiastic thank you email, within 24 hours, and kept her network abreast of her search. By April, she had gathered around 100 new contacts who were aware of her goals and wanting to help. At this point though, she was coming to terms with the idea that she would graduate in May without a job.
Three weeks before graduation, she got a call out of the blue. It was a paid internship offer from a big agency in NYC, through a connection of a connection. It seemed like the right opportunity at the right time, and she accepted it.
Over the course of this 12-week internship, her interest in advertising, and specifically advertising strategy, deepened. She received excellent feedback from her supervisors, who recommended her for a high-level strategic seminar, which provided her even more contacts in the advertising strategy world. However, given the level of expertise expected for someone in strategy, they also encouraged her to pursue roles in media to set herself up for a job in strategy in the long term.
Coming out of the internship, she broadened her search and found herself juggling three offers at different agencies a month later. While she was thrilled to get offers, the salaries were all unconscionably low and they weren’t the stepping-stone roles she wanted. She decided to pass on all three.
At this point it was September and she kept her spirits up by continuing to network aggressively. That month she received a verbal offer from a media agency that seemed ideal. She thought her search was over and awaited the offer while half-heartedly pursuing options that didn’t end up materializing. And waited…and followed up…and waited. The offer letter never came.
By now it was mid-October, and she was disheartened. One day while checking a job board, she came across a few roles that seemed like a good fit. One of them was at the same agency as a senior strategist with whom she had been in touch during her most active networking period. Another one was at an agency where she had a friend. On top of that, a contact got in touch about a job at a top agency and offered to refer her. Within days she had phone screens with HR at all three agencies.
On the second Saturday in November, Sadie had three good job offers in hand, teeing them up so they all came in at the same time. It felt like vindication for all the hard work and disappointment. Sadie is now happily ensconced at a top ad agency, with a path to strategy at a good salary.
Here are some of the lessons she learned in the process:
There is no shame in accepting a paid internship upon graduation. Instead, it can deepen your interest in the field and provide you learning and contacts that make you more marketable. And since you’ve graduated, employers know you’re available to start work immediately.
If you are specific about the role, your search can take longer, especially if there is a scarcity of those positions at your level. Sadie knew the role she wanted but it took a while for her to realize that with the lack of jobs at her level, it didn’t make sense to hold out for it. She accepted a stepping stone job instead.
Your network will pay off, but it can take time to come to fruition. You have to play the long game. People are busy and while your search is your priority, it can take time for others to be ready to meet with you and offer assistance. It’s smart to keep gently reminding people to get to the top of their inbox.
Don’t assume a verbal offer is a real offer. Until you receive the written offer, you don’t actually have the job. Many people find this out the hard way, even quitting their job before that letter arrives.
Don’t settle if you can afford to hold out. Once you’ve accepted a job, you don’t want to have one foot out the door. So even if it takes a while longer, it’s worth getting the offer you’re really excited about.
Always negotiate your salary, even if you’re just starting out. An offer is made to be countered, even for your first job. Employers respect those who have researched their worth in the market and the going rate for the job and getting paid what you know you’re worth from the beginning of your career pays off in the long run. Some studies say that failing to negotiate salary in your first job can make a difference of $600,000 over the course of your career.
Get in the habit of keeping your networking hat on. You never know which contacts will bear fruit or how your career path will progress. It’s never a straight line, regardless of age or current focus.
As always, thanks for reading! If you have topics you’d like me to cover, please reach out here. If you’re struggling with your job search, I may be able to help. Just contact me here for an exploratory conversation.
And for more input on job search and career development, here are a few new posts I’ve been featured in recently, all from NBC’s Jean Chatzky and HerMoney.com: