If you thought graduating with debt and finding your first big kid job was hard, try doing it in the year 2020...
There's no doubt it's been a rough year all around. But particularly for many recent grads, the situation is dire. A piece by the New York Times last May said those entering the job market in the middle of the pandemic may never catch up to their slightly older peers in pay, opportunities or confidence.
While that sinks in, as painful a pill as it may be to swallow, I'm here to offer a simple source of optimism. While it is true that 2020 grads have received the serious short end of the stick, and it may also be true that a non-zero percentage of those grads will never catch up in pay, opportunities, and confidence, that does not mean it has to be true for you.
While nothing feels normal since 2020 and everything may seem out of our control, what has remained consistent is that your career is yours, no one else's, and at any point in your journey you are betting on yourself. That is important to remember. It certainly wouldn't feel good if your career fate was up to someone else - but it's not. On any given day you choose which direction to face, and which foot to put first. What has also remained true through one hell of a year is that your future opportunities are invisible up until the very moment you touch them. That feeling that opportunity is out of reach is not new! Opportunity may be all around you, but you can't see or smell it (not because of COVID, but because you have no idea what the next opportunity even smells like... here's a tip - opportunity in your life will rarely be what you expect it to be and for that reason you may be blind to it).
If you feel like it's hopeless just take a moment to stop and breathe. You are not alone. There are a lot of people in your shoes right now and they feel just as defeated. Some will let that feeling of defeat dictate their next move, and they may unfortunately be the ones who never catch up. But you're not going to do that. You're going to take some time for self care (because that's important) and then you're going to move on. Pick a direction to face, and choose a foot to put first.
[Insert motivational bits here...]
"Your problems are only as big as you are small. If you have big problems, that's just a
signal to think and dream bigger."
"Luck is just the point where preparation meets opportunity. Always be preparing for
There is still opportunity out there. The pandemic hit hard, but it didn't hit even. Some industries have had their best year ever, some cities are less impacted than others, and our relationship with work has changed likely forever (Yes, really...).
From a recruiter in tech to a 2020 grad, here's my advice for moving forward:
1. Don't just Netflix and Chill
The hardest part about finding a job right out of college even in normal times is differentiation. There are so few jobs that don't require hands-on work experience, and your resume goes just as deep as everyone else applying for them (not deep at all...). How do you stand out from the crowd? I won't be the first one who's ever told you to work on bettering yourself. Pick up a book, take a course, yada yada yada.
The problem normally would be that we're all just busy. There isn't enough time in the week between classes, side hustle, job interviews, keeping your boyfriend/girlfriend happy, oh and don't forget to call your mother! Right now, time may be the only thing in abundance. Take advantage of it, and be smart about what you prioritize.
No matter what field you're in, there are trending skills and new technologies. There are also more options than ever to self educate. Find out what's in demand in your field, and enroll in an online course. You might not want to focus right now, but if at the end of "the big wait" you can say you have a certificate that few others have right out of college you'll be glad you did. You'll also have a great answer to "What have you done with your time?" in an interview.
2. Be your own recruiter
It's hard to stand out when you're fresh out of college, we just covered that part. Yet still with that knowledge so many people scroll through indeed and hit "apply" on rapid fire thinking they are job searching. (I have a little secret to share - that is not JOB SEARCHING. That is just time wasting.)
For every 100 resumes submitted to a role, typically only 5 get pulled out by the recruiter. The rest are quickly looked over for not standing out. If you don't stand out in experience, you have to stand out in effort. You have to be your own recruiter.
DO submit applications to every job you get excited about, but DON'T stop there. For every application you submit, get on LinkedIn, find 3 people who might be on that team, and message them letting them know how interesting you found the posting and that you'd like to learn more. Getting seen by someone on the team can 2x your chances of being interviewed. If you know them (even through a friend of a friend) and they refer you that can 10x your chances of landing an interview. Most companies have a referral bonus program which means your friend of a friend at Twitter has an incentive to reach out to the hiring manager on your behalf if there's any small chance you're a fit. Take advantage of that.
3. Connect with people who have the job you want
Getting referred can 10x your chances of getting the job, now we know that. But networking isn't just about getting referred. The more you search and find folks who are doing the job you aspire to do, the more you'll find that there is some uncapped number of paths and combinations of experience that can lead you there.
Remember my bad COVID smell joke at the start of this post? (It's okay if you didn't LOL). Discovering all the different paths different people have taken to get to your dream job teaches you how to smell the right opportunities. It opens your eyes to your unknown path forward. It's also immensely beneficial to talk to real people about your goals. When someone can relate to the struggles you're experiencing because they once were in the same shoes, it goes further than anything to reaffirm that you're not failing, you're not behind, and your day will come.
Believe it or not, right now it's easier than ever to connect with new people. Sure, you might not be able to ask someone to grab a drink in town, but in 2019 if you asked someone in a different timezone to jump on a Zoom with you (who does that?) they probably would have just ignored you and gone on with their day. Now, the entire country is one Zoom room away from a meaningful conversation and to simply ask someone to jump on a Zoom is... well... normal.
4. Chase rejection
Remember this phrase: Rejection is the work. A job offer is the reward. If rejection weighs on you, that means you're not expecting it. And if you're not expecting it, you're fooling yourself.
Somewhere in 100 rejections lies your next opportunity. How long does it take to get to 100 rejections? 6 months? 3? I bet you won't race me... The faster you get to 100 rejections, the faster you get to your next job. So start collecting rejections. Start going out and looking for it. Be bold. Put your name in some bigger hats. That's the work, and it leads to your ultimate reward - a job offer.
5. Rethink "local" (coast to coast)
I used to tell recent grads to not be so attached to their home towns, or the city they went to school in if it's possible for them to think about relocating. People tend to fall in love with their surroundings and let roots take hold. But "home" is a feeling, not a place. Not only does moving to a new city catalyze your personal growth, but by being immobile you're effectively eliminating yourself from thousands of opportunities across the country. The candidate who's open to moving has an infinitely bigger job pool.
Now, as planet earth's status is set to WFH, things have changed. You can be immobile AND expand your job pool and you might not actually appreciate just how incredible that is. At Wistia for example we are expecting to be at least a partially remote culture indefinitely even after the pandemic is behind us, and we are not alone. If you haven't yet thought to start searching nationally, don't waste another day.
Here's another secret: telecommuting can also tele-pay if you're lucky. Don't expect a Silicon Valley startup to pay you minimum wage just because you're tuning in from Missouri. Know your worth and ask for it. (If you want my thoughts on "knowing your worth and asking for it" stay tuned - a blog post on the topic is coming soon.)
6. Stay positive
I know it's hard, but what they say is true: like attracts like. Even in a pandemic, negativity can have fatal impact on your interview performance. It can prevent you from even checking job boards to begin with. This pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, and it's a challenge that certainly isn't distributed fairly. But in this day and age, you have to see yourself as a startup. Hit challenges with innovation. Think and dream and plan. Obsess over your brand, and be your own best salesman.
You are a product and a service, and your next employer is a customer. When they ask, did 2020 cripple you so you'll never catch up? Or did it challenge you to grow, create time to work on yourself, and present a unique opportunity to connect with smart people across the country? You write your story. You choose which direction to face and which foot to put first.
From "knowing your worth, and asking for it" to "managing up and leading without authority" or "when to jump", be sure to subscribe for more insights from a recruiter in tech.