4 Steps I Used To Find & Land My First “Real Job” In My Field

Graduating in the coming months? Haven’t started job-hunting yet? Not to worry, you’re in good company. As someone who just graduated with my Master’s in Public Affairs in May of 2016, I understand the struggle of finding a real job. I recently went through the process, and am now comfortably looking in from the other side (hopefully with some wisdom to share).

I can’t BS or sugarcoat my experience, though. I’d honestly rather have a root canal than relive my post-graduation summer. It was bizarre moving home after the high of finishing finals and celebrating graduation. And after being in school for the past twenty or so years, my future always seemed planned. I always knew what was “next.” I’m sure it also helped that my parents supported me financially. I didn’t have a worry in the world, and for some reason, I didn’t think it would end. I never thought I’d actually make it to the “real world.”

A month after graduation, I found myself in my childhood bedroom with no concrete plans for the future. “Student” was no longer my identity. After a week’s worth of Netflix binging fueled by depression and Swedish Fish (stage four of the grief process), I finally got it together and came up with a plan. It took me about four months of dedicated work, but I ended up with about ten interviews, and four job offers. In an effort to help alleviate the pain and suffering of others, I thought I’d share some tips that helped me in my hunt.

1. Ask yourself what you want

Perhaps my greatest fault in finding a real job was not having a clear vision of what I wanted. Young graduates often times have a lot of flexibility in terms of location, and it’s easy to have lofty dreams without a clear plan of how you’re going to achieve them. I knew I wanted to work in government, and I knew I wanted to get out of my hometown. My efforts weren’t focused at all. I would apply to anything and everything. In fact, I probably applied for a job in every state in the continental US. While it’s good to have options, try to narrow them down and focus on your top geographic locations and your top positions.

2. Apply, apply, apply — but DIVERSIFY

In financial investments, the key is to diversify in order to reduce risk. The same goes for job-hunting. Don’t rely on a single method to get your name out there. For example, I took multiple informational interviews and attended networking events, along with the traditional online application process. A lot of times, the best method will depend on the field you’re entering, and the type of person you are. While I once got a paid internship from an informational interview, as an introvert, I found the online application process easiest. I made sure my resume was perfect, and then applied to as many job positions as possible (234 to be precise). And I tracked EVERYTHING on an Excel spreadsheet so I was able to follow-up. Find the best methods that work for you, and don’t give up!

3. Find your someone to “lean on”

Job-hunting is right up there with paying taxes, going to the gym, or eating a spinach salad when you really want pizza…painful, but necessary. The journey can be arduous, and you’re probably going to want to give up — and that is when you turn to your support system. Whether it’s your friends, family, former professors, or local bartenders (which are basically therapists, right?), talk to them. Take a break. Do something fun. Then after coalescing, ask for help. Like the song says, swallow your pride. I asked numerous family and friends to critique my resume. Not only was I able to improve my resume, but I also learned about other employment opportunities by relying on my network. So ask for help! At the very least, someone will take pity on you, and buy you a cup of coffee or a beer.

4. Love is a waiting game…

…And so is job-hunting. I thought this cliché was quite apropos. I certainly agree with the philosophy that everyone has to start somewhere, but I also think employers ought to compensate their employees fairly. Sometimes that means not accepting the first offer you receive. Say what?! I know, it’s blasphemous, but hear me out. Like I mentioned earlier, I was offered four jobs — three of which offered dismal salaries. While I did try to negotiate, the offers still weren’t cutting it. I knew what others were making in my field, and I made sure I had a grasp on my financial situation (i.e. how much I had in savings, my monthly student loan payment, monthly car payment, how much I’d likely be paying in rent, etc.). Armed with this knowledge, I came to the negotiation table knowing my minimum required salary would be, and my BATNA (or “best alternative to negotiated agreement,” AKA saying no and moving on — if you haven’t read Getting to Yes by Fisher and Ury, you need to!).

In three cases, the employers didn’t meet my salary requirements, so I simply said I couldn’t accept their offer, and moved on. Now, I understand that I am extremely fortunate to be in the position to do this, and some hunters are not so lucky. Regardless, it’s important to understand your financial situation prior to entering a negotiation. The more informed you are, the better you’ll be able to advocate for yourself in your quest for finding a real job. In my case, I did wait, about a week to be exact, and a received a job offer in my dream location, in my dream field, for a salary 50% over the other offers I received. Naturally, I accepted, and three months into my job, I can honestly say that I’m happy with the decision I made.

Everyone’s journey is different, but with a bit of dedication and a BIG sense of humor, you’ll be on the other (employed) side before you know it.

Chelsea is a recent graduate working in local government as a Budget Management Analyst in the DC Metro area.

Image via Unsplash

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