For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted a job. When I was in high school, I worked for the local paper, and my teachers questioned whether I would enjoy college at all (since I seemed to enjoy working more than classroom learning). While I did enjoy college, I worked to graduate early. Very soon after that, I got a marketing job at the very first place I’d applied. Eager to not be another statistic, I moved to Cleveland (close enough to home, but a state away) and took the job. It wasn’t exactly aligned with my major (journalism), but it was close enough. Plus, I needed the money. And god, I wanted to work!
Well, it turned out that this longed-for job wasn’t exactly…marketing. It was cold-calling people and getting screamed at on the phone. Our company was severely understaffed, severely overworked, and all of us dealt with very hostile clients 80% of the time. At first, I was determined to make it work. I kept a sunny disposition when I recounted my day to my mom; I only told everyone about the great parts of my job (namely that my coworkers were, and still are, amazing people).
But I quickly cracked. I became scared to talk on the phone at all; I made my boyfriend make calls for me. I was terrified to go to work. I moved up in the company quickly, but internally, I was screaming “No! Get me out of here!” the whole time. I would cry every day on the bus to and from work. I was called horrible names by our clients. One day, while I was on a vacation, I found myself actually weighing the pros and cons of just not showing up to work and running away from my problems. I contemplated taking what little savings I had and moving home; I would just disappear. It was a kind of thinking I’d never indulged in before. That’s when I knew I had to start searching for a new job.
Looking for a job is another job in itself. I often worked 10-hour days, went home, put on dinner, and — while my roommates watched TV or read books or played board games — I poured myself a huge cup of tea (or something a little stronger!) and hunkered down to find a job. I poured over job listings and Linkedin recommendations; I funneled all of the passion that I would feel for a real job, in a field I actually enjoyed, into my job search. Finding another job became my side hustle.
I’ve spoken with many of my friends who have searched for jobs while working a current gig, and I have to say: colleges are doing students a huge disservice by not providing classes on searching for employment in the digital world. It suddenly occurred to me — after my thousandth time filling out a job portal application — that there had to be a much better way to go about this daily slog. I adjusted my approach, and it changed everything about my job search. The method to my madness went a little something like this:
1. Email notifications are your friends.
So many job boards have them. If you subscribe, you’ll get a daily notification or digest sent to your email. Pro tip: don’t open these emails until you are intending to apply. That way, you have a “task list” of sorts to organize and motivate your applications. You can usually set how often you’ll get the notifications (daily, weekly, etc). If you’re barraged with other work-related or personal emails every day, I suggested getting an app like Boomerang to ping these job notifications to the top of your inbox.
2. Job boards.
Everyone knows about Linkedin and Indeed, but specialized job boards can be a total lifesaver. Find job boards that list opportunities according to your speciality or the field you’d like to go into. That will help you avoid sifting through hundreds of job listings that simply have nothing to do with your interests or skills. Keep in mind that not all jobs will be posted on job boards (especially for more exclusive companies or brands), but there are a great number that are.
3. Take time to follow up.
This strategy is just as important as applying! Take time to keep tabs on which applications you have out in the world, and whether or not you’ve received responses. Now, I don’t suggest following up (with a personal email that says “can I send you anything else?”) on jobs that you never heard any response from. But simply going back to the organization’s job board or site and seeing if, after a few weeks, the job is still posted is definitely worthwhile. It will allow you to check it off your “maybe list” mentally (and ideally, in the spreadsheet you’re using to keep track of all the applications).
By the same token, if you’ve had any interviews or correspondence with some potential employers, it’s important to keep in touch. Just understand: though you’re still waiting for what seems like an eternity for their response to your follow-ups, they have other things to do besides hiring you! Striking the balance between not letting them forget you and giving them some distance is important.
4. Get creative.
After I’d exhausted all the above methods for the day, I started thinking outside the box. Think of ways you can search for jobs that aren’t so direct: research people in your industry with whom you can simply go out to coffee and ask for professional advice. Connect with people you’ve been keeping in touch with who work in the field you’d like to go into. Think of ways employers would casually post jobs. I, for example, started searching terms on twitter like “hiring social media,” “looking for writer.” Anything to get me away from the monotony of applying to everything listed on a job board! The bonus to this creative approach is that, most of the time, there’s a real person linked to these hiring tweets, so you can talk to them directly.
Once I put out a million applications, I started going through the lovely process of doing interviews during work hours. I took my lunch breaks in the back hallways of malls or in my car in the parking garage. I juggled prepping for interview questions with the usual stressors of my job. It required a whole lot of brainpower and an abundance of self-care. I recommend being as organized as humanly possible: make yourself a schedule so you can stay on task at work. Remember that the job you are in, even if you hate it, is paying your bills. Try not to get too checked-out while dreaming of — and preparing for — all these new, glamorous positions.
It took me nearly five months to find another job: a social media management position that involved working from home, and eventually, moving to New York City. The process of relocating was stressful and expensive, and I’m not sure exactly how I scraped by (read: I stopped going out for drinks and meals and dates completely). But now, I have a job in a field I love. I’m writing every day, and I never have to answer to a person who treats me inappropriately. There are difficult days, but I’ve found myself not getting as frustrated as I used to. While my friends complain about and quit their jobs because they’re not being creatively fulfilled or their office’s time-off policy, I find myself brushing off my bad days more easily than before.
It’s becoming clear to me that my disastrous, stressful, confidence-crushing first job has helped me put everything in perspective. I am patient with workplace stressors, and I am happier to take on work. I find myself becoming less distracted, and I barely ever dread going to work (getting out of bed is another story).
Now, it could just be that I’ve always been a crazy person and loved to work, but I do think my nightmare job had a benefit to it, after all: endurance and clarity. Even if you’re working in the field you got your degree in, it’s important to check in with yourself and ask why you chose this job in the first place. Find ways to incorporate your professional goals into your current job. Don’t forget: you are never stuck.
It can feel like you’re never going to get out and that quitting is impossible. Everyone is bound to work a shitty job; it’s part of working your way up the ladder. I’m not saying people should gladly take on a shitty job. No one deserves abuse in their workplace and if a situation makes you feel unsafe or you are getting the short end of the stick, absolutely speak up. But, for a lot of us, those shitty experiences help you to identify red flags. They help you to learn what you like and what you don’t.
Working in the world is a weird game of Russian roulette: Get a game plan. Work really hard. And when that doesn’t work, do it all again. But there is light at the end of the tunnel: the search does not last forever! And the sometimes-terrible experience of looking while working can end up sweetening up the next good job.
Kristin is a writer and social media manager in New York City. Tweet her your terrible job stories and favorite type of apple @Kristinsalaky.
Image via Unsplash