Starting your professional life is daunting. In fact, trying to jump onto the bottom of the professional totem pole can feel a lot like repeatedly leaping at an unforgiving brick wall. I’m in my final year of university (studying international relations and economics) and thinking about my future professional life teeters between scary and downright dismal. The uncertainty of my future reminds me of my economics professor describing asset pricing — an asset (a stock, for example) is mainly priced based on its future stream of income. The more uncertainty about recurring returns, the more the value of the stock depends on expected potential for future growth. In a way, job hunting is exactly like this. We’re trying our best to make the right choices, which will hopefully move us forward professionally. We have an expected potential for future growth, but hiring us is still uncertain because we are not guaranteeing a good return on investment.
A few years after graduation, you can look back on your actions and see which decisions produced good results. Your stock becomes worth more because of the experience you’ve gained. Once you’ve gained that experience, you become a more marketable candidate because employers can vouch for your work. This means other employers can now see that investing in you is likely to produce a good return. But when you are a new post-grad, you are a bigger risk to take on because you don’t have the experience to back you up.
As someone who hasn’t graduated yet, I’m still having trouble finding good jobs to apply for and figuring out how to show my value to a company. How do I prove that, if they hire me, they’ll get a good return on their investment?
For me, my only choice was to start building my network. I reached out to people in my field of interest, and got as many informational interviews as possible, simply to learn what sorts of jobs exist and what might interest me. Every time I reached out to someone, even if they didn’t have a lead for me, they had suggestions on ways I could learn, where I could volunteer my time, or who I should contact.
The times I’ve felt horribly stuck in my career search were when I felt like I didn’t have any idea of what was “out there.” I didn’t know enough about the internships, volunteering opportunities, entry-level positions, or job hunt strategies. I’ve started to learn that even if I’m not qualified for job postings right now, there are ways of becoming qualified, and people who can help me gain the necessary skills to be an appealing hire. This is why building a network is so important to my future professional life. The more people I meet, who can help point me in the right direction, the more prepared I’ll be to join the workforce.
It took me longer than I’m proud of to learn the importance of reaching out to professionals in a field, and to swallow the fears that they don’t want to talk to me, or that I’ll be bothering them. I’ve realized that I can’t just value my time in terms of the money that comes out of it in the short run. Spending time to network with people who could help in the long run is a well-spent afternoon. An hour of my time isn’t just about what I’m immediately getting out of it, but what I’m building for my future.
Case in point: a couple of weeks ago I took a previous contributor to TFD out for coffee. She was a graduate from my program who I didn’t know until I saw her work on the site. She was kind enough to tell me about her job (at a government agency) and how she got there. Not only was it helpful for me to see her trajectory, but she later emailed me about a job opening in her department, which I would never have known about otherwise.
I’ve become much more comfortable just telling my friends that I’m job searching, and it’s paid off. Another friend invited me to a party thrown by Vision, the municipal party currently in power in my home city of Vancouver. Once I explained that I was looking to learn, contribute, and get involved, the number of strangers who offered to take me under their wing and introduce me to people was incredible. Walking home with my mind buzzing from what I’d learned, I felt rich. For the first time in a long while, I felt like I had a viable, exciting future.
As someone who gets so frustrated sending out resumés, and scrambling to find opportunities online, it is so satisfying to realize that there are other people who will value your hustle and are willing to help. And, of course, I don’t want any of this to be one-sided. I am keeping track of every person who is helping me, and I am also trying to help other friends make connections.
Though job searching is stressful, I think that with each connection I make, and each opportunity I take part in, I am becoming a more desirable asset to companies. The road to landing a post-grad job is still long, but I want to make sure that I’m taking every step I can toward cultivating a future I’m excited about. And putting in half an hour of extra time, or taking someone out for coffee is definitely an investment I’m willing to make for my future.
McKenzie is an international relations major in Vancouver, hoping to eventually work her way into public policy and politics. She likes applying economics to everyday life and pulling out the popcorn every time there’s an election.
Image via Unsplash