I can vividly remember searching for my first job after college. I spent my days scouring job sites, updating my resume and dreaming of endless possibilities. You see, I was a fresh, young graduate ready to tackle the world and solve its problems one non-profit organization at a time. After all, that was my dream and with all of my passion, I couldn’t see how anyone would be able to turn me down.
My to-do list was checked off, I had completed internships in college, held a steady job (or two, or three…at a time), completed a few side projects and had great recommendations. Yet, after countless, and yes I really mean countless, applications I was still waiting to hear the words “You’re hired!” I had only heard “You need more experience.”
Feeling down and out as I was reflecting one night in the midst of my job search I remembered some solid advice from my favorite college mentor. On my last night in her “classroom”, as we were saying goodbye, she said to me, “No matter what you decide to do after graduation, no matter what opportunities you take advantage of, you won’t be making a mistake. You will always be making gains if you think if it that way.”
I took that advice to heart. And, I am happy to say it has not let me down. Here’s what I learned along the way.
Be willing to apply for positions that don’t sound like your dream job.
This was hard for me. My heart was set on working in non-profit development, but I needed a job. Right after graduation, my husband and I moved out of state to take advantage of an opportunity for him to pursue a master’s degree. Needless to say, I didn’t have the option of moving home to my parent’s basement. (No offense meant to people who did, cheers to saving money!) So, I just started applying everywhere with health insurance benefits and even some places without.
I finally landed my first job after college in a call center. Was it glamorous? No. Did I love it? Absolutely not. But, did it teach me something? Yes. In that position, I learned A LOT about corporate environments, employee reviews, and working the traditional 9-5. I also gained experience in that position that I have used as examples in EVERY interview since.
After my husband received his master’s degree we moved back to Illinois. This time I found myself employed by an insurance agency. It was literally the furthest thing from what I pictured myself doing. In fact, just months before I interviewed for the position I told a friend that his insurance job sounded “mind-numbing.”—Funny how life does that to us sometimes.
I’m not going to elaborate on everything the position in insurance taught me, I’ll save that for another time. But, I will tell you that in that position I was able to be part of the interview process for new hires, train other employees, and help design customer service processes. Eventually, all of that experience helped lead me here. So, there ya go!
Honestly, there are so many reasons that volunteering is important, but right now I am going to focus on how it can help you professionally. For example, it was during that first position in a call center when I started volunteering at a local alternative school. It wasn’t a non-profit, but I had experience in education, I loved working with the kids and giving back was selfishly satisfying.
It was my time spent volunteering there that gave me the fuel I needed to get through my day J.O.B. and pay the bills. Long story made short, eventually, I was able to transition my volunteering into a full-time position and leave the call center.
Volunteering can give you an outlet to use the amazing skills you have while building your resume. Find an organization that needs someone to volunteer time to help grow their social media, create marketing materials, get their finances in order, or make-over their conference room. Whatever your talents are, I guarantee you someone needs them—they just may not have the means to pay for them. Make it a win-win. Help them out AND gain experience.
Work hard—work really, really hard
This statement probably sounds as generic as they come, but it contains so much truth that it just has to be said. In order to land that dream job or maybe just a job in your field of choice you are going to have to put in a lot of “grunt work”.
Truth bomb. Having a college degree in your hand doesn’t guarantee anything. According to the 2015 US Census, 1 in 3 Americans holds a bachelor’s degree or higher. That’s a lot of educated people, so roll up your sleeves and get ready for some late nights and a few long work weeks, it’s time to prove you’ve got what it takes.
I’m hoping that my tough love there at the end didn’t scare you away and that you’re still reading because the truth is you’re going to reach that dream and accomplish that goal. Don’t doubt yourself. Just know that the journey will be worth it, so make the most of it. Hearing “You need more experience.” is not the end of the road, it’s only the beginning.