I was not expecting to be unemployed post-grad, and certainly not for as long as I was. Though none of what I did in college was for the purpose of getting a job, I had done everything I felt I was “supposed to.” I had maintained a fairly strong GPA, had an internship my two upperclassmen years of college working 9-5 three days a week, volunteered and actively participated in clubs. I networked, spent four years building relationships with professors, alumni and coworkers, and took business professionalism classes. My resume was not lacking, and that made six months of unemployment harder to bear. It’s difficult to pinpoint what you’re doing wrong when you feel like you’ve done everything right.
We don’t talk about unemployment enough, or maybe we didn’t until now. These last six months have been tiring, grueling, belittling and anxiety-inducing. By mid-May, I was ready to give up. It was another two months before, through a stroke of luck, someone I worked with previously reached out to me on LinkedIn with an opportunity to work at a startup. I’m happily employed now and having a lot of fun with my job, but I want to share a few tips I learned from these past few months:
- Take the taboo away from unemployment
The reason we don’t talk about unemployment enough is because it’s taboo. In any regular year, I can imagine the anxiety that comes with the question: “What are your plans post grad?” Lucky for me, this year no one asked me that, but we need to start normalizing not having any plans right after college. It’s common to associate unemployment with laziness or a lack of planning ahead, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Part of the reason I was so frustrated with only two months of being unemployed was because of how much fruitless work I was doing. I was sending in dozens of applications and most of them came back saying they weren’t hiring for the position anymore. I tailored resumes and cover letters to cater to each individual role, applied and then dug around on LinkedIn to send messages to the hiring manager, and still didn’t even get an interview. I then started writing cold emails to people in the specific teams at companies I wanted to work at to have coffee chats. For my top companies, I included suggestions for projects they could work on. On top of all this, I was also working as a marketing consultant part-time for two companies right up until I started my full-time job. Being unemployed is anything but lazy.
- Give yourself grace. This economy isn’t normal
I’ll be honest: After doing everything listed above, I got a whole lot of nothing. I would like to say recruiters were sending me gifts to woo me to join their company, but unfortunately it was just week after week of me typing in “REJECTED” or “NO LONGER AVAILABLE” and highlighting cells red in my job search excel sheet. When I did informal coffee chats, and talked to employees at my top companies about my ideas, I was met with a lot of “buts”: “You’re exactly the kind of person we want on our team, but I won’t have headcount until next year,” or, “Your go-getter attitude is great, but we just filled our positions. I’ll keep you in mind though!” What was more frustrating was doing all the work of submitting a job application only to find out soon after that the company had forgotten to take a job listing off their website. I had to constantly remind myself that most of these rejections had nothing to do with me, and that this COVID economy is not normal. Jobs are limited and the talent pool is saturated, so you can only control what you can control.
- Your network is your net worth!
This is perhaps the most overstated saying in the business world, but you can’t get far without a solid network. These last few months, I spent 80 percent of my time networking, reaching out for coffee chats and talking to alumni friends. I ended up getting my current job because of my network, but not from people I met during this time, so it’s important that you cultivate your network long before you leverage it. Secondly, you need to think about where you want to be two to three years out, so that even if you aren’t ready or the right fit for a role at a company right now, you know how to get there. I want to eventually work in FinTech, so I reached out to people at companies in that industry for coffee chats. This was mostly to learn about their career paths, but they may offer you a referral and, who knows, even if they don’t have openings now, something may come up in a few months. You want to stay top of mind!
- You have your whole life to work, stop that internalized need to be productive
This seems like the opposite of everything I’ve said so far. Obviously do what you can to get a job, but you have your entire life to work; use this time to figure out what you like to do in your free time that makes you happy. Also, stay off your LinkedIn feed as much as you can; although it’s a great tool for networking, use it for just that and maybe LinkedIn Learning. Scrolling through posts can create a hyper-competitive and often opportunistic mindset that is more damaging than beneficial. And, like any social media, it can create or exacerbate insecurities, especially during this time. In these last few months, I’ve gotten a puppy, baked lots of banana bread, made jam, exercised more and spent more time with family. I watched a lot of Netflix. I started this podcast and blog. The hardest thing to unlearn for me is this: You should not be living to work. Your passions should not be your work. If you have the opportunity and privilege to do so, use these “unprecedented times” to really explore what you like doing when you have nothing to do. What are you doing for you?
The last thing I’ll say about unemployment is this: these months can really test your sense of self worth, but you are not defined by your job. You are not defined by your title or your salary. Don’t forget what you bring to the table and, if you can afford to, don’t say yes to the first thing that comes to you if you feel like you’re being lowballed in any way. Most importantly, don’t compare yourself to others. Your time will come.