I’m a budding young interdisciplinary illustrator/creative writing. Right now I am closing in on my final months at school and I’m worried about finding a job. What was your first professional job hunt experience like?
Congrats on your impending move up into the real world! I always tell my students that life after graduation is the best part about being in school – to which they’d have groans and moans about how difficult life out there is.
Funnily enough, I didn’t think in that terms. Not because I was rich or anything like that (I still lived with my parents then though – but I was on my own financially.) I just thought about what I wanted first and foremost, and it was a simple enough a goal: I wanted to be happy.
Being happy is such a broad term, so let’s break it down.
Before I was allowed to graduate as a landscape architect, we had to go on a 6-month internship at a landscape consultancy. I got my feet wet researching about plant selection and design, and was being given a crash course on how tedious meetings were. I told myself before I started the internship that whatever I chose to do after graduation would hinge on this 6 months of me giving it my all in the field. I didn’t hate being a landscape architect, but I wasn’t exactly ecstatic at the prospect of having to work on AutoCAD for the rest of my career.
And so I gave it my all – and what that meant was trying to be the best darn intern that company has ever seen. I asked the big boss to take me along for his meetings (he was stunned because I was the first one to ever ask), and I gamely took on site excursions under the hot sun just to rack up some experience.
At the end of the internship, I knew what I wanted.
And it wasn’t the path that I had went along for the past 6 months.
So before I graduated, I worked on a plan. I had decided that being a landscape architect wasn’t for me, and I was interested in publishing instead. Specifically, I wanted to be a magazine editor, so I was on the lookout for vacancies that started at the bottom rung of what seemed like an impossible ladder – an editorial assistant post. I love books and magazines, and the desire to be a part of a fast moving arena really helped make the scary jump.
I was lucky. I saw an ad for an editorial assistant position at a spa magazine (it was a decent, classy one) within a few weeks. The ad mentioned that they were looking for graduates within the communications and PR field, with at least 1-3 years of publishing experience.
I had none.
So here’s what I did:
#1. I made a case for what I could offer them, and gave it my all… in my cover letter.
I had to strategize. I knew that a big part of getting my foot in the door relied on my cover letter. So I started to research about cover letters, heading to the bookstore for samples of great resumes and cover letters, as well as doing my research online. I aimed to write a letter that conveyed my passion for writing, and research. I also tried to allay their fears – I told them that if I didn’t know something, you’d bet that I would find the answer, and I wasn’t afraid to work hard at it.
#2. I wasn’t afraid to go above and beyond what a resume/CV looks like
In addition to the cover letter that I tailored for the magazine, I also researched about health and wellness – two topics that I was really into at the time. I asked myself – why in heck would these people hire me just by looking at my letter? I had an AHA moment – I wouldn’t just send a letter and a resume (which was looking pretty empty at this point) I would send them a mock-up of an article, in which I wrote about new age fitness, and – get this – I didn’t just send it in as a text document. Oh no. I made it all fancy – I laid out the article in Microsoft Word as a series of images and text, just like how it would appear in a magazine.
#3. I took a bit of a price cut. [scary, and optional]
The cover letter, resume and mock-up worked. I had an interview! And I was so excited too – it was a small, close-knit team and I was eager to show them my enthusiasm, and I was even more prepared to learn a whole lot from the experience. And what surprised me most of all was that I was hired on the spot – apparently they’ve never met someone who had enthusiasm bubbling out of their ears! They negotiated a slight salary adjustment because I had no experience – but they told me that it would be adjusted as I proved my capabilities within a few months.
In instances like mine, I knew that once I had my foot in the door, that slight salary cut would be nothing compared to the experience that I would gain. Plus, I knew that I could negotiate the industry rate (or higher) when I went to another magazine (which I did.) I lucked out because it turned out really well – I had an exciting career in publishing, and worked my way up to editor in the end (in a different magazine, with a fair bit of twists and turns along the way, but that’s a story for another time).
The biggest takeaway from my experience that you can apply to your own job search is this:
#4. Don’t be afraid to take risks in pursuit of what you want.
Perhaps you don’t know what you want yet. Maybe you don’t know if you’re happier pursuing writing or illustrating; or even both at the same time. Do one at a time, and see how you feel about it. Most of the time, even if we don’t know what we want, we are sure of what we don’t want, and that in itself is a good stepping stone to find what fits.
It’s okay to not have things work out right from the start. And that’s where the fun is – trying to figure out your career, and in the process, figuring out what you really want to do.
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What about you? What tips and advice do you have to offer Alicia? Tell us your story – we’d love to hear it!
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