I should’ve been job searching during my final semester of college. And I did—a little. But the whole process really intimidated me. I scanned the sites for openings and threw myself into the ring for a few random positions, but for the most part, I kept pretending it wasn’t on my to-do list.
And then I decided, “Well, I’m not sure what I want to do after college, so, I’ll go to grad school!” I applied to one school, got in, and then—surprise, surprise—went through the same exact dilemma two years later when I graduated. Sure, I had three more letters after my name—Abby Wolfe, MPH, woohoo!—but, unfortunately, my grad school curriculum didn’t include “Job Searching 101.”
Don’t get me wrong. Grad school was great. I learned a lot and met a lot of awesome people. But the reason I chose to pursue my master’s degree was not. I was prolonging my entrance into the “real world” because I was good at being a student, but not good at being a graduate. After all, every other time I graduated in my life I just moved on to more schooling (and yes, I count kindergarten graduation).
Going through this at any point in your life can be scary for multiple reasons. But, alas, you can’t escape it. So instead of putting it off any longer, let’s look at your four biggest fears square in the eyes and face them together.
Fear #1: You’ll Have to Spend All Your Free Time Doing It
You’re right. This process can be quite time consuming. First, you need to sift through the many postings to find opportunities that actually fit you and your interests. Then, you have to dedicate time to putting together a solid application, which can include a resume, cover letter, references, writing samples, and more. And then, if you get an interview, you have to spend time prepping. You get the picture—it’s not just one click of a button.
But here’s the good news—there are ways in which you can optimize your time spent searching. Block off specific times in your week to sit down and focus solely on this process. And when I say specific times, I don’t mean “I will work on this over the weekend.” Instead, I’m thinking more along the lines of “I will do this on Wednesday night from 7 to 9 PM.” And then at 9 PM, you’re done, you’re free.
Once you choose times, assign goals to each session. These could be along the lines of:
- Find three positions to apply to
- Write cover letter for X position at X company
- Revise resume
Without designated times and specific goals, you’re likely to just keep prolonging the process. Because, admit it: If you just troll openings while you’re watching the latest episode of The Walking Dead, you’ll most likely get distracted by the creepy drone of the zombies. Additionally, you’ll probably spend many a minute scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Amazon.com—choose your poison, you know you have one.
Fear #2: You Aren’t Qualified for Anything
An open position grabs your attention and you get really excited. But when you get to the list of requirements at the end of the page, that excitement quickly fades. I have to have how many years of experience? And be proficient in all of those systems?
You’re not the only person’s who’s asked yourself, “How am I supposed to gain experience if I can’t fulfill the requirements to get a job in which I will gain experience?”
But as Muse writer Sara McCord points out, “Some requirements are listed because they ‘sound good.’” And, furthermore, when companies are writing these blurbs, they often tailor them to describe who their “dream applicant” would be.
“But truthfully,” McCord says, “companies aren’t going to stall the hiring process until the dream applicant saunters in—solid, qualified applicants (like you!) get interviews, too. So, if there is a dumping ground of desired skills at the end of the description, see them as bonus skills, and focus your application on all of the core skills you do have.”
But keep in mind, while you’re probably more qualified than you give yourself credit for, you’re not right for everything. As long as you’ve ruled all the “definite nos” out and you aren’t applying to be, say, an orthopedic surgeon when you went to school for art therapy, apply away.
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Fear #3: You Won’t Stand Out
It can be awfully daunting to apply for a job when you know the recruiter probably already has a mountain of resumes on his desk. And it can be really easy to start doubting yourself and your chances of getting picked out of that pile. But if you’re trying for a position you’re qualified for, you deserve just as much of a chance as the other faceless applications—and maybe even more.
But here’s the kicker—you’re not done once you hit “send.” It’s only just begun. If you want to stand out, you have to take action and go above and beyond. As Kat Boogaard, Muse writer and owner of Burst Communications says, “You should never hesitate to go the extra mile, show some initiative, and share some other materials that a potential employer might care about. Go ahead and send them a link to your portfolio or personal blog. Anything that helps them to get a better sense of who you are as a candidate will benefit you!”
Going the extra mile doesn’t have to be fancy, though. In fact, it can be quite simple. Jenni Maier, Managing Editor for The Daily Muse, has read many cover letters (including mine), and says one quick and easy way to be noticed is with an untraditional cover letter opening (i.e., saying something other than “Hi, I’m writing to express my interest in this position”).
“It’s always a treat when a candidate starts with a fun fact, a memorable anecdote, or a clever line. By doing this, you immediately have my attention.” Take note, though: Your creative kickoff should relate to the position in question to some extent. Completely random tidbits are fun, but will leave the hiring manager feeling very confused. I’m really happy that you’ve tasted every cheese in Wisconsin, but can you remind me how that makes you a good software engineer?
There are many other ways to stand out, such as creating a portfolio of your work, thoroughly researching the company, and connecting with individuals at the companies you’re applying to (and I mean more than just pressing “Connect” on LinkedIn).
Fear #4: You’ll Hate the Job You Get
When looking for a new gig (or your first one), there are bound to be many thoughts rushing through your mind. But what if I hate it? What if I’m absolutely miserable? What if this isn’t even the right field for me?
You’ll be spending a lot of time at work—if you aren’t happy there (for the most part) it’ll start to negatively affect your whole life. So you definitely don’t want to settle.
But before you let this fear make you turn around and run, consider the following:
Just as there’s no guarantee that you’ll love it, there’s also no guarantee that you’ll hate it. The only actual guarantee is that you have no idea how the future will pan out. (Unless you are a psychic—are you? If so, tweet me some fun facts about my future.) One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is: Don’t make something a problem before it’s actually a problem. Pursue jobs you believe are a great fit for you. If—if!—the one you end up with turns out to be the worst ever, you can deal with it then.
Nothing is permanent (well, most things aren’t). If you end up absolutely loathing the company—guess what? You can start to look for something else. I know, going through the process again? But that’s the reality—you’re not signing your life away. With that being said, this doesn’t mean you should take just any position just because you know you can leave. That’s a recipe for disaster.
It’s normal to fear this process. But at the end of the day, it’s also an opportunity for you to start (or continue) shaping your future. Determine what’s holding you back from searching, then tackle that fear head on. Good luck!
Abby is a writer, career coach, and health educator living in Portland, Maine. When she’s not trying to make the world a happier and healthier place, you can find her cuddling with her cats, hunting down the city's best coffee and grilled cheese, or dipping her toes in the Atlantic. Say hi on Twitter .More from this Author