For this post, I would like you to join me on a journey down memory lane to late 2019.
As I prepared for my final semester at UC Berkeley, all seemed to finally be on track. After having changed my major about five times and deliberating endlessly on what my career path would be, I finally set my mind on pursuing a career in journalism.
Coming to this decision alone was a considerable challenge. Why? When settling on a career path, I’ve found that I value work that gives me more than simply financial returns. I'm fully aware that a big part of my life will be dedicated to work, so it’s important for me to look for opportunities that check the boxes on emotional fulfillment, serving a greater purpose, passion, and work-life balance.
So, for years, I asked myself: what are you passionate about and what are you good at that can be utilized for the greater benefit of society? I was interested in international affairs and politics, so my initial thought was to pursue a career in law or perhaps diplomacy. My theater past and my love of communicating with an audience made me question whether acting would be the right path. And, finally, my innate need for continuous human interaction inspired the thought of a potential career in psychological counseling.
After countless internships, trials, and errors, I found myself in Berkeley’s television club in the news department. A week into the experience, I had an immediate sense of relief. How did I not think of pursuing a career in media before? While the fast-paced nature of news and its intimate relationship with foreign affairs satisfied my interest in international relations, interviews and investigative research allowed for an endless avenue for human interaction. As for audience engagement, what better platform to communicate to the masses than the media?
Finally, my prayers were heard! I had found my passion. What I didn’t know though was that the bigger challenge lay not in finding how I wanted my career to unfold, but in making that vision a reality…
Graduating into the Pandemic: A Non-Existent Job Market
For my final semester, after many interviews, applications, and networking attempts, I finally landed an internship at NBC Bay Area. While I knew that my ideal was to focus my experience on new media, I felt that starting in a traditional setting would provide me with more resources and experience. My first couple of weeks in the internship proved me right: being in the studio, getting trained in journalistic writing for on-air newscasts, and interacting directly with producers and anchors; it was all a dream come true. But, things quickly began to change when the pandemic became a reality.
First, our internship transformed into a remote experience, with extremely limited access to the initial training resources we had. Then, all NBC internships were suspended across the nation due to the uncertain nature and implications of the pandemic. This yielded a major challenge in my career plans. I was hoping to transition into a full-time role upon graduation and use NBC’s network as a springboard to find my way into a digital media position in NY. But, as almost all media organizations – like many other sectors – imposed a long-term hiring freeze, this plan quickly became a pipe dream.
What was additionally anxiety-inducing was that, compared to other recent graduates, I had a firmer deadline as a visa holder. Growing up in Turkey, my F-1 Student visa status only granted me 3 months of unemployment, and if employed, 3 years of eligibility to work as my major was considered to be STEM (non-STEM majors are only granted 1 year of work eligibility).
My international peers will immediately relate when I say, the mere mention of restricted eligibility to work in the US is enough to have recruiters ghost you immediately, even in the absence of the implications of the pandemic. Now, add the adverse impact of the pandemic on the entire job market, and what you have left is extreme uncertainty and a lack of hope for recent graduates as they venture into the beginning of their careers.
How did I navigate this uncertainty in my employment efforts?
The pandemic, recession, visa complications, starting a job remotely, being ghosted by recruiters, mass layoffs… what a way to get started on your career! So, how did I manage? Here are a couple of tactics and learnings I’ve acquired during the process of finding a job.
It’s a numbers game, yes; but when it comes to recruitment, quality always trumps quantity.
The trick is not applying to as many job posts as possible. The effort that goes behind your application will always matter more. Did you reach out to the recruiter on LinkedIn? Did you write a compelling and custom cover letter? Do you actually want this job and understand what it entails? Simply sending a resume to every job post you see will not get you very far. These job posts get hundreds, if not thousands of applications. You have to find ways in which your application can stick.
A key way to do this is to approach your job search more qualitatively. Narrow down the number of organizations you want to work at, narrow down the types of job openings you would be interested in, and have a clear vision of why you would be a great fit. Then, give it your all to this more limited list of job postings.
My go-to platform for this was LinkedIn. I temporarily converted my account to a Premium account and then looked into the people who worked at the companies I aspired to work for. Then, I proceeded to send cold outreach messages to people I found commonalities with, such as Turkish people or graduates of my university. These messages were simply asking to jump on a 15-minute call or grab a coffee to hear more about their experience working in this company. Yes, 8 out of 10 people you send this message to may not answer, but, perhaps 2 will. That short conversation can both get you insights regarding the company and also a connection that can refer you.
When approaching applications, do not send generic cover letters. Have hooks that showcase you’ve researched the company and what it stands for. Always customize your CV according to the job posting as well. Perhaps highlighting a specific aspect of a previous position you had makes sense for a job posting when it didn’t for the last one. I understand that this may be difficult when you’re sending so many applications and do not want to customize each and every one. This brings me back to my original point: quality will always trump quantity.
Surround yourself with the right people: Network, network, network.
I got my job through a cold-outreach connection request to my current manager. While initially turned down, I kept pushing and finally heard back when there was an internship opportunity. You never know what a connection can lead to. Meet your friends’ friends, exhaust your family’s connections, and utilize LinkedIn. Ask them about their experience in the company, what their recommendations are… Capitalize on your location! Many cities will have frequent networking events, seminars, and more. Or, perhaps the company you are interested in is launching an event. Perhaps the founder of the company is a speaker at an upcoming conference. Go there, introduce yourself, and ask to connect on LinkedIn.
And, utilize platforms like Elpha, which can connect you with other women who can empower you in the process. One connection can go a long way.
Visualize your end goal. What does success mean for you?
Don’t create vague goals like “I just want a job”. Once you visualize your end goal and what success will mean for you, you will be one step closer to making that a reality. Rather than saying you want a job, say you want a job that can help you afford your lifestyle, with hybrid work options, in New York, in the new media industry, in a marketing department… (insert desires here).
If you don’t know what you want, how can you make it a reality? Be specific. Sit down with your friends and family, or with a pen and paper, and truly think about what gives you joy and fulfillment. What are you good at? What kind of a company do you want to work for? What is the kind of company that can grant you the culture you want?
A lot of people think when recruiting for a job, they cannot afford the luxury of having a specific goal in mind, but that is where they are wrong. Being specific and intentional in the way you apply to jobs is how you get success.
It only takes one job
What I experienced in my job search struggles in 2020 is not isolated to the unprecedented situation that the pandemic imposed on the job market. These kinds of external factors have and will continue to negatively impact the job market in the US and beyond. The tech industry is even more volatile when it comes to external phenomena such as economic difficulties and recession; we experienced this in the recent mass layoffs. What’s more, factors such as navigating this situation as a woman, as a minority, or as a visa-holder will always present additional challenges, imposing even more uncertainty and stress on the safety and stability of our position.
But, as I outlined above, there are ways to manage this stress and uncertainty and find ways to create a safety net for yourself. Your early career will always come with challenges and uncertainty; you are not alone and capitalizing on ways to make the process easier essentially lies in your hands. The point is: to take ownership of the situation and do your best. Keep pushing, have a specific end goal in mind, and you will succeed.
Job hunting is a long and hard road; but once you get to the other side, it is extremely rewarding and empowering. It just takes one job to get started. And, when you get to the other side, you can support other women and guide them toward success. If you would like to hear more about my story or my recommendations, connect with me on LinkedIn. You can also find other people in the Elpha ecosystem that can help guide you through this process!