Resilience: To Any Senior Who Isn’t Yet Employed

Kerry Houston

“Tell me about a time when you failed…ok, that’s great. Tell me about another time you failed…ok, what about a time you made a mistake?…Another mistake?…Alright, so now how do you typically go about solving problems? When did your method for solving problems fail?”

Sometimes I’m tempted to answer these interview questions by launching into a long description of my job search process…I could definitely sell it as a pretty big failure. But I haven’t done that yet, and I am confident that I won’t. My job search, which began early in the fall of 2015, has not, despite my lack of any solid employment prospect, been a complete failure. I’ve learned more about myself in these past few months than I ever have before, and I can only hope that everyone experiences the reality of the job search struggle at least once in their lives.

I’ve worked at the Center for Career Services for the past three years, and never considered unemployment at graduation as even a remote possibility. With good grades, three years of meaningful internship experience and lots of campus involvement, I thought I was all set. My first goal was to have a job by winter break (if so-and-so could do it last year, I definitely can!). My second goal was to have a job by graduation (totally realistic, most jobs aren’t even posted until early winter!) Well, I’ve progressed to lucky goal No. 3: come to peace with the fact that I’m not going to reach these goals. And take a deep breath, continue to work hard and enjoy the end of my senior year.  

The job application and interviewing process forces you to learn a lot about yourself. It’s simultaneously both an enlightening and humbling process…and eventually, rewarding. As one of my final written contributions to the Maroon­-News, I’d like to share some of the insight I’ve gained over these past few months.

1.)  Network & avoid the black hole: Company career portals are more often than not just big black holes for resume drops. The only times I’ve had success in getting an interview – at any type of company – are those times when I’ve reached out to Colgate alumni and asked to learn more about their professional experience and any advice they may have. Perfect that outreach message on LinkedIn, and get connected. (And also realize that only about 35 percent of the people you reach out to will actually respond. But hey, better than nothing!)

2.)  Always pack an extra pair of pantyhose for an interview: Seriously. Nothing makes a better first impression than a long run down your leg walking into an interview. Thanks, NYC taxis…

3.)  Have a back up plan: Remember that time the human resources coordinator told you your interview would be two hours…and it lasted four and a half? Remember the time the recruiters conveniently forgot about you and made you wait 55 minutes in a glass room between interviews? Yeah, missed those trains home.

4.)  Pay attention to PT vs EST: Some companies have their HR departments located only on the west coast. You really don’t want to make the mistake of calling a potential employer in New York at 9:00 am…when the phone number is for the San Francisco office.

5.)  Do your research: Know everything you possibly can before an interview, but make sure you don’t seem like a robot. You need to know about the company’s leaders, history, mission, competitors, clients and recent news headlines, as well as the daily responsibilities specific to the role and the opportunities for growth within the company/industry. Where will your career take you? What do you want to do with your life? Why did you spend two summers working in broadcast news and are now applying to be a portfolio manager? I wish I knew…

6.)  Find a career coach: Whether it’s mom, dad, an older sibling, alumni friends or David Loveless at Career Services, find a mentor who knows you well and who you can trust. Someone who will prep you for interviews and give you honest feedback about your responses. Someone who can proofread cover letters and your networking emails. And someone who will give you a reality check when you need one (thanks, Carol).

7.)  Have a safe answer for political questions: Some interviewers love talking politics – how you respond to their questions about the upcoming election can tell a lot about your “fit” for the company. Then again, apparently so does having “Fox News” on your resume.

8.)  Send thank you notes: They really go a long way and, surprisingly, many people forget this.

9.)  Don’t limit yourself: I’d love to work in marketing within financial services, but have applied to all sorts of roles in a variety of industries I’d never considered before, like tech, healthcare, law, PR and consulting. There are marketing opportunities everywhere.  Glassdoor daily job alerts will seriously become your new best friend.

10.) Don’t be afraid to reject job offers: I rejected one job offer because I knew that the company culture, combined with the responsibilities specific to the role, just wasn’t the right fit for me and I would have been miserable. Rejecting an offer can be about the scariest thing you can do when you are turning down a job in favor of nothing else. There are times when I will definitely have to settle, but it’s also important to decide what is best for you, whether it’s the money, location, people, quality of life, etc.

11.) Know what you do for fun: Interviewers want to know you’re a real person underneath that business suit, and these questions can really throw you off after a series of more intense behavioral questions. And unfortunately, “margaritas at La Iguana” isn’t the right answer, as fun (or true) as that may be.

12.) Find a coping mechanism that works: I was rejected from three jobs and then ran 13 miles. I felt a lot better. My roommate prefers Ben & Jerry’s Double Fudge Brownie. From personal experience I don’t recommend both at the same time.

13.) Laugh at yourself: I’ve started printing out my rejection letters and hanging them up as inspiration. I’m at 56 right now, and oh, are there more to come…

So, how do I solve problems? Well, wine helps. But whining definitely doesn’t.

Having a positive attitude makes all the difference because it’s all about how you bounce back gracefully from disappointment and grow from the experience. Now someone, please, hire me.