15 Things I’ve Learned From My Unemployed Post-Grad Life

They say that being unemployed is a job in itself, and I couldn’t agree more. You have to tailor your resume to each job, craft clever cover letters but make sure it doesn’t look like you’re trying too hard, attend networking events, connect with industry professionals and colleagues from your alma mater, keep yourself busy with volunteering or a job, stay on top of industry trends, prep for interviews. The list goes on.

Unemployment is miserable.

I was unemployed for four months following my graduation from UW-Whitewater in December. I do have a full-time, paid internship now, but these points are still relevant now as they were three months ago, as I’m job searching again.

I hope this isn’t the norm, but it took me almost exactly two months from the date I applied for the internship at C-K, to when I started. Two months. For a three-month-long internship. I wish I would have started applying to jobs back in October, but to be honest, I had just started at Ideas That Evoke in Madison and wasn’t sure if I wanted to work there after graduation or not. C-K was a shining beacon of bright green light. It took me out of my unemployment funk. But I knew it would be short-lived, and one month into my internship, I had to start job searching again.

This is what I learned (and am still learning) from 2015: My Year of Job Searching.

+ I had no idea moving back home after graduation was going to be so hard. It’s sad how I’ve lived in my parent’s house for almost 20 years but now it doesn’t feel like home. My dad repainted my walls from bright orange and blue (I don’t know what I was thinking) to stark white and haven’t put anything on the walls, so it feels like I’m living in a hospital room. I think it is just as hard on my parents as it is on me. I haven’t lived at home for four years, so I felt like I was invading my own home.

+ Getting a job took longer than I thought it would. I made deadlines in my mind. Get a job by January. Start in February. Find an apartment and move in by April. Save money. It’s June and I’m way behind on my schedule. I still don’t have a real job. No apartment either. Barely any savings! Funny how life works, huh?

+ A degree does not guarantee a job. But I feel like many college students are brought up believing it is. We’re brought up believing if we attend class and getting good grades a job will come easy after graduation. But that’s not good enough. We have to not only be involved in extracurriculars, Greek life, organizations, but take on leadership positions as well. That’s not good enough. We have to apply for competitive internships and part-time jobs and do freelance work, then get recommendations on LinkedIn from our connections. That’s not good enough. We have to network, stay on top of our fields and connect with professionals. And that’s still not good enough.

+ My funemployment was both glorious and awful. I stayed with my boyfriend in downtown Milwaukee most weeks and weekends. While he was at work, I applied for jobs, watched terrible daytime TV, cooked, baked, cleaned, napped, and felt like a housewife. A housewife who’s only a housewife because nobody wanted her as an employee. I had a lot of ‘me’ time in those four months, which was fantastic (something an introvert can never get enough of). I started exercising, I watched a lot of documentaries, I read books.

I was also extremely unhappy. A lot contributed to how awful I felt about myself and my life, but I felt like I had lost myself. Those were some dark times. Fortunately for me, I had a godsend in the form of a boyfriend, who supported me, listened to me and kept me distracted and busy those four months I was unemployed. I was depressed, unmotivated, and down on myself most of the time, but for some crazy reason, he still stuck with me.

Monster

+ Networking with strangers is not my strong suit. Well, small talk is not my strong suit. And what powers networking? Small talk. I forced myself to go to a couple networking events. I went with my friend Heather when she spoke to college classes at UW-Whitewater. I did what I was comfortable with. Baby steps.

+ It’s hard not to feel worthless. I get it. You’ve worked so hard the last few years in college, in your internships and jobs, in your classes, and now you have nothing to show for it. Bills are piling up, dreams you had about post-grad life seem far out of reach, personal deadlines pass. It’s really hard not to compare yourself to other graduates or young professionals.

I stalked my dream companies like crazy. I checked Big Shoes Network, MilwaukeeJobs, Indeed and company websites like it was my religion. I applied to jobs at least once a week. I checked my peers who I graduated with to see if they got jobs. I always had LinkedIn open on my computer. I was doing everything right.

Don’t get discouraged? Easier said than done. ‘It’s ok to be disappointed, but not to be defeated.’ I’ve been rejected from job opportunities so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve been sad before, but never like this. But when you stop believing in yourself, no one will believe in you either.

+ Apply for jobs you want but might not be qualified for. This piece of advice I got from my boyfriend. What’s the worst thing that could happen if you apply for a job that you are 90% sure you won’t get? They’re not going to reply to your e-mail or ask you in for an interview? Big whoop.

I had a great experience when I applied for a job I knew I wasn’t qualified for. I met with the CEO of the smaller agency, and we talked for almost an hour. I went in knowing I wasn’t going to get hired for the position, but flattered that the CEO wanted to get to know me in case any future positions opened up. I had an open mind throughout the interview, and in the end, I learned a lot about the company and their needs, more than I ever could through their website and social channels.

+ Remember what your parents told you about putting your personal information on the Internet. By this I mean your phone number and address. When you upload your resume to job boards with your phone number, you will get phone calls from strangers. I learned this the hard way. I should have written, ‘prefer to be contacted via e-mail,’ because I cannot tell you how many random calls I’ve gotten in the past five months. I think I dislike it because I’m unprepared for the call, and most of the jobs recruiters suggested were for sales positions (sales…ew).

Cell Phone

+ Don’t be afraid to follow up with contacts. I don’t know why, but I hate talking on the phone to strangers (see point above). If I didn’t hear from a company soon after I sent in my application, my boyfriend suggested I follow up with a call. People can ignore e-mails, he said, but they can’t ignore a phone call. Companies get a ton of e-mails regarding job openings, especially if it’s a coveted company and position. Calling the office and following up with your application/interview/hiring process is a smart idea to stay on top of what’s going on. Again, what’s the worst that could happen?

+ Hone those Excel skillz. I kept an Excel grid of all the jobs I applied for, if I heard back, who I contacted, and any other relevant information. This helped me out so much when I would apply to multiple jobs at the same company, or if I had forgotten if I applied to a certain job.

+ It’s hard to be creative when you’re unemployed. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t sleep. I haven’t blogged in months. All of my creative energy went into writing cover letters, updating my resume for each job position, and soaking up information in articles like, ‘31 Attention-Grabbing Cover Letter Examples,’ and ‘21 Free Resume Designs Every Job Hunter Needs.’ Instead of blogging and tweeting about journalism and public relations-related articles, I leaned on my past experiences to shine in my resume and cover letter. I leaned on Ideas That Evoke, who graciously let me work part-time from home a couple of months after I graduated. I leaned on my parents, friends and boyfriend.

Poor

+ Get used to talking about your unemployment. When I would see my parents, go to a family gathering, visit my boyfriend’s parents, hang out with my friends or basically be in any social situation, I always feared someone would ask me how the job search is going. I cringe even thinking about it. ‘It’s going,’ I’d always say, not wanting to elaborate. You’ll get used to hearing, ‘Well, I’m sure you’ll get something soon.’ and ‘Keep your head up.’ It’s hard not to feel like a failure when all of your friends, boyfriend’s friends, and people who graduated with you all have jobs. It’s hard thinking that everyone will define you by your lack of a job.

+ It’s scary not having a game plan. All I wanted was some sort of security. Reassurance. A guarantee. A contract. And all I got were unreturned e-mails and unwanted phone calls. It was scary not knowing what kind of place I would be in come summer. But then again, I had the whole world. I could apply anywhere. Live anywhere. Do anything. I even applied at the Peace Corps (something I’ve wanted to do for forever), because what better time could I jet off for two years? Having that freedom is equally exciting as it is terrifying.

+ Connect with recruiters. I had a friend from college who connected with me on LinkedIn mid-though my job hunt. We met up, I took a typing assessment (75 words per minute yo!), we talked about my strengths and weaknesses, and she suggested a job for me. Usually recruiters will reach out to you if they see your resume on LinkedIn or MilwaukeeJobs or something, but I was lucky that I knew her in college. Never underestimate the power and connections of a recruiter!

+ Working at Career & Leadership Development at UW-W did help, but I still want to learn more about interviews, workplace culture, resume and cover letter building. I’ve seen so many people’s resumes and online portfolios and I learn something about every single one. Never stop updating your resume, researching interview tips, pinning appropriate office outfits, tweeting relevant information, learning about different companies, and sharpening your skills. And when you do get that job, kick ass.

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