does one actually get a job?
October 19, 2016 6:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to finish grad school and I've been applying to jobs furiously, but I feel like I'm shouting into the wind. I need some advice on networking and how to appropriately reach out to employers.

Hi, I know many, many, people have asked similar questions, but here's mine! I'm finishing my my master's in December. I've been studying/interning in a very niche area of an already small field. I'm beginning to realize that although I'm passionate about this sub-field, a job is probably not going to happen without putting in a few years of ill-paid and unbenefitted internships, and I can't/don't want to do that.

I've been applying to various federal and state government and private sector jobs. I've applied for positions that are slight reaches, positions that I'm highly qualified for, some that I'm totally overqualified for, and I even applied for a few low-ball, "immediate hire" type situations, and I've never heard back from any of them.

Honestly I'm starting to feel panicky.


What do I need to be doing differently? I submit my resume and cover letter tailored to the situation, and if possible send a nice email expressing my interest.

Should I be calling to ask questions and chat before applying? Should I call after submitting to check up?

Is hiring these days completely a function of networking? Is it totally useless to even apply if you don't know someone?

So many of these jobs want a master's degree and one year of paid full-time experience in the field. How do I get that one year of experience? This is the most frustrating aspect to me. The old can't get hired without experience, can't get experience without getting hired conundrum. In most cases I have the appropriate experience from grad school but its not paid full-time work.


I'm introverted and bad at networking.

On the other hand, I'm smart, affable, self-directed, have good references, I've had lots of great internships in exactly the kinds of positions I'm applying to, etc.

Maybe off topic but I grew up in poverty/lower working class and sometimes I think I just don't speak the right language on some level. Is there a way to correct for this? I have lots of friends/classmates in this field who have less experience and depth than I do who seem to be sailing into jobs easily, but I feel I'm different somehow/come off poorly.

I moved across the country for grad school and now am in a different part of the country for an internship. I am applying in this region. My field is to some extent place based, so the fact that I didn't study at one of the regional school might be a factor.

Lastly, my grad program has been a bad fit and I've felt unsupported and there are no career services for my program. My director is however very well connected in the field. Should I be more aggressive in asking him to refer me to jobs?

posted by the offing to Work & Money (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by saturdaymornings at 6:18 PM on October 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

If your field is small, networking is key. Start by asking the director for a few casual introductions for informational interviews. These are pretty much helpful for building a network, learning about the company the contact works at, and leaving a favorable impression about yourself and what you want to do.

Asking the director to refer you to jobs is backwards - he probably won't know what jobs are out there right now and won't do the leg work for you. You should find jobs at companies he has connections at and ask if he could help get an informational interview set up with someone.

Advice on networking:
-have your elevator pitch and be able to succinctly state your background and interests.
-have a LinkedIn profile add people you meet professionally
-join professional groups (online or in person) and attend events in your area
posted by toomanycurls at 6:23 PM on October 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think your overly fixated on networking (though it is very important).

Here's a way to break your job search down and analyze the results:

- If you can't find jobs to apply to, you're probably looking in the wrong places.
- If you're applying and not getting interviews, it's because of your resume.
- If you're getting interviews, but not having your referenced checked, it's because of how you come across during the interview.
- If you're getting your references checked, but not getting offers, it's because of what your references are saying.
- If you're getting offers, it means all the above lined up right.

It sounds like the most logical issue is your resume, cover letter, or some other aspect of your application. Have you asked for an outside opinion? They're are people on the wiki who will review it for you (myself included).
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:31 PM on October 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

What is your field exactly? Sometimes the entry to certain fields vary. The thing that absolutely helped me the most was finding people who had the kind of job I wanted and asking them how they got it, asking to see what their resume looked like (so I could model mine off of theirs), and what they did during interviews.

Of course it doesn't have to be the exact same job, just something in that realm. In my case, I majored in biology, did internships involving stem cell research, and wanted an entry-level lab assistant job. So any time I happened to meet someone who had any kind of science-related job (bio, chem, physics, whatever) I would ask them how they got their foot in the door.

I got a lot of answers that did NOT line up with usual, generic job-seeking advice. Yet, when I did what my acquaintances did, I ended up getting a job really fast.

If you really, really don't know anyone (I had this problem at first, lol), I would suggest going onto facebook and looking up old classmates or people you interned with and seeing if you can message them. Failing that, find an online forum based specifically around your field and ask the same questions there.
posted by picklenickle at 8:37 PM on October 19, 2016

In my case, I found a few positions that fit my research interests really well, and I crafted a cover letter that explained how the work I had been doing in graduate school could help the company solve the problems they were addressing with the hire. I got coaching from the career center at my university. It was the cover letter that got me the first interview. After that, I had to bring fresh ideas, and unique solutions that they hadn't thought of themselves.

The goal is to convince them that you are the perfect fit. Not that you are qualified, but that they need you and nobody else to solve their problem. Every job exists to solve some problem. Why are you the unique person to solve theirs?
posted by Dr_Janeway at 9:13 PM on October 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I just finished my grad program and am also looking for work. Two weeks ago I had a consult with a career coach about how to get better at finding jobs outside of my immediate academic circle. In a word, her answer was "networking."

It may be more palatable to you (fellow introvert here) if you think of this a few discrete things you can do, one at time, rather than having to turn yourself into an on the stop, always-on, elevator pitch type person.

One thing I am trying to do is start with a few informational interviews. If your program director is someone you like, can you ask them to introduce you to a couple of people in your field doing work that you'd like to do? Don't think of this as leading directly to a job because it's just an informational interview. See if you can set up a short phone call to ask about their work, how they got started, if they have any advice for other people to talk to. In my experience, people are happy to talk about their work to someone who is interested. The phrase "informational interview" is something people should understand.

This is tremendously helpful for gauging the culture of a field, getting to know the lingo, who some of the key people are, so when there *are* jobs, you're already in the loop.

It's a one-step-at-a-time thing, but very doable. Good luck!
posted by pantarei70 at 6:13 AM on October 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nnthing Ask A Manager. To take on your specific questions:

- Tailored resume and cover letter is good. You don't need an extra email: people differ on whether your cover letter goes in email or in an attachment (do whatever they tell you if they specify in the ad, otherwise I found attachments easier to keep track of on my end.) If you're applying by email, a simple "Attached, please find my materials for [position].", your contact info, and maybe a sentence about something you're especially excited by.

- Don't call and chat before applying. Don't call after submitting to check up. (If something actually goes awry in the application process, like with an online system, call HR, not the hiring manager if you can, and just check that it got there.) The people doing hiring are busy people, and calling makes you look desperate.

- Do answer any obvious questions in your cover letter. If you are looking at something outside your previous experience, a sentence or two about why this job interests you (implication: you will stay with it for a bit, not just until you can find something better) helps a lot. Same thing if it'd require a move for you.

- Experience is field dependent, but unless they're saying 'paid full-time work', extended experience in school counts toward it, just proportionately. (i.e. not just "I did this thing for a week in class" but if you had a part time job while in school doing the thing for 10 or 20 hours a week, or over a summer, that is relevant experience to mention.) However, you will likely lose out to people who have a year or more of professional experience, because there are things that you learn doing a job full time that you don't when it's part-time.

- Be sure to also draw out related non-field experience that might make you stand out. For example, in libraries, customer service experience can sometimes be a big plus, even if it was a bookstore or retail, if someone can talk about how that makes them better able to help library users. (Customer skills if the job would deal with people, ability to write well quickly, tech skills, or ability to manage a lot of moving pieces are all kinds of experience that may make you particularly attractive for some specific jobs.)

- Knowing your field will help you get a job. Knowing specific people in a field may or may not. (I'm in libraries, where many libraries have relatively small staffs and/or required hiring procedures that mean networking can give you a leg up, but there isn't a mass of unposted positions or anything.) Understand the norms in your field. Find a mentor in your field you can ask if you think you don't. (Ideally someone who has done hiring in the field in the last couple of years or who can put you in touch with someone who has.) Professional or field-specific organizations are sometimes an option for this, if you're a member of any.
posted by modernhypatia at 8:17 AM on October 20, 2016

Are their professional societies in your field? If you can, find one that has meetings and go to them. They will probably be boring, awkward and awful. However, people will appreciate and remember that you made the effort. I got my first two jobs this way.

Also, everyone is kind of terrible at networking. It's one of those things where it truly is the thought that counts. I'm pretty established in my profession now, and I will give major points to anyone who comes up and introduces themselves to me, even if they trip over themselves and spill their drink all over their front while they're doing it. I remember how hard it is. Your courage will work in your favor!
posted by backwards compatible at 10:21 AM on October 20, 2016

A lot of people, looking back at how they got their first job, will say that some sort of fluke or special situation was key. In my case it might have been that the president of the company was a huge booster of the university of that I was getting a degree from. But when you think about it, that not such low percentage thing.

But it illustrates a point. Even a low percentage job lead is a good lead. The only bad lead is to a job you don't want or for which you are hopelessly unqualified. If your leads give you a 1% chance of getting job, you need to apply 100 (or more) places.

I got my last job because I sent a resume to every company in the local Chamber of Commerce that seemed likely to have an IT department.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:57 AM on October 20, 2016

If you're in the U.S., keep in mind that our job market never recovered after 2008. The good full-time jobs never came back. You are absolutely behind the 8 ball if your education isn't in a few in-demand fields.

If you're not one of the lucky few with that type of education, the answer is absolutely networking. I would venture a guess that less than one in a thousand real jobs is filled by an applicant more than two degrees of separation from the person(s) making the hiring decision.

It sucks, but that's the reality we're living in. Put yourself out there and make sure to outright ask every single friend, friends of friends, and even facebook people you barely know for leads. Go back and hit up every professor and the support staff in your grad program.
posted by FakeFreyja at 4:33 PM on October 20, 2016

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