Getting the Career You Want, Part 1: Sometimes, you just need to get a fucking job

The last few months in Chicago, when questioned about my post-graduate plans, I had a lucrative, applicable-to-my-degree reply at the ready.

“I’m going to start teaching introductory courses at some of the community colleges in the area.” I have a degree from an impressive fucking university, I thought. I’m going to find something.

~

After my week-long nesting period in Portland, I finally sat down and started applying for teaching jobs. I submitted what I thought was a solid resume and cover letter – though when I look back, there’s a lot of head shaking – and I waited to hear back from HR managers. I thought that I’d at least get an interview. What I got was radio silence. Absolutely no contact was made except for the automated email confirmation received minutes after I submitted the applications.

I let myself wallow for a few days. There was some Netflix and ice cream bingeing involved. But it didn’t last long. I didn’t have a credit card to support extended unemployment. I needed money to pay my rent. And I needed to get out of the apartment. So I took the advice of Forbes writer and editor, Zack O’Malley Greenburg. In the event that you can’t find the job you want, find a job. Or as he puts it, “find something.”1 It doesn’t have to be something you love, though it should be something you don’t absolutely hate. You need a job (or at least an unpaid internship if money is already in the bank). There are two incredibly important reasons why.

Big Reason 1. The Gap

If you try and wait for the perfect job to come your way, you might find yourself unemployed, maybe for an extended period of time. You can file for unemployment, which will keep you fed, clothed, and sheltered, but it comes with a price: the gap. Lengthy gaps in your employment history are problematic.

Employers want to hire hirable people. To prospective employers, people with stable hole-less work histories – including unpaid internships –  are dependable, capable, and have references that can vouch for their character. Or, at the very least, your history shows that you can hold down a job. In fact, a 2012 paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that employers use gaps in employment history as a litmus test for applicants.2 “That’s,” to quote one Liz Lemon, “a deal breaker” when rifling through applications. Or it can be.

Big Reason 2. The Hop

Here is something really important to remember. It’s so important that I’m going to bold the shit out of it.

You don’t have to find the perfect job in your twenties.

You don’t have to have your career set in stone. It’s okay if you don’t. Most of us won’t and, more importantly shouldn’t because there is so much fucking growing left to be done. You are allowed to job hop a couple of times. I don’t mean a new job every month. That is bad news. Don’t do that. But, there’s a happy medium place that can allow you to build new references and network some, learn new marketable skills, and try new things. Hopping, done in moderation as you grow, will help you develop a stronger, more attractive portfolio of work.3

Also, walking into new employment opportunities knowing that nothing is permanent allows you the chance to find out what you actually enjoy doing. Who knew, right? It’s a little like dating. After every relationship, you should come out a little wiser about yourself, the things you want out of your love life, and the kind of person you want to be with. It’s adaptive. It’s progressive. Every job you have can teach you more about what you want, the kind of people you want to work for, and the things you really want to do.

So if you try to find that dream job right out of college or grad school and can’t, widen your perimeters. Look at all the jobs available. Don’t be afraid to just get a job. You’re not sealing your fate. Nothing is set in stone.

~

When I had finished my wallowing, I sat down one morning in my living room, and started to troll Craigslist. I typed in “barista.” A few days later I had an interview at a small coffee shop on the other side of town. I borrowed my roommate’s car because I was worried about getting there late. I was already clammy by the time I arrived. I walked to the counter and told the good looking guy at the register that I had an interview. He must have sensed my nervousness because he asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee. I took it grinning like a weirdo, and sat down at the nearest table. Having only ever worked in a coffee shop housed in a basement, I was struck by the large windows along one wall that made the place feel bright and welcoming. I liked this place. My gut liked this place.

The interview only lasted a couple of minutes. I don’t remember what we talked about. I vaguely remember trying to sneak in all of the coffee knowledge I had into the conversation. But it’s all a blur.

I do, however, remember in detail the day a week later that I got a call from the owner telling me I’d gotten the job. I remember where I was standing, who I was with, and most of all, I remember the feeling of relief that overcame me. I’d found something.


1. Greenburg, Zack O’Malley. “How Millennials Can Survive And Thrive In The New Economy.” Forbes. 11/16/2011 (http://www.forbes.com/sites/zackomalleygreenburg/2011/11/16/how-millennials-can-survive-and-thrive-in-the-new-economy/)

2. Kroft, Kory, Fabian Lange and Matthew J. Notowidigdo. “Duration Dependence and Labor Market Conditions: Theory and Evidence from a Field Experiment.” National Bureau of Economic Research. September 2012 (http://www.nber.org/papers/w18387)

3. Smith, Jacquelyn. “The Pros and Cons of Job Hopping.” Forbes. 3/8/2013 (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/03/08/the-pros-and-cons-of-job-hopping/)

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