Dear 15-Year Old Self…

Recently, I dug up my old journals in search of a list titled “Things to do before I turn 30.” I’ve always loved making lists because it helped me organize my thoughts. I recalled keeping lists upon lists in my diaries even when I was very young–lists of places I wanted to travel, dream careers, books to read, movies to watch, etc. I didn’t find a list called “Things to do before I turn 30″ so perhaps I never wrote one.

I stored my old journals in a plastic bin along with old photos. (Yes, photos from 35mm film.) I found my photos from my 6th birthday when my parents surprised me with a birthday cake in my kindergarten class (I remember my teacher was just as surprised because they didn’t tell her in advance). I found old class photos. I found photos from our trips to Ocean City, DC, the Baltimore Inner Harbor, Hawaii, China, Toronto… I found photos of my dad’s first car–a red Ford. Our house in Parkville, MD. Playing with my cousins on the playground. Playing with my cousins at their house (the same house one of them still lives in). My childhood looked so colorful and idyllic in these pictures.

After I removed all the stacks of photos and albums, there were my journals in the bottom of the bin. The earliest ones are in spiral-bound Lisa Frank spiral notebooks; the later journals are hardcover notebooks. I flipped and scanned through each journal chronologically. I paused here and then to read an entry or two. I relived my childhood through the pages and I remembered why I started writing in my journals.

I had started keeping journals because I was lonely. Outside of school, I didn’t have many kids my age to socialize with. My parents did not have time to schedule play dates for me, not to mention dropping me off and/picking me up. I spent some time with my cousins on the weekends, but other than that, I spent most of the time between ages 3 and 13 in the back of my parents’ restaurants. My parents did not talk to me except when it was necessary (i.e. dinner is ready, turn off the TV and go play outside, peel these shrimps, go ring up the customers, answer the phone and take orders, etc.).

After I placed the old journals and photos back into the bin, I started thinking… If I can go back in time and talk to my younger self,what would I say? At what age would I try to catch myself? Maybe when I was 10 and miserable at school because I was being bullied. Or maybe when I was 12 and my relationship with my parents started deteriorating even further. Or maybe when I was 13 and I was extremely upset about relocating from Baltimore to Brooklyn. Since today is my 30th birthday, I think it would be most appropriate to speak to my 15-year old self. I was still adjusting to life in Brooklyn. I was thinking about where to attend college. I was dealing with bouts of depression which wasn’t diagnosed until my early 20’s. My experiences as a child–tough as they were–made me the person I am today, but 15 was when I had encountered most of the traumas that caused me to spiral further.

Dear 15-year old self,

Happy Birthday! I wish I can tell you that things will be better this year, but I can’t.

You know all those times when you were ready to run away from home? You had a bag packed and a goodbye note to leave behind. You planned to sneak out the back door at night and walk down the alley, but you didn’t know where to go from there. That was why you never carried out your plan. When you’re 30 years old, you will be grateful that you stayed in your bed, just dreaming about escaping. Years from now, you will realize that you’ve had a guardian angel your entire life.

These are the things I wish someone told me on my 15th birthday:

  1. Regardless of what your parents say, you are not selfish, fat, dumb, and untalented. Most importantly, you are not unlovable. 
  2. You grew up in a home that didn’t have a lot of love, so you will look for it. Don’t look for love in the wrong places. In fact, don’t chase after boys. Love will find you in time. Save yourself for someone special and worthy.
  3. When you reach your twenties, be selfish. Don’t worry about dating, marriage, and your parents. It’s all about you. You’ve had to take care of your parents and your brother since before you learned how to write. It’s okay to give yourself a break from that.
  4. You’ll learn that in whatever situation you find yourself, you have to make the best of it. Yes, right now, you hate being in New York and you miss your friends and family in Baltimore, but you will be in New York for a while so take advantage of all the food, museums, and live shows.
  5. Get a math tutor–you will need one to get through high school and it will only improve your chances of getting into a good college.
  6. Don’t close yourself off to all possibilities. When you’re working on college applications, don’t cross University of Florida and Vassar off your list–you will regret it.
  7. Make sure you have a diverse group of friends. You’re in a graduating class of 1,000 students–don’t just hang out with the Asian crowds. You will surround yourself with a more diverse crowd by senior year, but I’m telling you this now so you can start sooner.
  8. Although it doesn’t seem possible now, you will eventually realize that you can choose your family. Dad will never be the father and the man you wish he can be, so don’t hold your breath. Your cousin, Sue, is truly vindictive; stay away from her, especially when she’s visiting New York.
  9. Stay away from credit cards. For financial advice, talk to anyone else but Dad. Don’t listen to him when he tells you to get your own credit card.
  10. For relationship advice, talk to anyone else but Mom. Don’t listen to any relationship advice Mom gives you. Whatever she tells you to do, just do the exact opposite.
  11. Always trust your instincts. 
  12. Don’t give up on your dreams. You know that goal you’ve had forever about traveling around the world? Your dreams will come true sooner than you expect because you will make them happen.
  13. Keep your feet on the ground. You know those boy bands you’re obsessing over? Well, all of those ballads, dance moves, and good looks set an unrealistic standard for romance. Nick Carter and Taylor Hanson will disappoint you for sure.
  14. Keep dancing.
  15. There are moments when you will feel lost, powerless, and lonely–those are the only consistent emotions you’ve felt you’re entire life. You’ve often asked if God exists, and rightfully so. You will find God in time, and He will be there when you need extra strength.

Today, I turn 30. I’ve made a lot of stupid mistakes, but I’m happy I made some of those mistakes because I’m all the wiser for it.



Mourning Fatigue

One of the top reasons why I moved to Washington, DC after grad school was to be closer to family. Most of my relatives live in Maryland where I lived between the ages of five and thirteen. In many ways, my heart had never left. I had always resented living in New York because it kept me away from the people I loved. One of these people was my Uncle Kent.

Just like my parents and their siblings, my grandparents, and some of my older cousins, Uncle Kent came to the US as an immigrant from southeast China. However, he was different from most of my immigrant relatives in that he got an American education, he was fluent in English, and he worked his way up in the real estate industry. He also volunteered his services to Chinese immigrants in the Baltimore County region, and he always reminded me to give back to my community (I owe my spirit of volunteerism to him). Regardless of his busy schedule, he always made time for me and my brother. He and Bridgid took us on a lot of day trips to the movies, the Baltimore Zoo, the Inner Harbor, Ocean City… But my favorite memories of our time together was spending quiet Saturdays at their house. After a long walk, we would lounge on the floor with their dog, Katie, while watching TV. Then we would sit down together for dinner, and they would talk to us like equals. It gave my brother and me a sense of normalcy and stability.

As soon as I arrived in DC in June 2011, I called Uncle Kent to tell him that I was “home” and I can visit him more frequently again. Before I called him, I had imagined the delight and surprise in his voice followed by a deep chuckle that always warmed me up. However, to my surprise, he told me that he and my aunt Bridgid had just moved to Fort Lauderdale. I missed them by less than a month.

On January 15, 2014, I called Aunt Bridgid to tell her and Uncle Kent that I was planning a visit to Florida for the end of February. She didn’t answer her phone, so I left her a voicemail. A week later, on the 22nd, I got a call from my cousin Joyce, one of Kent and Bridgid’s daughters. She told me that her dad had passed away on January 14th. I missed him by exactly one day.

So I got up, got ready for the day, shared Uncle Kent’s obituary on my Facebook page, and I went to work. I went through the motions every single day as though nothing was wrong. I had lost several important people in 2013. I was tired of sympathetic looks and people telling me how sorry they were for my loss. I was tired of mourning.

When we lost Kyle’s dad, we spent a lot of time sharing stories about his dad. And we cried when the pain was too much to bear.  I was heartbroken for Kyle and his family. When my Uncle Gan Jon died, I cried a lot–and I didn’t care if I was at home, at my desk at work, or outside in public. I worried about my cousins and my aunt because I knew they were a tight-knit family.

Since Kyle and I got engaged in May 2013, we’ve crossed a few names off our list due to deaths. Tonight, I opened up our guest list again to make updates. When it came to my Uncle Kent, I couldn’t bring myself to hit delete. It was as though my arms and hands were momentarily paralyzed. It suddenly hit me how exhausting it’s been to hold in all the emotions–the grief, anger, and heartache overwhelmed me all at once. I had somehow managed to cram it all into a deep corner somewhere so I wouldn’t have to acknowledge it. It was no wonder I’ve had a short fuse for everyone around me recently.

I used to refuse to believe that girls tend to marry someone who are very similar to their fathers, because that would mean that I have a likely chance of ending up with someone who was physically and emotionally abusive, juvenile, and selfish. Kyle is the exact opposite of that. Instead, as I had known since early on in our relationship, he reminds me of my Uncle Kent–spiritual, caring, kind, and intelligent. I was looking forward to introducing him to Kent who was the best male role model in my life, and the closest person I had to a father.

“When you’re my age, you don’t lose your friends because they move away–you lose them because they die.”

I started off 2013 with a heavy sense of guilt; it was so strong, I felt it in the pit of my stomach for several months whenever I thought of the person I had wronged. In late 2012, I unknowingly made a friend upset with an innocent comment, “I just heard your temp job ended. How is your job search going?” My concern was mistaken for arrogance because I asked the question at the wrong time and the wrong place.  Without going into the debate of who was wrong or right, the bottom line was that I had offended and upset someone I cared about. I had known this friend for a couple of years, and I had known her to be fair, clear-headed, and mature, so her reaction came as a shock to me.

You may wonder why I was wrecked with guilt for upsetting someone I had only known for a short time. While my parents were the cause of my depression, anxiety, faulty relationships, lack of self-esteem, and a myriad of other issues that sent me in and out of therapy for most of my twenties, my friends were the ones who kept me alive, helped me through all the broken hearts, and stood by me as I pondered all the crossroads in my life. My family also moved several times when I was younger, forcing me into new schools and making new friends each time. So although life may get in the way, I place a lot of value on my friendships and I invest a lot of effort in building strong relationships with those who care to do the same. The strongest friendships are the ones that can pick right back up even if we haven’t seen each other in months or even years.

Although I apologized to my friend over email (I didn’t call for fear of her wrath), she didn’t seem willing to accept my apology and, instead, responded with a scathing email. One of her arguments against me was that I did not stay in touch with her for half the year, and that made me a stranger to her. I drafted a reply with another heart-felt apology for everything she laid out. However, my intuition and well-meaning friends told me not to send the email and to let it go. And so I did.

It only got easier to get over the heavy sense of guilt for that one person as the year went on and I lost more people I loved to old age and sickness. In May, Ray Fifer, one of my favorite people from my Semester At Sea experience passed away. In July, we lost Kyle’s dad, Bruce Chase. In October, my Uncle Gan Jon Chin, died from a heart attack after complications from surgery. At Thanksgiving, although I had Kyle by my side and we were celebrating with friends, surrounded by more food than one can fathom, I could not come up with one single thing to be thankful for. It was the first time in a long time I struggled to count my blessings. When I told Kyle how I felt, I expected him to feel the same. Instead, he said, “There are a lot of things to be thankful for!” His optimism surprised me, but most of all–I admired and envied his resilience.

As Christmas came around, I went about my annual Christmas activities: writing and sending cards, shopping for gifts, and catching up with colleagues, friends, and family. As I went through the motions, it became clear to me how my love for my friends and relatives have grown exponentially this year. The statement “When you’re my age, you don’t lose your friends because they move away–you lose them because they die” was spoken by Gretchen Fifer when I called her to see how she was doing after Ray passed. The words resonated with me and couldn’t be more true.

I am so thankful for my friends who would not take offense to a well-intentioned question. (As Bernard M. Baruch said, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”) I am so thankful for people who know me inside-out, even if we haven’t been friends for long. I am so thankful for friends who have a sense of humor and bring joy into not just my life but everyone else they know. I am so thankful for the people whom I’ve known for many years now, and we continue to stay in touch, even if it’s infrequent. I am grateful for my cousins with whom I might not always see eye-to-eye or have a lot in common, but they are my surrogate siblings. I’ve heard that we can’t choose our family, but I disagree.

2013 reminded me that life is short (as cliché as it sounds). Since I was a teenager, I’ve had to learn multiple times to let go of people who are negative dead weights, but I got it hammered into me this past year. We have to recognize people who are not worth our time and energy, and to spend it on friends and family who are worth it.

How to conquer a job fair

Exactly two years ago, I went to a job fair where 45 of the organizations I was targeting in my job search were in attendance as exhibitors. I remember spending days just conducting research on all the organizations, scouring their websites, their job boards, printing out the job fair agenda and list of exhibitors, and making notes (with highlights) on each and every one. I even grouped organizations into three groups: top priority, medium priority, and pass. I prepared my elevator pitch. I printed out 20 copies of my job search marketing plan and 20 copies of my resume. On the day of the job fair, I went in armed with all my printouts, notes, and business cards.

I didn’t get a job out of that job fair, but that wasn’t my standard of measure. By the end of the evening, my feet were sore, but I felt a sense of accomplishment. I had spoken to most of the organizations in all three groups. I had identified which organizations I should continue to follow and which ones to cross off my list. A lot of the recruiters did not accept resumes and some took business cards, but I had a handful of business cards and new contacts. I felt like the job fair had reinvigorated my job search.

Would I say that I conquered the job fair? The question didn’t occur to me until today…

This afternoon, I attended the same job fair as a “recruiter.” Yesterday, my project’s HR recruiter asked me to attend the job fair with him to help answer questions from a non-HR employee’s perspective. (It was a stroke of luck that the second HR person who was originally supposed to attend the job fair had called out sick two days in a row.)

The job fair was five hours long, but I was only able to get out of the office for two hours. The two hours were interesting, exhausting, and enlightening. There was never a break longer than a few seconds in between Job seekers who stopped at our table. I was quickly worn out and here’s why:

  • A lot of people had elevator pitches. Some were brief and straight to the point, some were long, and some were inaudible because the person was speaking so softly.
  • I had to shake a lot of hands. Some were sincere (strong grip, confident, and the person looked me in the eyes), some were half-assed (weak and limp), and two people didn’t bother to shake my hand.
  • A few people who came up to the table asked me what our NGO does. A few people seemed to venture a guess on the spot and were close to the mark. Some people had a general idea. Ultimately, it was the handful of people who knew exactly what we do, what our mission is, and have explored our website who stood out to me.
  • A lot of people asked me which positions we were currently hiring for. In this day and age, if you don’t know how to use Google, you immediately rub me the wrong way.
  • One person, a sophomore in college, even asked me what classes she should take in order to get a job in our organization! When I asked her what her interests and passion were, she could not answer me. Recruiters do not want to hire robots–be your own person, be able to think for yourself, and ask intelligent questions.

Ironic how just two years ago, I was at the same job fair on the other side of the table as a job seeker. Having been on both sides now, here are the lessons I have learned:

  • The one person who stood out to me was a young man who had a firm handshake (while meeting my eyes) and immediately jumped into questions about my job title, how long I had been working at the NGO, and if I enjoy my job. After learning that I was not in HR, he was able to ask questions related to my work. In less than three minutes, he had gained insight on the work environment, my scope of work, the necessary skills and qualifications for entry-level positions, and the best way to get a foot in the door. This guy taught me that confidence is very important, to ask smart questions, and to be strategic with the 5 minutes you get with each exhibitor.
  • Speak loudly. There is likely to be at least 100 people crowded into an exhibition hall. Don’t make the recruiter lean in or ask you constantly to repeat yourself. I wouldn’t be surprised if some recruiters don’t even make an effort but will just nod and smile.
  • Do your research. Don’t go up to a recruiter and say, “So what does your organization do?” As a job seeker, it is your job to know who you’re approaching. Have an opening line ready before you jump into your elevator pitch, and the line should relate to the organization. Examples: “I saw on your website that you have a project in Colombia. I got my Master’s degree in international development last year at ABC University. In the summer of 2012, I worked in Colombia with XYZ organization…”
  • Because I can’t repeat this enough: Do your research. Don’t go up to a recruiter and ask, “What job openings do you have?” Many, if not all, organizations publish their current vacancies on their websites. Yes, some exhibitors will have printouts at their tables, but how do you know which questions to ask if you didn’t take the time to read the job descriptions in advance?
  • Don’t hand out your resume like a flyer. A lot of recruiters will not accept them. Those who take resumes will likely end up tossing them at the end of the day. Related to my last bullet, go on the organization’s website and create a job search profile. These sites will let you create a profile and/or upload your resume even if you’re not applying to a current opening.
  • Most of the recruiters are at the job fair for hours answering the same countless questions for a countless number of people. Again, ask smart questions so they don’t feel like they’re wasting their time and energy on you. The recruiters are there to keep an eye out for potential job candidates and, trust me, they will remember you if you’re strategic about it.

After reviewing my notes from this afternoon, I would say that I almost conquered the job fair two years ago. I made a lot of common mistakes, but getting the opportunity to be on the other side was a wonderful learning experience; and I hope that these lessons will help others conquer job fairs.

After witnessing my parents’ tumultuous marriage and then inevitable demise, I had moved my love life to the bottom of my priority list. I lived out most of my twenties with the attitude that I would rather stay single for the rest of my life and be happy rather than be with the wrong person and be miserable. (Refer to my older posts about my mom’s position on marriage.) At weddings, I was always the single girl who hung back (or even hid in the bathroom) when the bride tossed her bouquet. I think Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” is atrocious and I only enjoyed the SNL spoof of it.

I don’t think anyone was as surprised as me when I met Kyle, stayed in a relationship without running away, and then accepted his marriage proposal. I know I make all of that sound so sterile, but I really do not see the significance everyone places on this rite of passage. (Is it a rite of passage??)  While I was reveling in the fact that I had actually found a compatible, reliable mate and partner for life, all of the girls around me were more excited and giddy about my ring. It’s been almost five months since we got engaged and people are still congratulating us. As more time passes, I feel more puzzled and baffled when someone congratulates us.

Even more puzzling is the wedding industry. As I jumped–okay, encouraged by my bridesmaids–to start my wedding planning, I’ve found the whole wedding and bridal industry so utterly bizarre. Women is definitely the target group. It is very superficial. There is barely any room for gender equality as the bride is fussed over and the groom gets pushed aside. A lot of wedding traditions are demeaning to women. Yet, there is no doubt that these norms are supported by mainstream society based on just the amount of money that is poured into everything wedding-related.

I don’t know if it’s fair to generalize that all women have fantasized about their wedding day since they were little girls, but I will confess that I was one of those little girls. I used to daydream about getting married in a castle, in a cathedral, on the beach, on a ship, and even in the rain forest. The wedding industry exploits those childhood fantasies. But here’s a note to wedding planners and vendors: Men (regardless of their sexual orientation) have dreamed about their wedding days as well.

One of the wedding venues that Kyle and I visited quickly got crossed off our list because the event coordinator/salesperson did not give Kyle a second glance as she showed me the staircase that I “will glide down” and the large restroom that will be my “private bathroom.” Um, where’s the groom’s private bathroom? The only take-away I got from that site visit was that our wedding day was going to by my day, not Kyle’s. We were both very put off by her approach. How dare she assumed that I was going to be another fussy, selfish bride who thinks that the day is only about her, instead of celebrating her relationship with everyone who loves and cares about both her and her new husband?

Dress shopping has been even worse as I’m overwhelmed with options while Kyle can’t even find a blue cummerbund on the Men’s Wearhouse website.

Without going into all the different definitions of “feminism,” I will simply say that I’m a supporter for gender equality. That encompasses everything from equal pay to women in combat roles to marriage rights for LGBT. I’m not going to go so far as to rebel against weddings, but I want my wedding to make a statement that the wedding is for both me and Kyle, and that our marriage will be an equal partnership. Here are some examples of how I will accomplish this:

  • I will have “flower children” instead of “flower girls.”
  • I will not wear a veil.
  • I will walk down the aisle on my own–no one is “giving me away.”
  • My “bridesmaids” will go by different titles because I don’t like my friends being referred to as my “maids.” Instead, the maid-of-honor will be the “Best Lady” and the others will be “VP of Fun,” “Chief of Staff,” and “Ambassador at Large.”
  • I had wanted one or two bridesmen, but we have to cap our wedding parties at four members each.
  • At the end of the ceremony, our pastor will pronounce us as “husband and wife” instead of “man and wife.”
  • The invitations going out to couples will be addressed to “Ms. Jessica Biel and Mr. Justin Timberlake” instead of “Mr. and Mrs. Justin Timberlake.” A women does not lose her identity just because she’s married!
  • In line with the previous point, I’m still grappling with the name change. I’m not 100% certain that I will take Kyle’s last name. I might change it legally, but keep my last name professionally.

Why I ignore text messages

Okay, so the title is somewhat misleading. I don’t ignore all text messages, just some. To be clear, I ignore spam and messages that require a response longer than a sentence or two.

Call me old fashioned, but I dislike using the QWERTY on my smart phone. The touch screen keyboard is just a reminder that I have fat fingers. And autocorrect has embarrassed me on too many occasions. Aside from all of that, it just boils down to time efficiency and safety. If it’s faster for me to pick up the phone and give you the same information than to stop what I’m doing and type out a response, then I’m either going to ignore your message or I will call you. This way, I can walk and talk (as opposed to walking into traffic or bumping into someone).

By the same token, because I’m usually out and about, I prefer sending and receiving texts for quick 1-line messages. Running late? I appreciate the heads up via text. Letting me know you’ve arrived at the bar but it’s too loud to call me? Text me your location and I’ll come find you. Want to send me a funny story. a cute/silly photos, or news that doesn’t require an immediate reaction? Yes, text me and share.

If it’s an obvious mass text, I’m going to ignore it. Want to wish everyone in your entire phone book happy new year? You might as well post it as a Facebook status instead of interrupting my New Year’s festivities.

The messages I always ignore are: “How’s it going?” and “How are you?” Yes, I know they’re from well-meaning friends who just want to say hi, but even the most socially awkward person knows those questions warrant a phone call.

Some sentiments cannot be fully expressed over text and that’s also when it becomes inappropriate. I love that my friends care about my wedding planning, but when I get a text message asking “How is the wedding planning going?”, I’m most likely going to ignore it. How do I describe all the excitement, stress, other emotions, venue searches, dresses, etc. in just a couple of lines?! Even worse were people who texted me to express their condolences when Kyle’s dad passed away. It was disruptive and especially annoying when the message was, “How are you guys doing?” If you can’t send a card, put it in an email. An even better solution would be to call. There’s no better way to say that you care than a simple phone call.

I think people who rely on text messages to communicate are either 1) teenagers or 2) lack effective communication skills. We’re so fortunate to live in this day and age when we have so many different modes of communication at our disposal: phone, text, email, instant messenger, etc. However, this also means learning how to make the most of them, redefining the work-life balance, and drawing boundaries.

Oh, and girls, if the guy is just texting and not calling–he’s just using you for sex. BUT if he’s still around after a year and he’s still texting but not calling, he needs to work on his communication skills.

I’m an avid networker. Always have been ever since college where my professors and career counselors hardwired the mantra “network, network, network” into my young, supple, impressionable mind. I networked my way into my first job out of college (at a boutique marketing firm), and then into a second job at a publishing company (the HR recruiter was an alumna of my college).

After I moved to DC straight out of graduate school, I hit the ground running. I was in a new city looking to move up in a new career. With very few contacts in DC and in my field, it was a completely fresh start for me. When I wasn’t in front of the computer searching and applying for jobs, I was out attending lectures, conferences, happy hours, job fairs, and pretty much any event that allowed me to get in front of seasoned professionals and exchange business cards.

Today marked my one anniversary at my current job. After eight years of soul searching, I can say I’m pretty damn close to my dream job. I work in international affairs, promoting democracy in developing and post-conflict countries, and I get to travel. I got the job because I wasn’t afraid to say, “I need a job. Here’s what I’m good at. Can you help me out?” (Surprisingly, some people are afraid to ask for help, whether it’s because of pride or shyness or other reasons.)

There are a lot of people who are willing to help others in their job searches–we’ve all been there. With that being said, keep in mind that there’s only so much hand-holding someone is willing to do. That means you, as the job searcher, must put in all the legwork. Here is some advice you should take to heart when it comes to networking and how to conduct yourself appropriately:

1. The best way to contact someone is over email. That applies to people you have already met in person and people whom you haven’t met yet. Do not send them a message on LinkedIn, call them, text them, and/or find them on Facebook. Email them directly and tell them exactly what you want in no more than three sentences. Also, don’t ask for someone else to do the emailing for you. I had someone send me an email asking me to reach out to her friend who wants an informational interview. Wait, your friend wants me to contact her because she’s job searching and she wants my help? That didn’t make any sense at all. Needless to say, I ignored the email.

2. Take notes at informational interviews and always send a follow-up email or thank you note. About two months ago, I gave an informational interview to someone who was a year out of college and needed a job that wasn’t an internship. During our entire conversation, he did not take any notes. I didn’t hear from him again until last week when my team posted a job online. I got an email from this guy thanking me for the interview (which took place almost two months ago, in case you didn’t catch that) and asking if I can pass his application along to the hiring manager. Oh, I see, you’re being nice to me now because you want something from me. Ignored.

3. Be punctual. You’re asking for another person’s time. Be respectful and gracious by being on time. A lack of punctuality also gives the person an impression that you’re unreliable.

4. If the interview is over the phone, you have to do the dialing. Same goes for Skype. You’re the one who’s asking for help and asking for the other person’s time, so you have to continue to take the initiative after the person has agreed to get on the phone with you. Unless the person specifically said that he/she will call you, the onus is on you to pick up the phone. Always be sure to ask, “What is the best number to reach you at?” It might or might not be the number listed on their email signatures so don’t assume. Again, be punctual, and be mindful of time zones.

5. Do not send out and distribute your resume like take-out menus or flyers for a yard sale. Create a marketing one-sheet (a.k.a. a sell sheet) about yourself. Write an objective, list your qualifications, and list the organizations you’re hoping to get a job with. Everything should be concise and in bullet point format; it should take less than 20 seconds for someone to read. Send out the one-sheet to your contacts instead of your resume. This was one of the best pieces of advice I got from my career counselor in grad school. When you send your resume around, you don’t get the opportunity to highlight your skills and specializations while catering to a specific job title and organization. The best tool to use to sell yourself when you don’t know which job you’re applying for is a general one-sheet. It’s your elevator pitch on paper and in bullet point format.

6. Stay organized. That applies to everything from your job search list to the way you communicate. Stay consistent with your method of communication. If you email someone, don’t IM them on Skype or Google Hangout unless they say it’s okay. One of my pet peeves is people who like to start new email threads every time they email me to continue an ongoing conversation instead of returning to the original email exchange. We get, on average, anywhere from 50+ personal emails and 200+ work emails each day. Don’t make it harder on your networking contacts and on yourself by being disorganized and inconsistent. (This goes for personal emails as well.)

7. Get business cards. When I was in college, I thought VistaPrint.com was the best thing since sliced bread. Today, there is a plethora of websites and printers that offer free customizable business cards with a minimal shipping charge. Invest the money in shipping–it’s usually less than $10 depending on the quantity of cards you order.

8. Make sure your email address looks professional and your voicemail greeting sounds professional. Do people still use ringback tones? If so, please don’t use them when you’re job searching.

9. Familiarize yourself with Facebook and Twitter privacy settings. Some of your contacts, and especially your potential employers, will research your social media presence. If you want to keep your Facebook profile private, make sure it’s only viewable by people who you want to see it. If you want to make your profile public, make sure your posts are professional and not self-incriminating. Same thing goes for your tweets. It’s absolutely fine to use social media platforms to market yourself. By all means, create a Facebook profile or Twitter handle so you can showcase your writing, artwork, or whatever it is that you specialize in. On that note, get a LinkedIn profile, and make sure it’s polished and up-to-date. Set a Google Alert on your own name(s) to monitor your online presence.

10. Stay in touch with your contacts even when you don’t need anything from them. Make a note of their birthdays or other dates that are significant to them so you have an excuse to reach out to them and say hi. Every holiday season, I have a list of 30-40 people who will receive Christmas/holiday cards from me. They’re all handwritten and delivered via snail mail. A select few who live abroad receive e-cards or emails. What do I say in the cards or emails? Just a simple thank you for their help and support throughout the year.

I am always willing to do resume reviews and offer constructive criticism. However, I will not pass along an application package (cover letter and resume) unless it is well written, organized, and a right fit for the job that you’re applying. Before you send anything to your contact, here’s what you should do:

1. Read the job description carefully. Cater your cover letter and resume to the job description and organization. Don’t recycle a cover letter template; it’s more obvious than you realize. Spend the time customizing your cover letter and resume to the jobs you really want. This also helps you weed out the jobs you feel uncertain about; if you’re unwilling to put in the effort, you really don’t want the job.

2. Double check punctuation and grammar in your cover letter, resume, and email messages. Ask friends, relatives, your significant other, and siblings to be proofreaders if necessary as long as they have a good handle on the English language. It’s really easy to miss something as simple as a single letter or apostrophe when you’ve been looking at the same document for hours.

3. Package your cover letter and resume into one PDF file. This makes it easy for the viewer to have all the information just by opening one file, especially if you’re sending the application package by email. In case the viewer is using a different version of MS Word than you are, the formatting and other components on your document might not show up the way you intended. PDFs retain the original format. If you have a contact at the organization you’re applying to, attach your PDF to an email with a short and sweet message to inform your contact that you found a vacancy at his/her organization. Simply state that you’re interested in applying to the position, and ask if he/she may be so kind as to pass it along for you. Sometimes, the application process will require you to submit everything online which you should do even if you have an insider at the place. Make sure all your bases are covered.

4. DO NOT wait until the deadline to send in your application. The earlier you send in an application, the better chances you’ll have for someone to look at your application. Last year, someone sent me an application package for a job at an organization I used to work for and where I still have some contacts. The cover letter and resume was poorly written. Because I thought she was sweet, ambitious, and was qualified for the position, I spent time editing the package, sent it back to her, and asked her to make the revisions. I absolutely refuse to send along a poor application package, no matter how qualified the person may be for the position, because it’s still a reflection on me. So what happened to the application I assisted with? The person took over two weeks to send me the revised application package and she had ignored half of the things I had asked her to fix. By then, the job posting had already expired. It was such a waste of my time and efforts, the person ended up on my “ignore” list. Her behavior also indicated that she either didn’t really want the job or was just plain irresponsible. Frankly, not someone I would stick my neck out for.

5. Don’t exhaust your contacts. There’s something to be said about persistence and perseverance, but you may end up looking overly desperate and needy if you keep contacting the people who are helping you. Make sure you ask smart questions. For instance, if you’re uncertain of the application deadline, don’t ask your contact. It shows that you’re not resourceful and need hand-holding. Instead, go to the organization’s website, call HR (that’s what they’re there for!), or send in the application anyway. I’m often asked if my organization is hiring, what jobs do we have opened, and what if the application process. I am always willing to answer those questions once, but I really dislike having to repeat myself–especially if the answer can be found with a Google search.

After you have acquired a list of contacts, the best thing to do is select one or two people who you can identify as mentors. A mentor is someone who is willing to sit down with you and spend a lot of time working and re-working your application packages with you. This is the person you can call on more than once a week. They’re usually older and already established in the industry/field/subject area you’re job searching in. Ultimately, I owe everything to the three people who spent exorbitant amounts of time helping me out with my job applications, offering countless words of encouragement, and asking for nothing in return.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,042 other followers