Precisely a year ago, I started the job search for a full-time position, hoping to secure a job before graduating with my Master’s. (I had secured a full-time job before graduating college and I set the same expectation for myself without regard to the job market.) After many years of soul searching and countless “just-for-now” jobs, I was ready to start a career following my passions in promoting human rights and social justice. I laid out a plan to apply for humanitarian jobs abroad as well as jobs with think tanks and NGOs in DC and New York. After graduation, if I didn’t get an assignment abroad, my contingency plan was to move to DC where I already had strong professional networks thanks to Semester At Sea (SAS), Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP), and The New School. I also had family close by and I missed my relatives more than words could express. That’s why when I had to default to Plan B because I received rejections from the World Food Programme (in Rome) and USAID (projects in Kosovo), I was excited to get a fresh start in a new city where I was able to connect with more like-minded people in my field.
Thirteen months later since I first started that job search, I have applied to 112 jobs (as of today), my resume has undergone several transformations, I have worked four temp assignments with two different temp agencies, I have withdrawn all my savings and IRA funds, the bills are stacking up, and I’m faced with student loan repayments in June. I continue to put doctor’s visits on hold, buying dental check-ups from Groupon and LivingSocial in lieu of health insurance, and postponing trips to visit friends as close as Boston and as far as Europe. I have given up personal space by living in group houses instead of a studio or 1-bedroom apartment. I have profiles on sittercity.com and care.com. I’m always on the lookout for belly dancing gigs. Frankly, I feel like my life and my career are crawling along at a snail’s pace as I figure out how to stretch out my weekly paychecks to cover living expenses, transportation, and bills.
Out of the 112 job applications, I’ve gotten seven phone interviews, 6 in-person interviews, countless informational meetings, and two job offers that I could not accept for various reasons. Along the way, I’ve met other people in the same boat with even more experience and degrees than me. Instead of finding solace in numbers, I only feel more disheartened and hopeless hearing that a teacher, lawyer, a Ph.D., and an environmental scientist with three Master’s degrees cannot find gainful employment. I have friends who have filed for bankruptcy. I constantly meet people who have lost their homes and businesses. We all hear that it’s none of our faults; it’s the economy. Well, good to know we (and I use that pronoun loosely) are not all at fault, but how’s that going to pay our rent or doctors’ appointments?
As my friend who was a former career counselor likes to say, some of us are unemployed and some of us are under-employed. In the past thirteen months, I have been both. I’ve used time-tested tactics such as using personal and professional contacts in organizations as references to get my foot in the door and sending handwritten thank you notes, yet none of my efforts have met any success. So what’s wrong with me? Well, depending on who you ask, I am: under-qualified, over-qualified, too old, not Chinese enough, or in the wrong field. I’ve received such varied feedback, I had to learn to discern helpful advice from utterly useless critiques.
The silver lining in all of this is that there are people out there who genuinely want to help. Since moving to DC, I’ve gained three mentors who have volunteered their time to get me connected to their contacts, reviewed my resume with me (even going so far as rewriting it from scratch), and just lending a sympathetic ear. I’ve made the best of my temp assignments by networking and making friends, talking to people to learn the in’s and out’s of their jobs and the organization, and asking for contacts in organizations I’m targeting in my job search. I attend 1-3 networking events a week. Since last May, my LinkedIn connections have nearly doubled from 120 to 306 (as of today).
My parents have asked me to move back to New York (and even into their house in Brooklyn) so they can be sure I’m at least fed. I refuse to give in to them because: 1) I’m determined to do this on my own; 2) I love DC, I’ve established a home here, and the thought of going back to New York makes me want to hurl; and 3) the notion of having to live with either of my parents again gives me heart palpitations.
I wasn’t going to write this post until I got a job lest a potential employer comes across it and gets the wrong impression of me. A friend had even suggested that I start a new blog to chronicle my harrowing job search so others can learn from my experiences, but I didn’t move forward with the idea for the same reason that I didn’t want potential employers to think I’m only good at complaining–about them. However, after venting to any poor soul who showed a spark of interest in my professional hardships, I decided to publish this post now to add to the thousands of voices out there who are experiencing the same frustration and demoralization. In short, I am not complaining, but merely sharing with fellow members of the unemployed and under-employed groups that…
Well, I guess I’ll know when I survive this painful journey and cross the finish line. As of today, there is no end in sight and I have no other options but to continue pushing through.