Tribulations on the Job Hunt: Shooting Arrows in the Dark
My experience with the job hunt has been challenging at times, to put it mildly. The seemingly endless routine of emailing a resume along with an appropriately customized cover letter has begun to feel like shooting arrows in the dark. Who knows where the resume is going or who will be reading the cover letter – or if it will be read at all? They seem to disappear into the human resources abyss, where hundreds – perhaps thousands – of resumes and cover letters will find their eternal home. Or just be kept on file for 3-6 months before permanent deletion.
But through this trying and often frustrating experience, I have made interesting discoveries about getting hired. I have learned that you increase your chances of getting a job in two ways:
1. You are willing to work for free (through an internship)
2. You know someone.
These methods are not beneficial to people who:
1. Can’t afford to work for free.
2. Don’t know anyone.
For those who fall into both categories of the latter, the answer is simple – take the initiative and get to know people! While there is nothing new or particularly earth-shattering about this concept, there is also nothing more important to the job search than networking. Finding events, lectures, or discussions where people in your field of interest will be speaking is critical toward identifying leaders in your field and then getting to know them. Universities are networking bastions – check out their events in the department that interests you and you will find that they are often open to the public. After the lectures, stick around and talk to the speakers – ask them questions, see if they are willing to provide you with their email address so you may follow up with more questions. Harassing a potential contact will quickly remove you from their list of people they would be willing to recommend for a job, but politely annoying is a skill that everyone on the job hunt should master as quickly as possible.
Several weeks ago, I decided to test out this strategy for myself. I was really just tired of sitting in front of my computer with no job offers flooding my inbox, so I wanted to get out and try to talk to people who might be able to tell me what I’ve been doing wrong. After a brief online search, I was amazed to find a series of lectures and discussions hosted by the global affairs department of a nearby university – all focused on my career interest in international affairs and policy. I quickly hopped on a subway and managed to slip into a seat at the back of the event hall two minutes before the first event began.
The panel consisted of a diplomat, a Foreign Service officer, an international affairs journalist, and a civil servant. Their personal accounts were fascinating and their insight only fueled my ambitions. The event came to an end, the speakers were thanked, the audience clapped respectfully and then scrambled to the post-event wine reception. But I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to know – where did these people send their resumes?
While each professional I approached was helpful, I learned about the benefits of networking from my last conversation. I approached the dessert table as the room began to clear out to ask a question or two to the final speaker of the evening. She was polite but in that “I would like to help, but let’s be honest, there’s really no way for me to help you at all” sort of way. I tried to engage her in a polite chitchat with ramblings about my work history and career interests and she responded politely with half-hearted interest in my educational background and then…wait a second! Which college did I go to? She looked up from her tiramisu and seemed to notice me for the first time. Both her daughters went to my alma mater! Her face lit up with maternal glee and we spent the next twenty minutes devising a strategy for my career as though we had been best friends since childhood. She begged me to send her my resume that evening so she could start circulating it among her friends and colleagues. I guess networking can be a good way to bring in some light while shooting arrows in the dark.