Working in your 20’s

I started my new job on Monday and the week just flew by.

I’ll have you know I already know most of my coworkers’ names. This is a huge accomplishment, since I rarely remember people’s names–especially if I only met them a few times. Yes, I will remember every little detail you tell me, like a stalker, but I will not for the life of me remember your name.

Looking forward to waking up in the mornings, getting out of bed, getting dressed, and going to work is a huge game changer. I just feel like I have more energy to do things at work and after work. I’m also pretty excited by how new everything is–my office, the work, the commute, the people–everything. I feel like this is my chance to plant roots and show my value. 

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I keep track of my monthly income in an Excel file on my computer. I’ve been doing this since I graduated a few years ago. I started the log as motivation to work harder and of course, to track my spending. I dipped into my savings a few times to make rent, but I wanted to make sure I’d be able to get on my feet soon. So, I kept track.

I couldn’t find a good job for the first 11 months out of school. Seriously. I should probably admit that I didn’t put together the best resume, and (shocker) didn’t tailor the resume to the jobs I was applying to. I spammed so many companies with my generic resume looking for a job–ANY JOB. Obviously, I didn’t find anything substantial.

In the meantime, I decided to take advantage of my skill set and earn some money. All I really knew at that point was how to do well in university. So I made an ad on Kijiji and scoured the internet for clients. I did readings, put together notes, combed through research, and wrote essays. I worked with highschool, college, undergrad, and post-grad students. Some were here–in Toronto–and others were across the country. I stopped looking for full-time work and devoted myself to my students and their classes. They got A’s. I learned new things and improved my writing skills. 

Then I got a full-time job and tutored on the side. A handful of my regulars just wouldn’t let me get away. I was looking through my income log and realized I made over $20,000 in those 11 months after graduation. I couldn’t find work so I created my own work, and earned a modest income as a result. Awesome.

If you’re down on your luck or a recent grad entering an unwelcoming market, I urge you to sit down and make a list of your skills. What are you good at? Then, think of ways to market those skills to potential clients. I was good at researching and writing essays, so I marketed those skills to students. Take advantage of local ads and word-of-mouth to attract clients. It’s free.

Don’t shy away from a challenge–I once helped a Master’s student put together a thesis in a topic I had ZERO experience in. Those two weeks were fucking terrible. “Crunch time” is an understatement. I wanted to hide from him. I wanted to die. I ended up learning a lot from that experience and I made a tidy sum, too.

And don’t give up. I made $337 one month. It was my lowest point and I felt really shitty about it.

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My job hunt secrets

How’s your job hunt going?

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Sometimes I don’t hear it at all.

Let me guess… It’s shitty, right? You edited your resume dozens of times. You even wrote a nice cover letter. But nothing. Nada.

And so you’re feeling defeated. Your college debt is piling up. Mom and dad are wondering what went wrong. And you’re bitter at everyone else who seems to be doing better than you.

Yep. I hear ya.

I was so depressed when I graduated college and joined the full-time working world. No more shitty retail jobs or mixing drinks at Starbucks, I was assured. It’s off to the big companies with that college degree!

Dare to dream, right?

Now, listen up. Here’s what you’re going to do:

APPLYING TO A JILL JOB (i.e. retail)

Your resume has to focus on these things:

  • Proven experience providing excellent customer service
  • Reliability and flexibility
  • Positive “can-do” attitude
  • Creative problem solving skills
  • Good sales record
  • People skills

If the job posting doesn’t ask for a college degree, leave it off. Having a college degree means you have (or had) plans. The hiring manager will hire a high school dropout before they hire you. Why? Because you’re more likely to quit this job for something better–you’re more likely to be actively looking for something better [or related to your degree]. There goes all that wasted training.

APPLYING TO A FANCY PANTS JOB (i.e. office)

Tailor your resume and cover letter to every damn job you apply to. I’m being serious. Pretend you’re HR and you’re casually looking through hundreds of resumes. HR is not going to evaluate every single resume and decide who is the better candidate. No. HR is going to eliminate resumes from the pile.

First, they’re going to get rid of resumes with irrelevant education and qualifications. Oh you went to school for Biochemistry and you have a retail background? Don’t apply to a job in finance. Next, they’re going to get rid of the candidates without college degrees. Easy. Next, they’re going to get rid of the candidates whose resumes look incomplete, generic, or unprofessional. The pile keeps getting smaller!

You need to tailor your experiences to the job posting. Be a parrot! Spoon feed your candidacy to HR. This will make you look like the most qualified applicant. Don’t forget to make your resume keyword rich. A lot of the bigger companies use resume sorting software that looks for specific keywords. Sprinkle the keywords [meaningfully] throughout your resume.

PUTTING YOURSELF OUT THERE (i.e. being relevant)

Sending resumes is not enough. You have to make yourself relevant. You have to stand out from everyone else. Make a really solid profile on Linked In and add your classmates, friends, and family. Look up people who work at the companies you’re interested in. You don’t even have to be that specific. If you’re interested in finance, look for people who work in finance. Google and Twitter are useful sources too.

Get in touch. Reach out to these people and request an informational interview over the phone or in person. You want to gather information about the company and the industry. Not only will this help your candidacy, but it’ll help with your search. You’ll get a sneak peek from an insider’s perspective on the industry you’re trying to enter.

Be genuine, nice, and personable. You’re building a relationship with this person. Be interested in what they have to say, and respect their time. Ask them to introduce you to people they think could help you. Make sure they know how appreciative you are. Don’t forget to send a thoughtful thank you letter afterwards.

How’s your job hunt going?