How to Fail in the Job Search: AKA My Attempts at Remaining Unemployed

In part two of my continued saga on how to not be like me, I have decided to discuss the glorious mistakes that happened to me throughout my job search process last year. While “mistakes do not make the man” it is difficult (or nearly impossible) to prove this otherwise to your prospective employers. By the time you are completing this process, you will (hopefully) have everything polished perfectly. Your resume will have been viewed by more people than you can count, your interview opening liners will have been rehearsed more than any accomplished actor, and your cover letter could compete with the works of Robert Frost. And as you enter those interviews with your hand-picked wardrobe and days of preparation, mistakes will happen. While these mistakes will be upsetting at first, I can assure you that in the future you will be able to look back at them, learn from them, and most importantly laugh at them.

The Accidental Cover Letter

I was often told during my search, that “looking for a position is in itself a full-time job.” For those of you currently going through the process, I am sure you can agree. Because of that, I was often trying to cut corners whenever possible so that I could maintain what little sanity I had left during the end of my graduate program. One way I tried to save time was through my cover letters.

You will want to create individualized, personal cover letters that state your intentions, your qualifications, and what sets you apart from the rest of the crowd. This is not time to recite your resume, nor is it one to give your life story. This should be a one-page letter with paragraphs which have a specific purpose—no fluff, all business.

For me, this meant that for almost all positions my qualifications sections were the same. I just needed to vocalize what interested me in their position and how my unique traits specifically matched their job description. To combat writing an entirely new letter for each position, I created a template. While this was time efficient, I was not putting enough effort into those specific positions which I feel may have lowered the rate at which I received interviews. But more importantly, a template opens up the opportunity for error—especially ones where you either send a prospective employer the wrong cover letter or an incomplete one. In my case, I did both.

Nothing caused a more upset feeling during my job search than when I discovered I had sent a university a cover letter which mentioned another university in the middle of the letter. Not only was I embarrassed because that is not my quality of work, but to the employer it showed that they were not a unique job opportunity in my eyes. They were merely another institution of higher education offering a job. Now while this was definitely not the case, the damage had been done. I have heard stories where colleagues have sent follow-up emails apologizing for the confusion and actually received responses (and job interviews) back from the employer, but I have not heard of these individuals landing these positions.

The Conference Interview Marathon

For many professionals in Student Affairs, we network, interview, and even land positions at regional and national job conferences. These are highly convenient, economic, and time saving measures that benefit both the applicants and the employers. However, because of the sheer amount of positions that are often offered at these conferences, it can become too tempting for the unemployed graduate student who is looking for their first professional position.

Now while it should not become a competition, the group of fellow students around you may start to discuss how many interviews they have lined up. Even if you act as if you are not concerned with how many interviews they have lined up and what positions they are going for, there will be part of you that either pats yourself on your shoulder because of how well you are doing or will start to doubt your talents because they have more interviews. Anyone who suggests otherwise is probably lying to you.

Now while I personally was not jealous (see previous statement about lying), I was motivated by those around me. While I only had a few interviews lined up prior to driving to Pennsylvania for NASPA’s The Placement Exchange (TPE), some of my friends had double or even triple the amount I had. This caused me to go into a competitive “beast mode” where I found myself applying to positions at institutions I would not in a million years want to work for. For the first time in Student Affairs I realized that there was actually a chance that I would not be hired. With the fear of failure driving me, I received multiple opportunities for interviews the days leading up to the conference. While this sounds great, nearly all of them were scheduled either back-to-back or very near to each other.

In preparation, I more than adequately studied for every interview. I knew their website like the back of my hand, I read their student newspaper often, and I even read up on unrelated strategic plans throughout their university. But no preparation in the world can prepare you for the stressors and strain you will go through when you have to “put yourself in the zone” for one interview, take a breath if you have time, and then walk to your next. It takes a toll on you even the most seasoned of interviewees, so do not put yourself in that position. It won’t just impact the interviews you do (poorly during),I was confused does it affect your interviews that day or through the whole conference? it will impact all of them. By the time day three of interviews came along in Philly, I was dreading the walk to the convention center. And the irony is, after all of that time and stress, my position did not even come from the on-campus opportunities offered from the conference.

Not Asking Enough Questions (Or Selling Yourself Short)

The final error I will discuss out of the many I successfully overcome was not asking enough questions. There would be times that I would go to apply for a position and I would exclude it from my search based on a few qualifications or comments in the posting. Now if you are grossly under qualified for a position, it is better not to waste you or the employer’s time by applying. However if there is any form of hesitation on your part, that feeling of “I love this position and I think I could do great in it”, then by all means you should either apply or at least speak with the posting institution representatives. I ran into many of these situations throughout my search, and had I been able to eloquently express the transferable skills from the many obscure positions I have held throughout my life, I may have been able to land them. I sold myself short, and I will never know what could have been.

I even sold myself short for the position I currently occupy here at Ball State University. To give a little background, Ball State’s Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education program has two cohorts. There is a group on a one-year track, and then there are residence life grads that fulfill a two-year requirement. Now while my passion has always been housing, since I had taken time off from school I was looking to obtain my degree in the shortest amount of time possible and without a duty phone to obstruct my studies. I was able to find that, and much, much more at Ball State. What I thought this meant for me is that I would not be able to apply for a position here. I absolutely adored the mentors I had on campus, however since I was friends with the fellow housing graduate students, I never thought they would allow me to work as a full-time staff member while my friends were still graduate students. I sold myself short, and never applied until it was almost too late. Had it not been for one of my mentors (who was also my professor) I never would have applied, and I never would have found the first job in my life that feels right.

So as you can see, even someone who makes as many mistakes as a guy like me can still land a position that goes home each night happy. The market is continuing to become more and more competitive each year, however I have no doubt that if you listen to your mentors, learn from your friends, and focus on your goals, you will do just fine. I mean, you could even end up working with this guy.

Charle Cherry

Student Affairs - the First Years

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