Last October, my parents came to visit as I was finishing the last semester of my master’s program. I invited one of my good friends to come to dinner with us to get to know my parents and to have a genuinely good time. I was enjoying my last semester and I had about three months until graduation.
At dinner, my dad started the conversation by asking my friend, Taylor, what she was studying and what she was planning to do when she was done with her master’s. Taylor explained that she planned to return to her job as an engineer, which she left so she could pursue her master’s.
I started to panic. I had been more focused on having fun my last semester than on how to get a job or what I needed to do to get a job. I knew one thing for sure, I wanted to work in the public sector.
At Auburn University I was studying for a master’s degree in public administration. I had known for a long time that I was interested in education reform. As I sat at the dinner table with my friend and parents, I realized I knew what I wanted to do, but I had no idea where to start.
Searching for a job in the public sector was always what I thought I would do, but I needed to get the ball rolling and I wasn’t sure how. I had a resume and a cover letter, which was a good starting place. I began to look at the school’s resources. I reached out to my professor and asked for his advice. He gave me a list of his colleagues to contact as a way to start my networking and hopefully find a job.
My first phone call with a potential employer did not go well. I did not prepare enough, nor did I do enough research on either the position or the organization. I was so naive in thinking that my charm, ability to talk on the fly, and my master’s degree would be enough to get hired.
The next conversation with a potential employer was better, and the next one even better. I began to understand what I needed to do. First, I needed to treat every conversation, email, or phone call as if it were an actual job interview and prepare for each one as if I was about to take the SAT. I took notes on every call and made sure to write a thank you email to each person I talked to.
I started to panic. I had been more focused on having fun my last semester than on how to get a job or what I needed to do to get a job.
From conversation to conversation, I learned how to market myself to the organization as well as how to highlight my skills, experiences, and key accomplishments during my conversations. A quick “Danielle Greatest Hits” if nothing else.
As I was learning how to market myself, there came the noes. Again, I was a bit unrealistic. My thoughts were: you apply, interview, then get the job. At least that is what everyone told me. Since the start of this process, I have kept a notebook about every job I applied for, including the date, my research, and the outcome. I stopped doing that after the no’s started rolling in.
Day after day I poured myself into applications and phone calls to well-known non-profit organizations and public sector jobs. Every morning I work up to noes from various organizations. I remember questioning my worth. I wondered if pursuing a master’s degree actually made it harder to get a job in the public sector. While I was in classrooms and discussion boards, others were gaining work experience. If I was going to be successful, I had to grow a thick skin so I could take all the noes in stride. I had to remember that every no had given me an opportunity to call someone new and to get in front of more people.
As I was learning how to market myself, there came the noes.
My journey is not over. I am still submitting applications, scheduling phone calls, sending thank you emails, and racking up the noes. As I write this article, living at home with my parents I have faith that the opportunity will come, due to the work I have put in since the beginning of this process started. I may not have something to tell my relatives when they ask me what my job is or when I am moving out. But I know that soon enough I will be working in the public sector, helping to make a difference in the lives of people.
Things I have learned in my job search:
- Trust the process!
- Utilize every connection no matter how small
- Be professional, no matter how casual the phone call is
- Every no means a yes is down the line