By: Rachel Crawford, BA in German Language & Literature, GWU, 2015
The competition is enormous, and the entry-level positions far too few. Even unpaid internships and volunteer work require unpaid internships and volunteer work to stand out from other applicants. Sounds familiar? To many GW students, it likely does. My impossible field was publishing. What’s yours?
I always heard that publishing was an impossible industry to break into. I heard it at convention panels, in internet articles, and over and over in my head. You have to know the right people…I knew no one. You have to have the right experience…I had none. Getting the first job is the hardest part.
I came to the GW Center for Career Services in desperation, as a second semester senior who hadn’t applied for a single job and who hadn’t updated her resume in more than 18 months. (Pro tip: don’t do this.) I only decided to attempt the impossible because I didn’t have a back-up plan that seemed any more plausible. While I was not completely ignorant about job applications, soft skills, resumes and cover letters, I still didn’t have enough knowledge for the kind of applications I needed to craft. The task before me was daunting and I honestly didn’t know where to begin.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I made it. I graduated with my classmates on May 2015 and started my job in publishing less than a month later. That’s two impossibilities in one fell swoop: not only a difficult field to find a job in, but in an absurdly short time frame.
I don’t deny that there had to be some uncanny fortune involved. But that does not mean there was nothing I could do – for you to do, now – to improve the odds.
Here is my advice for tackling your impossible field:
- Learn who is hiring. Naming the five or ten largest companies in your field isn’t good enough anymore. Learn the mid-sized companies, catch the names of recent entrants, study who is affiliated with whom (for publishing I had to learn which imprints belonged to which houses – not entirely intuitive, and a unique feature of this field. What’s unique about the structure of your target companies?) and above all, write it down. You should study for your career as hard as you study for your finals.
- Explore the positions. You may think you know what an entry-level position in your field does, but do you know any unique departments that only your industry could possibly require? Or the supporting roles in tertiary industries that make the major companies function from behind-the-scenes? Even if the well-known or public position is your end goal, knowing what makes it possible reveals the difference between a hopeful candidate and a budding expert.
- Maintain a sense of progress. This is usually the point where I’m supposed to say “apply and keep applying”, and that applies (ahem) here, too. But there’s more to it than just that. Applying blindly doesn’t help you any more than buying ten lottery tickets instead of two. In either case, the odds you are relying on in a competitive field are insignificant. The frustration you feel at getting a rejection (or, as is more likely, no response at all) needs an outlet, and it’s your job to turn it into something useful. Update your LinkedIn page again with a tighter, cleaner summary of your most recent position. Find positions you haven’t applied for yet (even upper level positions you have no intention of applying for) and note the keywords. Re-write your cover letter focused around those words. Find a position at one of your target companies that you’ve never heard of and research what it is, and why you should be the one to fill it.
That sense of progress is essential in keeping momentum, because a job hunt is a long process. But it works. One weekend in early March, I learned that a publishing program I had my heart set on wasn’t accepting applications, and in a fit of petulance I spent that Saturday applying for a few other positions on my list. My current position came directly from those efforts. You never know when your work will pay off, but the prerequisite for any success is hard, thoughtful, and consistent work.