Last March, I went to New York City for the weekend to visit friends and I had the best times. Usually when I go to NYC, I’m so happy when my train home pulls into Union Station in DC. But on that particular trip, I was sad to come home. As I walked to get a salad the evening I returned home, I realized that the life I was living wasn’t the one I wanted to be living anymore. I was bored, unchallenged, and not really doing much to move my life forward. (Looking back now, you can really tell I was grappling with how much I wanted to change my life in this post and this post.)
I knew I had to make some changes and so I started thinking about what areas of my life could use a shake-up. My Arlington apartment was an awesome space and I could walk to work, but I missed being in a neighborhood that felt urban and was within walking distance of restaurants, bars, and shops. So, I started thinking about moving. At first, I thought maybe I should try to move to New York. I loved my weekend there and I loved the person I was when I lived there in summer of 2012. But then I decided I shouldn’t move my entire life to another city before living in the city I was closest to. So, I decided after five great years in Arlington, it was time to move to DC. While my office was in Arlington, most of my friends had either moved out to the suburbs with a significant other (hard pass for me!) or moved into DC. At first I was thinking I’d move to the Navy Yard, but I am so glad I ended up in Dupont Circle. It’s a great neighborhood that has everything I could ever dream of within walking distance, and it’s so centrally located.
I came to the realization I needed to move in May, but didn’t end up moving until September when my lease was up. Sometimes change is slower than you’d like it to be. Even though I had to wait a little while to move, just knowing that I was in the process of making the change was empowering and made me feel like I was moving in the right direction. But I also was realizing a truth that was hard for me to accept—it was probably time to move on from my first job out of school.
I consider myself SO LUCKY that I started out my career with the job that I did. I couldn’t have picked a better place for me to land in the real world if I tried. I had the best coworkers, a wonderful working environment, the opportunity to learn and try new things, and the opportunity to go to grad school. In the narrative I used to write for myself about my life, I saw myself there forever.
But around this time last year, I realized that I was bored at work—I had work, but I wasn’t challenged. I felt like I was doing the same thing year after year. And I wasn’t challenging myself by asking for more work, harder projects, or rethinking older ways of doing things. To top it off, I wasn’t super excited about the projects in the pipeline. I was showing up to work, skating by, surfing the internet most of the day, and wondering why I felt so unfulfilled.
I remember when my dad was driving my sister and me to the airport ahead of our visit to Clemson, I asked him if he would be mad at me for looking for a new job. Everyone I know just assumed I would stay at my job forever, and I was worried people would doubt my decision to leave. I was worried about throwing a way a good hand, even when I knew there could be a better hand for me out there. I was worried that my skills wouldn’t be transferrable or that I wouldn’t be as good at a new job as I was at my old one.
I finally came to the conclusion that I should at least look for a new job—it’d either lead me to a new challenge or I’d be able to affirm that I was in the right place.
Looking for a new job is a full time job, and I’m kind of glad I didn’t know how hard it would be when I started the process. In the moment, my job search felt really long, but when all was said and done, it took me six months almost to the date to find a new job, which I think is a pretty average length of time. The job search process is full of rejection and self-doubt, so I took breaks when I needed them—learning to rest and not to quit is one of the best things you can practice in life!—and tried to be nice to myself on the days when the going got rough.
I learned so much throughout the process and so I wanted to share some of my best tips today, in case you’re on the hunt for a job yourself or find yourself on one in the future:
+ Talk to your undergraduate alumni association career services department. I officially kicked off my job search last May when I had a call with UVA’s alumni career services. Because I am a lifetime member, this call was 100% FREE (!) for me—and if you’re not a member, you can pay for this service. I spoke with an advisor who had a marketing background like me, and the initial call was a time for me to ask questions about the search and best practices for resumes and she gave me some advice on the types of companies and roles to look for. It was super helpful to talk to a neutral third party who is literally an expert in helping people with their careers. As a second step in the process, once I drafted my resume, I scheduled time on my advisor’s calendar for a resume review. Having a second set of eyes on your resume is a must, and she gave me so much great feedback. Though I never leaned into ACS for other services, they also do things like review cover letters against job descriptions to make sure your cover letter is relevant or have a call with you dedicated to looking at who’s in your network and how they might be able to connect you to your next role. Even if you didn’t go to UVA, I am sure other school’s alumni associations or a professional group you’re apart of offers a similar service—my advice would be to take all the advising you can get!
+ To keep yourself organized, set up a master job search folder on your computer and make a subfolder for every job you apply for. So I could access my files on the go, I did this in my Dropbox account. I also numbered each folder so they would be displayed in the order which I applied—e.g. 1. Company A, 2. Company B, 3. Company C, etc. Because of this organizational system, I can easily tell you that I applied to 25 jobs before I was hired for the one I have now.
+ Sign up for LinkedIn Premium. Most of the jobs I applied for, I found on LinkedIn, so it was super helpful to have a premium account. Among other things, a premium account allows you to see how many other people have applied for the job and how you stack up, which I found to be super insightful. It also allows you to see everyone who’s viewed your profile and look at people’s profiles incognito, without them being notified you looked. You also have InMail credits with premium, meaning you can reach out to the recruiter, which I did a few times after I applied. Your first month is free, but pro tip, if you go to cancel, they will offer you a deal of some sort—another month free, two months for the price of one, etc. One other thing about LinkedIn is that many of the jobs are “easy apply” meaning you only need to upload a resume—I always added a cover letter even if it wasn’t asked for since it’s an opportunity to add context to your resume and explain why you’re interested in the job.
+ Create a plug-and-play cover letter template. In my experience, writing cover letters is the worst part of the job search. What I did was write a bank of 10 “case studies” that highlighted different things about my experience—for instance, an example of a successful integrated marketing campaign or an anecdote that highlighted my project management skills. I would then choose three or four of those case studies to be the “meat” of each cover letter, based on the job description. The intro paragraph would be about why I waned the job and the concluding paragraph would be a statement of why I thought I was the best fit, as well as a link to my portfolio. This is how many business schools teach their students to write cover letters, and it made the whole process more manageable.
+ Take every call and every interview you’re offered. When I was looking for my first job out of school, my dad encouraged me to take every interview or phone call I was offered, even if I didn’t think I wanted the job. Like all things, you become a better interviewee with practice, and I am so glad that I had hours of calls and interviews under my belt by the time I was interviewing for the job I ended up with. Not only was I was much more confident in my responses, I had a better idea of what I wanted in my next role because I went through the process of trying on other jobs for fit. When I was offered the job I have now, I could confidently accept knowing that I had explored what else was out there and come to the conclusion this role was the best next step for me.
+ Talk to people in your network about salary. Talking about money is hard and it’s taboo, but you have the greatest negotiating power over your salary when you’re offered a job before you decide to accept it. You have to know what other people who have a similar position, experience, and background as you are making, otherwise you may be leaving money on the table. I started by talking to former coworkers who found new opportunities and asked them for advice on what kind of salary range I should be considering in a new role. I also talked to close friends and grad school colleagues. I’ve found most people are willing to open up about money when you’re honest about things, too. As women, we don’t talk about money nearly enough, and it’s so important to make sure we’re being compensated fairly!
+ You have to network to get work. Many moons ago, I asked my closest friends to share what they wish they knew before they started their first job. My friend wrote back one of the best pieces of advice when it comes to growing your career—you have to network to get work (dropping knowledge, as usual, A!). I told Monica I was interested in the job, and she reached out to her friend who works at my company. That friend then forwarded my application to a recruiter, and I received a call the very next day for a pre-screen interview, even though I had originally applied for the job over a month prior. I can say with confidence it’s unlikely I would have ever gotten this job—let alone an interview—if I hadn’t leaned into my network. During my search, so many people helped me because people helped them in the past and they wanted to pay it forward—and now I want to do the same for others when they come to me during their job search.
I wanted to end with an awesome post I came across LinkedIn recently:
1. You can be the best candidate and still not get selected.
2. If you didn’t get the job, it was never meant for you.
3. You weren’t rejected, you were re-directed.
4. Your value does not decrease based upon someone’s inability to see your worth.
5. Believe in yourself and keep trying, the right door will open for you.