This is part of a series on finding your first job.
In September 2009, I was going into the final semester of my masters of public health in Boston. I’d taken in words of wisdom from advisers, friends, mentors and others who were kind enough to grant me informational interviews. So I set out to achieve the often elusive final accomplishment of grad school: getting a job.
While some of my peers were graduating with a masters and years of previous work experience, I went directly from undergrad to my MPH. I’d interned, done field work and tried to tailor my classes to give me concrete skills, rather than paying over $1,000 a credit hour to read papers I could access through PubMed. I set my sights on some sort of realistic, entry-level position, though I didn’t shy away from applying to some of the “five to seven years of experience” postings.
I applied to countless postings online for different global health consulting firms. I trolled through USAJobs and Avue Central (someone told me once she got her job via a blind application to USA Jobs, which gave me hope… I now realize I had met the tooth fairy of successful job seekers), and reorganized my resume to hit as many “hot words” as I could.
At the same time, I did what I think I do best: I reached out to people. And while I was hearing radio silence from all of the online resume landfills in the Internet where I applied to jobs, I got at least intermittent responses via e-mail. Most supportive, some a bit snarky and others that encouraged me to resign myself to unpaid volunteer work for at least a year to get more experience.
I persevered though. I sent three new e-mails each week to anyone (and I mean, literally, anyone). I looked for contacts in my undergrad and sorority alumni groups, talked to career advisers on campus and went to networking events. Then one day, I sent what had to have been at least the 68th “I’m interested in global health work, have any suggestions?” message, I got some really good news. A specific position I was qualified for was open and I had been asked to interview.
After a phone interview, a second interview in person and a little bit of anxious waiting, I got a job offer. A great job offer. I was (technically) under-qualified for the position based on years of experience. But I was enthusiastic, had a willingness to learn, and I apparently struck my coworkers as someone they would like to have around the office. My personality was one of my biggest selling points, they later told me.
Almost a year and a half later, I’m still working for the same fantastic company. I changed projects after the first project I was assigned to ended.
Here is what I hope new grads looking for their first job will take from my story: talk to people (some people call it networking). But really it’s just talking to people. They are your greatest resource and will be able to speak to you as a person, not a piece of paper. People will recognize your talent. Your personality can be your greatest asset, and it’s okay to be honest about your shortcomings. If you’re a quick learner and eager to pick up new skills, point that out.
Someone will take a chance on you. Finding my first job, took months of applications and dozens of emails. You have to keep at it. You never know who might see something in you that resonates. The man who got me that interview was my boss and project director for over a year; my coworkers on that project became my dear friends. And when they needed someone to fill my position on the new project , they hired a young woman I recommended – I sincerely believe in paying it forward.
So let my tale be one to give you hope, and if you ever need a pep talk, just let me know. I’ve been there.
Amanda Makulec works on a large USAID-funded maternal and child health project. She also volunteers as the Washington, D.C. regional director for One Home Many Hopes, and she is an avid cook and CulinAerie volunteer. Check out her blog for more information.