Last summer, I was spending most of my time at my neighborhood coffee shop, cranking out job applications, and trying to make my small iced tea last as long as humanly possible to justify the space I was taking up. I wrote an indeterminable number of cover letters and emails and updated my resume to no end. I connected with near-strangers for informational interviews, and also went to a number of real-deal ones as well.
At one point, I showed up to an interview dripping in sweat because I had gone the wrong way down a street in Nolita and had to double-back — sprinting — just in order to make it on time. At another, I was at my fellowship in Brooklyn wearing leather shorts when I was called in for a that-day second-round in Soho. Not exactly what you’d call interview-appropriate attire.
In short, I was doing a lot of freaking out — to my mom, to my mentor, to my friends, and most of all, in my own mind. To an extent, stress and anxiety when you’re looking for your first job are unavoidable. But there are a number of things I wish I’d realized at the beginning of the process to make it more manageable, and even (believe it or not) meaningful.
Here are seven ways to actually take advantage of your job search without freaking out in the process.
Take it as an opportunity to connect with the coolest people you barely know
During my search, I got coffee or drinks with everyone from my friend’s cool older sister to my uncle’s-best friend from college’s-girlfriend. I had very few connections in the industry I wanted to go into (clearly), but I realized quickly that people are usually willing to take half an hour out of their day to give advice to someone trying to get a job in their field — even someone they previously did not know existed.
My job did not result directly from my networking, but I got to talk to editors and writers I normally wouldn't have met. I received a lot of advice that ranged from standard to surprising, and put myself outside of my comfort zone. (Which is great practice for interviews.) Ask friends and family members to put you in touch with anyone who could be beneficial to talk to.
Remember that not being first doesn’t mean you were last
When I started applying to jobs, I had the tendency to take rejection personally. I used that feeling as a motivating force — if I didn’t get a position I applied to, I’d send out three more cover letters the day I found out. However, I also realized that when there is only one spot to be filled, getting rejected didn’t mean I was disliked or unqualified for the job. I could easily have been the second choice. The job application process is like the college application process to the nth degree — it’s hard to know all the random qualifications and qualities an employer is looking for in a candidate, but unlike in college admissions, there is only one spot. Don’t get disheartened by rejection.
Make a cover letter template
Perhaps the most important thing I did during my job search was to plunk down at the beginning and spend a couple of hours writing a detailed, heartfelt ... totally generic cover letter. Every time I applied for a job, I would spend 20 or 30 minutes tailoring it to the job’s specific qualifications — a significant improvement from spending a couple hours on each cover letter I needed to write. There are going to be skills and experiences you’re always going to want to talk about regardless of a job description’s details. Write them down.
Use interviews as a learning experience
One of the best pieces of advice I got during my search is that during interviews, you should be evaluating potential employers just as much as they’re evaluating you. Yes, by its nature the interview process will always be an intimidating one, but it’s also a great way to meet different employers and see different office environments in order to figure out what is the best possible fit for you. Think of it the way you might view a blind date — you want to appear interested, but also be confident in what you bring to the table. You deserve a good match.
On that note, stop trying to figure out every single interview question you might be asked
One of the most nerve-wracking things I did at first was to try to figure out every interview question under the sun I might be asked. Eventually, I realized that was futile. So before each interview, I would instead think of the five or seven things I really wanted to tell that potential employer about myself and my experience. That way, I never left wishing I hadn’t forgotten something essential I’d wanted to mention about an internship or project — plus, those talking points had a funny way of being good answers to many of the questions I was being asked.
Know you’re going to learn a lot
Reading that might have provoked a massive eye roll, but it’s true. During my job search, I gained a different idea of what kind of job I wanted, as well as a lot of new experience to discuss with potential employers. At first, I had a difficult time seeing my job search as anything but a means to an end, but over time, I realized that I was getting a lot I hadn’t expected out of it. I learned about my strengths and weaknesses, as well as what I wanted out of a first job, and what kind of company I wanted to work for. Over the weeks, I got to talk to a lot of cool people, see different parts of New York City, and build confidence that was really important when I landed and began my job.
Think about how good the pudding at the end of the tunnel will taste
When I moved into the East Village, a gourmet pudding shop in the neighborhood caught my eye immediately. But for whatever reason, I never went in. After finally landing my job, I realized that I had subconsciously been saving it as a reward for myself. The pudding cup I ate that day was glorious. When you receive the offer you’ve been waiting for, treat yourself. And in the meantime, know how sweet it will be when you do.