What I Learned In My 20s About…Job Hunting

A little later on this year, I’ll be turning 30 years old. In American society, this is for some reason a milestone birthday[1]. If nothing else, it’s the birthday that signals that “milestone” birthdays will stop coming at oddball intervals and instead begin showing up at the decade mark.

As I did in my previous post about finance, I wanted to try to impart some of my advice to those of you looking for some guidance when it comes to job hunting. I get that there’s thousands upon thousands of articles online about this very topic. If you’re here, you probably didn’t find this from a search — you likely know me or someone I know. That said, I still want to share my experience with the job search process.

Note that I’m really not going to go into interviewing too heavily in this post. While the interview is a critical part of actually getting a job, it’s not the job search itself. I may talk about interviewing in a later post.

1. Companies Are Going to Call Sales Jobs by Lots of Non-Sales Names

One of the various jobs I had in college had the title Marketing Advisor. Based on the title, you’d think I’d be doing something like social media campaigns, advertising, or even lead generation, right? Nope. I spent three weeks going door-to-door selling cable in rich suburbs of Columbus, Ohio[2]. This was my first lesson to not trust job titles. Over the years, I’ve applied for jobs with marketing, training, account development, account management, admissions advisor, and customer service in the name, only to find out during the interview that the job was actually a sales position — even though the job description online didn’t frame the position as one[3].

If you like sales and/or if you’re looking for a sales job, more power to you. It’s not my gig, but if you like it, go for it. If you’re not looking for a sales job, know that there’s a lot of companies that frame sales positions as non-sales jobs. If you find that out during the interview process, stay away from that company. It’s for the better.

2. In the Corporate World, Having A Degree Matters More Than What That Degree Is In

Note: The following section applies to non-specialized positions in the corporate world. If you’re a doctor/accountant/lawyer/engineer/meteorologist/etc, your specialized degree is immensely important to your career. This also largely doesn’t apply to teachers, unless your goal is to be a substitute teacher, in which case your rules are far more lax than I imagined.

I’ve worked at three relatively large companies[4] since graduating college. In every single one of them, I’ve met dozens of people working in positions that have nothing to do with their degree. I’ve met a social worker who managed a call center, a paralegal who spent all day making outbound calls, a broadcasting major who ran a rental car desk, a vocal performance major who worked as a receptionist…and so the list continues on. Finding a job in the field you go to college for is not easy. While in a utopian world we’d all be able to wait on the job that lets us do what we want in the field we want, reality doesn’t work that way. That’s part of why I was working in a call center three weeks after graduating rather than working in radio.

Companies know this and interview people with that in mind, particularly in a corporate setting. Your ability to finish a degree program (and ideally do well), along with the traits and skills you present in your interview are a big selling point. Business, communications, and English majors in particular seems to do well, regardless of industry. After all, if you can talk well and understand business, you’re a (comparatively) hot commodity, especially at entry-level positions.

Speaking of entry-level…

3. Temp Agencies Can Be Your Friend…But Only if You’re Looking For Entry Level Work

When I lost my job in 2011, I was fortunate that part of Ohio’s unemployment process was to pass your information along to temp agencies. Though I had been applying for hundreds of positions a week[5], I was getting very few calls from recruiters to set up interviews. A temp agency had managed to use my experience to help me get four interviews within the first two weeks of them helping.

The problem was that all of the interviews they could find for me were entry level positions. 24-year-old, unemployed me didn’t care about this all that much and happily took the interviews. But in the experiences that I had separate from that time and that others have shared with me as well, don’t expect a temp agency to find you anything beyond an entry-level position, even if your experience clearly has you at a middle management or higher level. If you’re a middle manager, you’re kind of stuck on your own when it comes to job searching.

4. Experience With a Formal Title Trumps All

Remember what I said about college degrees mattering less than you’d think (so long as you have one)? Part of the reason you’ll find that to be true is that it’s difficult to find entry-level positions in specialized areas. Couldn’t find a paid internship in college in the field you want to work in? Too bad. You’re probably only going to get interview opportunities for low-level positions (generally that have nothing to do with what you want to be doing). Trying to make a career path change to a different area of the corporate world? You’re likely even worse off. Companies aren’t going to take a chance on an unknown commodity, even if you’re the most skilled worker in the world. Doubly so if you don’t already work for the company.

I realize I’ve been a bit doom and gloom in this post, but it’s because one of the biggest things I learned about the business world in my twenties is that having an office job isn’t the idealized world that many of prior generations made it out to be. That rant in and of itself deserves its own post. If you do have a takeaway here, let it be that you’re going to need to work your ass off to get an interview for the job you want…and even then, don’t get your hopes up.

What I Learned In My 20s About…Job Hunting

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