Dear Unemployed Graduate, I know you didn’t ask for it, but I’m going to offer you some advice – well maybe not advice…let’s call it “counseling” or “perspective” or “sharing.” Am I licensed therapist, counselor or manicurist? No. I am not. But I was once in your shoes, and I’ve had a pretty interesting career so far, even if it didn’t get off to a rocket-like start at graduation. So perhaps my story of unemployed graduation angst will mean something to you.
The time is 1997. I was graduating from Dartmouth’s Tuck School with an MBA and a staggering amount of student debt -$80,000 in 1997 dollars (I think there’s a way to calculate how much that would be in 2013 dollars, but I forget how to do it…I’ll cover the irony of that in another article). The debt was all the more terrifying because I had no job, a situation that contrasted with that of my classmates, the vast majority of whom seemed to have positions in investment banking, consulting or brand management with eye-popping starting salaries, signing bonuses and even tuition reimbursement. Annoyingly, as these friends of mine accepted their offers, they quickly shifted their time from job-searching to golf course-ing. Bastards. By contrast, nature had selected me to be a not-investment banker (see above reference re. computation of present value). I also couldn’t get traction with the prestigious brand management programs, and I had decided I didn’t want to do consulting because I couldn’t explain what they did (plus, none of them would hire me).
Good prospects would pop up here-and-there, but several months into the process I continued to receive their dismissals in the form of politely worded missives, the clear message of which was “piss off!”
As catharsis to make it through the experience, I edited these rejection letters (which I kept because I amuse myself) and hung them in the hall outside my room in the house I shared with four classmates.
Reading over them today, I still find them hilarious, but they freak me out a bit too, as they reflect the crazy stress I put myself through over finding my first real corporate job.
One night my roommates and I hosted a party for about a hundred students from other top business schools. Our house was filled, upstairs and down, with beer-ponging/funneling MBA candidates.
At some point in the evening I ran up to my room to grab something and could hear a couple of guests laughing at the edited correspondence outside. I was happy they found them funny until I heard one of them say, “These letters aren’t even from top companies” (there were many others than those included above).
I assumed – and remain convinced – that this person was from Wharton.
It sucked, but as you can probably guess, this story has a happy ending. Not too long afterward I found a job announcement in the career center (no HotJobs or CareerBuilder in 1997) for a company that produced an advertising-supported CD-ROM featuring interviews and performances with bands and movies stars. I thought to myself, “Hey, I love music, and everyone knows that the CD-ROM is the future of media!” Long story short, I got the job, and it kicked off a great career in the internet business.
Soon after I started, the LAUNCH CD-ROM became LAUNCH.com, a very cool music website that was eventually bought by Yahoo!. I loved working at Yahoo!, paid off my student loans and saved enough money to pursue a long-time dream of doing stand-up comedy full-time.
Stand-up was fun but way harder than I anticipated. I met many of my comic heroes, and got lots of stage time, but it takes a long time to gain competence in the field. One time after I had introduced Daniel Tosh, he started his set with “Paul – God bless him, he’s trying.” Ugggh.
Two years in, I proposed to my girlfriend (now wife and baby mama), and felt the call to a more predictable career path. So I put my tail between my legs and headed back to the corporate world.
In May, 2007 I joined the sales team for a small social network called Facebook.
Sometimes I wish that I could have been a better comedian or that I would have stuck it out longer. But if it had gone better, I wouldn’t have spent four years working, learning and making life-changing money at Facebook. Indeed, if I had been funnier, I’d have a much smaller house.
Here’s my point: your career is going to bring you many ups-and-downs, and your job search is just the beginning of that. The whole process might be annoying, frustrating, and terrifying, but it will pay off. It’s all part of helping you figure out who you are and what you really should and could be doing with your career.
The many dozens of interviews I had coming out of Tuck ranged from good to humiliating. They did not get great until I learned to stop telling people what I thought they wanted to hear and started telling people who I was and what I hoped to accomplish.
By the time I got in front of the LAUNCH team, I knew that this was exactly the job I wanted, and I was telling the ME story with clarity and enthusiasm. After meeting with each interviewer I told them, “I want this job, so if you’ve got any reservations about me, I’d like to talk about them with you now.” I think they thought I was crazy. And now they’re some of my best friends, in and out of business (except for this git).
Take heart, keep at it, and tell YOUR story. It’s all going to work out….unless you went to Wharton, in which case – piss off!