fake it til you make it: the truth about finding a job after college ends
Edit: I originally started writing this post shortly before graduating college in May of 2019. I have now worked full-time for over a year and still stand by everything I wrote here. I wish I had this to read when I was struggling, so I decided to finish it and publish it for others.
In about three months, I’m going to graduate from college. I go to Occidental, a small liberal arts school in southern California. I am double majoring in computer science and cognitive science, and yesterday, I secured a full-time job offer.
The path to this day has been very different than I expected it to be, and frankly, there are a number of things that I was lied to about and an even larger number of things that I lied to myself about. If you’re searching for a job, or if you’re curious, I hope you will find this information illuminating.
I’ll explain the life cycle that I went through. It looks something like this…
Step 1: Begin by questioning everything you’re doing
First, you have to figure out what kind of job you would ideally want after graduating from school. Sounds very easy. For me, it was much more difficult.
I began by becoming convinced that I should be a software engineer. Then, I thought that I should become a data scientist, and then plan to go back to school to study machine learning within the next 5 years. Then I decided to go for software engineering again. Now, I’m applying to leadership development programs. Beyond learning what I want to do versus what I feel obliged to do, I also found that this process allowed me to intrinsically recognize what I’m best at. It’s about learning how to market yourself. And learning how to make yourself happy over all others in your life.
Big picture: It is ok to not know what you want to do right away. You’re allowed to change your mind as many times as you want. There will always be side jobs that pay the bills while you’re preparing for what you really want. Also, fuck everyone else until you know what will actually make you happy.
Step 2: Develop (or feign) complete confidence in yourself
This one is really hard, I’ll admit it, but you need to become a tireless self-promoter. At first, you’re going to feel like this goes hand-in-hand with being an asshole (you will feel this way especially if you’re a high-achieving woman), but you would be wrong. Knowing how much you’re worth to an employer will not only help you get a job but will help you establish two forms of respect: respect for yourself and respect from others.
When I say being a “tireless self-promoter” I mean giving yourself almost laughable credit for small things you accomplish during the day. Did you help a friend with their homework? You’re a dedicated and loyal supporter of others, committed to teamwork. Did you go to the printer to print out your form for the DMV? You’re detail-oriented and diligent when you are responsible for tasks. Now, you’ll want to say these affirmations to yourself, in your own mind (this will help to avoid the asshole part).
And this goes for negative self-talk too. Let’s say you think to yourself:
“I can’t take on that task, I’m not good enough and I will screw it up.”
Walk to a mirror, yes really, and say aloud:
“I didn’t take on that task because I didn’t want to/I didn’t have time for it/I don’t currently have the skills necessary to do a good job/etc. but that has no reflection on my self worth or competency. I made an empowered choice to not take that on, I wasn't forced to turn it down because I’m not good enough.”
Be HONEST about why things happen, and respect your own decisions.
Step 3: Fail early, fail often. Learn to accept the sting of rejection
If you think that this step does not apply to you because you will not fail at trying to find a job, I will almost guarantee you that you are wrong. Even my friends who had a job secured in October of their senior year still had times where they royally screwed up an interview and walked out feeling like a fool. Furthermore, once you secure a job, you are going to make a big kid mistake at some point, it’s a part of learning to be better.
Also, remember that it is always a privilege to be challenged. To meet people who are smarter, better, faster, stronger than you is a prime opportunity to learn from them. If you are the smartest person in the room, you should probably go to another room. If you get rejected from a job because you weren’t the smartest, best, shiniest kid that interviewed, no big deal. Like our queen Ariana Grande taught us: thank u, next.
I’ll even offer you a bonus platitude if this one still isn’t sinking in. I went to a panel once where this amazing woman (who I now don’t remember the name of) told us that she no longer fears rejection while dating because
“A no to me is a yes to themselves.”
At the end of the day, just because someone (a cute boy, a corporation, an entry-level software engineer wrangled into conducting interviews) turns you down, does not have any reflection on you, it mostly reflects on them and what they want and need at that moment.
Step 4: Let go of what’s really bothering you
You’ve followed all these steps and you’re still jobless, and you feel pretty sad. Stop and ask yourself: what’s wrong with not having a job? What’s wrong with being a barista for a few months, or years, or a lifetime?
Now, of course, having a job ensures financial stability, and many are not privileged enough to be comfortable with “it’s ok that I don’t have a job right now.” But having the perfect job, or a full-time job does not ensure that any more than any other paid position.
I found that a lot of what was driving me was what I thought I was supposed to do. I thought I was supposed to work full time, be salaried, live away from my parents, find a boyfriend, get in shape, and shop at Whole Foods. If you’re being driven by fabricated obligation and not genuine self-fulfillment, then finally getting an offer isn’t going to make you feel any better. Figure out what you absolutely need to survive, make sure that’s taken care of, and stop judging yourself for everything else.
Step 5: Be kind to yourself
Eat some ice cream, go hike a mountain, watch some Netflix. Spend quality time with yourself, and start making a comfortable habit of enjoying yourself. You have a whole lifetime to work and be successful, and you’re going to want to have enough energy to experience all the wonderful things to come.