Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A year later.

Around this time a year ago I graduated from college. It was strange, fun, exciting. I'm finally done with all-nighters and classes! What am I going to do with all this newfound time on my hands? What if I don't find a job?
I remember a short time before my graduation I attended a party with a few people who graduated a year earlier. Most of them did not have a full-time job and were saying that it was their choice: freelance and occasional projects give you a lot more freedom, both personal and professional. One comment that stuck with me was: "You're not going to die if you won't have a 9-5 job". That came from a fine arts graduate who had little to no chance of getting that job. That evening I confirmed to myself that I do not want to be in the same situation a year from then or ever. I know that the current economic situation with its high unemployment rates, lack of job openings and thousands of people coming out of schools every year is not exactly a job seeker's paradise and some people can't find a job no matter how hard they try. I don't have an issue with that, but I'm deeply disturbed with people who don't move a finger to make a living and get sarcastic about those who do.

Now, a year after graduation is a time when many of us question themselves about what they've achieved that year. It's a wake-up call to see new graduates in their tasseled hats and cheerful faces. Have my expectations of the near future proved themselves? I was one of the lucky ones who got a job soon after graduation, had some fun freelance projects on the side and learned things I have not known before. I can't say that there wasn't a second this past year during which I wished I was still in school or was a "free-roaming" artist, but in the end I did not waste my time. A year after I'm a designer with almost a year of professional experience and better knowledge of the industry.

A lot has changed since graduation. I have a less romantic approach to the job search, I have a better understanding of what happens when you get an opportunity that seems too good to be true. This past year taught me about (professional) friendships as well. I'm now a firm believer that you can tell a true friend not by the amount of care you get when you are at the lowest in your life (a good person will gladly express concern) but from their long-term reaction to your success. We're all human and it's oh so difficult to be happy for someone when you yourself are not.

What would I tell myself a year ago if I had the experience that I have now? First of all, I'd say "Be prepared". Be prepared not in an interview kind of way, but in terms of failures and achievements. Even if you're lucky and your job search lasts only two months and not two year, you'll encounter rejection and approaches that differ from your own. I'm idealistic enough to think that if I was a recruiter, I'd do my best to not leave one single applicant without a line of response, even a generic one. Turns out 80% of the places you apply to don't have the same approach. Many companies don't think they need to formally reject you even after two interviews. You still can't get discouraged. When I was applying for jobs last year one art director kindly told me that in order to succeed and get a job in this economic environment I should be prepared to send out hundreds of letters even if it'll becomes so tedious I'd want to quit. I still think it's the best job search advice I've gotten so far.

I'd also tell myself that even though I have to believe in myself and expect the very best, there will be disappointments. In school we were taught to think that with the education we got we are very competitive and will be eventually hired. We were told that we should aim for the highest job positions at firms with big names. Truth is, not everyone thinks that if you're a Kansas City Art Institute design graduate you are automatically great. In fact, not everyone knows what on earth KCAI is. As a recent grad your really need to learn to wade through some professionals' ignorance and/or preconceived notions about whatt a junior designer is capable of. You have to know what you're worth, where you want to end up and what you want to do as a designer.

One last thing that I'd tell my just graduated self is to shut up about your career success until you know it's actually a success. With facebook, twitter, email and whatnot it's so tempting to scream at the top of your lungs that you are finally employed and fantastic. Job statuses on facebook are a lot like relationship statuses: it's exciting to post one at the beginning, but painful to take it down in the end. That's why I made a rule not to post either one no matter how happy I am on the inside. Tell a friend, parent, dog, but save yourself the embarrassment of letting all your 1,000 facebook friends know everything about you. Having said that, I should say it's just a rule I go by and by no means a universal one.

A year after graduation I'm pretty happy. I definitely would not tell anyone they'll die if they won't find a 9-5 job after graduation, but I'd strongly advise them to do everything they can to get one. Like I said, I don't think I wasted a minute of my time last year and I hope I will waste even less this next year to come. This case is probably one of the few times where I don't care to see where I will be in a year. Whatever happens, happens.

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