After graduating from Seneca College’s post-graduate Public Relations/Corporate Communications (Co-op) program, I began my job search and calculated every step I took.
Here was the result of my efforts:
- 80 applications sent out
- Received 7 formal rejections
- Interviewed at 6 different organizations
- Received 2 job offers
I thought four months was a hell of a long time. Turns out, it’s a blip. According to a 2018 survey by Express Employment Professionals, the average length of a job search for Canadians is 19 months. Of course, it depends on how much effort a person puts in and what industry they’re in.
Still, four months of unemployment feels like forever. I know how frustrating this experience is and I want to share what I learned along the way. I hope it gives you some perspective and direction during your own search.
1. Know your worth
At the beginning of my search, I overestimated my worth. Sure, I had a bachelor’s degree and a post-graduate certificate but I didn’t have a year’s worth of PR experience. The majority of entry-level positions ask for 1–2 years of experience. Sometimes they count internships and sometimes they don’t. I ignored this and applied to jobs that clearly sought experienced professionals. I shunned internships, part-time gigs and freelance work entirely. This was a big mistake and a huge waste of my time.
After two months, I adjusted my strategy and began applying for positions that suited my limited experience. This narrowed the wealth of opportunities available to me but also gave me more time to tailor my application and really stand out as a candidate. I finally started to receive call-backs.
There’s also another way to know your worth. You are worth more than taking an unpaid position at a company that skirts the rules by labelling their internships as “volunteer” positions. Also, be aware of scam “marketing” jobs that will force you into selling a product and not provide you with any relevant responsibilities.
It may be tempting to just accept anything that you’re offered, but getting tied up with these jobs prevents you from putting your time and energy into finding something truly worthwhile.
2. Stay cozy with recruiters
Recruiters and hiring managers are busy people with demanding jobs. If they give you a moment of their time, utilize it for all it’s worth. You may not receive an offer for the job they called you in for, but new opportunities can arise that would match your skills. If they mention keeping your resume on file or tell you to stay in touch, then take them at their word.
E-mail recruiters every six months to inquire about new opportunities or reach out when something relevant pops up on their website. You may be tempted to just apply through their job portal and wait, but that doesn’t give you any kind of advantage. If a recruiter remembers you fondly, they will push you ahead of the line. That means your resume will land on a decision maker’s desk and you can skip the first round of interviews.
As I said, these people are busy. They could start from scratch when hiring for a new position, but they’d rather dip back into a pool of candidates who already demonstrated an interest in working for the company. Remind the recruiters that you are one of these very eager people.
3. Put that network into motion
Ever wonder how someone in your graduating class ended up with a stellar job that you never even saw on Indeed? Well, it’s been estimated anywhere from 60-90% of the job market is hidden.
These “hidden jobs” get filled by internal candidates, personal referrals and HR representatives sorting through old resumes. Not every company is dead-set on interviewing outside candidates every time a job opens up, and many value promoting internal employees (even from the very bottom) rather than scooping up a complete newbie.
It’s frustrating, I know. But you just have to do what everyone else is doing. Hit up every professor, classmate, friend, odd relative, previous manager and have them forward your resume to a hiring manager they know. You’re practically guaranteed an interview with this method.
But don’t get over-confident, because it’s no guarantee you’ll get the job. Hiring managers are happy to follow-up on a personal referral but during the hiring process, they will remain professional and seek to find the best candidate.
4. Wow them with #$%
Oh, that famous phrase: “A resume is looked at for an average of 6 seconds.” Is it totally true? For bad resumes, it probably is. By “bad”, I mean resumes that are full of typos or come from wildly unqualified candidates. Now, if your resume isn’t so bad, it may earn a whole ten seconds. With such a limited amount of time to make an impression, why not go all out?
I received more interest when I revitalized my resume to highlight my accomplishments using numbers. If you gained two hundred followers for your past employer’s Twitter account, mention that. If you received coverage for a client in blogTO, mention that too.
The numbers you use don’t have to be in the hundreds of millions and the accomplishments you list don’t have to be super extraordinary. But show that you did accomplish something and you didn’t just sit at a desk and do the bare minimum for three months at your past internship. Prove you can deliver tangible results by using solid numbers on your resume.
5. Never underestimate the competition
Upon graduating, I thought the only competition I had were the hundreds of others who had just graduated from PR programs. And not just those based in Toronto but also whoever wanted to move into the city. That was scary enough but I remained confident that I could beat them out.
So, it came as a huge shock when I lost out on a social media internship at a major website to a person who had three years of marketing experience. Why were they applying for an internship? Honestly, who knows and who cares? It was a wake-up call for me. The competition was way stiffer than I initially thought and I really didn’t have a clear idea of who I was competing with. People are job-hopping more than ever and switching careers too. You really can’t have an accurate sense of your competition, so don’t even bother trying to guess and work within those assumptions.
You’re also competing with a bunch of people who have similar education and can write a press release too. What makes you stand out? If you don’t have a good answer to that question, you might want to start exploring some options that will make you a candidate that an employer is actually eager to talk to.
6. Don’t wait for a callback
Many times, I’ve had to wait over a month to hear back about a job after applying. Even if the next step is just a 15-minute phone interview. Some employers are not in a rush to fill the slot and others take their time because the position is actually free two months from when the job has been posted. Whatever the reason, be prepared to wait longer than 1–2 weeks for a reply after you’ve wrapped up your final interview. Even if the employer promised to get back to you in a few days, they usually miss their own deadline.
If you’re impatient, there’s nothing wrong with emailing the hiring manager or whoever is handling the hiring process, after a week has passed from the final interview. They might provide some insight on where they are in the process and how much longer you’ll have to wait to hear back on their decision. This can give you a bit of relief.
Just don’t hit the snooze button because you think the interview went well. There is no guarantee that the position you interviewed for is sitting pretty and the employer is just taking their sweet time before they make you an offer. In fact, there’s a high chance they’ve offered the position to someone else and are negotiating their contract while they’re not emailing you. Get right back into it and keep applying. Other opportunities will pass you by if you stop even for a day.
My story had a happy ending. After 112 days of unemployment, I accepted an offer to work full-time at a public relations and marketing agency. The job hunt was a long slog and cracked my confidence many times, but it also taught me some crucial lessons about the job market that I won’t soon forget.