You Can’t Pour from an Empty Cup

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Everyone knows the quote: “Finding a job is a full-time job in itself.”

This is completely true, but that also means you need a break once in a while! Finding a job or changing your career is hard, there’s no doubting that. Not all of us are lucky enough to get something right away, and sometimes it seems never-ending. Trust me, I know.

As I mentioned in 7 Quick Tips for the Job Search , staying positive is important, but also extremely difficult at times. After a few rejections and a slew of potential employers who simply didn’t respond, I found myself struggling with this a lot. Although I’m not sure what the average amount of time is for a college grad to find a job after leaving school, I consider my time to be slightly longer than most. I graduated in May 2014, and I didn’t start my current position until the end of February 2016. I never thought I would be in the position of struggling to find a job, but that is where I found myself during that time. To be totally blunt, it sucks. It really does.  No need to sugarcoat this, right? However, while I thought I was struggling to keep a positive attitude, my Dad actually commended me on my resiliency. Probably about half-way through this almost two-year period, he told me he was actually surprised at how well I was handling it, which was comical to me, since I didn’t think I was handling it particularly well at all.  But regardless of how I was feeling, I kept with it, kept applying for any job I thought would be in the realm of possibility. Was I always a positive ray of sunshine? Absolutely not.  But in this process, it’s important to give yourself a break and realize that some things are out of your control. What you can control is how you go about organizing yourself and how you let yourself unwind. I, of course, have tips for that.

The first thing I will tell anyone embarking on a career change or a job search is to make a spreadsheet. No matter what kind of organizer you are, having a spreadsheet with a list of the jobs you’ve applied to is incredibly helpful. Some employers/companies seem to take their abnormally slow time in getting back to you, or even starting their  interviewing process,  so having  a record you can refer back to is useful. If you’re going at this full speed, chances are you won’t totally remember every single job you applied for. My personal spreadsheet has four columns: place of employment, job title, application date (the date you apply) and interview. Under the last column, I put the date of my interview, as well as dates of any follow-up communication post-interview. The only reason I put this in a post about self-care is that I believe if your actions are organized, your mind will follow.

My second tip I also mentioned in 7 Quick Tips for the Job Search: Make time for yourself not to do any job search related things. The first step in this is to eliminate it on the weekends. The weekend should be yours to do with what you will and relax, not agonize over how to phrase your cover letter. For a while, I would search and apply every day of the week, but I burnt myself out. It’s not healthy to do that, especially not for your mind. I started limiting it to Monday-Friday, and also eventually only until 5 or 6pm on those days. I  can honestly tell you it helped. Taking time away from it allows you to come back refreshed and more motivated. Stretching yourself too thin isn’t going to help you in the long run. Will you add the number of jobs, you apply to, sure, but it’s better to do that with a clear mind and clear focus.2f0cf827ebc97819f6d3a198ce3ab118

Cover Letters: a necessary evil

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Cover letters.

Yes, we all hate them. Yes, they were the bane of my existence while I was job searching, how did you know?!

Unfortunately, cover letters are a necessary part of applying to jobs, and also an important one. Along with your Resume, your cover letter can set the tone for your whole application package. However, they can be tricky and ambiguous, to say the least. In my personal experience alone, I have seen countless methods of writing cover letters, and I have course, tried the majority of them.

One of the most common issues I have picked up on is that of length. Unlike the resume, which could potentially be 1-2 pages, the cover letter should ALWAYS be one. There’s really no need to add the extra fluff and ramble on for more than a short paragraph or two.

As disheartening as it is, I believe most employers skim cover letters and resumes, especially when they have a huge influx of applications. All the more reason to use those buzz words! Read through the job descriptions of jobs you’re applying for, and include some of it in your cover letter. No, don’t copy it word-for-word; that my friends is called plagiarism. But, for example, one of the many jobs I applied for had a lot to do with student transcripts, schedules, records, etc. Am I an expert, no, but I at least have some experience with those things. And that’s all you really need to say: “I am familiar with…” “I have dealt with…” This leaves it somewhat open and gives you a chance to elaborate when you get called in for an interview. However, as I said in my post about resumes: Don’t Lie! Don’t say that you’ve done something or worked with a certain program or application when you really haven’t. Inevitably, that is what someone will ask you about, and it will look really bad when you have no idea what to say.

Now for the good stuff: format.

A basic cover letter has a pretty simple format.

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The biggest thing I can say is, don’t ramble. Be clear and concise in your cover letter; you’ll have the opportunity to elaborate in the interview, and even on your resume. Also, if by chance you’re snail-mailing your application packet to a prospective employer, make sure you leave a big enough space between “Sincerely” (or whatever closing you choose) and your name so you can put your signature there. Yes, it’s a little old school, but it also looks professional.

Another popular complication with cover letters is personalizing them for each job you’re applying to. Yes, that is more work, and yes, there is somewhat of a shortcut in doing this. Assuming that the majority of the jobs you’re looking at are relatively the same, or at least in the same industry, I believe it’s okay to have one cover letter that you simply tweak a bit. For School Counseling jobs, I had one cover letter that I worked off of for pretty much all of them. Your introductory paragraph can essentially stay the same, except for the name of the position and employer, of course. Don’t forget to change that, as well as the address where the cover letter is going. Seriously, DON’T FORGET. I’ve unfortunately done it, and needless to say, I did not get an invitation to interview. The middle paragraph is important to switch around also. If the jobs you’re applying for require the same skills and experience, great, but like I’ve said, pay attention to how each job description is worded, and adjust your buzz words accordingly.

For now, this is my advice to you all. Like the resume, there are different types and formats of cover letters as well, but I will be dedicating another post to exploring those in more detail. Talking about yourself and your accomplishments is never easy, but in the job search, it becomes a requirement. Practice, try to get used to it, and if all else fails, fake it till you make it!

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