Back in May, I left my high-paying restaurant server job for a six-month contracted position with a non-profit that I really wanted to work for. I had already interned at this particular non-profit for seven months, so taking on a contracted position seemed like the next step in order to get hired on permanently with the organization. I took a HUGE paycut when I left my restaurant job for the contracted non-profit job, but I wasn’t too worried about it because I figured in six months, I’ll get hired on permanently with the non-profit and be making even more money than I was when I worked at my restaurant job. Taking on the contracted position seemed like the perfect way to gain more relevant work experience, make connections within the organization, and get my foot so far in the door, they’d have no choice but to hire me come November.
Well, that didn’t end up happening.
After my contracted position ended the beginning of November, I interviewed for two permanent positions within the organization. And I didn’t get either of them. Even though I have volunteer, internship, and work experience with the organization, as well as two professional references, I STILL didn’t get either job. You can probably imagine my shock and utter disappointment after I got the first rejection. I mean, how could they not hire me after paying my dues for a year?! So I emailed the hiring manager and asked her how I could be a stronger candidate in the future. Essentially, she told me that I was a strong candidate and she was impressed with me, but in the end, she decided to go with someone with even more experience. The hiring manager for the other position gave me the same response.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this job searching experience, it’s that the job market right now is really fucking competitive. Sure we all know the economy is bad and the unemployment rate is high and there aren’t a lot of jobs right now, but you don’t really understand how shitty things are until you’re in it— until you’re collecting $600 unemployment checks every two weeks and you keep getting rejection emails for the Big Kid Jobs you’ve applied for and you can’t even get a job waiting tables because hundreds of people are desperately applying for those jobs, too.
One other important lesson I’ve learned from my situation is that right now–in this super competitive job market–is not the best time to make a career change like I attempted to do. Last year, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in non-profit work; now that I have about a year of non-profit work experience, I’m finding that that’s still not enough compared to the amount of experience my competition has. In this day and age, it’s really all about the experience. Gone are the days when people graduate from college by the time they’re 22 and get a job right away because they have a degree. Now that college degrees are a dime a dozen, what employers are looking for is experience, and lots of it. I’m constantly finding “entry-level” jobs that want 3-5 years of experience, or even better, they have NO degree requirement but want 3+ years of experience. Seeing these requirements on job postings all the time constantly makes me feel unqualified and discouraged. It’s almost enough to make me regret spending five and a half years working on my college degree because apparently I should have spent that time gaining experience instead.
But I digress. My last job rejection was a week ago, and I have since moved on from that disappointment and developed a new game plan. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the fact that maybe I’m not meant to work a Monday thru Friday, 9-5 office job, so I’ve been exploring unconventional career paths I can pursue that would utilize the experience I already have. For instance, I have a lot of customer service, leadership, and fine dining restaurant experience, so I’ve been thinking about pursuing a career as an event manager for a fine dining restaurant. This is something I think I’d be great at because I’m super organized, detail-oriented, and I’m such a planner! Another option I’ve been considering is becoming self-employed and working from home. I love blogging, so I think it would be awesome to start making money from my blog and eventually start blogging full-time while doing some freelance writing on the side. I still plan to apply for entry-level non-profit jobs over the next few months, but now I feel better knowing I have a couple of back-up plans in case my attempted career change doesn’t work out like I hoped it would.
Job searching is not easy, especially in this crazy competitive market. I’ve realized that if I want any chance of even just getting an interview, I need to figure out as many ways as possible to stand out among the hundreds of other job-seekers out there. This might mean returning to the restaurant industry or even becoming self-employed. But you know what? If those are my options for my future career, then that’s what I’m going to pursue, because either of those options both sound so much better than being unemployed.