Friday, December 3, 2010

How I got five jobs in a crap economy and dealt with unemployment

I want to preface this post by saying that this is by no means a laudatory story. To the contrary, I spent roughly 4 months unemployed and another month underemployed. This was an immensely stressful time for me and if it weren't for my closets friends and family I wouldn't have stayed afloat. Thank you!

After Red took an opportunity down here in Austin to work for an advertising agency, I was still in Dallas rocking out home loan modifications on a contract for a large bank (it rhymes with face). We still had a few months left on the lease and no prospects for a new place to live. In fact we were hesitant to sign anything because the late summer/fall rates were inflated due to the influx of college students to UT. We rented a room from Red's best friend Cake Baker and I quit my job and moved to Austin.

I seem to have perpetually been in application mode since returning from the Peace Corps in August 2009. I've held up to this point a total of 5 jobs. Two were complete failures on my part, one was out of my career path and the other didn't pay enough. The third paid right but the work was dismal at best. Finally, after moving to Austin, being picky and actually turning down an offer, I found two amazing positions that are challenging, fun and will add depth to my Foreign Service application.

What did I learn from this process? Applying for jobs sucks, being unemployed was embarrassing and shameful to me. What excuse did I have? I was a returned Peace Corps Volunteer and college grad. I felt like I was treading water with no boat or land in sight. You can see from my posting history that there is a significant block of time where I didn't write anything. I couldn't write because I couldn't think of anything to say. Thankfully, I had a wonderful girlfriend and an incredibly supportive family. They pushed me to keep at it and not give up. Trust me, when your unemployed everyday is a battle. It is really easy to throw up your hands because of a set back or speed bump. Thank you again to all of you that gave me support and help, I won't ever forget it.

I would hazard a guess that I applied for over 70 jobs in the Austin area. Of those 70 jobs I received 30 responses and 15 interviews. Of those 15 interviews I had 7 second interviews. Of those 7 second interviews I was offered 3 jobs. I took 2. My interview/application rate steadily increased over time. I equate this to writing better and more concise cover letters. It all comes down to having a well written cover letter and a pithy and clean resume.


I was working without a network of people, which of course can be a huge asset. I'm sure that we've all heard the saying "It's not what you know, it's who you know." Which is very true, nepotism and cronyism is how the world works.


I experimented with different cover letter lengths and found that I tended toward the longer rather than shorter. This was a mistake because many recruiters and potential employers will look at 7-8 paragraphs and simply skip to the resume, not good. Keep the cover letter to 4-5 paragraphs. Write clean, and reread them. I can't count the times where I would write what I thought was a killer CL only to find a glaring grammatical error after I had sent it. Avoid a template mentality when writing CLs. Include the job description points and how you fulfill them. Locate the HR person and use their name in the heading. Make it personal.

The experience aspect can be stretched, we all do it. Include anything that might apply to the position even if you think it was insignificant. Strike an even balance between professional and personal, just harping on your experience and not why you want the position sounds robotic and inhuman.

Your resume should be 1 page unless you have lots of experience in one field. Find older and more experienced people to look at it. Send it out in .pdf format, this keeps the spacing locked and looks really clean when employers open it.

Interviews are another beast all together. This part was more nebulous to me because several times I walked out feeling that I had it, only to receive a letter politely telling me "Thanks but not thanks".  Other times, I felt I bombed completely only to be offered the job the next week.

Attire was another mixed bag. I initially went in dressed to the T, clean shaven and the whole nine yards. After several attempts I changed it up, wore more relaxed clothes (business casual) and let my facial hair get a bit scruffy. I felt I had more success dressing how I normally dress, though this could be psychological perhaps making me feel more relaxed.

Finally, this is a terrible job market. I asked most of the people I interviewed with how many applications they had received. Every job I applied for had over 100 applicants and most had over 300. One in particular had over 650. Remember, this is in Austin, with one of the best job markets in the country. Making it to an interview says a lot, that you were one of ten they selected out of hundreds, so take heart in that.

To anyone out there that is unemployed, keep your chin up. It's okay to feel pissed off, upset and dejected. I tried to put on a happy and optimistic face all the time but the reality is, it sucks, you are allowed to let it show occasionally. A strong determination to make things better doesn't mean it's going to be easy or that you have to like it.

Dutch Man


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