All my life, I never expected that I would struggle to find a job. I breezed through high school; got straight A’s and crushed extracurriculars. And the four years after that, I did really well in undergraduate (after learning just how important good study habits are...), I even graduated a semester early. But after graduation, reality hit like a brick wall. Finding a science-oriented career in my field as a recent graduate with no previous experience was really difficult.
During undergrad I had a summer internship that was directly related to my field of study, and it did come in handy in school later on. But even with a three-month full-time internship and a killer transcript under my belt, I was getting nothing but rejection emails from every job I applied for. Or no response at all; I was often left wondering if I would ever hear back from certain places.
For someone that always fought hard to earn what I want (scholarships, leadership positions, promotions at part-time jobs) and typically got it, this was a real ego blow. I started to spiral, worried that I’d be stuck working unrelated part-time jobs, or worse, a full-time job that I hated, for the rest of my life. And as it turns out, many of my friends and fellow graduates were struggling with the same cycle of applying to everything, getting rejected, and spiraling.
It’s not that any of us didn’t do enough, or didn’t work hard enough, or didn’t apply to enough positions. It’s simply that in today’s world, undergraduate degrees aren’t a hot commodity. Having a degree is great, yes. But in a time where education has never been more readily available, many young adults have degrees. And so in the interest of hiring ept employees, employers require that you not only have a degree, but that you have a certain amount of previous job experience. They typically ask for 2+ years. So as a recent graduate, you want a job in your field. But to get the job, you have to have previous job experience in your field. But you can’t get the experience you need in the first place because every job that’s hiring requires you to have previous experience. It’s a nasty loop; the chicken or the egg takes form as a modern millennial's nightmare.
I’m not writing about this to dissuade anyone from applying to jobs, or to say that college is overrated. It’s not, having an undergraduate degree is super useful, especially if you’re planning on continuing on to get a Masters or Doctorate degree. I’m writing this to tell all those currently struggling that it IS possible to land a job. Not easy, but possible! But in this competitive world, you really do have to give it your absolute all.
After wallowing in my spiral for awhile, I decided to woman-up and do whatever was necessary to get the job experience I needed. I began applying to unpaid internships again (I hadn’t applied for any since the one I had in undergrad), and saving my money. I knew that I would need a solid savings in order to support myself working another full-time internship with no income. With my renewed vigor, I finally landed an internship with Mote Marine Laboratory in the Florida Keys (which is where I met Ellie!). So I moved to the sunshine state, worked with coral for an amazing few months, networkd, and then moved home to Virginia. Back home, Ellie contacted me and asked me if I would join team Everblue and help her put together a newsletter that would go out monthly. I of course agreed, and soon I also had social media and design formatting experience under my belt.
After I began working with Everblue, I decided to move to California for a short while, and then North Carolina. Not only did this expand my horizon in the way of new experiences, friends, and networks, but I also got to see what other states were like when it came to job applications and required experience. They were all very similar, and I had a feeling that with all of my new experience under my belt, I now stood a better chance than I had before. And so while still in North Carolina, I went hard at job applications again, applying for anything I could find that was science-related. I soon hooked an interview at a chemistry laboratory back home in Virginia. So I began packing up my life for the third time in a single year. A U-haul road trip and a couple interviews later, I was offered a position as a chemical analyst at the lab, which I graciously accepted. After a little more than a year of toughing it out, all of my hard work had finally paid off.
The point I want to get across here is that you may have an education, but you also need experience. And experience is hard to come by if you’re only willing to look for salaried job as a recent graduate. You have to be willing to do the nitty-gritty work to get to where you want to be. Maybe that’s a couple lousy part-time jobs in a related field, or maybe it’s an unpaid internship directly related to what you want to be doing. But either way, do not be afraid to work hard. Your time and effort WILL be appreciated; someone will notice it and reward you for it. It’s a tough path to take, but it’s worth it to work a job in your field that you enjoy.