Hi there! My name is Valerie, I’m 23 years old, and I live in a city just north of Orlando, Florida. (To give some perspective, my apartment is less than an hour away from Walt Disney World and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!) When I’m not working, spending time with family, or attempting to cook healthy meals, you can generally find me at my lifestyle and college advice blog, So It Must Be True.
In May 2013, I received my bachelor’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Central Florida, which is also based in Orlando and happens to be the second largest university in America. During my four years as an undergrad, I fell in love with everything that my university had to offer – the classes I took, the organizations I joined, and especially the honors college on campus to which I’d been accepted as a freshman. In fact, I credit much of my success to this honors college, where we were encouraged to interact with faculty, become active members of the community, and pursue opportunities for leadership and personal growth. I made some lasting connections there!
I participated in several internships throughout my undergraduate career, from non-profit organizations to boutique public relations agencies. I enjoyed having the opportunity to improve my writing skills, meet industry professionals, and gain real world experience.
In my senior year, I also worked part-time in the university’s Career Services center as a peer advisor, where I helped students with their resumes, discussed career options with them, and assisted them with their graduate school applications. Because I had received formal training in resumes, cover letters and interviews, I thought I was relatively prepared for my own job search.
However, when I began applying for jobs roughly six months before graduation, I was at a loss. For many majors, such as accounting and engineering, recruiters came to the university to look for job candidates, but students in the communications field were not so lucky. Instead, I found myself searching through online job postings, checking for new leads at least twice per day. No one was hiring for an entry-level employee, so I tried to illustrate my experience as best as I could through my resume and cover letter. I applied to dozens of jobs, but rarely heard back.
I was devastated. I felt that I had done everything right – worked at several internships, took on campus leadership roles, performed well academically – and yet, here I was, jobless with only a few weeks left until graduation. While a few companies did express interest, I found after further research that those positions weren’t the right fit for me. I wondered if I should pursue a different career path or return to school for another degree.
And then, one day, it happened. I received a phone call from staff members at my university’s honors college, informing me of a brand new position at a local credit union. The company was looking for someone with a public relations and marketing background who could help manage their relationship with the university, and they had reached out to the honors college for potential job candidates. As soon as I heard the job description, I knew I had to apply. The honors college staff passed along my resume to the company, I interviewed for the position, and a month later, I began working full time for the credit union. It has now been a year since I first started working there, and I still love what I do!
I learned a lot from the job application process, but the biggest takeaway I can share with recent and upcoming graduates is this: Start building your network as soon as you can. The people you meet in college – professors, staff members, internship coordinators, even your classmates – can help you on your road to success. They may share opportunities with you that you wouldn’t otherwise hear about, or they can serve as a reference for you when applying for a job. You could have the world’s best resume, but without others to vouch for your experience or skills, your resume could easily get lost in the pile.
I have had classmates apply to companies where I have worked or interned in the past, so I have been able to speak on their behalf to the employers because my opinion is trusted. Similarly, I have been able to answer questions for my classmates on the company’s culture and the experiences I had there. If you don’t know anyone who has worked at the company you are hoping to apply for, go on LinkedIn or ask around to see if any of your friends or internship coordinators have contacts at other companies.
When in doubt, turn to your mentors. Even if they don’t work in the same industry you are hoping to break into, they may still have great advice or be able to connect you with someone else who does.
During your job search, you’ll be surprised to learn just how much people want to help you in your career. However, in order to get that help, you have to ask for it. By maintaining a strong network and keeping in touch with the people you meet, you can make the scary and often difficult job search process a whole lot easier.