Post-grad jobs and the hurdle of interviews


A little while back I decided to start randomly submitting my resume to relatively unappealing part time work, so that I wouldn’t find myself in the post-graduation black hole that so many of my friends seemed to have landed in. I scoured the internet for extremely part-time retail jobs, café work: all the student-type jobs I could think of that could give my life some kind of continuation so I wouldn’t be left staring into the abyss of nothingness that life after a massive milestone often feels like. I submitted some fifteen-odd applications. I received approximately five rejections. One that stuck with me was for a natural food shop where they stated that they were ‘charmed’ by my enthusiasm, but decided to go with someone that had “food retail experience” – and while I’m inclined to believe that’s a real thing, I just can’t imagine how hard it is to stock vegan cheese. For the remainder of the jobs I applied for, I heard a whole lot of nothing. I was horrified.

I know we are in kind of a recession right now but when you suddenly need retail-specific experience to get asked for an interview for a job that entails scanning tofu and bean sprouts things are looking pretty fucking grim. And graduation felt dangerously close.

I eventually gave up on this ‘random applications’ strategy. I figured staring at the abyss of nothingness was a little less depressing than getting standardized rejection letters from jobs I didn’t want in the first place – or worse: not even a polite rejection, just nothing at all. I stopped wasting time on this pointless quest and decided to put all my undivided attention and energy into the big picture stuff. The thesis that demanded all my love and attention, the graduation that would mean I was actually available to pursue my career and not some rando, underpaid, on-the-side distraction, that kind of stuff.

And then I did finish. On time. Which was particularly beautiful because there were many moments of despair when I thought to myself: there isn’t a single chance in hell I’ll get around to processing all this data, then analyzing it with any sort of precision and then also writing thousands upon thousands of coherent words. But I did it. I finished on time, I got a very nice – nothing like I had secretly hoped for, but I have recently learned to be more humble about this kind of thing so it’s fine – grade and now I had the time to apply for all of the dream jobs and ‘now’ jobs, and everything in between because, world, this master of science is fucking ready for you.

But, as these things usually go, I haven’t quite figured out how to get hired yet. Much to my surprise – because I’m a humble motherfucker like that – I seem to be quite hirable. At least in theory. It’s probably more accurate to say I’m ‘interviewable’, at this point. I have good credentials, international work and research experience, I speak languages, bla bla bla. And yet here I am: one and a half months’ worth of interviews and niente. The first interview was a disaster. The job looked amazing on paper and would literally solve all of my current problems: Finding a research-related job, tick! Attain work experience in an international nonprofit, tick! Great benefits, tick! It was like my to-do list would be done in one go. So I was pretty excited and moderately nervous. ‘Moderately’ is probably an understatement, to be honest.

I bought a blouse for this interview. I rehearsed how I would explain my education and work experience. I tried to use all the tips I’d read on multiple websites and specifically stuck to the idea that one should think of interviews simply as “meetings” so you don’t feel so nervous. By the time I left my house – ridiculously early, of course – I felt ready. Ish.

So I’m sitting across this very odd and clearly stressed out man who would be my direct boss – who also seems convinced that his mission in life is to make me run for the door glad I didn’t have to work in this place. His own boss is also there and she varies between smiling and seriousness in a way that makes me incredibly uncomfortable. As I’m answering the millionth question about how well I deal with pressure and stress – like I said, they were working hard to make me hate this job – I start thinking how funny it is that I had just spent two years interviewing people for my research and now I’m the one being interviewed and observed for the nuances in my answers.

I get caught up in the irony of the situation until I realize, pretty much mid-sentence, that not only had I continued talking while thinking of something else, but I have also completely forgotten what I was saying. I start sweating. I have been blabbing for about a minute about god knows what and I have no idea how to end it. They’re staring at me like I’m weird. “Fuck, fuck, fuck”, I think. But it’s too late. So I say something like “yeah, so, you know, that’s it” and smile. They look at one another and then at me with a forgiving face and decide to move on to more of their favorite activity: making the job sound awful. I would have felt like an immediate failure if it weren’t for the fact that I rocked the remainder of the interview questions – let’s just say I stopped building fucking hypotheses in my head because unlike my sociological research, I wasn’t recording this interview for analysis purposes later, this shit was live and entirely once-off.

I didn’t get the job and the recruiter who was supposed to break the news to me left me hanging on for days and then lied about having been on vacation – I called her office and they said she was in a meeting twice. Absolutely the worst. Just as I was feeling discouraged I went on a quick Eurocation to the South of France where we could stay with family and soak up some sunshine. My second day there, another recruiter I’d been in contact with before about a proofreading job calls me. She got me an interview for a completely different job as an analyst in something called “executive search”. I asked her what it was and immediately regretted it because I was paying roaming costs and recruiters, although generally really nice people, are the kind of people that read job descriptions all day and explain positions in the exact same way that they are written down on paper. Two minutes alone with the job description and I would have understood. But anyway, things were looking up.

This was research-related. It paid well (again, ‘ish’), it was really international and involved a lot of my skills. It didn’t exactly fit the criteria of “I left academia to change the world” seeing as it was corporate as fuck, but it was money and as I was spending euros I didn’t exactly have in France, it seemed attractive enough. I returned to Amsterdam and soon after went for the interview. This one went much better. This one went ‘bullied the other one on the playground’ better. For one, I wasn’t glowing from sweat or forgetting what I was saying mid-sentence. But also because the office looked really nice, the women interviewing me were smart, kind and interesting and I actually started really wanting this job. They gave me a case-study after the interview which showed that the position was actually skill-based. I wasn’t exactly challenged seeing as it was search-engine based and years in sociology have taught me to read and summarize shit at the speed of light, but this looked kind of exciting. Rather than running for the door I felt comfortable. In a corporate setting, which was kind of a mind-fuck. But it looked enjoyable and like a good first post-grad job.

Immediately after I left the building I realized that although the interview had gone smoothly, there was one question that I had answered kind of disastrously: “Laura, what motivated you to apply for this job?” Real answer? “Money, yo.” But I couldn’t say that and I couldn’t lie either because I’m an idiot with integrity so I said something about how international the company was, how well the job matched my skills and how I wanted to sample something completely different after so many years in the academic bubble. Basically, nothing that indicated that I gave two shits about it or had any intention of staying put. And the thing about entry-level jobs at corporations is that they see you as an ‘investment’. If you have no intention of sticking around you’re basically a bad one. That’s pretty much when I realized I had bombed yet another interview. I was pretty bummed out too because I did actually start to want this job a little bit. So why couldn’t I embellish my feelings about it?

The recruiter called me a few days later with the inevitable news that I hadn’t gotten the position. She said they thought I showed myself as really intelligent and capable, that I had done extremely well in the case-study but that I didn’t seem all that interested in the position itself. They said it didn’t seem like I would be happy in a corporate setting. And while, in all honesty, that was pretty fucking perceptive of them, rejection still hurts. So ouch, failure again. Just as I was licking my wounds from this latest fiasco, interview number three rolled around. It was a job I never would have had the guts to apply for were I not on a mailing list for students and recent grads and already so used to applying for anything that I felt remotely interested in or capable of because seriously, guys, MONEY.

It was in my area! Or sort of. Kind of more planning related than sociology, but still: infrastructures, how they affect livability in cities and all of that. I was playing a home game. But it was in Dutch. And I never really felt too much for urban planning as an exclusively top-down thing. I was stoked to be asked for the interview but I proceeded to obsess about it. I refused to do any ‘internetting’ in English or Portuguese for the 2 days leading up to the interview, read and watched only Dutch news and rehearsed all my anecdotes in Dutch. I decided I would just roll my r’s – I do this thing in Dutch when I get nervous where I start speaking in an accent that I don’t have and then things get weird – and that I would listen as much as possible and not rush to speak.

The interview went amazing. I was so comfortable. So confident. I didn’t stumble, I wasn’t lost for words, I was truly calm. Turns out I’ve been living in Holland forever and my Dutch is fine. Who would have guessed it? So I was like: this is it. This is the one I’m going to get and it’s perfect because it will destroy some of my self-doubt and the experience will be right where I want it: urban, policy-oriented and government-based. And then I got that goddamned call again. The one where I’m great, but “no, sorry”. Every time it happens it feels less genuine. To be fair, they did give the job to an internal candidate, meaning that because this was a public job they had to interview outside candidates yet they probably had already chosen the other guy before my moment supreme. But this time there was an added insult: the fuckers had the nerve to say I was “too sweet and a little on the introverted side.” What kind of feedback is that? If it ain’t constructive, you may keep that shit to yourself. Not to mention this is some sexist bullshit. Too sweet? Ugh.

Seriously, though, how hard can this be? All sorts of weird, awkward, incompetent, uncharming, uninteresting people seem to have jobs. I’ve heard plenty of consoling advice. There’s your “it’s a numbers game so keep trying”, your “better luck next time”, your “their loss” and my personal favorite (which I do think is true) “this is all practice for your dream job interview”.

I was rusty as hell when this started and, if I really think about it, I’ve been on a serious learning curve. I have another interview lined up next week. Who knows, maybe this will be the one. But to all you recent grads out there on the job market looking for a little love, don’t despair. We spent the longest time learning skills that were important to our academic endeavors and some of these will translate and others won’t, but regardless of that, look at this as yet another skill to pick up. I’m convinced that getting good at interviews is just another competency and learning is the one thing we’re currently really good at!

Right now I’d give myself a solid C on this “Interviewing for a job 101” module, but I started at F and I’m convinced that with a little perseverance, studying, critical thinking and self-analysis, that glorious A+ is just around the corner.

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