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September 20, 2013

Of Cover Letters and Begging


Hi. My name is Austin.

I am looking for a job. I would really, really like to be employed. It would be great if you would hire me. I am very talented at doing things. If you hired me I would do the things you want me to do and do a good job. A really good job. Did I mention I would like to be employed?

Yeah. I’m job-hunting at the moment (no, I don’t actually use the pitch above when I interview, although that is what it feels like sometimes). As great as The Book Report Network is (which --- let’s be real --- is pretty great), I have a powerful need to eat and pay rent, and being an intern just doesn’t cut it. So here I am, in the uncomfortable position I’m sure is familiar to many of you.

Let’s get right to it, shall we. Looking for a job is not exactly heaps of fun. I’ve sent out at least 20 résumés by now and have received polite rejections for about three of them. The rest I didn’t hear back from at all. I sit at my garage-sale desk staring at four paragraphs of text for cover letter number god-knows-what and I think it’s nothing but clichéd crap. Do I say this, or do I say that? This article I read over here told me to do this, but my other friend said to say that, and I want to say something else. We have too much advice and not enough experience. It’s a game where the rules keep changing. The employer in the nice suit and the big leather chair may be looking for someone just like you, but if you don’t play your cards right, game over. Or maybe you play the game perfectly, only to find they were looking for someone else in the first place.

Even worse --- and this is the bit that keeps me up at night --- is the uncertainty. At this barely post-nest phase of our lives, we may or may not have figured out what we want to do with ourselves. I sure haven’t. I have a large list of things I think I’d like to do, plus a longer one of things I know I should avoid like the plague (most of them involve numbers and dealing with angry people on the phone). If you know what you want to do, that’s great. I am honestly happy for you. But don’t tell me you don’t have doubts every once in a while. It’s complicated. It’s almost impossible to say what comes next. If life is a journey, mine’s got about 50 forks coming up fast and I’ve just misplaced the map.

A lot of people say that this is our generation’s fault. That maybe we’re a little less dedicated and our expectations are a little too unrealistic, and we’re bringing this on ourselves. I think it has more to do with the economy tanking harder and faster than the Titanic, but everyone’s entitled to their own opinion I guess. And anyway, the reason for this mess doesn’t really matter. It happened. Getting jobs is hard. It’s just the situation we find ourselves in (and it could be worse --- you could be in Greece right now). It’s been that way since I was 16, so I don’t even have any other frame of reference (a time when people got raises every year for no reason at all? Madness!). So we might as well learn to work with it, because it sure doesn’t seem to be getting better any time soon. 

But I digress. As I peruse for the upteenth time and start wondering if this will ever work out, I remind myself of something one of my professors said to me. I had been getting in touch with old teachers and friends of friends and anyone who might be able to help me out (apparently this is called “networking,” and is a Good Thing to Do), and he said to me, “There really aren’t that many smart, confident people out there. It’s just a matter of finding one another.”

This makes me feel better. And I’d like to pass on that reassurance to you, yes you, sitting right there reading this on your laptop or iPhone or tablet that you probably can’t afford. You aren’t doing things wrong. You just haven’t met the right person yet. The trick is connecting point A to point B. And while there are plenty of faceless HR goons who passed my résumé over without so much as a “Sorry” email, there are also professors and friends and family and alumni who took time out of their own busy lives to help me sort out mine. So keep at it. Don’t despair. And don’t job hunt too close to bed unless you want really stressful dreams (learned that one the hard way). After all, things only have to work out once.