First job advice I wish I’d had

I graduated from college in 1989. The economy was lousy, so finding a job was a dubious challenge. I had always dreamed of living and working in Dallas, Texas, but I knew absolutely no one there other than a few cousins. It was a different time. There was no Internet, no Google and no online job posting. If you wanted a job, you either had to know someone with the right connections or find an opening in the classified ads in the newspaper. It felt impossible, but I began a resume-mailing campaign to every ad remotely applicable to my field and cold-called countless companies I found in the greater Dallas phone book.

For months, I looked for job leads as if filling out job applications were my full-time job. My parents were clearly anxious about my job prospects since I was still living with them. No pressure! Finally, I landed a few interviews for the lowest entry-level jobs. One hot August morning, I left my cousin Sherri’s house in my navy suit, hose and pumps for a series of interviews. (Thanks for letting my crash at your place, cuz!) After fighting epic Dallas traffic, I sat across from a woman who was maybe two years older than me during an afternoon interview through a placement service. She proceeded to dropkick my dreams, and belittle me until all that was left was a puddle. She waived my resume in the air and stated that I would never get a job anywhere with this resume. That was the resume I wrote with the help of the university’s career services department and with consultation from my journalism school adviser Dr. Dannelley, who was a renowned expert in the field of public relations. She said I might get into graduate school with this resume, but without her agency’s help, I was thoroughly unsuitable to work in the big city. My only hope, she said, was to sign a contract with their firm, and they would use their back-door connections to get a job for me with the caveat that I would in turn pay them 10% of my first year’s salary. I left with my tail between my legs, convinced that I was unemployable unless I mortgaged 10% of a salary I didn’t have for a job I probably would hate. Her words echoed in my head, “You will never get a job with this resume.”

The air conditioning in my car died on my way back to Sherri’s, so after baking in 100-degree stand-still traffic on 635, I walked in the door dripping, smelly and philosophically licking my wounded ego. I had barely dropped my purse when Sherri’s phone rang. It was for me. (This was before the age of the cell phone, so you had to share the nearest landline number when you were traveling.) To my shock, it was the real estate developer I had interviewed with in the morning. I had almost forgotten. Now, they were offering me a job…my first real job. Not only could I get a job with that resume, I had done so on the very same day that I had been told I never would.

It was a great lesson. Over the course of life, there are many people who will attempt to break you or make you doubt yourself for their gain. Some are opportunistic charlatans (like that placement firm) who feed on the ignorance of those who don’t know better. Others just want to tear you down or hold you back so they can be stronger.

So as the Class of 2014 polishes those resumes for job hunting after graduation in a few months, here are words of advice I wish I’d had: Never let someone tell you that you aren’t worthy, and that you can’t make “it” happen. You can do whatever you set your mind to if you are willing to work hard to accomplish it. Maybe my parents had told me that before, but in my youth and inexperience, I was surprisingly willing to believe a total stranger who told me otherwise. Assume that anyone who attempts to tear you down is wrong no matter how convincing or persuasive they seem. They are lying to either take advantage of you or to weaken someone they perceive to be a strong opponent (you).

And another thing: be prepared to “phone a friend” in times of doubt…because there will be some doubts no matter how tough you are. It’s a great idea to pick a professional mentor in your field who can keep you in touch with reality. Had I called Dr. Dannelley after that interview and told him what had happened, he would have laughed and slapped me back into reality with a few persuasive words. I was lucky that reality presented itself to me and gave me that first opportunity to claw my way up on my own volition.

No matter how young or inexperienced you are, always believe in YOU!