I Didn't Find a Job at the Career Fair
In fact, I didn’t even attend the Career fair. I never had an interview on campus either. Here's how I figured out those job search steps weren’t for me and made a new career plan. And because of that, not despite it, I found a job (and you can too).
My academic major didn’t spell out my career path
Many of the degree programs at Lehigh can feel daunting because the career path isn’t crystal clear. In truth, I was faced with many career options to choose from instead of pursuing a single job that is spelled out in my academic program. My job search was successful because I explored my job and internships options then I learned what was expected during an application process.
I used several job boards and and referrals to discover openings. I applied directly on company websites and leveraged LinkedIn contacts. I pitched myself to companies, even when a job opening wasn’t posted. I attended career workshops and met with a Career Coach that specifically served my academic major. I asked questions of professionals already in the field, and requested to job shadow them. Learning to be creative in my job search uncovered positions I had not considered and I was able to identify emerging jobs that didn’t even exist when I was a freshman. In addition, Glassdoor shined a light on the company culture, by scanning through employee reviews, which are unfiltered, gave me an honest look at a day in the life of an employee. Most importantly, I used what I learned to shape the next steps of my job search.
My timeline wasn’t shared by every academic major on campus
Bottom line, I could not compare my timeline to students who didn’t share my career interests. Spring applications, interviews late in the semester, and offers that came close to summer break did not indicate I was an inferior applicant, but instead revealed common timelines for my industry. Part of what simplified my job/internship search was learning that application processes moved faster and closer to start dates, meaning I needed to search for and apply to positions closer to my available start date (aka MAY!). I found it helpful to talk to professors or alum to ask for advice regarding the best times to apply or start job hunting. Lehigh Connects is a great place to gather advice about when to apply to positions, based on identifying an alum who is working in the same industry you are targeting. Some of the most helpful advice I received was to apply two-to-three months before the semester ended.
My resume wasn’t enough
For most job applications, my resume was one of many materials that were required. I developed strong cover letters, collected referral letters, and provided writing or media samples of my work in a digital portfolio. To stand out from a sea of applicants, I created a personal website that showcased my work and kept my LinkedIn profile updated and listed the link on my resume. These sites allowed me to add depth to my personality and professional skills. Picking the right experiences to reference and the best work samples was key — it was never be plug-and-play, but I chose materials based on exactly what aligned with the position and company. The same advice applied to my cover letters, I wrote a unique and targeted new one for each application I submitted. During an interview, it's common in my field to be asked to take an editing/writing test, complete an assignment, and/or give a presentation. With each piece of the application and interview process, it was important for me to be prepared to demonstrate my related skills.
I couldn't do it alone
My network came from all different walks of life: Lehigh professors, Lehigh alumni, friends, relatives, friends and relatives of friends, neighbors, or coworkers. I took every opportunity to tell people I was searching — I could be on the train, in class, or chatting at the gym and I would strike up a conversation with someone next to me, and suddenly have a lead. Talking to anyone and everyone boosted my odds of getting an invitation to interview. I took time to connect with Lehigh alumni, using my university family for advice, referrals and leverage. Even if some of these conversations didn’t result in a lead it gave me insight into the industry I was interested in and introduced me to other people. As a student who studied the humanities, this is where my "people" skills were able to shine. But it also meant I needed to put myself out there, through in person interactions and online tools like LinkedIn.
In the end, it made a world of a difference when I got to personally network with someone at the company I was applying to.
One of my internships came from simply picking up the phone and calling my neighbor down the street. They were impressed with the initiative I took, having the courage to speak on the phone instead of an email. A phone call is also harder to ignore than an email.
I landed an internship through an employee referral via LinkedIn, so it was smart for me to check if I had connections at a company I was applying to and reach out to them directly.
I got my first job out of college thanks to a classmate connection after I shared with them about my job search goals. Networking, on campus or online, really does work!
I didn’t feel left out from Career Center Resources
Hosting the Career Expo is not the only job assistance provided by the Career Center. Handshake has an extensive resource page, an expansive job and internship board I was able to sort by academic major to look at positions specifically gear at my career interests. I also used Lehigh Connects to communicate with alumni mentors who were working for companies or in positions I was interested in. I made it a priority to tap into the resources that connected to my career interests and used the walk in hours during Career Lab to talk to a Career Coach about my plans. It was helpful to use this in person conversation to put all the information and details I was gathering into a career plan customized based on my goals.
I didn’t interview on campus
Online questionnaires, video interviews, phone interviews and on-site interviews were all part of my experience when I was trying to land my first job. I've done it all, including a video interview over shaky WiFi when I was studying abroad. Most of my interviews started with a phone or video interview, then included an on-site interview with the people or manager I'd potentially work with. On average two or three rounds of interviews were scheduled before I received an offer. On-site interviews could be 1-2 hours long or last an entire day. I found it helpful to be ready for the unexpected, like bringing snacks and water. My attitude always reflected a willingness to go the extra mile, demonstrated I was self sufficient, and I never expected to be catered to or sought after. I practiced my pitch before the interview and brought several questions to ask my interviewers based on my company research. It was me that wanted the job, and I had to work for it.
I didn’t always hear yes
I also got used to the idea that I may never get a response from some applications, and that it's often nothing personal. Finding the right position takes time and included plenty of rejection. There wasn’t a specific number of applications I completed that landed me a job; I kept applying, kept networking until I received an offer. Ultimately, I did have a successful internship and job search because of my prep and networking. Even better, I know I will be ready to do it all again in the future when I make my next career move.
Post developed based on interviews from Lehigh Alum on Lehigh Connects.
Katherine Hommes, ‘14: Producer, New York Post
Lauren (Cuoco) Mastbaum, '08, '09G: Senior Editor at Imagination
Katherine Howley, ‘14: Senior Social Media Analyst for T-Mobile
See the abbreviated version of this post featured in the Brown and White.