Paynesville Press - July 10, 2002

Community Perspective

On the quest for the perfect job

By Erin Pelton

A few years ago, I was sure I had life all planned out.

Age 18: Go to college.

Age 22: Graduate from college, get the perfect, high-salary job on the East coast.

Age 23: Start graduate studies.

Age 25: Finish school, save the world.

Of course, as one might imagine, life hasn't exactly gone as planned. At age 23, going-on-24, I'm a jobless college graduate living at home, and I've given up hope on finding that high-roller job I was sure would be mine the moment I crossed the receiving line for my diploma over one year ago.

Yet I have found that my quest for the perfect job - heck, at this point I would probably settle for just about any job - has been just as interesting and educational as I imagine actually having a job might be.

Just what exactly do you do with a liberal arts degree? How do you make your résumé stand out among hundreds of others? What should a cover letter say? How do you apply for a job via the Internet? What am I worth, anyway?

These are just some of the concerns that I have dealt with as I joined the ranks of job seekers across the globe. Yet despite my world travels and lofty aspirations, nothing has been more difficult for this smalltown Minnesota girl than the ever-dreaded, often-avoided prerequisite to landing a job commonly known as networking.

Growing up in Paynesville, I never had to network. I already knew everyone, or at the very least, I knew a sister or uncle or third-cousin twice removed. Never was it necessary to request an informational interview, cold call a potential employer, or send an unsolicited resume.

Yet according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook survey, employers expect to hire 20 percent fewer new graduates this year, than in 2001. (Now don't I wish I had taken that job in New York last fall instead of the unpaid internship in South America with the State Department!)

My only hope, it seems, lies in calling up that friend of a friend who might know the guy who does the hiring down at that nonprofit organization I am interested in courting. Yes, if I am going to find a job in this era of downsizing, layoffs, and hiring freezes, networking is going to be key to my success.

It isn't easy to call up perfect strangers and ask for their time and assistance in finding a job. But that's exactly what I did, as I packed my bags and headed for Washington, D.C., last week.

Armed with a pile of resumes and a list of phone numbers, it was time to put all family and friend's contacts to the test. I had a list of phone numbers that included family members, family member's friends, acquaintances, and my personal favorite: the father-in-law's girlfriend's grandson (it took me a while to get that, too) of a contact that I made through a previous job.

All I had to do now was pick up the phone.

You would think that I had already completed the hardest part. After all, I had the contacts, I had the plane tickets, I had a place to stay - all I needed to do was dial the phone.

In spite of all the work I had already done, I was terrified of taking that final step in my long-anticipated journey. What if they didn't want to meet with me? Worse, what if they did? I started to panic, and for a moment I contemplated walking into the nearest McDonalds and filling out an application. At least then, I wouldn't have to pick up the phone. Somehow, I regained my senses and decided that I better at least try out this whole networking thing. I took a deep breath, and dialed the first number on my list: a political consultant I had met while working on a political campaign back in Minnesota.

He was sure to hang up on me.

But he didn't hang up. In fact, he seemed pleased to hear from me. That wasn't so bad! I started to regain my confidence as I picked up the phone again. And again. As it turned out, these people were more than happy to talk to me, and, when available, meet with me face to face. Others even called me back. I started to wish my list of contacts were longer.

So did I get a job? Well, I didn't fly home with a signed contract in hand, but all hope is not lost. I do have some good job leads, and many new contacts. I have a few interviews coming up, and most excitedly, I learned that I passed the first of two exams in the process to become a U.S. Foreign Service Officer.

Things are looking up. Now, if only I could find an apartment with rent as cheap as living at home . . .

Pelton graduated from PAHS in 1997 and from Drake University in Des Moines in the spring of 2001.

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