Now that I’m in my final year at school, resumes and job applications are a very salient worry for me. The last thing I want to do is graduate from WashU and then immediately find myself in my parents’ house again with no career prospects. It’s especially nerve racking when I hear that my friends have gotten offers and now only have to worry about maintaining their college record. I’m happy for them, of course, but hearing that others are settled so early in the school year when I’m still plagued by doubts can produce a lot of anxiety.
I’ve learned that the best way to combat anxiety in these types of situations, at least for me, is to start taking concrete steps towards my goal. That means updating my resume, applying for jobs, and networking. One of the things that I’ve done that ended up being really helpful was to participate in the Campus MovieFest. Not only did that give me an accomplishment to put on my resume, it also exposed me to potential jobs. For example, my film will be screened at Terminus, a film and gaming convention in Atlanta, so I’ll be able to network with the producers and directors that will be there and might like my film. CMF also introduced me to iuwemake, an organization that compiles job opportunities for filmmakers like me. So I’ve been able to simultaneously bolster my resume and expand my reservoir of possible jobs in an unexpected way.
From this, I’ve learned that pursuing hobbies, interests, and extracurricular activities related to the career you want is paramount. Employers need to be able to see that you’re motivated to learn more and improve at those things that you’re passionate about; that’s especially an important trait when the point of concern is your job. Showing that you are self-motivated and proactive is invaluable. That sounds obvious but it can actually be fairly hard to put into action. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed, especially with all of the opportunities that we have to explore our interests here at WashU. It’s definitely important to be well-rounded but when you’re striving to do that, it can be hard to add anything else to your plate.
Something that I’ve noticed about myself, though, is that I naturally began to narrow and specialize my extracurriculars with each year that passed. My involvement peaked in sophomore year; I was participating in dance clubs, social justice think tanks, diversity groups, and had a work-study that I dedicated at least 12 hours to a week. And that’s great! It was a wonderful time where I got to meet a lot of people, see what interested me and generally enjoy the college experience. But as a senior, I’ve narrowed down a lot of my efforts to focus on film. I’m still a member of those dance clubs but now a lot of my extracurricular activities have to do with filming and video editing, whether that’s for clubs or for myself. I can only speak from my experience but I think that’s the natural progression of a lot of college students. I’m just encouraging you to hop on that train early and start thinking about what you really want to pursue at the end of sophomore year or the beginning of junior year. That way by the end of senior year you’ll have racked up a lot more experience and a lot more accomplishments than if you had started later.
Another important caveat I have to mention has to do with internships. Internships are so so so important for resumes but some can definitely be better than others. There have definitely been summers where I wasted my time with an internship where I barely learned anything and my time would have been better spent at a job, no matter how mundane. If I’m being honest, those internships where you’re assigned to menial work in the hopes that you’ll “get a feel for the workplace” of whatever career you want are the worst. It’s very rare for me to gain as much information as they suggest.
I think the most useful experience I ever had occurred this past summer. I had the opportunity to film, edit, and produce a 2-hour documentary with complete autonomy that would be broadcasted on television for an entire month. Out of all of the opportunities I’ve had to work with film, I have never learned as much as I did that summer. Classes can teach the basics and internships can show you how it’s done, but it’s entirely different to be in charge of a project and be completely responsible for its success or its failure. It not only taught me about film – conducting interviews, working with limited resources, how much time projects can take – it also taught me about what I can handle. I was plagued with anxiety for nearly the entire summer that put a strain on my family relationships, but it also taught me the importance of relying on others and speaking up when you’re overwhelmed. It was a stressful experience but it was one that I needed to have.
I know that it’s different with other careers. I chose a highly artistic vocation and that gives me a lot of leeway to be independent; if I want to expand my experience I can just go out and try making a film, expand my portfolio, or teach myself the ropes of editing and sound software. That’s clearly different than if I wanted to be, say, an actuarian. But there are still ways to find meaningful summer experiences that not only say a lot about you to potential employers, but also teach you a lot about yourself.
I’ve already touched on this briefly in past posts, but internships aren’t always the way to go. You can also try volunteering. If you want to be a social worker then volunteering can be an important way for you to get experience with impoverished communities, to see the failings of our legal system, to meet and talk with people who have experience in these areas. Sometimes competitions are your best bet. Just like my film competition, there can be competitions targeted towards the career you want or the interests you are pursuing that can ultimately give you some publicity or an opportunity to network. Student competitions is a great place to start if you’re looking for ideas. If you have an idea that you want to implement, you can apply for a grant or even try crowd fundraising to get your project started. I have a friend who’s passionate about cancer research and is in the process of writing a grant for Relay for Life.
As you can see, there are a lot of opportunities. I know it doesn’t seem like it when everyone’s so focused on one particular path – high school, internships, college, internships, job – but don’t be afraid to deviate from that path. After all, it’s not a guarantee. People can follow that path pretty strictly and still fall by the wayside in the job search. Now, you can choose to be depressed by that truth or you can use that reasoning as an impetus for trying something new. Sometimes it can even do more for you when you take the path less traveled. I think it tells more about you, for one.
So take risks. Taking the traditional approach isn’t a foolproof way to a job so you might as well stand out. That’s just what I think.