When I graduated with my Master of Social Work, I left the University of Denver with few connections and job prospects. I had three things going against me: I didn’t know what I wanted in a job, I didn’t know my value and work potential, and I didn’t have an established network.
I was lucky because I was applying for positions just before the economic downturn by randomly sending in resumes and cover letters. I had over 15 interviews as a result.
I’m embarrassed to admit, but I crashed and burned every time I interviewed. The only stories I could articulate were my past work experiences- I could not express where I could envision my career in five years nor the value I could bring to the company in which I was applying for.
I ended up taking the first job offered to me, a case management position coordinating Medicaid services for developmentally disabled adults.
I was terrible at my first job! The position highlighted all my weaknesses such as managing paperwork and writing reports. I missed every deadline and the paperwork stack on my desk outweighed my coworkers.
My self-esteem for that one year working as a case manager went down the drain. I dreaded going to work, took my misery out on my family, and went through the same cycle on a daily basis.
I had to spend a significant amount of time evaluating my experience to understand my career next steps. The good thing about this horrible experience is that I learned a lot from it.
Here are three lessons I gained from the mistakes of my first job.
- Get to know yourself– Reflect on your past jobs and hobbies and assess the tasks and activities that you’ve enjoyed. Explore your strengths, interests, passions, values and higher purpose. When you read job descriptions, ask yourself, “Do I see myself enjoying and thriving in this position because it speaks to my strengths and interests?”
Only seek positions that will capitalize on your talents. There is no such thing as a perfect job, but there are positions where your time is spent doing a majority of tasks that speak to your assets.
- Practice articulating your value– Hiring managers are seeking candidates that they know can go above and beyond to get the job done. They want someone who can communicate their qualifications with confidence, articulate that they are the best candidate for the position and demonstrate the value they will bring to the company.
Take an inventory of your past successes and write them down. Practice sharing these experiences and telling stories because your past experiences demonstrate your future potential to a hiring manager.
- Build relationships and establish a strong network– Hiring managers want to fill positions with candidates who they know, like and trust. Moreover, the people who know you can direct you to positions they think would be a good fit.
U.S. News and World Report has found that more than 70% of people land jobs through networking. You never know when you’re going to need to make a change, so having an established network is essential.
If you have been feeling defeated by the job search process, it’s never too late to go back and reevaluate. Your career path is an evolution and you have the ability to change it and make it meaningful to you.