In the past three months, I have either woken up at midnight or not slept through the night because of anxiety. Some midnights, I’ll use that energy to work, write, read affirmations, or knit. If I am too tired, sometimes – I’ll just lay there. Some nights, I cry because I am tired enough to feel sleepy but too anxious about my immediate career future that I am unable to sleep. I know being anxious solves nothing, and while I like to take control of my emotions and life, sometimes in this job-hunting, everything seems out of my control. I refresh my emails almost 100 times a day waiting for positive news or any news at all – it now comes naturally to my thumb.
I woke up this midnight, and as I open my eyes, it is with dread that my midnight job-search anxiety is doing its rounds. But this midnight, there is no heaviness on my chest, no knot-like tightness in my throat, no tears swelling in my eyes. It dawned on me - I can sleep back now if I want. I don’t have to push myself to complete another job application or draft an email to the last interviewer who ghosted me.
It dawned on me that I got the email with my dream job offer a few hours ago, and I can sleep now. My anxiety is gone and I can rest now.
- Journal entry for October 21, 2020
285 Job applications
Over 200 application ghostings – No follow up email rejecting my application or asking for an interview
16 Interview requests for different job positions
26 Rounds of interviews
3 Job offers
1 Dream job accepted
The realization and conviction of what I wanted career-wise came to me slowly but steadily and strongly in the last four years. While I pursued an associate degree in Psychology and a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Behavior and Change, I knew I didn’t want to follow the typical career route of those academic fields. Several instances like when I quit a psychology-related internship mid-way into its completion or when I dropped my first human resources related course after the first day of class was enough conviction.
Working part-time in several student success roles, particularly at Bronx Community College, I developed an interest in helping students from underprivileged backgrounds succeed academically, financially, and career-wise. Even when I wasn’t working, I would find myself editing someone’s scholarship or college application essay at midnight or walking another person through the financial aid and scholarship resources during my lunch time. I gained relative work experiences at Bronx Community College over the past 4.5 years, starting as a Math Tutor, then a Peer Mentor, then a Peer Mentor Trainer, and becoming the Assistant to the Student Engagement and Retention Specialist of ASAP – a student success program. It revealed to me where I would feel fulfilled career-wise.
When I began my job search in March 2020, I was intentional about finding a job relating to College or Career Success. I started with specific knowledge of the job I wanted to do, the demographic of people I wanted to work with, and the organization's diversity. Because I put a great effort in earning that knowledge of myself and experiences to back it up, I wasn’t willing to settle for less. Additionally, I invested a lot, timewise, through years of receiving professional mentorship to perfect my resume, cover letter, and interviewing skills. When I was a student at Bronx Community College, for two years, I spent about 28 Saturdays attending career development and mentorship workshops through a program named America Needs You. So, because I invested time and spent a great amount of effort in earning this knowledge of myself, I knew I wasn’t permitted to settle for just anything that came my way even if a pandemic was around.
Seeking employment in general can be difficult. The pandemic and economic downturn became a perfect recipe for disaster. And yes, several times out of frustration and emotional exhaustion, I had the thought of just accepting anything that came my way whether or not they aligned with my interest. But I didn’t because I had a team of mentors and board of directors who knew me, my goals, and had high expectations. They were aware of my job search and would often check in for progress reports. To let myself down by settling for less out of fear or exhaustion was to let them down.
Two months into my job search journey, I realized that the most difficult part wasn’t getting rejected; it was being ghosted. From companies not responding to applications to me completing several rounds of interviews with certain organizations, recruiters, and talent acquisition representatives promising to send updates but failing to do so despite follow-ups on my end.
One particular experience that broke my spirit was at the beginning of my job search when I had not grown thick skin; it was also right in the middle of the pandemic when death rates were at its peak. I completed an interview for a company with the interviewer who promised to reach back the following Friday with an update to schedule the next interview round. Before the job interview, I connected with her on LinkedIn. She never reached back on the day she promised, and even when I followed up with an email twice, she ignored it. At some point, the worry changed from me not getting a response to “Damn! What if she died from the COVID or something?” I started to feel a sense of guilt that all this while I selfishly thought of myself or desire to find a job, something could have happened to her. Only for her to accept my LinkedIn connection almost a month later and around that time, I also found the job re-posted afresh. I thought of several possible scenarios because it was posted as though they never interviewed or hired someone or the person they hired didn’t want the job. I do not know the truth of what went wrong, but I am certain that I did right on my end.
If this was a one-time situation or something that only happened to me, maybe I would have warded it off. However, I spoke to others currently job hunting, and they had their own sad stories of similar encounters. I have connected with people who fell into depression during this horrendous period, burdened with the need to find a job. I feel the responsibility to speak up on behalf of many others in their job search journey who, unfortunately, may be on the verge of depression or fear how being outspoken on this matter may affect their job chances and choose silence.
We all are responsible for having a little kindness and empathy, especially during these tender times. While I have committed my spirit not to hold any bitterness along this journey, I will urge anyone in hiring positions that the least you can do as respect to someone who took time and effort to complete applications for a job you put out there is communicate. I know sometimes, companies explicitly state that only selected participants will receive communications; however, I believe in a case where your company doesn’t say so, know that your applicants are expectant. Technology has advanced to the point whereby you can do mass emailing if you have an excessive number of applicants. Lack of communication is way worse and heartbreaking than communication of rejection. I have held this standard with my leadership at SprinNG and several other professional positions. I hope to continue this culture of effective communication in hiring processes, especially now that SprinNG will open up internship opportunities.
When I developed a thick skin from that horrible experience, I made up my mind that because I was qualified for the positions I applied to and showed full respect in all communications to the organizations’ recruiting teams – while I do not feel entitled to any job until it is offered, I deserve respect. Notably, studying such topics at New York University under my college major – Organizational Behavior and Change, I concluded that any organization that fails to meet its applicants halfway by effective communication is the kind I have no interest in working for. While I would send two follow-up messages respectfully and give the benefit of doubt that their lack of communication was a mistake, if my messages are ghosted, I determined I wouldn’t beg my way into receiving a response. So, when those situations happened again, and again even if I hadn’t found a job, I told myself, “Thank God, I dodged a bullet.”
There were other times I thanked God for dodging bullets. Looking at my resume, in addition to a history of my academic and professional successes like the scholarships I earned or helped others gain as a student, the books I have published, and the organization I co-founded, you would assume they would be absolute assets to this journey. They were my poison as much as they were a cure to my temporary unemployment. During the job search, several times, I was told that I was “over-qualified” for some entry-level positions not because of my qualifications but because of my accomplishments. I also anticipated they would think that I wouldn’t have the time commitment to their work due to my volunteering engagements like SprinNG – which was untrue.
At some point, I started to hide – taking out any trace of being a writer, an author, or co-founding SprinNG from my applications, interviews, and even email signatures. One part of me strongly believed what I did was right and the humble thing. However, another part of me thought that if I have to hide myself going in, I’ll always have to hide myself once I got the opportunity. Eventually, I stopped downsizing myself and revised my application materials to reflect who I truly was. I thought that an organization or recruiter who wouldn’t see what other considered excesses, as an asset isn’t one I should work for. I had to show myself fully, so they also could work to earn me.
Although many parts of this post paint me positively, I admit there were some things I did wrong during this process, sometimes intentionally and other times not. While generally, people encourage you to reach the hiring managers of certain organizations, maybe for informational interviews and advocating for yourself, I disagree. I did this for a couple of jobs I applied to, and instead of leaving with a sense of hope and confidence, it felt like I had created a conflict of interest in the process of their selections. I also had this strong urge within me to earn an opportunity based on merit and personal effort. I understand that our world doesn’t operate only on merit, and sometimes, this can prove productive for other people, but I didn’t feel very comfortable with it. At some point, I gave up the whole informational interview thing altogether. While in the beginning, it was exciting, new, and intriguing, at some point, almost everyone I had a conversation with gave the same suggestions. Plus, there just weren’t opportunities for them to advocate for me as our conversation would have resulted.
There was also a time when I unthoughtfully emailed thank you letters to an overwhelming number of interviewers for one job position. The interview for the job included about 12 of the organization’s staff and about 15 interviewees at once and it felt chaotic. At the end of every interview, I like to follow up with an email to appreciate the interviewers time and I was so confused on who to thank. While I fault myself for that mistake of emailing about 6 of the interviewers – I eventually analyzed the poor and chaotic interview structure the organization chose, especially online and amid a pandemic. Truth be told, after interviewing, I knew I was unfit for that role and the organization. I was so thankful to be rejected.
Organizations have qualifications they expect of their applicants. Over time, I built a list of qualifications I expect of any organization I interviewed with. So, it wasn’t only them evaluating my performances; I checked my list to ensure that they met the standards I expected of them. Salary, team cohesion, interview structure, and organization were top on my list, but the most important became effective communication. When I started the interviewing process for the organization whose job offer I accepted, I was blown away by their planning, communication, and respect. They checked my list as I checked theirs. In my feedback to the human resource representative, I told her, “This job was the first where I felt that the interviewing processes gave me the opportunity to be successful at being myself and show all my abilities relative to the job.” Although it wasn’t the typical interviewing or hiring process like anywhere else, and it was lengthy over three months from my application time, every second I spent dedicated to that purpose proved valuable. I felt earned and respected. At the end of my job search accepting the position, I concluded – this is how people should feel even when an organization will reject them; earned and respected.
How else did I know I was on the right path?
About three years ago, I watched a SuperSoul video where Oprah Winfrey asked Caroline Myss this question – “How do you know you are on the right path, and what dream belongs to you or what husband belongs to you or what dream belongs to you?”
Her answer stuck with me since then and became my soul’s compass. She said,
“You know you are on the right path, here is your clue – you are not put in a position to betray yourself. You don’t betray yourself anymore. You are not put in a position where you feel like you have to negotiate your sense of integrity, which is an act of betrayal - your heart, an act of betrayal. You don’t feel like you gave to compromise who you are. It feels right!”
“You know because you don’t feel like – this isn’t costing me my power, this isn’t costing me my psyche, this isn’t costing me my soul. I don’t feel confused on some deep level. I am not drained. I can be tired after a day’s work, but I am not psychically drained, where I feel like I am losing life and losing myself. Why? Because I am betraying myself in some way.”
“You are on the right path; you are not just managing it well right now.” “You are never on the wrong path.”
“You always know it’s right when in the end there is peace.” – Oprah Winfrey
Throughout my job search, I received a lot of advice. Some that worked and others I later disagreed with after trying. The most important advice I received was to not lose sight of all the hard work I did in college to become who I am now. Byron Slosar, the founder of Hive Diversity, said this to me. He was one of the few people I met during this journey who genuinely understood the hardworking hustler in me. I liked that he wasn’t surprised by my accomplishments. I liked that expecting greatness was a norm for him like it was for me. The pandemic almost led me to lose faith in the value of all the internships I have done, multiple jobs I have handled, volunteer opportunities, and projects I have managed. At my lowest point, I said to myself, “I did all that work for nothing!”
The second most important advice I received was to not compare myself or my progress with others. Undoubtedly, when you lack something, you’ll start to overly notice others who have it. That dream job announcement someone put on LinkedIn, which you would have normally swiped past had you not been jobless, now comes back to your thoughts randomly, minutes after you’ve logged out of the platform. Sometimes, overtly, even those close to you will compare you to person A and B who got a job immediately after graduation. I am here to tell you that everyone’s timing is different. Looking back now, I am so pleased with this new opportunity that I am grateful for the jobs that ghosted and rejected me. I am grateful for the offers I turned down, and the ones I didn’t accept out of fear.
When I began writing to relieve my anxieties, I told myself, “I refuse to negotiate with my fears. I refuse to let my fears lead me. I refuse to let my fears represent me.” That way, I was careful and didn’t accept anything that came my way because I was afraid or thought something better wouldn’t come along. As far I kept getting at least one interview request every week, I was at peace to keep trying.
The third most crucial thing four mentors aware of my job search on separate occasions said to me was, “People are looking for jobs, you are looking for a career and a calling.” Ooh, that hit home to me. Ironically, even when I was unemployed, I couldn’t get my hands-off training others career-wise and helping them with college applications, retention, and success. What I felt called to do wasn’t determined by my employment status. I would randomly put out my schedule for people who needed help in such aspects. It became clear to me that what I knew I wanted was more than a job. It aligned with everything else.
The fourth piece of advice I found most valuable was to pray and trust God. I was never ashamed of asking people to pray for me when I lost the motivation. Additionally, having experienced the unmerited favor that comes with being an outlier in my past academic and scholarship successes, I knew that it wasn’t only my effort that would lead me to success. At some point when I lost a lot of hope, my sister sent an affirmation and prayer she wrote during her job search about a year ago. Her words soon became mine, as I would read them aloud every time I felt fear, shame, sadness, or anxiety about this journey. If you are on your job-hunting journey – feel free to save this somewhere for yourself.
Father, I thank you because you are leading me to the job, career, or entrepreneurial pursuit that is in line with your will for my life. I hereby partner with you to advance your kingdom on earth through my professional pursuits! I submit my will to yours and say yes to your desires!
Thank you for laying your blueprint for my professional life upon my heart! Thank you, Jesus, for giving me wisdom that will shift me into the next level of impact on the earth through the work of my hands. Thank you for leading me to conversations, people, resources that serve as bridges to my next opportunity. Thank you for setting me apart - for giving me an ability to provide unique insights to issues, to display your wisdom in interviews - thank you for the favor that sets my LinkedIn profile, cover letters, and resumes apart! Thank you for opening doors of opportunity and giving me the wisdom to discern when to walk through them.
I refuse to be discouraged! I am filled with hope! I declare that I am favored! I am set apart; I am sought after by the right people. The glory of God shines forth through me!
The last advice I’ll leave you with is “good things take time.” My friend, Tolu Akinyemi – author of Your Father Walks Like a Crab, would say this to me every time we discussed my job search status. I was surprised to learn that on average, it takes people at least 4-months into their job search to find a job. I was amazed at the high number of interview requests I received, especially during a pandemic and an economic downturn – when people also job searching said they had no interview requests. So, I kept telling myself that as long as I am getting interview requests, I am doing something right.
I want to use this opportunity to thank all those who participated in the journey to finding my dream job and career. Whether by providing an informational interview or giving access to your network or even taking time to help me think and make the right decisions, or even just being there to vent, I thank you. Your kindness will not be forgotten, and I will pay it forward.
As usual, I share my experiences here for others to learn. Sometime later, I will write the tips and practical steps that yielded productive outcomes in my journey to secure my dream job. Most of the things I’ll share, I did, and learned over time during my job search. However, they are things I wish I knew in advance, and when I helped other people with this knowledge during the summer, they secured jobs faster.