Take Two #97: Engineering an Application

By Kyra-lin Hom

The battle was long and hard-won. There were tears and laughter, and both sides lost good soldiers. But finally, after many an hour, I have just now emerged victorious over my serger. A serger is basically a really complex sewing machine with all kinds of fandangled settings and all the problems that go with said complications. For example, what turns out to be the problem is that a very important lever on my particular machine can go too far in one direction. Who decided that was a good idea during the engineering phase?

Machines aren’t the only things inherently flawed by design, not at all. Another one that I’m currently bashing my head against with all the effectiveness of…well, my skull versus brick is the job application process. How many of you have run into this problem: how the heck do I get work experience when every job requires I already have work experience?! It’s frustrating to say the least.

I supposedly have had this fantastic education and yet my most employable attributes are a) my ability to write and b) my knowledge of art and design (which had almost nothing to do with my degree). Wonderful, for $150,000+ you too can work a minimum wage job.

In a surge of impotent irritation and masochism, I decided to calculate just how long I would have to work at minimum wage to pay for my undergrad degree. Assuming I have literally no other expenses besides tuition, it would take approximately 11 years. I understand now why so many people start hoarding degrees. As long as I never stopped attending college, I could live off of student loans for the rest of my life. That starts looking better and better once you’ve been turned down for a multiple positions as a glorified file cabinets, trust me.

So what are we supposed to do? Is there any hope for those of us fresh from college, unemployment, or just plain ‘trying to find ourselves?’ Or are we doomed to the telemarketer toil until those five years are up just to prove we have job stamina? According to this gem of a blog I found online, AskAManager.org, prospects aren’t good in this job market but they aren’t completely bleak either.

Blogger Alison Green has a few suggestions for those of us under-qualified lost souls. Her number one tip is to write a “fantastic cover letter.” This means no gimmicks, no sales pitches and no demanding send off. It does mean being confident but honest and not being afraid to address your faults and deficiencies. Where I failed was addressing why the organization I was applying to was perfect for me but not why I was perfect for the organization. A big no-no it would seem. I also have problems with showing not telling. Unfortunately, flattering adjectives just pump your persona with hot air.

Another interesting piece of advice is to not cater to the whims of supercilious hiring managers, to not gnash your teeth over what exact protocol and format they want. It doesn’t hurt, sure, but consider that someone that uptight might not be a great person to work under anyway. Not my words, I’m just passing on the message.

So far I’ve had no luck in my Chicago job hunt, I have been picky in my applications. Now, freshly armed with new advice, it’s time for round – I can’t count that high but for the sake of here let’s say ‘round two.’ I’m going to reengineer my resume and draw up a new cover letter strategy. Good luck to all the job hunters out there. Please send some luck my way as well.

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