I feel like my parents ask me at least twice a week what job I’ll be able to get with my major and what my career goals are. Both of my majors are incredibly broad and not something you see in a lot of fields. In a previous blog post I talked about my decision to become a geography major on top of my Society & Environment major. Truthfully, with a lot of things academic wise and career wise, I just don’t know what I want. I’m the type of person who gets excited about literally anything and everything but I also get bored easily. I chose my majors because I wanted something that would continually be stimulating and changing. It’s great for being in college, but for a career path, it’s a little tricky. How the heck do I apply for internships when I don’t even know what I want? How do I tell interviewers that I simply don’t know where I see myself in five years? My initial reaction has always been uhhhh successful I think? Well I just secured an internship that I am thrilled about for this summer so let me take you on my journey.
I like to describe my extra curricular life at Cal as meandering. I’ve been going from opportunity to opportunity without a ton of direction or plan, jumping on whatever sounds most interesting to me at the time. I’m a motivated person with very general goals of being successful but like I said, I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m the first in my family to go to a top university so I’ve had to navigate it pretty much all on my own. I didn’t come in with a plan of the exact things I wanted to do, but that’s okay!
I didn’t build my career in a directional way. I got lucky, I worked hard, and recognized when I was putting energy into something I didn’t want to continue with. That’s my biggest advice to you all: make sure that what you’re putting your energy into is actually something you care about and want to continue with. Just because you’ve been doing something for a while doesn’t make it worth your time if you’re not into it anymore. For all of you economists out there, don’t buy into the Sunk Cost Fallacy.
I didn’t put as much effort as I probably should have into getting an internship the summers after my freshman and sophomore year of college. It became an imperative for me this summer to make sure I had something lined up.
So, I started early. First, I had to figure out what I wanted to apply for. Human Resources? Public Relations? Marketing? Sure, why not? I got my resume all gussied up and started applying like crazy. I’d spend hours a day hitting apply to every job in those fields primarily through LinkedIn. But I didn’t get a single interview for months. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Was I applying too early? Maybe. Was I applying for the wrong positions? Perhaps. Was I looking in the wrong spot? Probably not, honestly. The simple answer was something I thought I could overlook: I hadn’t submitted a single cover letter.
For those of you who don’t know, cover letters are supplemental to your resume, essentially outlining why you’re qualified for and why you want a particular position. I’d been dreading writing one because I had no idea how to do it. I was an idiot and forgot that I’m actually really good at writing. I asked my housemate for help and made a few different basic cover letters for different positions.
I’d like to say that it was an immediate fix, that I had the interviews rolling in afterwards. It still took a couple more months of tweaking and changing my tactics before things started happening. I realized I couldn’t rely only on LinkedIn, but had to spread my wings a little further. Handshake and Zip Recruiter ended up being my best friends. I could not even tell you how many internships I applied to.
I learned very quickly how to do interviews. I’m trained to talk about myself as a campus ambassador, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to do an interview. All it is is telling your story and applying it to their company. I still had no idea how to answer the question “where do you see your career in 5 years?” and just hoped I would get off without getting it.
One thing that really needs to be internalized for anyone applying to internships is that interviews are a two way street: they’re learning about you, and you’re learning about them. I didn’t realize how much that would be the case until I’d done about five interviews. Some companies immediately rubbed me the wrong way. I’m big on punctuality personally and any company that makes me wait more than five minutes past the scheduled interview time automatically gives me a red flag. Three things stood out to me in every interview: don’t drink coffee before an interview (it made me nervous and jittery every time because I was already highly stressed), do your research about the company first, and don’t settle. If you don’t vibe with the company initially, there’s a good chance you won’t enjoy working for them.
My best interview actually didn’t start off super well. It was the end of the day, I’d been working for hours and was generally just pretty tired. Luckily, it was just a phone call and I didn’t have to get dressed up or anything. I took a deep breath, accepted that this might not end up going super well, and took the call. Turns out my interviewer was also tired and had been working all day. Great, already a barrier. But I turned it around, joking about how I was tired any time I stumbled on my words and it honestly created a much better environment than I had expected. It was supposed to be a 15 minute phone call but I had so much fun talking to my interviewer that it turned into 30 minutes. My guard was down, I could just be me, and I ended up getting a second interview with them! It was great!
My second interview, however, was way more pressure and totally the opposite energy. I decided after the first interview that I really really wanted to work for the company and that I was going to do just about anything to make it happen. So no pressure, right? It ended up being two people on a video call, asking me questions that I was prepared for but were much harder than the first one. But, I kept my cool and remembered that I was prepared. And I did get asked what my career goals looked like in five years. I tried so hard to come up with a crafty, cool response about how I was so motivated to do x, y, and z. But I’m a terrible liar and ended up sticking with the truth. I told them, honestly, I’m not so sure. All I know is that I want to be successful and, for me, doing that means being wherever I find I enjoy myself and where I’m most useful. I couldn’t tell them a specific position or even general career field I wanted five years in the future. I just knew I wanted to work hard and explore that for myself. For a moment, I felt a little dumb saying that. But I realized that staying true to myself was way more important than having an answer that I thought they wanted to hear.
I found out the next day, which happened to be my 21st birthday, that I didn’t need to interview anymore, that I’d gotten the job. Turns out my honest responses actually made an impact. I accepted the offer right away because I knew from my interactions and my research that I really wanted to be there. I never had to compromise who I was, I was able to have fun with the process, and it turned out to be exactly what I wanted in a summer internship! Fingers crossed to see how it goes, I can’t wait to get started 🙂
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