[college] the trials and tips when applying to jobs.

The years have passed by quickly, and I soon became a senior in college looking for employment. I had numerous friends who had worked in investment banking over the summer and returned triumphantly with full-time offers. As fall semester quickly ran past, I went to dozens of interviews, watching in despair as my fellow classmates were offered the second-round interviews and finally, an offer. Without an exaggeration, I would say close to 70% of my mathematics-economics circle were already gainfully employed, and I felt incredibly inadequate in an environment that prizes the ambitious.

January arrived, and I was unprepared to meet it. January signaled the end of the recruiting season for most large companies I wanted to enter– economic consulting firms, investment banks, equity research firms. However, after much scrutiny, I discovered another recruiting season that had just started: economics research assistants (RA). I sent off shamelessly many applications to think-tanks, top universities and economic institutions, and anything that had “STATA” in the job description. I knew a PhD could be in my future, so becoming an RA could be an incredible asset when it came time to apply to graduate school.

The year started off slow, despite my renewed resolution to apply to RA jobs. I was rejected or never heard back from UPenn, Yale, American Enterprise Institute, Columbia Business School, MIT’s J-PAL, Brookings, and the list goes on. However, the ball started rolling inexplicably in March. I received numerous interviews from the Federal Reserve— Philadelphia, Richmond, Boston, Washington DC (I did have a prior one in December at Kansas City). After a whirlwind two weeks, I am extremely grateful to say that I landed an dream offer with one of these locations and have accepted.

There is a fair bit of irony in how the world works, because this position is probably the most prestigious one I could hope for– ever. No other job I interviewed for can compete, though perhaps Goldman Sachs would be a distant second. I won my dream job after almost nine months of uncertainty, agony and grueling work applying and interviewing.

I hope by sharing my experience, others who are in the job market for the first time as a college senior, or will be in the job market soon, will find some helpful pointers. If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me via email, or using anonymous ask.fm.

a pretty flower arrangement in the lobby of the Boston Fed.

a pretty flower arrangement in the lobby of the Boston Fed.

Don’t give up. This sounds stupid, I know. Everyone will say this to you. However, rejection is hard. It is so difficult to read “We have decided to pursue other candidates” or “We did not feel you were a good fit” and not feel depressed that you are just not good enough. Let’s also be honest– very likely you will have classmates who receive the job offer instead of you and you think, “why did they get an offer? Aren’t I as qualified as they are?” In my case, I had these bad thoughts especially often since on paper, I have impressive grades. It is incredibly hard to remain optimistic and continue applying because you fear the rejection and you think that it is not worth it because you will be rejected anyway. Some of my friends have missed out on great opportunities because they got discouraged too early and decided to “focus” on school instead. Right up until March, I was applying to at least 2-3 jobs per week; in busier weeks I applied to as many as 10. 

Professors, professors, professors! This is mandatory, and even more urgent if you are going into your major field, like I am (economics). You must speak to your professors about it. Very often, they will have great advice or even contacts in the industry you are seeking to enter. I have had the good fortune to have professors who care deeply about their students and who have incredible connections. I believe if not for one of my professors who wrote my recommendations, I would have not have had so many interviews in the Federal Reserve system. He also went above and beyond communicating with my interviewers and I am sure the job offers that I landed were significantly influenced by his intervention.

Start early. I know I said that the nine months of looking for a job were hell, but after landing this dream offer, I would not have it any other way. If I did not have nine months’ of interviewing experience and prior experience interviewing at other Federal Reserve banks, I would not have gotten this offer. Even if you get rejected, just treat it as an opportunity to sharpen your interview skills. It is a struggle, but you will get better and better and eventually you will be able to walk into an interview with the swagger that you need.

Sign up for email alerts. I signed up for email alerts from various job aggregation search engines. The most helpful I found was Indeed. Type in a search term, like “STATA” and specify the location, like “Boston” and hit search. Then there will be a link to save this search as an email alert. Every day when the search updates with new listings, Indeed will email you. I am a busy person so I always forget to manually go to sites like Indeed and check the new listings. However, I am always on email, so having those listings emailed to me saved time and made my job search more efficient.

Be direct in your cover letter. My introduction: three sentences. First body paragraph: “This is my research experience.” I knew I was applying to RA jobs that highly prize research experience, and so you want to put that front and center. People sometimes make the mistake of sending one standard cover letter out to every position. You must make sure that the cover letter fits the job to a glove and it exactly addresses what they are looking for. In some situations, you can copy and paste but if you are applying for park ranger and hairdresser, you will definitely need to change your cover letter between applications. Your cover letter is explaining your story in depth and reinforcing why you are the ideal candidate. If you have a weak resume, you cannot afford to skimp on the cover letter. Nonetheless, make sure you keep it concise and under one page.

Memorize your five-minute “tell me about yourself” spiel. This question can be reinterpreted as “Who are you and why should we hire you?” The key to answer this ambiguous question is split into three parts:
(1) brief background: college, hometown, major, etc.
(2) relevant experience: this should be the brunt of your pitch
(3) conclusion: how you came to apply for this position and why you like this position

Once you pass the resume screen and get to the interview, your resume, cover letter, even accomplishments, do not matter. What matters ultimately is how much the interviewers enjoy speaking with you and how much you can show your accomplishments in the best light. Clearly, to get through the resume screen, you have the basic qualifications, but the only part left to do is convince them of your enthusiasm and superior capability in that job. Want it like you have never wanted anything before, and I guarantee, you will impress your interviewers and land your dream job, just like I have.


12 thoughts on “[college] the trials and tips when applying to jobs.

  1. 1st off- congratulations!
    I find this advice disheartening and comforting at the same time, because in the past i’ve landed part-time jobs, but once i came back from study abroad, i’ve been applying for jobs and internships nonstop and am now in your depressed-and-unemployed-without-callbacks-despite-10million-resumes. the sad thing is, im still applying for those part-time restaurant, office assistant, typist, barista, movie theater, aaanything jobs, and im stilll going nowhere. OTL!
    (the only job i’d ever get with my major is freelance work so yea NOT HAPPENING ANYTIME SOON)

    • thank you!

      as for your situation, I totally commiserate but I also think maybe you should lay off the part-time jobs and focus solely on getting interviews for full-time. Consider it another class and really give it your all. I also know that companies who target humanities majors tend to start recruiting in March, so maybe you just needed to wait until now to get callbacks.

      Have you talked to your professors?

      I don’t know how helpful I would be, but I could be a sounding board for any of your ideas or looking over your cover letters or resumes, if you need any second opinions. You know me on Facebook, so you can always message me there.


  2. Congratulations! I’m so happy for you!!
    And I’m so grateful that you decided to make a post about it. This will become an article that I’ll keep coming to once I start applying for jobs.


    P.S. I am even sweating just thinking about it. lol.

  3. This is about a month late, but congratulations Michelle! I remember reading your posts from earlier in your college experience, and it’s crazy that you’re graduating soon and working – moving onto the real world, I guess. All of your hard work, combined with your intellectual prowess, paid off. (: It’s great of you to still dedicate time to write this post and publish it on this blog for others; I’ll definitely revisit it when I hit that area in a couple of years, or when I apply to internships and grad school.

    Once again, congratulations on a job well done (and earned), and I look forward to hopefully hearing more about your future life successes and adventure!

    • thank you so much! Currently in DC and working.. for a salary.. I can’t believe it. Same goes to you; I look forward to reading about your experiences in internships and in college.


  4. This is SO late– I’ve been so ridiculously busy that I haven’t been able to check out WordPress in a while– but CONGRATULATIONS! :] I’m so happy for you! You really worked hard, and it all paid off.

    Thanks so much for the advice– I know it’ll all come in handy in the future!

    Congratulations on your dream job, Michelle! I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for you!

    • thanks so much Amy! Let me know if you ever have any random interview questions. I’ve sat through so many that I may be called a, I don’t know, guru? Of sorts?

      Hope you had a great school year and are looking forward to the upcoming one!


        • Yup if you ever feel like you need any advice, I’d be happy to answer. Though I think practice is probably the best thing you can do– I believe you’re still at school, so you can set up mock interviews at your career center :)


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