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.
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.