The dream job. It’s everyone’s goal at the conclusion of college. If you’ve had a successful college career, then you’re (more than likely) due a pretty great first job, maybe even the dream job.
It’s ingrained in us from the moment we step foot in college – land a good job, the job you want. What other reason do you have to be here other than go do the thing you were meant to do, or really want to do?
You knew this, but it turns out only the 10-percenters get what they want (right off the bat). And if you’ve got a shoddy GPA, or are not the most stellar candidate, then don’t be surprised if that dream gig doesn’t come to you.
The point of this article really, is to illustrate how challenging it is to get the job you want post-college, and in doing so, hopefully get you to start working on it now, rather than later.
Achieving Your Dream Job is Difficult: Competition
There’s a world of people that want what you want. Make up a number… 10,000. There’s at least 10,000 people out there somewhere gunning for the position you want, or a similar one. They’re the same age, younger, older. And they all want exactly what you want. Who’s working hardest? Do you stack up? Will the kid who’s two years younger, but putting in work now rather than later displace you? Think about it. It could easily be a yes.
You’ll get the job you want when you deserve to have the job you want. After that, you can rest on your laurels.
A more accurate depiction of your typical online job posting:
You can assume odds are even lower if you’re struggling with a low GPA or poor track record. Like many have said before this, the world is unfair in that: you need a job to get a job, you need experience to get experience. End up with a low GPA and you’ve made hard much harder.
Achieving Your Dream Job is Difficult: Self-Deprecation
When I finished school, the only friends (or co-students) I paid attention to were the successful ones. The ones that more or less landed the crem de la crem of jobs. Their first step was clearly in the right direction, and they had nothing to complain about / everything to be proud of.
If you’re still in college, and struggling with the same thing, kick anything not helping you be who you want to be to the curb. It’s easier said than done, but if done soon enough you might avoid the following year(s) I’m about to describe. Do as I say not as I did!
After I graduated it became possible to live as I needed to for me and my aspirations. It was just me, myself, and I, and the world was my oyster. Onto the dream gig…
How I Did It
1. It Starts with Starting
You’ve heard the proverb, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step.” Or “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” etc. The point is, you just get started.
The sooner you get started. The sooner you can start knocking away at the timer. You’ll be glad you did.
I always suggest that people start with a book. One that encapsulates the industry you’re trying to penetrate. It should have a few key qualities:
- Relevant to the work and industry
- Written by an expert in the field
- Well known by the folks in the industry
This will get you going on the journey of “learning the language.” Every expert field has a language to learn. This will puts you in the know and take you from an outsider to an insider.
I started with the book Internal Combustion Fundamentals by John B. Heywood. It covered the basics, was well known (regarded as, a staple in the industry), and made me look like a standout (more on that later).
2. Address the Weak Spots
In my case (possibly yours), my low GPA, 2.59, was an enormous weak spot. And having NO industry experience didn’t help. Very little of what I was doing in my first job was applicable to the new industry.
What I later found to be transferable, and nearly invaluable were the intangible experiences. Tricky work situations that allowed me to blast through interviews no problem. Tough boss, lackluster supervisor, stressful project/presentation, etc. They carry more weight than skills generally speaking, especially early on.
Fix the GPA Issue
To make up for GPA, I had to prove my technical competence somehow through something other than knocking on my university’s door and asking to retake the classes I flopped. So I did two things:
- Coursera Classes
- Engineer In Training Certification (EIT)
The Coursea classes were surprisingly difficult, but I appreciated it. They helped me feel like I re-earned what I couldn’t quite achieve in school, bolstering my resume in the process (these came up with delight and surprise in interviews).
The Engineer In Training (EIT) license is something most engineering programs force their students to do. But I didn’t even know about it until I went to my university’s career counselor. She said getting this would help fight the GPA and prove some more competence. So I did.
I took studying very seriously even though most folks told me it was “nothing,” or “no big deal.” I studied for it for 5 months . Hardcore at beginning (then life got in the way a bit) then hardcore again for the final two months. I passed and slapped it at the top of my resume.
Industry experience is a tough one. It’s probably the most valuable asset you can have, but it’s obviously the toughest to get. I relied heavily on the the book I mentioned above, and, ironically, on coursework.
There were in fact some classes that I did well in, (usually Labs and Project courses), so I had no shame in talking those up if need be. These functioned as stand-ins until I could gather more serious experience.
To make up for lack of industry experience, I’d planned on:
- refurbishing a car
- taking on smaller repairs for my own car
- taking online SAE classes
It turned out that by the time I did all the re-education work, I had refined my resume to the point of perfection (obviously not, but it was in good shape). I was on version 30 by the time I landed the interview that put me where I am now.
3. Keep Your Spirits up
What’s not mentioned is how much of a beating I was giving myself throughout the whole process. I was adamant about 3 things throughout:
- I was determined to maintain/increase my fitness; work out 3-4 days a week
- Be the best employee possible at the job I was working
- Maintain my beautiful girlfriend, who supported me throughout every step of the process.
As with anything, there are ups and downs, but the downs are what matter most. That’s where you make some headway on the competition.
There’s a speech given by Michael Kelly’s character Doug Stamper in House of Cards that I attached to during this process. He was in an AA meeting and had to tell people about how he dealt with his sobriety. What he said was invigoratingly raw and emotional (at least at the time). He coined two phrases for me that I still carry today, “be ruthless with yourself” and, my favorite, “Fuck the Zero.”
Feel free to watch the scene (in fact I encourage it).
Do stop and smell the roses though.
4. Hang In There
This is the last thing I can suggest, but it also mean it dearly. If you forget everything else, but remember one thing, it’s: Hang in there. Bookmark this page.
I did become very dispirited at the 20 month mark. I spent over a year and a half gunning for more or less the same thing with results that only got me a sugary taste. I thought maybe I should adjust my methods or change course entirely.
Thankfully, I was somewhat stubborn.
2 Jobs, 1 Gig
I stopped reaching for the stars at this point, and instead reached for the clouds. This seemed sensical after all the failures.
I applied internally to a job that was where I wanted to be (Detroit) and in the industry I wanted to be in (automotive). It wasn’t the sexiest of dream jobs, but it was the step in the right direction, at at this point I was concerned more with making something happen than anything else.
I used a bit of the personal brand and capital I had generated at my own office to assist in landing the next gig. I got the internal job with not much more than the screening interview.
New Job, Less Pay
The shocker at the end of it all was a forced DECREASE in pay annual pay by $6,000!
I fought for more, but they touted the issues I knew I had, most notably, no industry experience (surly GPA was in the back of their head). Despite this I was still happy and was willing to move forward. It was still the step I wanted/needed so I could get on with my life. I was to begin the following year (it was late November).
Dream Position Phone Call
Not two days later, I got a call from one of the recruiters in the realm of those stars I was talking about. I’d applied for it months ago. I’d actually forgotten about it.
I didn’t allow myself to get too excited as I’d been through these ups before. I kept my cool, and pursued the gig with feigned indifference.
My screening interview went peculiarly well, and I was offered a flight to come visit and formerly interview. Needless to say, I’d mentioned what I’d been doing to make myself an attractive candidate (that book got me brownie points!) and I was off to the races.
Needless to say, a few more weeks of fraught, I was given the offer. It was all especially exciting because, the gig itself was dream job worthy, it all came to fruition just 2 days before I was supposed to start the other new job, and it came with $16,000 extra dollars! Instead of a $6,000 decrease, I was getting a $10,000 increase.
It all came together when I least expected it. It was a matter of hanging in there.. textbook: Success = Preparation + Opportunity.
It Can Happen to You
I tell this story because I feel it could happen to anybody. The world/universe has it’s way of doing things and good things should happen if you try for long enough.
Did I have any control over any of the ending to that story? Heck no, I only did what I could to the best that I could do it. But every failed interview, rehashed cover letter, online course, etc. molded me into a person that made me an attractive candidate and interviewer. That’s something I don’t doubt that for a second.
Having The Job
Having this job has opened several new doors for me. Not just because I enjoy my work (although that’s the biggest perk), or the increased pay (also a good one), but the freedom and contentment it brings to the highs and lows of daily life.
When things go wrong as they sometimes do, your job is no longer an additional suck or addition of the the pain. In fact, it is often times the opposite. It takes your mind off things when you need it to. I encourage everyone who can to start this journey as soon as they can. If I sat and waited, didn’t try as hard as I did, I’m confident I wouldn’t be where I am today, and for the first time in a long time, I’m happy about where I am.
Of course, there’s a life ahead and there’s more to pursue, but stopping to really smell those roses doesn’t seem like a bad idea right now.
Let me know what you think using the comments section below, or contact me directly.
“You only need them to say yes once.” – GPA Underdog