Graduating unemployed can be terrifying. Even with the self-preparation, the interview practicing, establishing a network, and everything in between, the possibility of graduating without a job is real. Whether you may be graduating from college or graduate school unemployed, it happens. Similar to getting laid off from work, there is a process that you must follow to secure a job and it starts with you bouncing back and reigniting your determination.
As way of illustration, I want to share with you the story of a young Latino male, Martin, whom I interviewed to help me highlight a different perspective to this real-world situation.
Martin is a mechanical engineer. He grew up in Chicago, and went to college at one of the most prestigious universities in the city of Chicago. Martin was smart, focused, lived about 15 miles away from school but decided to live on campus to truly enjoy his college experience.
Man, when I graduate from college without a job I was heartbroken. I felt as if I had failed my mom. My mother was a single parent and she sacrificed hard to help pay what she could while I was in college. Going to college was both an emotional investment and achievement for our family.
I was the first in my family to go to college, but at the same time, as the first in my family, I did not know who to ask when I felt lost. My mom couldn’t help because she did not understand my new world. She worked in a factory, and because of her, I wanted to become a mechanical engineer. I wanted her to say, “The boss is my son.”
I was raised in a mechanical household, per se, because factories are all about machines and on the factory floor a lot of respect was given to the mechanical engineers. However, school was not easy. It was challenging because I was not truly prepared to compete on pure, raw intelligence. I was always told I was smart, but damn, some of my classmates were just next level and I struggled to keep up.
I listened to the only advice my mother knew how to give, “You need to work harder.” So I worked harder.
During my junior year in college, a friend told me about the importance of getting an internship. I did not have a career counselor. While my school was prestigious, the culture was that many of my classmates already had established family connections to help secure job offers.
As an engineer, I was a member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). Even though I was a member, I had no idea how to leverage the network. The older students would tell the newer members like myself that we should attend the career fair at the SHPE conference to help secure jobs after graduation. That sounded all good, but no one told me how. I did not know what to say. I did not know how to start a conversation or begin to express interest in a position
How do you secure a job? It’s a career fair with a whole bunch of tables, booths, and people picking up flyers, trinkets and stuff from the tables. I was afraid to say hello to the recruiters. I did not know how to approach them without sounding like a fool.
What I should have done was say, “Hi, my name is Martin, and I am studying mechanical engineering here in Chicago. I am interested in learning about the entry level career opportunities at your company.”
How hard is that? But even something as easy as two sentences can be terrifying if you do not know what to say or have the confidence to even speak up. That was my problem. Like a deer in the highlights, I froze. I did not yet understand the importance of making connections, developing relationships and doing what people do when they network. I was young, and had no one to coach me on how to position myself.
When I graduated from college with my degree in Mechanical Engineering, I was without a job for eight months. I was struggling. Through pure will power, I did my best to dig myself out of a hole.
While my mother was supportive, I wanted to start helping her out financially. I did not grow up with a dad, but I wanted my mother to finally feel as if she had a financially stable man of the house. So I hustled hard. Through trial and error, I figured things out. I also realized that not everyone is capable of figuring things out, which is sad.
I had friends from my neighborhood who did not go to college but could not figure out how to make things better for themselves. I wanted more and I was committed to find something. When a job opportunity came to work at the help desk of a technology company, I took the offer. I was tired of being broke so I took what was available and I approached my job with a fierce desire to excel.
It had been eight months of meeting people, developing relationships, going on interviews, just simply being aggressive and making my success my priority. Within my circle of friends, I am a talker. I am comfortable enough with them to just let loose and share my thoughts.
I learned that I needed to be more myself and when the job offer to work on the help desk came through, I was told “Listen, this is your starting point. You have the gift of gab. Help our customers with their problems, provide solutions, make them feel valued and in two to three years, you will be able to move up.”
I was not looking for a job, but rather a career. I did not have time to play games, so I gladly accepted the offer and I just told myself, “I will grow from here.”
Graduating from college unemployed taught me so many things about being resilient. I wish I would have had a job when I graduated because I did not want to struggle for so long, but I learned that I can overcome setbacks. I do have a happy ending I want to share with you.
After two years of working on the help desk, my manager said that they were impressed with my ability to take difficult concepts and easily explain them to our customers over the telephone without making the customers feel less capable. He said that I have the talent to go into sales and they wanted to promote me to join the sales team.
I thought I was an engineer, but in truth, I am an engineer who is also a problem solver and good with people. Working in sales for a tech company took me to visit clients throughout North and South America. I was flying business class, staying in 5-star hotels, and had private cars pick me up from the airport to take me to my hotel.
My mom began telling her friends that I was “el jefe” and that made me smile. In Spanish, jefe means boss. I was not el jefe – far from it – but I gave my mother a sense of pride that everything she invested in me was beginning to pay off.
After five years of working for the tech company, I decided to go back to school to earn my MBA. As with anything, I enjoyed my time but I wanted to grow even further. I had captured that corporate ambition and I wanted more. I looked at the executives from my company and most of them had MBA from top tier MBA programs. As a Latino, I was apprehensive to go down this path because, though there were a few people I knew who had MBA’s, none were from top schools. However, this time, I knew how to network and began asking friends for advice on how to apply to business school.
As I made the decision to earn my MBA, I told myself that there was no way I was graduating unemployed again. My plan was to switched careers from sales to finance, and I started networking early. My school work was still important to me, but I was no longer scared of going to career conferences, such as the National Society of Hispanic MBA’s and sparking up conversations with the recruiters at their tables.
I had become self-aware and self-confident. I now knew the value I was able to contribute to an organization, and I developed the courage to articulate my strengths. In essence, I had my perfect elevator pitch. From a guy who graduated from college unemployed, I graduated from business school from a Top 15 MBA program and had three job offers.
I was able to successfully switch careers and began working in New York City at a highly prestigious Investment Banking firm. While working on Wall Street does not come without its own share of corporate politics or frustration, I was able to achieve my goal to get here and that’s not bad for a first generation college graduate. I learned how to bounce back, I learned how to get back up and I am moving forward.
Martin’s roadmap focused on five areas:
- Network aggressively to secure his first job after college
- Do well at the help desk, use it as a springboard, and grow from there
- Accept the sales promotion and serve the clients well
- Switch careers from sales to finance and get his MBA to transition careers
- Secure an investment banking job on Wall Street
In this case, Martin did not have his roadmap predetermined. He figured it out as he went along, but you can use this as an example as you tailor your roadmap. Understand your end goal. Envision where you want to be and work backwards to determine the major miles stones that must be achieved before you attain your goal.
Jesse A. Mejia is the Founder & CEO of MBA Catalyst, an MBA admissions consulting firm. Jesse has been quoted by the Wall Street Journal, US News & World Reports, USA Today, and has been a featured guest on National Public Radio. He is a member of the National Speakers Association and is a sought after speaker on the topic of personal economic empowerment. Jesse is the author of Dual Track: Graduating from College with Options and ¡Rise Up, Mi Gente! A Roadmap for Latinos to Achieve Success in Corporate America.
This story is an excerpt from Jesse’s book ¡Rise Up, Mi Gente! To learn more about Jesse, visit www.JesseMejiaSpeaks.com