Thursday, July 24, 2008

Career Pep-Talk

A good friend of mine was telling me how she feels really lost and directionless about her career, and that she feels like she's going nowhere. I'd imagine that she's probably not the only one of us feeling this way, so I decided to share this story:

I remember my mother nearly swooning when I was maybe two years old and someone asked me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and I answered, "I want to be a mommy!" because I didn't know what careers are. Out of the options I was aware of (Mommy, Grandma or Aunties) I'd say I made a fine choice.

Then when I was older, my family encouraged me to become a lawyer because A) I hated math, so accounting and engineering are out and B) although I wasn't bad at it, I wasn't particularly passionate about the sciences, so it was unlikely that I'd be a doctor. Like many Chinese kids, I grew up thinking that there are only five careers in the world - the four mentioned above, and teaching.

Then in university, I found my calling: PR. The organization I was working for was a colossal PR nightmare with no marketing to speak of, and I felt really fulfilled to see what a long way we went during the three years I was involved. So I decided last year that PR was the way to go after I graduate, and I've been working towards a PR career, trying to get my foot in the door since.

The next step, of course, was to try to find an internship . I had my heart set on New York City - I didn't even care what kind of PR I'd be doing, just as long as I could work in Manhattan. I started looking late because I didn't have the first clue how to kick-start a PR career or where to find resources - a lot of stuff on the web are scams, and I don't know anyone in the business.

My search last spring could only be called A Series of Unfortunate Events. I managed to snag the attention of a few companies, but one had hired already - they told me they would've hired me if their positions weren't already filled.

I made it down to Manhattan (in Times Square Tower!) for an interview, but didn't get the job - they were interviewing 14 other people and they told me that they'd neither hired nor interviewed a Canadian before. I saw it as an honour to have been chosen to go in.

Then I interviewed at a two-people company in Toronto. The office was in a more rundown part of town, and the office was a mess. They clearly weren't prepared to hold an interview, and they looked like they rolled out of bed, while I was in a business suit. They told me I'd probably do some coffee-fetching and that the companies they represent are boring. The boss told the associate to ask me questions, the associate said she didn't know what to ask, so they asked me what questions I had for them. I asked them what they were looking for in an intern, and they spent 20 minutes telling me all the things about they hated about their previous interns - names included. Naturally, I could imagine them complaining about me to some poor interviewee next year were I to work there. When there was really nothing left to say, I caught the associate doodling on my resume(!). Naturally, when I got the e-mail a couple days later telling me they chose to go with someone else, I was totally okay with it.

Finally, I went in for an interview at a very classy part of Toronto - the interview was booked two months before. I walked in and they had no idea anyone was coming in for an interview. The person I had been corresponding with told me she didn't remember that I was coming in, that they'd hired already, that she probably should have let me know. Yes, she should have. They showed me out, but not before assuring me that they would forward my resume to colleagues but by that time, the end of April/beginning of May, of course everyone had already hired and I never heard from anyone.

I was feeling really bad about myself, especially since one after another of my friends were scoring internships left and right. But it's okay, because I went from knowing nothing about the industry to having a much better idea of how to get my foot in the door. I've learned so much, which is the most important thing, and really, I couldn't help my bad luck. I'll be much better equipped to go internship/job-hunting in the future, and I'm not going to give up. It's been such a struggle, especially not knowing anyone, but I'm going to keep going for the absolute conviction that this is what I want to do.

So if you ever feel discouraged, beaten-down, directionless or just plain crappy about how your career is going - keep working hard at it! Think of me - we'll work hard together and see each other reach our goals, okay? :)

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