Nowhere to go.
Are there any more companies I can even apply to?
Getting rejected feels awful, especially if you’re unemployed and have been rejected by forty companies. Back in the city I grew up in, San Diego, I was forced to pick one of these two choices:
1. Work for a corporate company where I would slowly develop new skills.
2. Continue being rejected by recently profitable startups in hopes that one would hire me.
I had promised myself I would not choose number one, but I felt like I had been forced to select the corporate world.
The reason: I’ve worked for seven failed startups during college; as a result, people were scared to hire me. First, I had the word failure written all over my resume, and second, I was seen as a job-hopper even though leaving was never a choice.
The worst part of the job hunting process: employers request work references.
Do I give them the startup founder’s name who never paid me? What about the startup founder who after day one left me as an unpaid intern, and I never saw or heard from her again for two months until she fired me through email? Maybe the startup founder who paid me, but left after day two to never return?
I know many people would say great things about me just not people who I had worked with. The hard truth: Unprofitable startups without funding present massive problems for their employees. Many of us college-graduate entrepreneurs want to chase the dream of working for a startup that takes off. In reality, it’s much more of a gamble than the Silicon Valley dream makes it seem.
I was the exception because I wanted to learn fast, and I had been willing to sacrifice everything to work for a top-notch startup. With a quick learning curve, I had hit obstacles over and again. But I tried never to make the same mistake twice.
And through repeated failures, I had slowly figured out what startups were worth working for. The problem: Those startups are extremely careful in who they choose to employ. After all, they just became profitable, and they assume you want a piece of the cake.
The problem with companies whether corporate or recently profitable startups is that they are reluctant to take risks when employing college graduates. You have the college graduate who had two one-year internships and a high GPA. Then you have the college entrepreneur who worked for seven failed startups, has completed some huge projects, and has a mediocre GPA. Companies almost always hire the former choice.
This type of hiring mentality says a lot about a company’s long-run performance. With constant technological innovation, if you don’t take risks, then you’ll quickly become outdated in almost any market. If a company never takes a leap of faith, then they may just leap into the unknown.
But what if the numbers aren’t there?
Numbers don’t back the most important decisions you should make. They sure didn’t back Elon Musk when he started Tesla or SpaceX, and they didn’t back Steve Jobs when he made his most critical decisions at Apple.
You’ll find discomfort and people doubting you with your best decisions. And if you fail, at least you’ll know what not to do, and sometimes that’s the best lesson you can gain.
As a marketing entrepreneur, I have one of the riskiest jobs – without excellent marketing, a company doesn’t grow. So naturally, a business is already on the fence about hiring me. Giving a college graduate the responsibility of managing a company’s entire email list and digital communications is scary.
Moreover, as a marketer, you must stay with the company for a month at a minimum to execute only part of your strategy. And keeping your marketing knowledge relevant in a fast-paced tech world is hard. As a result, many marketers decide to limit their expertise to just one channel.
Every college graduate will face countless difficulties in their respective fields. However, the decision to push their limits so they can work for a recently profitable startup often comes down to a few benefits: excitement, positive energy, quick feedback, and the ability to make important decisions.
This is why I went through tough times that included forty plus interviews to work for a company where I could retain these great characteristics.
With so many startups, how do you pick the right one?
I found my answer when I met with a CEO of a company who was willing to hear my story. Isn’t that what life is about anyways – living a life worth a great story?
If you can find someone willing to listen, you can make a life-changing connection. People can be genuine and kind, but to establish a relationship, they must always listen. And if you can find a company who’s willing to listen to your story, then those are the people who you should work for unless you rather start your own company of course.
It’s not easy. Heck, it took me forty plus interviews. You start off scouring LinkedIn and AngelList to make a well-defined list of companies you can send your resume and cover letter to. Then you organize the list by labeling companies. You denote your favorite choices by the letter “A,” down a notch are “B” companies, and your last-resort companies are “C.”
Now immediately throw all your “B” and “C” companies away. Your “A” companies exist because you don’t want to waste several years without fulfilling your potential. Several years unemployed is better than several years pretending to be content with your job.
My “A” list had included forty companies in San Diego and San Francisco. For months, I had traveled back and forth with an old beat-up car. I never landed a job in San Francisco, but it was worth it just for the experience of finding out the companies where I didn’t belong.
I always went above and beyond for my “A” list and you should, too. I either submitted my resume in person or sent them a prepared package of between ten and fifteen pages analyzing their company’s marketing strategy. As a recent graduate in a tough job market, I had no choice.
Each time I walked into a company to submit my resume, EVERY employer gave me credit for having the guts. I even applied to companies that weren’t hiring just because they were on my “A” list. You have no choice, but to repeatedly try until they give you a chance.
Moreover, you only have one life, and you’re competing against job seekers who are willing to go above and beyond. If you’re not getting the results you want, you’re probably not trying hard enough.
So what happened?
After interviewing with numerous startups, I realized it wasn’t their product or service that made me interested in working for them – it was their culture. I saw what a good culture looks like when a CEO finally gave me the opportunity to tell my story.
I stuck it out with forty plus rejections to find someone who was willing to listen. And now, I barely notice rejection anymore and I’m happily employed at a great company.
My advice: Work where you will learn the fastest and make it your mission to be overambitious in your job search to ensure that company has an incredible culture, too. So the next time you’re looking for a job, you won’t even think about making a “B” and “C” list.