One of Twitter’s coolest new features is that you can see what your friends are favoriting; a fast and easy way to see what everyone’s into or what’s happening around you. In my case, I see a lot of my fresh grad batchmates liking each other’s tweets about being unemployed, going to their 20th interview, and revising their resumes for the 15th time. And it’s been about 3 months after graduation.
Since everyone seems to collectively agree that not having a job 3 months after graduating warrants a freakout, (even though it’s completely normal), I decided to pull together my favorite tips to tell my friends and underclassmen on how to maximize a long break.
Because that’s what the pre-first-job unemployment period is: your last long break.
As someone who tried, tested, and still follows these time maximization tips, used these tips to line up job when I graduate in December 2017 as a UFLP at Unilever, and writes a blog about what college students need to know about careers here in the Philippines, here’s what I did during my vacations and free time to help prep me for the ~real world~. I can safely say that these tips on how to spend free time productively are what gave me a head start over my much more impressive batchmates. My greatest regret is not finding and following these tips when I was even younger and had more free time to devote.
So, to the recent grads still freaking out that you didn’t have a job lined up before graduation, and you still don’t have a job yet, just relax. Take a deep breath, and know that you’re not alone. There are hundreds, if not thousands of people, who are still taking their time in search of their dream job, just like you. Your story isn’t the special hopeless case you think it is. It’s just the beginning of the story you’ll tell people about how you found the great career you’re living out.
But before we get to that lovely future, here are 5 things you can do to maximize your time in between job hunting.
1. Get an (unpaid) internship
Maybe you keep getting rejected from jobs because they want someone who already has real world experience. Or maybe you want to break into an industry but you don’t have any relevant experience, and no one’s willing to take a chance on you. Whatever the reason, don’t worry. You’ll be fine in the long run. But for now, your best bet is to take an unpaid internship.
(Bonus points if you take an internship that gives you real projects and teaches you hard skills needed for your chosen industry. I’ll write in the future about how to find out in advance about what kind of work you’ll be doing through the interview. Sign up here to keep informed when I post it up.)
A lot of companies aren’t willing to hire a fresh grad who’s never done a day’s work outside of his university. The stereotype of job hopping, entitled young millennials inspires fear in local companies here in the Philippines. Especially if that young millennial comes from one of the top universities.
No one wants to invest time, money, and resources to teach someone who’ll leave at the first sign of higher pay.
To prove that you’re not the entitled job hopper stereotype (even if you possibly are), prove your worth by working for free. For now. But then again, that’s easier said than done. You’re having a difficult time job hunting as is. Where would you intern that’ll teach you real life skills, with a flexible schedule that lets you go off to job interviews every now and again?
The best options are:
- volunteering at a coworking space as a part-time space manager,
- volunteering at a local NGO whose purpose is in line with yours as (my fave is Teach for the Philippines), or
- reaching out to a small restaurant or business you enjoy and offering to work for free remotely as social media, marketing, procurement, or whatever they need (that’s not waitstaff).
Nobody would reject free labor, especially when they have lofty goals and a small, overworked staff.
But if you’re still scared of doing any of the things above, for whatever reason, I recommend applying to Blogapalooza, a Filipino startup that deals with influencer marketing. I interned for them for almost a year, and it’s easily one of the biggest growth experiences in my life. And I’ve done a lot.
I count the CEO, Ms. Ace Gapuz, as one of my greatest mentors, and honestly, I can guarantee you’ll learn a lot and have a good time with Blogapalooza. (I guarantee it so much that, if you’re interested, at the end of this article, I left instructions on how you can apply to them.)
Obviously, this tip only applies if you can afford to work for free. If you’re trying to conserve money, then read on and follow the other tips instead.
2. Network network network
I hate the misconception that networking is about going to events, introducing yourself, and trying to sell people something (in this case, yourself). Networking is so much more than that. It’s a learned skill, stemming from listening, asking, and giving back. Not just asking, asking, and asking.
But I understand as well that it’s so daunting to go out purposefully just to make friends that will help your career. That concept isn’t normal here in the Philippines. We tend to rely on our parents’ network more than our own, but unfortunately for me, my parents’ entire network is comprised of banking professionals and entrepreneurs in the province. I had to learn how to network the hard way.
So, let me save you some time by telling you better methods on how to network as an anxious 20 year-old college student.
Start by reconnecting with professors, mentors, upperclassmen, friends, and other significant people in your college life. If you felt like you learned something from that person at any point, put them on your reconnect list. Take a deep breath, shoot them a message, and don’t think too much about messaging them out of the blue.
If you haven’t talked in a while, and you want to be more personal in your initial message, go through their profiles and find something to ask about in your reintroduction. Don’t just ask “How are you?” because the reply will be “Fine, you?”
Ask about something specific: what they’re up to, for life advice, or update them on your life, like how something they said before affected you and brought about this series of events.
I don’t recommend asking anyone right away if they know of any opportunities they can recommend you for, especially if you haven’t kept in constant contact. (Being Facebook friends doesn’t count.) You’ll come off as a user, desperate, or as an arrogant upstart, particularly if you’re asking for a recommendation from people who don’t know your work well enough or worse, don’t remember you at all. Not only will your contacts be unable to provide you with relevant leads, but they’ll also think badly of you in the long term.
Since we live in the Philippines, a culture that’s characterized by high power distance (aka we as a society look down on people who act too aggressively), be careful about how you come off while networking. A random guy you met at a startup mixer for freelancers and a professor counted as one of the greats in her field are 2 very different people.
Cultivate the relationship, be deferential if you have to, and provide some value back before asking for something, especially if it’s to someone you look up to.
Protip: Make sure people have a good impression of you before you ask for anything. And if they have a bad impression, try to pivot that perspective slowly over a long period of time. Nobody’s going to believe that your personality did a 180 overnight.
I say this, because a professor-mentor of mine confided that when his sloppy students ask for recommendations, he sends them to jobs he thinks will fit them, instead of letting them pick and try for the best opportunities he knows. He never recommends students he thinks will embarrass him to high-potential opportunities his trusted inner circle shares with him.
On the other hand, he started a group chat of all his best students so that he could send them a mass text to tell them that a new opportunity he highly recommends exists. (If you see this article sir, thanks for adding me to the group chat.)
Along the way, who knows, your network might offer you a job without you even asking.
Other places that are great networking opportunities are conferences and online communities. Search Eventbrite and Meetup for things happening in your area or if ever, just start a meetup of your own. Type into Facebook search what you’re interested in. “digital marketing” “startup” “dog walkers”. Then engage. Have conversations with people, talk to them about what they’re doing and their dreams, then share yours. You never know who you’ll meet out there. So, go out and talk to everyone you can.
What I’ve learned is that the key to successful networking is to be present, be curious, and to try to provide value without being an annoying feeling-know-it-all to the recipient.
Related: How to Edit Your Resume in 1 Hour
3. Take classes and expand your skill set
I have a friend fresh out of college and already studying for the CFA exams in between job interviews. She needs 2 years of work experience before taking the final exam. Everyday she reads 15 pages, and everyday she makes comprehensive notes that are incredibly beautiful to look at, though they’re complete gibberish to me.
I have another friend who’s learning how to cook by testing out recipes online that claim it only takes <10 minutes to make. She’s doing this because she wants to be prepared for when she moves into a condo by herself in Makati or BGC. To compound the skills she’s learning, she’s chronicling her cooking capers via video and a blog to sharpen both her videography and writing skills. Her cooking demo tapes are part of her portfolio.
They’re both holding out for workplaces that’ll click and feel like home to each of them. But they’re not wasting their time while searching for that new home. My friends are teaching themselves something to keep productive in between applying and interviewing for dozens of jobs. So, be like them. Don’t waste this time by moping around or watching subpar TV shows. Figure out what you’ve been dying to learn and just do it.
What classes did you want to take but couldn’t while you were in college? (For me, it’s PR and visual communications.)
What life skills haven’t you learned yet? (Driving a manual without crashing.)
What #adulting hacks have you been keeping in a folder on your laptop, waiting for when you can test them out?
Now’s the perfect time for you to try out and pick up those skills, while figuring out what your first job will be. It’ll also be a perfect place to meet people different from you, but with a common interest.
But don’t box yourself in by only taking classes that have ~resume value~ (i.e. digital marketing or social media marketing). Take any class you want, because in the end, those classes help broaden your perspective. Remember the Steve Jobs story, of how he took typography and how that became a critical part of the Apple business. No one knows how the dots will connect today, or what dot to connect to next, so don’t even bother. Connect everything when you’re about to give a college commencement speech.
Another benefit from taking classes you’re interested in is that you can bring them up during your job interviews, as part of the “Tell me about yourself” question. I promise you’ll come off as a more interesting and happier person that people will want to work with, when you talk about what you’re genuinely into.
Protip: Don’t go for seminars or certifications that aren’t recognized by most employers. Especially if it asks you to pay a lot of money for their program. I’m not saying it’s a scam, but I am saying that spending money to learn something should be accompanied with researching on how competitive the graduates of those seminars and certifications are. Are you learning something tailored for the Philippines’ setting or something you could have googled and read in an hour? Be critical. Ask questions before paying.
[Easiest way to check is to ask them what are the alumni of their course doing now. And if you can talk to some of the alumni to help sell you on taking the course. If they’re nervous or not at all ok with that prospect, that’s a warning flag for you.]
If you don’t know what courses to take or you don’t want to spend any money, but you’re eager to learn, I recommend taking the Hootsuite Social Media Courses so that you’re qualified to be a social media manager. Or head to edX to learn Excel Basics, something that should be mandatory for all college students. I’ve taken both courses and learned a lot that I still use in my day-to-day. And it was all for free.
4. Work on a passion project or side hustle
(This is my personal favorite because it’s how the blog started.)
The key to a great passion project or side hustle is that it teaches you something while being an interesting endeavor. You don’t know exactly how to do it yet or how to do it well, so you’re figuring it out as you’re going along. Usually, it involves putting yourself out there or in an uncomfortable place, and that’s totally ok because those are growing pains. Your future self will thank you.
And the easiest passion project – side hustle is to make something and then sell it.
I have a friend who hangs around Manila Polo Club in his spare time to talk to the rich uncles there about fixing up old cars, while also selling them a classic fixer-upper for ‘dirt cheap’. Every time he sells 1, he makes 6 figures as his commission. While making that insane amount of pocket money, he’s also learning how to soft sell an incredibly expensive item to a niche audience, which is a rare life skill.
Another friend makes crossover digital art from 2 giant fandoms, posts it subsequently to Twitter and Tumblr, and then sells digital prints of it as her passion project – side hustle hybrid. She routinely gets thousands of likes, with a small fraction of them buying a legal copy of her art. Even if she only sells 20 copies, that’s still 400 USD into her bank account, which is incredibly lucrative if you live in the 3rd world Philippines.
Side hustles and passion projects are different for every person. This free time is perfect for you to jump into whatever project you’ve been putting off, because you never had the time back in college. Or for you to figure out how to automate and monetize digital assets you already have. You’ll know this is the side hustle for you because if it’s a lot of work, and you still enjoy doing it, that’s it. Plus, the money you make from it is more painful to part with.
Whatever it is you do though, make sure it’s something you can and want to talk about during your job interviews. It’s a great conversation piece for “Tell me about yourself” and can lead to a steady second income stream you can keep when you get a full-time job.
Protip: Making your own money also stops you from becoming desperate for cash and a high salary. It also keeps you level headed when job offers come in. You won’t be running after the first person who pays you; you’ll be clear-headed enough to weigh the job based on its workload and opportunities rather than just salary.
To find out about some sample passion projects or side hustles you can undertake here in the Philippines, read up on it here.
5. Figure out what you want to do with your life
WARNING: This is honestly the most difficult. Only those willing to have honest and difficult conversations with and about themselves should attempt this.
Take this time as the blessing in disguise that it is and have an intentional reflection about yourself and what you want out of life.
When I was in sophomore year, I took a class that was absolutely useless but every cut was a drop in your grade, so I forced myself to attend. Usually, I’d spend the 90 minutes reading, but on that particular day, I finished my book in the middle of class and forgot to bring another one. I had 45 minutes to kill and nothing to do. I don’t know what possessed me to try to think about my future in more solid terms. But I’m thankful I did.
Back then, I hadn’t read any books or research on how to intentionally reflect yet. Present Justine has read at least 6 books on how to properly reflect in a step-by-step manner, with a prepared questionnaire to fill out, so I can recommend books on it for my friends’ reflections. But Past Justine’s reflection in class was based on doodling mindlessly in my notebook. That I now know was rudimentary mind-mapping.
The gist of what I wrote was I wanted to get into marketing; it was my major after all. So, to make sense of my future in marketing, I listed down my interests, strengths, and weaknesses. Then I matched it up later on with research I’d done on the marketing landscape and interviews with my professors about the kind of marketing jobs and people they’d seen in the Philippines.
The results were terrible. I remember crying at my conclusions.
I like talking to people in small groups, solving specific problems they’re currently having using data-centered decisions, then moving on to a related problem in that same field. I dislike meetings with more than 5 people, conceptualizing everything based on theoretical ‘what if’s’, and decision making through instincts. My strengths were in initiating projects and critical candor; my weaknesses were details and long-term payoffs that weren’t tangible. I wanted to work in a multinational, make a lot of money, and have time to see my family at the end of the day + weekends.
In other words, I didn’t match the standard marketing stereotype here. And I was devastated.
Fast forward 3 years later, and I’m glad I realized that marketing wasn’t the life for me before I started interning. I decided not to take any marketing related internships and focus instead on other skills and interests I had lying around.
I’ll be graduating with my marketing major, but I’ve changed my elective focus to communications rather than marketing. I’ll be working as a project manager for tech solutions in Unilever come January 2018. My present is nothing like I could have predicted that 2014 afternoon, but it most definitely is in line with what I realized I didn’t want to do.
Since I was on the lookout for a better method to reflect when I’m in a thinking mood, I’ve read more than 6 books on the topic. The clear stand out (as of this time) is Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Filled with practical tips on how to use the design principles on the greatest project of all, yourself, I recommend it to all my friends, who are trying to figure out what’s the right life to live.
The book’s filled with stories, case studies, facts and figures, and most importantly worksheets and exercises that’ll help you figure out what you want to do with your life. Or at the very least, what you don’t want to do. If you want to do the exercises in the book with a friend but your friends are lazy, sign up for my email group where we’re going to do all the worksheets and exercises together. (That’s part of the book’s assignments: finding a group that acts as your career support tribes.)
But reading a book isn’t the only way to figure out what you want to do with your life. Informational interviews are also a good resource for the extroverted.
Reach out to people on LinkedIn who are working at your dream company or industry, and ask them for an hour of their time. Be prepared to be seenzoned or rejected. But don’t take it to heart. Eventually you’ll find someone who wants to talk, because people love talking about themselves. It’s helpful to them too since they’ll reflect on their journey and connect the dots.
When you do find someone, make sure you maximize the hour by asking as many questions as you can about how they got to where they are now.
What have they learned that they wish they knew as college students?
Where else have they worked and why did they work there?
What did they like about it? Hate?
What about their present job makes them happier?
What do they think could make them even happier?
Questions like this help you learn more about the different kinds of jobs that school never talks about. Be curious, be persistent, and be charming at all times. Reflection doesn’t entail rudeness.
Protip: don’t ask for a job. The informational interview is purely a way for you to learn more about certain companies and jobs, not to beg random people to give you a job.
For those who are in Manila, Philippines and want to intern for a startup through remote work, here are the step-by-step instructions to becoming a Blogapalooza intern.
Email email@example.com with the subject line “TBC Internship Referral – [department you’re going for]”
I already talked to Ms. Ace (the CEO) and she’s looking for people interested in Account Management, Event Management, and Content Creation (particularly graphics, blogs, videos). If you fit any of those departments, or are willing to learn on the job, go for it.
Attach your resume to the email. Then the body of the message should roughly go,
My name is blah, applying for [department] because [a simple reason in <1.5 sentences, not 7 sentences about how you were born for this role]. My past experience with this is through blah [cite 1, and add a link if you can] // I have no past experience with this but am willing to learn on the job.
I can meet you on [times you’re free for a meeting in real life or online, indicate whether it’s online or offline].
And then your email signature that contains your name, number, and the email you sent this with. If you want to add more details, write your year level, course, and what school you’re from.
That’s it. You’ve applied for an internship with one of my fave employers and are hopefully about to have a great growth experience. I wish you luck, and if you ever need help or advice, you can reach out to me for a chat.
Warning, don’t apply to other internships like this. You can only do so now, because I’ve pre-empted the #Blogafam for possible internship applications from this post.
If you’re still reading until this part, thank you for your incredible patience and I’d love to know if there are other things someone can do to maximize his free time productively. Leave your thoughts, criticism, and commentary in the comments below or email me about it at firstname.lastname@example.org. Always game to have a chat.
And if you want me // TBC to write more articles like this, let me know on the comments down below, in an email, or just like and share it. Seeing audience reactions with the stats is how we gauge what kind of articles to write or not. So if we see no traction, then we’re never going to write another one like this. If we see a lot of traction and interest, then we’ll write a more in-depth one. Simple as that.
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Thanks for reading and hope I wrote something useful for you!