MIND THE GAP
NAVIGATING THE SPACE BETWEEN
COLLEGE AND CAREER
NATALIE SEMCZUK @talkanatalka
I GRADUATED IN 2011 AND JOB
SEARCHED FOR ALMOST 10
NOW, I AM A PROJECT MANAGER
FOR DIGITAL MARKETING
WHAT I DID AND DIDN’T DO IN
I DIDN’T DO IT ALL RIGHT
I DIDN’T HAVE AN INTERNSHIP AT
I WORKED ON CAMPUS ALL 5
SOMETIMES, I HAD WILDLY
RELEVANT POSITIONS TO MY
BUT SOMETIMES, NOT SO MUCH
THERE IS A “FORMULA” BUT I
FOLLOWED MY OWN
I GRADUATED, NOW WHAT?
I WAS SINGLE, LIVING AT HOME,
WITH NO JOB AND A BROKEN BACK
I APPLIED, APPLIED, AND APPLIED
I TOLD FRIENDS I WAS LOOKING
I TOLD FAMILY I WAS LOOKING
I TOLD FACEBOOK AND TWITTER
REPEATEDLY THAT I WAS LOOKING
IT SORT OF WORKED!
EVERYTHING YOU DO CAN AND
THINGS I LEARNED
PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF
WORD OF MOUTH WORKS
FOLLOW UP, FOLLOW UP,
USE EVERY RESOURCE AVAILABLE
TRANSLATE YOUR EXPERIENCE
PEOPLE ARE GENERALLY NICE, BUT
THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG
WAY TO GET INTO THE INDUSTRY
PEOPLE ARE NICE AND WANT TO
ASK FOR HELP IF YOU NEED IT
I graduated in 2011 from RPI with a dual bachelor’s degree in graphic design and sociology and my master’s degree in sociology.
At the time I had started searching for jobs in March
I was participating in a state senate internship for my Master’s thesis and thought I’d get a job out of that, so I was a little lazy
But unfortunately it turns out I didn’t enjoy the job as much as I thought I would
I would procrastinate at my internship by working on graphic design work
I spent countless all nighters adding to my portfolio
So, things didn’t go exactly as I had planned
That’s why I’m here today!
I’m currently a project manager of digital marketing at Mohawk paper right here in Cohoes
Before that, I was a project manager at a small agency, Burst Marketing
I love working with clients on web and digital projects
Right now I specifically work on
Mohawk Social Media
Write for Mohawk blogs
Manage partnerships with brands that use Mohawk
Manage new relationships with brands that partner well with Mohawk
I also freelance for 2 small agencies, one local and one remote
This is the story of how I ended up here today!
If I had done it all right, I would have nothing to talk about!
I would be here instead telling you, “follow the formula, it works perfectly, you’ll do just fine!”
But in the real world it doesn’t always work that way!
When I was in college, I didn’t work at an agency or design studio as an intern
Instead, I worked on campus all 5 years
I held many jobs, from telemarketer, to creative writing camp counselor, to marketing intern, to visual designer, to Learning Assistant, and more
I liked that I could walk to my jobs
I liked that getting paid was easy
I needed the money and immediate experience – I didn’t know what sort of career I was looking for, so I didn’t think that far ahead
I worked as a visual designer first on a team of students for distance learning for 4 years. As the years went by and the department shrank I became the sole designer
Those years were extremely helpful to my design experience and working for a demanding boss
Not to mention I was able to test new software and learn new techniques through that job
Also, I got bored a lot during the summers and this is where I learned about Twitter!
(Which I now professionally do at my job)
Other jobs I had were marketing intern for the Summer@Rensselaer program, where I was able to initiate small campaigns and do market research and carry out work on my own – which was a great opportunity
Telemarketing actually helped me connect with people and be able to deal with angry customers or now, clients, and smooth things over. It also taught me to LISTEN
I did data entry for a LARGE amount of money one summer in which I really just learned how to copy/paste as fast as possible. But it was a job!
I’m sure you’ve heard the advice of networking, getting relevant internships and jobs, and self-promotion more than ever now.
While these are all true and great advice, sometimes you can’t – or don’t get to – do these things
For me, I was confused about what I wanted and had lots of other interests, too
I saw college as a time to explore these, not to build straight to a future goal
So, I graduated realizing I wasn’t interested in the career I thought I was making from the state internship
I knew I loved graphic design but didn’t have specialized experience
I was confused and more than a little bit worried!
All of my friends were in engineering or the sciences and had locked down jobs by December before graduation
Meanwhile, I had just:
Fallen down steps at school and broken my back
Graduated with no job and no prospects (not for lack of trying)
Anddd moved back home with my parents
Where my sister was awaiting her Army assignment
Even my little sister had a job before me
I went through some dark times – just trying to figure out how to do what I wanted to do. And what those things were!
I literally had a spreadsheet where I tracked the jobs I applied to
I applied to over 200 jobs in a 9ish month time span
That is a lot!!
More on this later
I told friends I was looking
I told family I was looking
When I told my friends friends and family I was looking for jobs, they started keeping their eyes out for jobs too
They would pass on openings to me and pass on freelance opportunities they heard about from THEIR friends and co-workers
I was slowly building my network
And it worked!
I made connections in the industry locally and in other cities that I still keep in contact with
I made connections through friends for freelance opportunities that I still am a part of
I ended up getting an internship in SEO through a Craigslist ad for an agency
I was hired because I knew how to write & research (grad school) and knew how to code (for fun)
An internship = less of a risk investment to a still-growing company
And since I had already graduated and was available, this led to further opportunities in the company –
My SEO internship became a full time job in design + web technician
Which led me into project management and my interest in client relationships!
So what I really learned from this was – Everything you do can and WILL matter
It’s not all throwaway work
Work you did for fun or because you had nothing else to do becomes worth it and meaningful
This is still applicable to my job today. Just because I might not LOVE every task I do, big or small, I can still frame it as a contribution to something bigger in my industry
This is what I mean. I learned a lot from this experience, especially…
Persistence pays off.
Out of the 200-so jobs I applied to I only had about one or two dozen interviews
But the other connections that came out of this mattered
I connected with other agency owners in Albany and Boston and was able to get professional advice on my portfolio after college
I connected with marketing professionals and learned about other agencies in the areas I was looking
I applied to jobs I was over and underqualified for, and made impressions – some to the point of contacting me about my application just because it wasn’t a good fit but they were impressed and wanted to know more in case an opportunity came up
Word of mouth works.
All of the time I spent talking to my friends, family, and potential employers about my skills and job search paid off
I was able to sustain myself on 3 freelance clients during those 10 months I was searching, because my friends knew other friends looking for work from their company or colleagues
I had MANY more pairs of eyes looking out for openings than my own – even though most of the job openings I heard about from friends and relatives may not have been relevant, it was super helpful
Follow up, follow up, follow up –
This is maybe THE MOST important piece of advice I have
Even as a project manager, managing relationships, I say this
You’ve put all this work into your portfolio, your self promotion, your emails, job applications, and phone calls – FOLLOW UP!
Having now been in a hiring position, I can say having many tasks and people to review and manage can easily make other things slip from my mind
If I don’t hear from you, I won’t remember
When I was searching, I created great relationships with people I rounded back with, and it made all of that work worth it!
Use every resource available to you
We have social media at our fingertips
I got my last 2 freelance jobs that way!
When I was in school my college offered free profiles for students looking for jobs in their career portal
And free job listings too!
Even if these aren’t relevant or have a lot of competition, use it if it is there!
The AIGA offers mentorship programs – I met a great friend by signing up for this, who eventually let me know when her job became available. It was my mohawk job!
Everything you’ve done can be relevant
The telemarketing job I had – can be seen as managerial or client/customer experience
Working with kids in summer camps or after school programs – is organizationally challenging and takes a big level of responsibility
The interest you have in other disciplines can get you hired – it’s what makes you stand out from the others
Companies are always looking for a large combination of skills and interest in learning to help them become more well rounded
I was surprised by how many people genuinely wanted to help me
They were quick to mention a friend needing help with branding, a co-worker looking for an intern, or their friend who was a recruiter
So many people offered to look at my work if I was in town, or meet me for coffee, or chat about the future
They were busy people and so generous to offer!
I learned to jump on these opportunities and FOLLOW UP – people are busy!
People are good at helping and interested in talking about themselves – all you have to do is ask!