[Editors Note: In a recent conversation with Jillian I learned about her challenging experience upon graduating. Even though it’s a few years old it’s just as relevant today AND it’s a great lesson for others who find themselves with a degree, without experience and a hunger to work in the field where their passion lies.]
It has been just over a year after finishing undergrad; I can’t believe it. What a rollercoaster of a journey, and here I am on the other side 12 months later. I’ve learned a lot, and I think there are many of you out there who can relate to my thoughts and experiences. While this is a deeply personal story, I’m sharing it because I think it can help people, namely young adults like me. I hope you find something useful out of it.
I returned from my big euro-trip last August thinking, “Alright, time to find a job now. I went to businesses school, I’m a pretty smart kid, finding a job in business for social change shouldn’t be too difficult, right?”
It didn’t take me very long to realize the brick wall I was up against. It didn’t matter that I had gone to business school and that I was incredibly passionate and driven. As a new entrant into the workforce, new grads face one of most challenging and defeating barriers to achieving career success in our society. We are bred to strive for success; we are raised to believe that with hard work, great education and some good-old student debt, we’re going to fly.
…we don’t have the ‘3-5 years of experience’, and no one wants to spend the money training us…
But new grads are stuck in a really funny spot, because even though we are intelligent and motivated, we don’t have the ‘3-5 years of experience’, and no one wants to spend the money training us- at least not in this economic climate. So how are we supposed to get anywhere if no one is willing to take us on initially? How is this system fair?
Graduating from a school like Ivey brings a ton of pressure and anxiety with it. If you aren’t going for the more mainstream careers (finance, marketing, accounting, consulting), you have a mountain to climb. I started business school knowing I wanted to use business tools to drive social and environmental change – that has been my vision all along. I never wanted one of those mainstream jobs, and it was a very isolating and scary feeling. Whereas most of my peers had recruiters coming to them, I literally had to start from scratch.
September came quickly and after a few weeks of effort I started to feel really frustrated. I sent emails, made some phone calls, spent time on applications – I heard nothing in return. I started to let myself believe I wasn’t smart enough, which is a slippery slope to fall down. Please, don’t ever let yourself think that way. And as a side note, a few weeks of emails and cover letters isn’t the way to find yourself a job – but we’ll get to that a little bit later.
After an interview with a company that ended up taking an MBA grad instead of me, one of my interviewers recommended I check out Ashoka. I’d never heard of Ashoka before, and while they weren’t hiring, it seemed their volunteers gained a lot of value out of the experience.
Volunteer?” I thought, “I can’t volunteer. I need money, I need a job. I’m a business grad for god sakes!
After a few weeks of thinking this way, I checked out the Ashoka website and knew right away I needed to become a part of the organization. So I put my ego aside and committed to volunteering for a few months. I realized that if I’m going to get anywhere with my niche career vision and passion, I’m going to have learn more about it and build a network (Lesson 1!).Unfortunately, we are in an unfair system that takes advantage of new graduates, but until someone figures out a way to change it, you need to work within the system to get what you want.
Ashoka, with social entrepreneurship at its core, was my answer.
The Ashoka staff welcomed me with open arms and very quickly became like family. I was doing interesting work, was valued by the team, and felt stimulated every day – I was heading in the right direction.
After a few weeks, I met with an individual who is now a great mentor of mine. He is one of those “must-know” people in my field. Lesson 2: find the right people to get advice from. I happened to work in the same office space as him, so I got pretty lucky. I asked for some career guidance, and he gave me the best piece of advice that I believe has gotten me to where I am 8 months later:
Read. Read as much as you can – 3 hours a day. And write. Start a blog. Don’t do it for anyone but yourself. Don’t think about anybody reading it. Write about what interests you and you will learn in the process. Do this for 1 year straight, and trust me, you will get your dream job.
Lesson 3: Read. Read. Write. Read. A great tool for keeping posted on articles and posts relevant to your area of interest is Google Reader, where you can also follow others in the field to see what they are reading.
And so, with refreshed motivation, I was on my way. Did I set aside 3 hours a day every day? Heck no. That was virtually impossible with my priorities (and relying on the TTC for my commute). But I did do 3 hours many days, and if I couldn’t do that, I would take at least some time to read. And I started my blog, which has helped me learn about myself and what I love in a way I never imagined it would.
I started my blog, which has helped me learn about myself and what I love in a ways that I never imagined.
As the months went on, my work with Ashoka was picking up and I took advantage of every opportunity to attend an event or meeting. I continued reading and writing and designed some pretty cool business cards to get my name out there. I spent a lot of time coordinating Ashoka’s first Social Innovation and Social Finance Tour, and to my greatest fortune, was asked to fly to Vancouver to help execute it in January.
Lesson 4: Go to every event you see as being a fruitful networking opportunity. The more you show your face, the more people start to know you. Online applications, working hard on your cover letters…it’s a waste of time. It will most likely fall into the pile with the hundreds of others and not be read. Sending in your resume is a cop out, so get out there and meet people in your field.
Before I knew it, I had built myself a pretty fantastic network that included people from the corporate, government, social innovation, and social finance fields. Lesson 5: After each event I attended, I wrote follow-up emails and set up informal coffee meetings. This was a key piece of my strategy. Those I met with connected me with others and so it grew from there. I started a spreadsheet so I could keep track of them.
After the Social Innovation and Social Finance Tour, I was determined to find an opportunity to start making money. I spent about a month pumping up the networking meetings and events, and then two things happened: 1) A part-time, short-term opportunity came up with Ashoka, which was a great way to make some money while continuing the search; and 2) I met Zal Press, founder of Patient Commando.
Zal needed the help of someone familiar with the social finance space to navigate through the field as he built his new organization. We met at an event at the Centre for Social Innovation, and he put his trust and confidence in my abilities to conduct consulting work for him. I truly doubted my own ability to perform, but was grateful for the opportunity. It turned out to be one of the most skills-building and rewarding experiences I have ever had.
So, lesson 6: When you find the people that have faith in you, embrace them; do not doubt yourself. The only reason you think you can’t do something is because you never let yourself think you could try. When you find those people who are smart enough to find talent in strange places, hold them close and learn as much as you possibly can from them. If they noticed talent in you, it’s because you are talented.
What was great about these two new gigs was that the hours were flexible; I could still attend conferences, events, and networking meetings as long as I got my work done. I was fortunate that those I worked with were incredibly trustworthy.
When you find the people that have faith in you, embrace them; do not doubt yourself.
I knew both projects would be finished around the beginning of June, so I had my eyes wide open for my next step. I was getting tired of the game, but I knew I needed to keep playing if I was ever going to make it in my field.
It all came together during the first week of May, when everything changed in a matter of 4 days. I won’t go into details out of respect for the organizations involved, but somehow I ended up with 5 interviews that week. Some were networking coffees which turned into second interviews, some were more short-term internships, but all were incredible organizations I would have been ecstatic to work for.
I was extended three offers and had about 48 hours to make a decision. I couldn’t believe I was now stressed out about choosing between offers – I felt that two days was not enough time to make such an important decision. Lesson 7: You can discuss all the pros and cons you’d like, and make fancy charts with important criteria (like I did!), but when it comes down to the grind, you’ve got to go with your gut. Your instincts know you best, so let them guide your decision.
It didn’t seem real to me. All those hours, frustrations, and learning curves culminated in a week that felt like came out of no where. But here’s lesson 8, and probably the most important lesson I’ve learned this year: NOTHING COMES OUT OF NO WHERE. You achieve things because you work for them, or, as my beloved professor Denis Shackel says, “LUCK is merely Labouring Under Correct Knowledge”. It is completely in your hands to take action on your future, so get off your butt and make it happen, because no one else is going to do it for you.
In a couple weeks I will begin the next chapter of my journey at Better the World, and with strong emotions about what I am leaving behind and a lot of excitement about what lay ahead, I feel completely confident in this decision.
Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself
In my last year at school I bought myself one of those mugs with a quote on it. It says, “Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself”. Yes I know, those mugs can be cheesy and you can laugh at me all you want, but drinking my tea each morning with those words staring straight at me helped keep my attitude in check and my mind-set positive. Lesson 9: Read and participate in things that inspire you.
One year later, and I am fully convinced that we create our own success. I hope you’ve learned something from my story. I would love to hear your thoughts, stories, and struggles if you feel so inclined to share.
I wish you all the best with your journey!
This article first appeared on Jillian’s blog in 2011 but the lessons are just as valuable today.
Jillian Rodak graduated from Ivey Business School with an interest and passion for using business and innovation to create impact. After Ivey, Jillian spent a year with Ashoka Canada, working in the social finance and entrepreneurship space while independently consulting for social entrepreneurs. In 2015, Jillian was named a Corporate Knights’ Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leader.