A question of fit

I remember getting into Williams and thinking, “It’s finally over!” I couldn’t imagine anything being worse than college admissions – the process seems designed to suck the soul out of every 17- or 18-year-old that even goes near it. I thought there was nothing that could top it – and then I, and every other member of the Class of 2013, was faced with the question no graduating senior wants to hear: “What are you doing after graduation?”

While some were certainly thinking about it earlier, the job discussion has been an uncomfortable topic since September, when consulting and finance firms began arriving on campus. Suddenly, the job search was unavoidable and omnipresent, with students in suits, alumni back for interviews and seniors frantically scouring the shelves at Goff’s for a suitable leather portfolio. Those applying for such jobs were frantic and constantly scouting their competition, and those who weren’t began to get anxious, wondering if they should have already begun interviewing too.

It started off exciting, and almost fun. There were so many options. I could do anything! Soon enough, though, the job search became not an exciting exploration of the options beyond Williamstown, but rather a depressing and disheartening process that took up an inordinate amount of time, and yet yielded nothing. Soon enough, our spreadsheets and checklists of positions became overwhelming and hours of reworking cover letters and resumes ended in hysterics centered around the theme of “I’m NEVER getting a job!” (Or was that just me?)

It was not as if, when a resume drop did not even yield an interview or when I left a conference room with that sick feeling that it had not gone well, I got no feedback or useful tips out of it. After a few rounds, however, the tips went from helpful suggestions to a litany of variations on, “There was nothing wrong with your application – we just had so many strong candidates.” This, of course, leaves any applicant feeling hopeless. It’s too late to beef up my resume and take on another internship; it’s too late to memorize the entirety of Case in Point before my next round of interviews. I simply was not what they were looking for.

That comment, however meaningless, unhelpful and damning it seemed at the time, was actually the best piece of feedback I got throughout the entire application process. After another horribly depressing interview and another round of flat-out rejections from companies I’d spent hours preparing applications for, I finally began to realize that maybe it wasn’t me, but instead, them. It sounds narcissistic and like a bad break-up line, but it rang true. I had been spending months applying to jobs that were just not right for me. While that seems even more depressing, it was liberating and a relief. I wasn’t doomed, and I wasn’t unemployable. I had just spent the last two months applying to the wrong jobs!

It was not that I, or any of my classmates who applied for jobs they weren’t offered, were unqualified. We were all qualified, and could  do any of these jobs (within reason). But that was not the question – we were looking at the process the wrong way. The question was, should we be doing the job? Was that specific job the best thing for each of us to be doing next year? And, even more nuanced but almost even more important, was that one company the best place for each of us to be doing that job next year?

Perhaps, for many of you more reflective than I, this was already apparent, but for me it was a revelation. I didn’t have to be what they were looking for, but the job had to be what I was looking for. This line of thinking allowed me to break myself out of the rut of consistently applying to (and getting rejected from) not-quite-on-the-mark jobs and to start applying for jobs that I couldn’t help but be thrilled about before I even got an interview. More importantly, however, this line of thinking also allowed me to separate out the rejection letters and – even worse (seriously, why do companies do this?) – the lack of any response, from my own capabilities and qualifications. It was a question of fit, not of ability, of the best place for me to be next year, not just any old place where I could do the work.

So, to all of you applying to jobs, internships, fellowships, grad school, and to any of you who already have a job for next year, but will almost certainly need to apply to another job in the future – keep the job search in perspective, and keep its goals in mind. Don’t worry about everyone else’s application, about how that guy who sits next to you in your Monday 9 a.m. class and sleeps through all the lectures got the job when you didn’t, or about why everyone seems to be applying to consulting jobs but you. Much like the college application process, which all of those pre-frosh were so clearly thrilled to be finished with last week, the job application process is asking where you’ll have the best experience and do the best work. You don’t need to find that job in September, by Christmas or even before you graduate, and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll go through a lot of trial and error before you do find it, but you will, and it will be worth it. Isn’t that worth holding out for?

Meghan Kiesel ’13 is a Chinese major from Edina, Minn. She lives in Poker A.