Opportunity

I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.

-Mark Twain

Opportunity approaches us all differently and it’s not always easy to recognize. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at recognizing it and in some cases creating it for myself. I’ve always worked hard. I held 2 jobs through college as both an RA and working in the Computer Center of my undergraduate school. In grad school, I was a Resident Hall Director managing an upper class-men dorm of about 150 resident students. Even though I wasn’t always working in the field I studied for, I always kept my eye on the long term goal… a job!

I never doubted I was going to get one. One of the perks of the IT field, which is partly why I went this route. I’ve always loved technology. In grad school, when the finish line was approaching, I felt the pressure to begin thinking about my future. I networked like crazy with all of my peers. Most of them were working adults furthering their education for their professional goals. Several of them were managers, consultants, analysts, and even someone who was in retirement. I learned so much just being in class with them.

My class enabled me to become a self-advocate and speak openly about what I was looking for in a career. I didn’t hide it or try to be sweet about it. I was looking for a job. I actively asked, “Do you know of any positions I might be a good fit for?” and near the end of my 16 month graduate program, one of my peers (who was a manager) mentioned their intern was recently moved to another team as a contractor. While I wasn’t exactly hoping for an internship, it was paid and seemed to be a good stepping stone into the company.

So I applied for this position, a graduate level candidate, into an internship at the company I work for now. I could have possibly held out for a better entry level position elsewhere, but I was really excited about starting my career and diving into the corporate world. It was a risk, but a risk that paid off. After 6 months of being an intern and living off $15/hr, I received an offer for another position inside the company, and was met with a counter offer from the team I worked on which just had a position open up. So within 6 months I was able to secure my first salary position as a Technical Analyst and on the same team.

Opportunity does not knock, it presents itself when you beat down the door.

-Kyle Chandler

I have had many people tell me, “Oh you’re so lucky!” or “I wish I had the same opportunity.” My response is usually along the lines of “Yeah, luck had a little bit to do with it, but so did the work to get there.” So if I had to boil it down to 2 simple rules, it would be:

  1. Build Relationships with those who can help you! I know it sounds so simple. And you’ve probably heard it before, but seriously… find a mentor, find a friend in the same field, talk to them about their experience and see if they have friends. You are the only one that’s going to be able to sell yourself. And if you can’t sell yourself to those around you, you’re going to have a hard time rocking an interview.
  2. Don’t be afraid of risks. I had to make a pretty tough decision when I was offered the internship. I was working as a Hall Director where my living was provided. My options were either A. Take the internship, leave my Hall Director position, and start my career on a $15/hr wage or B. Stay in my Hall Director job and try to land something more substantial within 6 months when I wasn’t going to have the regular night classes with my graduate study peers any longer. I went for it. I was all in. I didn’t have a lot of spare money, but my eyes were on the long term goal of my career, not my temporary living situation.

Have you ever faced the same kind of dilemma? Did it work out for you? Do you have any advice for anyone that might be trying to get in the door? Share your comments below.

8 Comments

  1. When did you wonderful young people grow up and start advising us “old folks” in the game of life? No longer followers, but leaders. It is so refreshing to see that the ideas we know to be true and just shelf them in our memory, those same thoughts and ideas are regenerated in young brilliant minds such as yours, are polished and tweaked and presented again for your future generations. Thanks David for restoring my confidence in the youth of today. -Sally- …and the beat goes on…

    Reply
  2. I have had two “first job” experiences, which were completely different.

    My undergraduate degrees were in Secondary Education, physics and chemistry. My first job offer came whilst I was completing my student teaching placement. Three weeks prior to the end of my assignment and 5 weeks before commencement, my principal called me into his office during my planning period and point-blank asked me if I wanted a job. He handed me the job ID number and told me to apply and it was mine. No muss, no fuss. I wish everyone the same experience.

    However, I only lasted two years as a high school teacher until I chose to return to graduate school and pursue a doctoral degree. I actively networked throughout Graduate School and kept my eye on the job market. I planned on graduating in December and accordingly I started my job search in the preceding March at a leading industry conference. By the end of June I had interviewed with six companies in various industries and my prospects were looking good. Unfortunately, this was the summer of 2008 and as summer became fall the announcement of new hiring freezes proliferated as our economy tanked. One-by-one, all six companies dropped off the radar and by the end of August, I was back to square one. September found me at another industry conference where I found two or three more perspective employers. Two dropped out quickly, but I never received a rejection letter from a small Contract Research Organization (CRO) on Cape Cod.

    My Ph.D. was confirmed in December 2008 and I found myself unemployed with no prospects except for the small CRO. I continued to work for my research advisor (free of charge) to keep myself busy. Every other Tuesday, I called the HR manager to see if there was progress, but to no avail. At the beginning of March I had come full circle and was making arrangements to return to the first conference I attended as a job seeker. Then the phone rang. 51 weeks into my job search, an employment offer was made by the CRO a full six months (and 10 phone calls) after they initially interviewed me. Granted, the salary was about 70% of industry standard, but it was either accept the job or begin the job search anew with no prospects on the horizon in the middle of a recession. So much for choices, eh?

    Needless to say, I took the job and found myself searching for my next placement some four days after I started. Yes, it was that bad. The next 19 months were hell. I had no Manager. Our Director went out on full-term disability 2 months after I arrived. The VP had recently been removed. Three months into my first job I had 7 direct reports and reported directly to the president of the company. 15 months of 70 hour weeks ensued.

    Hell it may have been, but the experience was everything I needed and has been the foundation of many of my current successes.

    Reply
    • Wow that’s a pretty amazing story! Sounds like perseverance paid off in the long run and not exactly like you hoped or expected. I have to ask, did becoming a leader so early on in your career set you up for greater success?

      Thanks so much for commenting!

      Reply
      • David-
        Becoming a division manager three months after joining the company was definitely a shock to the system, as I was new to the industry. However, at that time between Teaching and Student Affairs I had about 10 years of direct managerial experience so I didn’t have to struggle with finding my own managerial style, as well. You did work for me as an RA, right? My greatest hurdle was learning the requirements needed to successfully fulfill the testing I was supposed to be leading.

        I believe the key to my success at the CRO was finding the reliable mentor which I could trust and to whom I could float ideas about ways of working, testing strategies and most importantly how to navigate a volatile and convoluted internal political hierarchy.

        Reply
        • Kind of! I wasn’t sure if you were who I thought you were!

          I was there as you were on your way out and I was Mostly stuck in Ackerman Hall. I can definitely attest to working in Student Life/Affairs helping cultivate leadership qualities that you don’t realize you have until your called to use them.

          Reply

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