Monday, February 9, 2009

I feel like a third grader again

This is a quick one for reasons that should be obvious because of my slightly off-beat nature at the moment...

Here's a straight forward lesson that no one told me (I never thought I'd get the chance to say that. I feel like I've heard a bottomless pit's worth of advice on these subjects): the first few days of an internship or job make you feel inadequate. Wow that hurts. I am working as a journalist at a nationally distributed newspaper, that's intimidation factor number one. I am not a SMAD or journalism major, but an English major, that's intimidation factor number two. I'm in a new city, adapting to a new home life as well as trying to figure out a new job. Three. They seem to layer on top of each other, one reason begetting another, supplementing the next and drawing from another.

Silver lining? I've been told this is temporary and that everyone feels like they do not know what they're doing at first. WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?! I'm doing the best that I can to exceed expectations, but I feel like I lost my tool belt. I just have to stick it out until the confidence starts to seep back.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tang, Stars and Five Stories of Internationals

Today is the last Thursday of a student's life. I head up to DC on Sunday to move in so that I can begin my internship. This is a spikier bubble than the college one I'm used to: a limbo between four years of learning (not to mention the 13 years prior) and lifetime of application.

If I can rewind backwards for a moment, I want to toot a few horns. Horn #1: The JMU Internship Fair gave me a forum with a safety net where I could go "all in" and try to dazzle the representative of the only company there. Horn #2: The butterflies I get remind me of young days where kickball and cold, summer Tang ruled. If I use them as motivation for dazzlement, I couldn't go wrong. Horn #3: I got there just in time to speak with the representative, spewing about how passionate I am about their mission. The butterflies worked and I applied for the Spring internship that night. Two interviews followed over the course of two weeks and the same guy who I met before offered me the position.

Monday I begin orientation that will be the first step in the direction of helping the stars and stripes. I'm going to live in an independent dormitory filled with international graduate students and interns. The five story International Student House and the journalism internship are going to resonate through my diary and this blog (sorry, the juicy stuff may stay in my diary) and I can hardly wait for the first sleep-deprived day. 

What do you call the Thursday before you move into a very exciting limbo? It is a bit of a double middle ground. To top it off, I should eat boiled chicken tonight to complete the circuit. I'll call it Transition Day.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dun nah daaah. Dun nah naaaaaah...

I put the "Rocky" boxing ballad on in the background so I could write to its crescendo. My typing isn't as fast as its inspiring progressions, but that's the theme I'm going with, here.

I mentioned my disappointing summer of nothingness that was preceded by years of preparation and expectation-building. I searched, I applied, I floundered.

It took me most of the summer to realize that I had applied for only paid internships, none of which involved topics I was passionate about. My class lexicon and club interests did not show the people who interviewed me that I was their best applicant. I wasn't a failure, I was a settler.

Lifeguarding at a new workplace that I really loved taught me what a difference attitude makes because I was surrounded by great personalities that summer. No Negative Nancys or Debbie Downers in the bunch. This was refreshing and I learned that I would not settle for anything less than this appreciation of any workplace.

I geared up for senior year, having attended a life-enhancing student seminar and having read and written my brains out, I prepared a list of To Dos.
1) Club joining. A senior who finally realized the value of being around like-interested peers, way to catch on.
2) English department internship. Unpaid, but I'd have the chance to work on something in a capacity that I already know I love. Plus, I'd be close enough to a professor to have the grounds to ask for a reference.
3) Job fairs and taking advantage of JMU's career center. Corny as corn puffs (see what I did there? snort snort) now, but this step was very true.

Check, check, check. The first two helped me with the third.

One company interested me in the Fall Internship Fair line up out of the very long list. Keep the math away from me. I like words. My Internship Fair story will play out in my next post. Maybe consider the first two steps in these fresh weeks of the semester.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mom Knows Best

My mother has been saying the same things to me about the job market for years. Those suggestions often buzz around like little white noise-making bees, sorry Mom. I thought that I'd heard them enough and I was sick of constantly getting advice about the SAME thing. Rude, I know. The advice? NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK.  A lot of this world is about who you know and who they know.

From where did my change of attitude come?  I have been fortunate enough to get an internship through other means, through complete strangers. But I am not so naive to forget that the references that I provided for them, that the JMU CAP internship fair where I first met my employer, and that the people that I will meet in this spring semester internship will probably be helpful for my future are forms of networking. 

After apologizing like the know-it-all teenager that I acted like, she had another suggestion. This time I was poised and ready with my pen. This suggestion I pass on to you: make a list of every possible networking tool you have in your belt, in your parents' belts or in your friends' belts. Time consuming it may be, but if you had a lethal list of names, occupations and contact details for anyone that you may need for your future....the consequences could be Star Quality. People want to help you, especially if it is in their field. 

If your dad has a friend from high school who runs his own business, shooting him or her an email asking for advice would most likely be flattering. Then you could sneak in a little about yourself and your qualifications. This friend kick starts a whole new networking channel because they may know someone or some company ideal for your skills.

Another awful cliche that I have found to be right, AGAIN, (frustrating as you-know-what): your odds go up as soon as you actually submit the application. There's no risk in contacting someone through this shiny, grown-up networking list of yours. Just give it a try. Eventually you can be the receiver of these inquiries and I guarantee you'll feel the same joy in helping an up-and-comer get to where they want to be.

Former JMU President, Ron Carrier, has a philosophy suspiciously identical to this (my mom is a JMU grad and he was president during her time here). He says that one of the only differences between Harvard and JMU is the networking potential. Once you enroll, it's safe to say that most schools are equally difficult. Certain students within a few hours of here may SWEAR this is false, but we know the truth.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Hunting Season

After pre-exam week paper scrambles, exams when pesky sleep did not interrupt a full week of studying and a few weeks of detox, I suppose it's blogging time again.

It's also hunting season. Step up to the fresh smell of summer internship postings, people, because the pickin's good.

Last time I wrote I whined about feeling lost as an English major in the past.  Google isn't exactly helpful in this case ("English major internship" searches bring up internships with "major" corporations or "Major Payne" with "English" subtitles on used DVDs, only $3.99! That's not exactly what we're looking for.)

The other day I took in a big whiff of the free time and internship itch and checked out JMU's Career and Academic Planning site again. Many employers hiring interns and entry level job seekers look for business majors, or so it seems. However, I was pleased to find MANY opportunities teaching English abroad, writing positions, and even a campaign internship position.

This was the first time I gave the teaching abroad jobs a fair read.  One offers housing, travel expenses, less than 40 hours per week of work and between $3000 and $5000 per month! That money goes straight to the bank because they are already paying for your bed.  If you're not keen on the idea of cubicle-sitting and you want an internationally stimulating paycheck, this seems pretty ideal.

There's a nasty pattern among the other internships posted around the web.  The math, science and business summer interns have a much better chance of getting paid for their experiences. Those interested in more arts-related and humanities work will likely get to know the food service industry well.  Without the never-give-up drive to interview your heart out for those highly coveted, paid positions, our first few tries "out there" may be rewarded with smiles alone. 

I know I'm still an idealist when I can't help but think, "Oh, but Self, you'll look back on this as 'Where It ALL Began.' Who needs steady meals anyway?"

I'm going to try the never-give-up tactic a few more times, especially in this current internship deluge happening on companies' career sites. This is the price I pay, doing what I love.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Queen of the Digital Playground?

Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me. Guess I'll go eat worms.

First is was a pity party nursery rhyme. Last summer it was my anthem.

As I mentioned, I was a touch click-happy ... am  a little click-happy, and have been since freshman year.  I am a marathon job searcher, compelled to get ahead and get my foot in whichever door hid the magical real world behind it.

So the time had come. Most internship positions require junior or senior status and last summer was the gap between the two.  I'd applied to what felt like a million internships online (it turned out to be about fifty applications "penned" through these online drop boxes -- more on these to come).  I was well qualified, I'd taken very few courses below a 300-level since first semester of my sophomore year and I am a fast learner.

To my delight, I got to the interview stage with a golf product marketing company, the Federal Reserve's human resources department and (slapstick irony), a site that connects hourly jobs to job seekers.

The golf marketing company internship would have burned me from the inside. I'd spent the summer before my junior year as a pro shop manager at a golf course. Translation into Elizabeth: I wasted away at a place where "boys will be boys" transformed into full-fledged chauvinism (I was an anthropologist half of the time, observing the natives) as an independent woman who would lose her well-paid job if she said what she really thought about their overcompensating arrogance.  Reliving this with the added pleasure of the Office Kinko's 10k sprint could never be the end to my means.

After they offered me the job, I said no to something for the first time in my life.

I did not get the Federal Reserve job because I didn't have enough web experience. The copy writing job at snagajob would have been ideal, but I did not "have enough web experience."

Up the new media river without a digital paddle, looking back at the job that involved only paper and copier machines (and golf--nope), I wish I could have seen my face.

But John Donne, Aldous Huxley, Mary Shelley: I survive so well in their world. Here, there is more I need to teach myself. It was back to the playground for me.

Do you smell your new books when you get them? Prefer your novels in paper form? Looking for a solution because you're sharing this paddle-less canoe?  The only solution I can articulate is stubbornness. My stubbornness pushes me to continue to do what I love and educate myself when I can with those other things "they" require.  

I refuse to settle because I want to respect myself. If that means I have to work harder to get the jobs I want, bring on the big kid bullies. Sticks and stones, my friends.

Since the summer of "you are headed to Nowheresville next May," I have jumped at every opportunity to hone skills and beef up my resumé.   It has worked and it is the only path I can recommend.  

So there. Nee-ner-nee-ner-neeeeee-nerrrrrrr.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Academic Playground Bullies

Rounding the curve on the college track -- it's first semester, senior year, for me.  I don't know how normal this is, but I've been looking for internships, for jobs, through my-personality-equals-this-career tests since freshman  year. My eyes hurt.

Why the hang-ten, fire throwing, sword swallowing web surfing? The answer is one most of you already know: English major. 

Six months from now I'll switch my tassel to the other side, shake hands with important administrators, and hold a degree in my hand, not a set career path.  I'm certain I'm not alone in this scenario:
Stranger: What's your major?
Me, waiting for the Face: English, I'm an English major.
Stranger, making the Face coupled with an octave increase in voice pitch: OH, Cool.

If I had a dollar for every time that conversation was directly followed by an assumption that I plan to be a teacher, then I could probably afford to be a teacher, with full pockets.

For a while there, I indulged my two passions, writing/literature and art, as a double major. This answer warranted Faces ever more distorted.

The Crown Mary of honest introductions:
Stranger: So what are you studying?
Me: English and Art.
Stranger: *snort and laugh* Wow, so how do your parents feel about you picking two majors basically called, "how not to get a job after graduation?"

Well English majors, whether or not you're already secure in this fact, as years of the academic pity parties may have trained you, we are standing in some very fancy, gold-spurred, celebrity-quality boots. I gathered a list of known famous English majors that is sure to give you plenty of ammunition the next time you bump into the Face makers out there.

A. Bartlett Giamatti (President, Yale University)
Alan Alda
Arther Miller
Barbara Walters
Bob Woodward (journalist, Watergate)
Carol Browner (EPA Director)
Chevy Chase
Chris Isaak
Chrisopher Reeve
Clarence Thomas (Supreme Court Justice)
Conan O'Brien
Dave Barry
Diane Sawyer
Don Henley
Edward Burns
Emma Thompson
Grant Tinker
Harold Varmus (Nobel Laureate in Medicine)
Harrison Ford
Heather Graham
Herb Scannell (President, Nickolodeon, MTV networks)
James Cameron
Joan Cusack
Jodie Foster
Joe Paterno (football coach, Penn State)
Johnny Carson
Joy Behar
Julia Stiles
Kathryn Fuller
Laura Bush
Linda Bloodworth (TV writer/producer)
Mario Cuomo (Governor of NY)
Martin Scorcese 
Matt Damon
Michael Eisner (Disney CEO)
Paul Newman
Paul Simon
Reese Witherspoon
Renee Zellweger
Sally Ride (astronaut)
Stephen Spielberg
Steven King
Tom Clancy
Toni Morrison
Vin Diesel

Looking at this list feels like a hug from Vin Diesel, but it also gives me a few ideas. Who says we can't direct movies, write graphic novels or exit the atmosphere.

Those all nighters you pulled to finish your 10th novel of the week and the all nighter a few days later to write the paper on it have given you more than purple eye bags and a caffeine addiction. Six months from now, I'm going to be holding several degrees in my hands, one for every potential direction in which my skill set can point me. 


Whether you're getting a head start on the internship hunt or you're starting to see the shadow from the clouds that May brings to us seniors, welcome to the CAP blog! My name is Elizabeth, a senior English major here to take a break from sonnets and Postcolonial paradoxes to write about something Shakespeare didn't exactly worry about: the job market.

I have been through the rough times of internship-looking where I felt like I was standing in the middle of a shame circle. And there were echos. I also had the relapse time where clown college jokes started to sting.

Would my writing this blog make sense if I did not also have some success? Well, at this point, I have more road ahead of me than behind and I can plot a little of it here. Let's not forget the cliche about our generation and technology: if you have a gmail account, I welcome anyone with a story to share a little about their internship/co-op/job horrors and fantasies!