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Wanted: An Entry-level Job That Doesn’t Suck!

Life Hacks

Everyone once in a while, I offer to help other people be awesome. I’m not qualified at “Being Awesome” by any authority, but people seem to like my brand of advice. So I continue to offer it. This is a post that was adapted from one of these exchanges.

The question wasWhat’s your advice for landing a really cool job that you enjoy right out of college? Not just getting a job that you take because you need to have a job and end up despising.

Oh, man. Time and time again I see these college-minded students go to these crap-tacular job fairs, all vying for the same entry-level QA and testing gigs in their white-collar, paisley-pattern ties. These kids were all destined to a life of Office Space-like professional routine. Good-enough jobs are abundant and easily found. Right now, thousands of people in your local market are casually throwing around their resumes to whomever will accept it. No thought is being put into who is reading your information or how it’s being presented. Anyone who tells me they can’t find work or are not qualified to find work (ESPECIALLY in our “difficult” economy) is really missing an opportunity.

{tl;dr} I’m not trying to sell snake oil here. Finding a job that is amazing to go to every day doesn’t just fall in your lap. Bottom line (for those too busy to read), you won’t get something for nothing. You have to know what you’re going after, you have to be in the right place at the right time, and you have to know the right skills as well as the right people to get the job. If you’re missing any of these checkmarks, consider them points against you. You’ll need to make yourself stand out from the crowd and figure out what sort of awesome job you should be looking for. Trying out these suggestions will help you correct some of those issues and maybe you’ll find yourself in a few serendipitous situations. {/tl;dr}

You probably don’t know what you want

If you stuck to the degree description and course listing, then you’re just like everyone else coming out of college. Same basic skills, same set of coursework, and (these days) probably a similar list of extra-curricular activities. Imaging you’re a job recruiter for just a few minutes, look at your peers in your graduating class. Can you point out the ones that are going to be successful? If not, you’ve either attended a money-for-a-degree college or you’re blind to success. In both situations, you have a lot of work to do to meet the demands in a competitive market (no matter the “bubble” or “depression” which may/may-not exist). To be successful, it takes someone who can recognize what success looks like (otherwise, how else are you going to know what you’re trying to achieve?). Success is not a strict definition, so it’s up to you to determine what you’re looking for.

A great way to figure out what you’re looking for professionally might be with an internship. I know this word scares many people into thinking “I have to slave away doing gopher work for pennies.” Sometimes, you may not have the luxury of choice, but often there are positions which will train you on the job as well as give you reasonable pay for your time. My college had a work-study program arranged with the local businesses which would not only compensate you with a paycheck, but will count as credits toward your degree. This is an easy way to try small jobs on a semester-by-semester basis to get your feet wet and see what you really like. I tend to be pessimistic toward the “career offices” at most universities, but it never hurts to talk to a few people and get a feel for the quality of work they offer. And don’t be concerned about applying for a job you’re not sure you can do. Your employer will be aware of your skill level and won’t hire you on unless they know they can spend the time training on the job.

It’s probably not where you think

Believe it or not, really interesting jobs are available all over the place these days (and are more likely than not in some other city). Consider relocating. Consider it very seriously. It’s not reasonable for everyone, but the life experiences to be had are worth the effort now and it will be the easiest opportunity you’ll ever have to do so. (I’ll be 30 soon, with a wife and 2 kids and have been trying to move for almost 5 years without ever finding the perfect opportunity. (PS: There is no such thing as a perfect opportunity.))

To start feeling out if another city is a good fit for you, start looking for localized mailing lists which digest events that you (and those coming with you) will enjoy. As a techie, you’d be remiss if you didn’t signup for Startup Digest. If there’s a city that Startup Digest lists, you’re probably going in the right direction as someone in the web/tech field. They list regular upcoming meetings and events for that city (as well as a few other mailing lists suitable for the startup industry). Plus, this costs nothing more than maybe a few minutes of unsubscribing if/when you decide that city isn’t right for you.

When you start getting a good feeling about a city, it’s not a bad idea to go check it out over a long weekend. I realize that the college crowd might not have a few hundred dollars sitting around to do a trip like this, but often it will never cost this much. A quick check on a site like AirBnb and Kayak or Southwest Airlines will usually have your travel and room squared away for as little as $200 total. Once you’re there, try planning your stay to align with events that have a high concentration of people in your ideal industry. People interested in checking out the startup scene might look for a Startup Weekend event. Finance-minded folks might look for a VC meetup in the city.

Even if you don’t find a high-profile event in the city, don’t write it off completely. Sometimes the city has an underground network of key individuals which keep the local industry busy and moving. It doesn’t hurt to spend some time finding and learning about the key individuals in a new area. These people are likely to be the hustlers and will know everything about what’s happening in their area. Find these people and you’ll probably save a LOT of time wondering around if you’re not sure where to look.

You’re probably not what they’re looking for

The ocean is HUGE! This means lots of fish to look at. (You’re the fish in this analogy.) So it’s up to you to make them interested. Do things the are interesting and outside the norm. This is not limited to just skill sets…I’m talking about your personality and mannerisms, too! I’m talking about a firm handshake (women, you’re not exempt from this), natural-yet-strong eye contact, expressive smile… find a characteristic about yourself that makes you shine and polish the hell out of it. (Ask your friends and colleagues what they like best about you to get ideas.) These things may not land you a job, but they will be intriguing to your potential employers and keep you stuck in their mind as they continue the interview process.

As the job seeker sending your resume via email, you have extra work because your uniqueness comes down to a 55-character subject line (the length most mail programs will reveal on average), an expressive and intelligent introduction, and a compelling resume. Put a reasonable amount of thought into what skills and interests will pique your future-employer’s interest. And practice on jobs you don’t care about in the meantime. Example: I wrote an email to a job posting that I wouldn’t mind not getting. (Note: This doesn’t mean do a half-asked job. You NEVER know where these emails will end up and should still represent you when you’re not there to represent yourself.)


Mike Greenberg wants to join the crusade as your next Software Engineer!

Dear Pervayors of Product X (and gainful employment):

My name is Mike Greenberg. I happened across your request for a sexy, humorous and talented software engineer to join your ranks. (Link to job posting.) Unfortunately, I only satisfy two of these requirements, but hope you would consider this email as a gesture of good-will that I will be the best damn software engineer I know how to be regardless of my shortcomings!

A little about me… I’m a Pisces and somewhat fanatical of process, hacking (of all sorts) and attention to detail. I take pride in my work (especially when I enjoy what I’m working on) and know how to rise to the occasion when it hits the fan. I’m extremely creative and have privately studied a number of unrelated and interesting subject-matter like design, studio art, analog film development, piano, robotics, life-process/self improvement, martial arts, yoga, mountain biking, and racquetball. As a result of mentally wondering around over the past 29 years, I’ve since endeavored to become a modern renaissance man and want to carpe diem with the best of them.

On top of all of this, and likely most interesting to you, I can program computers to do fun things. And I’m hoping that you’re the sort of company who would like the sort of fun things I program them to do. Of relevance to your job description, I started a hosting company fresh out of high school. I understand at a deep fundamental level how the internet works. From OSI to API, Al Gore to IPv6 (j/k about Al Gore). If you’re still reading and my casual (yet persuasive) banter has not caused any furrowing of brows, please take a quick glance at my resume at http://careers.stackoverflow.com/mikegreenberg/. Therein, I mention a few other neat things I’ve worked on which I haven’t mentioned above. I greatly appreciate your time and effort reading forward. Looking forward to hearing from you!

With great sincerity,
Mike Greenberg

While this email seems a little too casual, I did a lot of research into the office culture (beer fridays, sombrero day, casual atmosphere) and didn’t feel like it would be too over the top. Worst case scenario, we chalk this up to experience and maybe rethink our actions when it really comes to getting that important gig. But doing things like this regularly enough and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised with the results. (PS: No. They haven’t responded…yet.)

You’re probably talking to the wrong people

When people tell you, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” there’s a lot of truth to that statement. Find ways to improve yourself and network with influential people around your community. (Especially if you intend to stick around.) I live in South Florida and there’s not a huge tech community here. So instead of attempting to get out and meet everyone possible (I’m not a networking, hustler-type guy) I decided to get everyone to come to ME. So I spend an aggregate day or so preparing an event called Hack and Tell (http://hackandtell.org) that gets great turnout, puts me in front of very interesting people and has done more for me than any other professional endeavor has to date! You are seen as a person who can get shit done without financial incentive (a huge signal to some people), know how to organize and pay attention to detail, and is professional experience no matter which way you slice it.

If you’re not the sort of person who has time or skills to organize a great event, you can easily find other nearby events to start attending. If you really like what they’re doing, offer to help. Even if you aren’t the social butterfly, people who see you involved and active in organizing something will typically approach you to strike up conversation with the “important person” in the room. Who cares if you think you’re important… as long as THEY do. Don’t downplay your effort when they compliment your work/involvement. If you’re not on a schedule, drop everything you’re doing to talk to them. No matter who it is. It’s easy to bury yourself in your work, but these brief exchanges will improve your social graces (which eventually means interviewing skills). If you don’t like the direction of the conversation, practice moving it to more interesting subject matter. Or work on how to segue from one person to the next.


Just like finding the perfect soulmate, or the perfect dish, etc. it takes many dissappointments before you find what you’re looking for. While I’m not saying that you have to settle for a bottom-feeder job just to “learn the ropes”, you should be prepared to accept a little disappointment when going out there. Make each experience count and try to understand what about that experience (or job) you liked and didn’t like. Shape your expectations from your experience and make sure your situation continues to improve through each professional transition. Further, there are many more things you can do, but this is a great start. There are sites like Zen Habits and Brazen Careerist which have great gems of advice. You don’t have to use these, but find a blog or resource with a voice you trust. Find a mentor or advisor. Someone you can bounce ideas off of when you’re unsure of how to move forward.

Remember that an extra-ordinary job is for extra-ordinary people. So be what you want!

Mike is a software engineer, budding entrepreneur and writes outros like these to get you to say hi to him on Twitter as @mikegreenberg. He also hopes you’ll call him on his bullshit.