Swimming in a Sea of “No”: New York City Job Hunting
New York is like an Ocean . . . it’s big and it’s filled with creatures of different shapes, colors, and sizes. Like a large wave, New York is forceful and can knock you on your ass when you least expect it. New York is like an Ocean because it’s beautiful and a place where dreamers flock. During my three weeks in New York, I’ve come to realize the city is many things, but mostly it’s like an ocean.
Moving to New York City
Discovering this analogy has helped me to understand why I so badly wanted to come to New York, I’ve always gone to the ocean for peace and inspiration. And I’ve never felt more at ease in a city than New York. I feel like I’m finally home. As Judith Thurman once said, “Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.”
I’m still lost and overwhelmed by the city, it’s hard not to be, but for the first time in my life I feel like I’ve found the place where I belong. And while my pores are oozing with inspiration and I want to spend all of my time wandering the city, writing what I see, there’s a truth to my New York reality – I need a job.
Job Hunting in New York City
That’s not to say writing isn’t a job, believe me, it is. In fact, writing is the best job I ever had. Actually, writing isn’t just a job, but my career. Unfortunately, the writing world doesn’t work quite like that. I can send out my resume and writing samples to every major magazine and newspaper in New York, but it’s just going to get thrown into a large stack with all the other applicants.
I’m okay with that. Over the past 6 months, rejection and I have bonded . . . like really bonded. We’re kind of on B.F.F. level. As a writer, especially, a writer starting out, “No” is a word you’re going to be told on a regular basis. You either learn to deal with it, or you change professions.
Coping with Professional Rejection
I once read a magazine article where Matt Damon was being interviewed. I can’t remember the name of the publication or when the interview was conducted, it was many years ago, I’ve tried googling it, but have never again found it. However, the context of that interview has always stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing here, but you’ll get the idea. The interviewer asked Mr. Damon what he would say if a friend approached him and asked if they should go into acting? The response he gave was a simple “No.” Then, he elaborated. His reason for the “No” was because if his friend can’t handle hearing “No” from him, they’ll never survive in the industry because “No” and every other form of rejection is all you’re going to get for a long time – possibly forever. But if you can handle the “No’s” you might eventually get that one “Yes” and all you need is one.
That interview always stuck with me because it applies to most career fields, but especially the creative arts. So, every time I get a flat out “No”, or the irritating, but polite rejection letter, or the worst – the screaming silence of no response, I take deep breaths and work through it. The first couple of rejections really stung like a jelly fish, but then, after they became somewhat of a daily routine, I brushed the rejections off and reminded myself that this rejection only means I’m getting closer to my “Yes.”
By the time I arrived in New York, I’d learned to handle rejection, or at least I’d gotten better with it. And let me just say, I didn’t move to New York with the expectation that as soon as I arrived my phone would start ringing and I’d answer it and it’d be Rolling Stone saying, “Thank God you’re here; we’ve been waiting for you.” I knew it wasn’t going to happen like that. In fact, I knew it was unlikely I’d get any writing job.
Understanding New York City
Here’s the thing I often have to remind myself about New York – I’m not the only person who moved to New York to become a writer. In fact, it’s a cliché. There’s nothing original about it. And some of the people I’m “competing” with for writing positions have far more relevant publications, fancier degrees, and possibly better connections. Their accomplishments don’t scare me, though; I’m well aware what I’m capable of and I have no doubt that I’ll eventually “make it.” It may take many years, but someday I’ll get my “Yes.”
With all of that said, New York isn’t cheap and I’ve got bills to pay. This brings me back to needing a job. I came to New York with a ready-to-work mentality. I didn’t care what kind of day job I got, as long as it would allow me to stay in New York. I’m not too proud to sweep streets if need be. In fact, I can see the potential stories that could come out of New York street sweeping.
When I got to New York I started applying for everything. I applied to jobs where I was qualified, under qualified, and overqualified. Then, I held my cell phone in my hand ready for it to start ringing, but all I got was screaming silence.
I didn’t let this phase me, though; the next day when the new job postings were listed I continued applying. My phone remained silent. This continued for several days, but I didn’t get discouraged. When I finally got a callback, I was told that my resume didn’t fit New York standards and it needed to be completely restructured. I was surprised because I’d met with a career counselor in grad school and we’d updated my resume then.
Get Your Resume New York Ready
However, I took the advice and I updated my resume so it fit New York standards.Once my resume was updated and I wrote a new cover letter (sometimes multiple cover letters a day), phone calls and emails slowly started moving in like an evening tide. Of course, none of the positions were for my dream job, but they all provided a steady income; and right now, that’s what matters most. Of course, I would find the occasional posting that really interested me and dare I say . . . excited me. No job other than writing has ever excited me – well, maybe lifeguarding, but that’s because I’m a water junkie.
If it Sparks Your Interest – Apply!
I applied for these postings that really sparked my interest, without expecting a callback, but just to say I tried. I came across one posting that was highly unique. Just the wordage of the posting struck me. Instead of requesting a cover letter with a resume the posting requested the applicant answer a series of questions. I was intimidated by the post. I clicked off of it because I was unsure of how to respond, but as the minutes passed I couldn’t stop thinking about the odd questions. Finally, I decided to try. Worst case scenario . . . I get no response (like 95% of my other applications).
In the meantime, I had a few interviews scheduled. None were positions that particularly tickled my fancy, but they offered steady income. One more thing to mention – in New York you don’t meet with the actual employer right off for many positions; instead, you go through a staffing company hired to screen applicants. So, when you go into the interviews you know very little about the position. In fact, all you know is what you read on the original posting.
During one interview, I learned that the position I was interviewing for was at least somewhat in the same industry of where I wanted to be. I became enthusiastic about the position, just because the other interviews were for jobs in a whole other ballpark. I felt good about the interview; it had been my best yet. And at least it was in a field that somewhat interested me. (I was mentally clawing for all of the positives I could gather.)
The lady who screened me was a darling. She was enamored by my bravery to pack up and move to New York with no family, friends, or job. I could tell she was rooting for me. However, before the interview ended she warned me that the employer was looking for someone with at least 5 years’ experience in that field, but maybe, just maybe, because of my two degrees and unique work history they might give me a shot.
The next day she called and said the employer had passed on even a phone interview due to my lack of experience. I thanked the lady for all of her help and she asked me to please stay in touch. When I ended the call, I lost it.
Now, remember I’d been dealing with rejection on a daily basis for some time . . . and that rejection was related to my passion, my love, writing. This particular rejection was for a job that I really didn’t care about, but for some reason, I was crumbling faster than a demolished building.
It’s Ok to Cry
I walked into the bedroom and buried myself beneath our fluffy, white down comforter. Below the cover, I began to cry. I cried big, wet, heavy drops of self-pity. I quickly found myself drowning in them.
For the first time, I was questioning my decision of obtaining a Master’s Degree. It suddenly felt useless. Employers didn’t care about degrees, they were concerned with experience. I’d voluntarily taken myself out of the workforce for over a year in order to further pursue my education. And now, it felt like a waste of time.
This is completely unlike me. I pride myself on my education. I’m proud that I granted myself a year to study a subject I love. But now, I was losing that pride. Every rejection I’d received – ever – came at me like a rushing wave; there were so many, and they were hitting with such force that I was unable to catch my breath.
I didn’t want to give up. I didn’t want to be lying in bed crying because I’d been rejected from a job I didn’t really care about, but I felt like I’d lost all control. A flood of tears had hijacked my body and was pulling me away like a strong current.
I continued crying. I kept thinking of my many rejections and questioning whether I’d misread all of the signs leading me to New York. I questioned my talents and my passions, along with my education.
Remember You Already Made it to NYC
Then, I took a deep breath, trying to regain some fight. I thought about the rush of excitement I feel every time we’re on the subway and cross the Brooklyn Bridge and I’m gifted with that first glimpse of Manhattan’s beautiful skyline resting on the sparkling waters. The truth is – I’m in love with this city – like really in love. I can read a Pablo Neruda poem and envision New York as I’m reading it. I can’t imagine ever wanting to leave or falling out of love with New York. I’ll go so far as to quote Jerry Maguire and say to New York, “You complete me.” No other city or place has ever made me feel more alive. I’m in love with New York for more than just its beauty; I love it for the little things like the musicians who play at the subway stops; the fast movement that never seems to slow; the surreal feel of Times Square at 5 A.M; and of course, the lights, I’m so in love with the lights. I even love New York despite its flaws . . . like its two NFL Teams.
As I laid there thinking of all the things I love about this wild and vibrant city, I asked myself: “Am I really ready to give up on something that I’m in love with?”
That’s when it hit me: New York is like an Ocean, it’s big and strong and when you enter it you know there’s a chance you might not survive, but that fear doesn’t keep you from entering. Once you’re in the water and the waves start rushing you and the current pulls at your body, you have a decision – you can sink or you can swim – the choice is yours.
I wasn’t going to sink; I’m far too strong of a swimmer to let the water defeat me. With that in mind, I escaped the comforter and crawled out of the bed.
“It’s going to be alright,” I thought. “I can do this, I’ve just got to keep my faith and stay positive.”
Keep Your Faith
It wasn’t 20 minutes later when the opening riff of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” escaped the speaker of my phone. It was a New York number. I answered and listened as the woman on the other line excitedly explained who she was. It was the job that had gotten me excited, like really excited. Better than that, she seemed eager to speak with me. She explained that she’d loved my responses to the questions and that she wanted to set up an interview for the following week.
It wasn’t Rolling Stone, I would’ve passed out had it been. But it was a callback.
Suddenly, I knew that yes, everything was going to be alright. New York is never going to be easy, I knew that coming in, but nothing that’s worth it is ever easy. But someone or something is watching over me and guiding me on this adventure. And as long as I continue to fight, my adventure will continue. You just have to make the choice when you enter the ocean that is New York – sink or swim?
I’m going to keep swimming.
Best of luck on your job hunting!?
What a great story, you can do it, I know you can, your stories get my attention, and make me feel, sad and glad, keep writing, don’t give up, either of you