I graduated from college for the first time in 2003, with a BFA in Studio Art – concentrations in graphic design and photography. I had an “okay” portfolio, copious amounts of enthusiasm and no real idea of how to get a job. After I graduated, I was able to stay on at my on-campus internship as a temporary employee for about six months, after which I moved back home.
I spent my time at home doing random freelance design jobs and compiling a list of companies I might want to work for. At that point I’d decided I was most interested in information design, a subset of graphic design so obscure that it has produced the scant and entirely uninformative Wikipedia page you may have just clicked over to. I should have patted myself on the back for choosing not only a major in the most unmarketable field most people can imagine, but also, on top of that, for choosing a virtually unknown niche within that field. Nice work!
I’d managed to compile an acceptable list of companies doing work related to information design. I did all the things they tell you to do – send a resume with no typos, be sure to address your cover letter to a real person, showcase your best work in a little send-along portfolio booklet (sure, this should have been a portfolio website, but lucky for me it was 2003 and still acceptable to be resorting to paper, since as mentioned in my first post, I had no idea how to design a website).
I’d been living with my parents for a little over six months when I finally got a call from a wayfinding company in northern Michigan. I’d sent them my resume before I’d even moved home and had gotten the “We’re not currently hiring but we’ll file your resume [in our circular file]” response. Much to my shock, the resume had been filed in an actual file cabinet and retrieved, as promised.
I did, surely to my parents’ delight and relief, get that job. But as an art major, I was not sought out by employers. I was not recruited. My resume was not added to a vast database of resumes to be pored over by eager HR departments. My job search was conducted by me – an archaeological dig in which I was sent down rabbit hole after rabbit hole thanks to our good friend Google. I painstakingly dug up and dusted off companies that might be a good fit for me. I did the detective work of figuring out who to address that cover letter to. I recruited myself.
Fast forward to 2012. After finishing at the community college, I was accepted to my university’s engineering college to start summer semester. Summer semester is quiet, intimate. Classes that would normally hold one or two hundred students are taught in small groups of twenty or thirty. The engineering building is quiet, college-related email trickles in. It was a pleasant introduction, a calm before the storm.
Fall semester slammed into campus like a freight train. Or at least that is how it felt to those of us around during the summer. Congested hallways, computer labs packed the gills, the line at the coffee kiosk snaking around the lobby. I expected the crowds, the noise, the car vs. bike near misses. I’d worked on campus for four years. It was the same every fall.
What I didn’t expect was the recruiting. The engineering department has its very own career center, staffed by a group of full-time career counselors, resume reviewers, and corporate liaisons as well as a team of student staff. Emails are sent out at least once a week detailing a long list of corporate information sessions, presentations, mock interviews and walk-in resume reviews. A wide variety of student engineering organizations bring in alumni working all over the country at some of the biggest companies to talk to students and answer questions.
As an engineering student, you can’t escape the continuous presence of employers. Information about corporate Q&A sessions is taped to the backs of the restroom stall doors. Booths often appear in the hallways draped lovingly with tablecloths sporting corporate logos. The massive campus-wide job fair in October devotes an entire day of its two-day duration to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers. The engineering career center spends a month inundating students with information about how to prepare for this job fair.
As different as the engineering curriculum is from the studio art curriculum, what has struck me the most about jumping from the liberal arts side of education to the science and technology side has been the career focus. When I graduated from art school I got little more than a smile and a pat on the head that said, “Congratulations! Good luck getting a job with that degree!”
I won’t be finished with my degree for three years, I haven’t even taken enough classes to qualify for an engineering internship, let alone a job. Yet even I got swept into the frenzy this past fall leading up to the career fair. I started to panic. “I wouldn’t want to miss out on meeting with eager employers and landing my dream job, would I? I need to polish my resume…I need to buy a suit…I need to practice interview questions!” Surely I wouldn’t want to be the only person in the world not attending the career fair.
I didn’t attend the career fair. I came to my senses. I remembered to breathe. One step at a time. But when the time comes, it feels good to know that, even as we struggle against a terrible economy and read story after story bemoaning unemployed college graduates, at least I am part of a program whose graduates are still marketable enough that employers are tripping over each other to hire us.
That being said, its easy to get swept up in the excitement and end up like a kid in a candy shop with a stomach ache. I went back to school with a clear purpose – to contribute to making the world a better place, to work on green energy projects, mass transit infrastructure and sustainability. Among all the bright lights and shiny companies, I hope I can remain true to my values and retain a little bit of that archaeologist’s mindset, digging and brushing until I find the right fit for me.