The Job Search in 5 Stages

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A post-it note of my goal date to find an engineering job. It is marked as complete
The goal date I set to complete my job search.

When I was in school, there were few things I wanted more than to be done with doing homework and studying all-day everyday. I just wanted to start working and living “real life.” When I reached graduation, I felt my 23 years of life lead me to this one moment. I envisioned a world of endless possibility before me. Little did I know, there was one more challenge in the way: the job search. This challenge differed from the others I had faced before. None have taken me 5 months to overcome. None which has single-handedly brought me on so many emotional highs and lows. This is my experience navigating the new grad job search, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

1. Optimism for the Job Search

As I approached graduation, I felt a strong sense of excitement with an optimistic outlook for my future entering the work force. Plenty of people congratulated me for coming this far, saying how easy it must be me to find jobs. Reports citing high employer demand for new grads validated my optimistic outlook. The abundance of cool job postings filled me with excitement as I started my job search.

Eager to dive into the job market, I sent out applications with the expectation of getting interviews shortly after. Just like millions of other job seekers, I didn’t bother to put great effort into tailoring my resume. I figured that anyone looking at my resume would immediately see how great of a candidate I was and call me in for an interview.

After about a month of blindly sending out applications, I quickly recognized the lack of results. No big deal, I thought. I just have to start tailoring my resume. This approach seemed to work. An employer in New York wanted me for an interview at the same time my previous internship employer wanted me to interview for a job in Oregon. Great! I’m pretty much all set now. I just have to do the interview and watch the offers come in, I thought to myself. As I would later find out, however, this only marked the beginning of my job search journey.

2. Discouragement by the Job Search

After several interviews at various locations, I waited expectantly for emails/calls extending me job offers. A few weeks went by with no updates. Slowly, my optimism faded and discouragement grew in its place. The job in Oregon told me I didn’t get the job, but that they would forward my resume for another position. I thanked them, but at this point I didn’t expect anything to come from it. I knew I bombed the interview and just thought about all my shortcomings as an intern as reasons for not getting the job. The company in New York said they were going through some organizational changes and were restarting the hiring process from scratch. I would have to reapply, which meant I needed to win the online application lottery again. I reapplied, but abandoned hope for that job.

Some time later, a recruiter called me about an urgent job in San Diego that fit exactly with my qualifications. After our phone call, she told me I fit the job qualifications most closely of all the candidates. They wanted to figure out an onsite working interview for me within a week. The account manager even called me the following business day to work out logistics. Thinking my prayers have finally been answered, I excitedly arranged housing with some friends I had in San Diego. In the meantime, I waited for more updates. But, as you might have guessed, days of waiting turned into weeks. I called a few times over a few weeks asking for updates, but only got a dismissive “I’ll follow up on that,” or “haven’t heard anything yet.” I once again abandoned hope for getting this job.

At this point, all my optimism for finding any job at all had left me. I continued to send out applications, but only got the sound of silence and the occasional rejection letter in return.

3. Dread for the Job Search

About 2 months in and not hearing anything back, I started to dread the application process. I was filled with anxiety just thinking about spending hours on wading through dozens of irrelevant job postings, researching each company, tailoring my resume, copy-pasting said resume into application forms, and ticking the “I don’t have a disability” box only to hear nothing back. During this time, I spent a lot of time running from my problems. I passed time with distractions like YouTube, Netflix, and games. I think I was averaging 1 application a week.

This was probably the most miserable part of the job search experience. Besides the lack of income and uncertainty of my future, the lack of results hit my self-esteem pretty hard. I started doubting my self-worth and wondering if I was just a failure with an expensive piece of paper. If I wasn’t doing anything productive or generating value for anyone, what am I doing here? What was the point of all that training in school? It was one of the few times in my life where it seemed I had failed and society didn’t care.

4. Motivation for the Job Search

I’m not sure how or why, but after about a month of self-loathing, a thought popped into my head. For each job application that I didn’t hear back from, there must be someone who got that job. What qualities set the difference between someone like them and someone like me? Were they all college grads who also happened to be experts in lithography, electroplating, and MEMS testing methods with Six Sigma certification? Maybe, but unlikely (do you know anyone like that?). Are they some kind of superhuman with a genius level intelligence and a Tony Robbins-like charisma? Probably not. Just looking at alumni LinkedIn profiles showed me that I didn’t need any secret sauce to get a job. For any Christians out there, Matt. 7:7-11 was also pretty encouraging for me.

I recognized that getting a job was achievable, not something only an exclusive club of people had privileges to. With this surge of motivation, I started to seriously dedicate myself to researching effective job search approaches. I put deliberate focus into integrating those techniques in my job search. I also invested time in my own learning through reading books. These books and techniques helped me start getting responses and learn valuable career lessons. They also restored some of the optimism I had when starting my job search.

With my job search strategy in place, I also gave myself a deadline to find a job. If I didn’t have any leads at all 90 days from now, I will rethink my career and enroll in a coding bootcamp. If worst comes to worst, I have a backup plan in place (a suggestion from my girlfriend).

5. Surprise

Eventually, I heard back from one of the applications from 2 months ago that I had forgotten about. It was my application to Boeing as a Quality Engineer. They wanted to have a phone interview with me. With no other leads at this point, I knew these 45-60 minutes would be the difference between more months of groveling and finally escaping the unemployment pit.

Adopting a positive mindset, I began prepping for the interview using techniques I had fine tuned over the course of several unfruitful interviews. When it came time for the interview, I knew I was well-prepared to handle any questions they might have for me. What is your greatest weakness? Got it. How do you handle failure? Covered. How do you handle a difficult co-worker? Got a 5 minute STAR format story ready to go. The actual interview questions were of course different, but with enough prep-work, it was simple to adapt accordingly. They mainly asked about my experience working with data. I had plenty of that working with my research group at UC San Diego.

After the interview concluded, I thought it went just ok. Didn’t feel like I did amazing, but didn’t feel like I bombed it. With no official offer extended yet, I continued the job search grind as if nothing happened. Two weeks later, I asked if they had any updates about an onsite interview. To my surprise, they gave me an offer! That day marked the end of my 5 month long job search.


I will admit, I definitely got lucky in my job search. Nonetheless, I’m not sure if I would have gotten the job if I hadn’t yet gone through all these phases. The experience humbled me, but it also generated growth in me both personally and professionally. The moral of the story: seize every chance and advantage you can get.

I recognize that not everyone has this story. I have heard of some job seekers who have been stuck job hunting for up to a year or more. However, I wrote this post in hopes of encouraging anyone going through this. I didn’t want to just highlight my job search success, but I wanted to show the full, ugly story. If you’re reading this and feeling discouraged about the job search, remember this: the application that got me the job was sent in the middle of my discouragement phase. If you feel like this would encourage someone, feel free to share this post.

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Joe Wong

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