Written by Nathan Mattise
Back in mid-June I dug out an April e-mail I sent to some close friends that offered what I thought was great perspective into the emotional struggle of graduating from college. Three months later I never thought I’d be offerring up more inbox novellas. This time around the subject matter has shifted slightly. Referring again to that April e-mail, my focus is now on question 1-of-3 rather than 3-of-3.
“Do you have a job?”
Nope. I don’t. This again is an actual e-mail serving as somewhat of a lost diary entry, providing a brief glimpse into the mind of an individual within a specific time and place.
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Nate Mattise <email@example.com>
Date: Aug 15, 2008 11:46 PM
Subject: This has been a long time coming… (and sorry this will be a novella)
(Nope, no name here either) my dear man,
I’m sorry I’ve been so awful at keeping in touch. It amazes me how busy I manage to be day-to-day despite being my life being so stagnant in general (I’ll say it right up front: I still haven’t gotten the first real job yet, I’m still at home with the parents, my social life now suffers from fall semesters and others’ real jobs starting, etc.). How is everything with you? (More polite small talk specific to his/her life. You can learn how to genuinely care about other people in a courteous manner here).
As far as my life, if we’re being honest, the job search is starting to wear me down. My sister just went back to college this weekend and my 3-month gym membership expired yesterday. I never expected to see either of those instances happen, they were almost worst-case scenario landmarks in my mind back in May. It’s not as if I haven’t been trying, am not qualified enough or had no success thus far either. I’ve applied to well over 100 jobs between magazines, newspapers, publishing companies, non-profits and colleges (mostly PR or Res Life work for the later) and now I probably spend an hour each day at least (searching, following up, networking, etc.). I’ve been interviewed by Conde Nast, BusinessWeek, Highlights for Children, published by Esquire and had people from Rodale contacting me. All of the people I network or interview with give me good feedback on my resume, cover letter, clips and experience as well. When I think about all of those positives, I honestly think every week that this could be the one where I get the offer that fits me just right.
Most companies don’t even send you an e-mail or letter to let you know you’re rejected, it takes several follow-up e-mails and calls to get that information. Publications that seem way less prestigious or intense than ones I’ve interviewed with don’t give me the time of day. I understand not being good enough to work at GQ right out of college, but it’s e-mails like the one I forwarded you below that perplex me. If certain companies are too high above me but others treat me like I’m too high above them – where exactly do I fit in? I know it’s a practice that won’t help me at all going forward, but I may be slowly losing confidence in my abilities.
I’ve begun picking up on some things that I think are vital in this process and I’ll share them quickly. First off, proximity matters a lot. If you happen to live near good publications you have a better chance of getting in for an interview. There’s less time to schedule a meeting, if you’re hired relocation is easier and theoretically you’re more familiar with their product, target audience and the items they cover. Second, networking is key. Everyone who responds to an e-mail or a call from me instantly becomes someone I keep in touch with (whether it’s following up on applications or just updating a nice individual about how my search is going). These people keep me sane by giving me some confidence and offering perspective beyond my years, not to mention sometimes they’ll forward opportunities my way. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this is how I end up with a job. Finally, you have to continually tinker with your application materials. Ask for feedback and work it into your resume, cover letter, clips, etc. Especially if applying to a company where you have no network, you have no chance if you don’t stand out on paper (or digitally). So yes, my cover letter isn’t straightforward, I submit my Esquire story or blog samples among regular clips and my resume is altered slightly for each individual job.
For now I’m still playing the waiting game. I think that’s the part that hurts the most, that even when a company may want to bring you in for the interview process the turnaround from application to contact can be slow. It can take weeks and those days without hearing are very discouraging – particularly when they’re coupled with living under your mother’s roof (and being constantly badgered for various reasons), working a mundane job (Dick’s Sporting Goods, though I spent some time with the Obama campaign and coaching JV soccer) and sitting around contemplating whether distance really has started affecting those friendships you had in college. One of the lone positives out of the whole situation is… time for writing. I started updating my blog again and the Esquire thing inspired me to keep at it with the short stories. I’m planning on submitting one to this NYT blog that focuses on love in the next few weeks, I’ll keep you posted.
Until then, I’m sure this is more than you’ve asked for. Please drop me a novella of your own sometime soon and let me know how life is with you (and I can respond with a less job-oriented mailing where I swoon about missing Albuquerque and then brag about going to see Bloc Party in three weeks). I hope all is well in your life and perhaps the next time you get something this substantial from me my e-mail signature will be a bit more exciting.
On Wed, Aug 13, 2008 at 6:46 PM, <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
I apologize for the delay in responding to you. It was a pleasure meeting you. Thank you for considering (OUR COMPANY) and for taking the time to visit with us and discuss the opportunity to join our staff. Thanks, too, for your follow up email, below.
Our decision was not an easy one, but we selected a candidate whom we believe best suits the position. You were an excellent candidate and I believe you will continue to be an excellent candidate until you and a prospective employer decide that you have a fit that works for both of you. Or until you decide to make it on your own-a possibility that is quite real, in your case.
Your inquiry about your candidacy is not unorthodox, insofar as it is not unconventional; but it is out of the norm, if you will allow me the subtle difference in meaning. I’ve known quite a few people who’ve made such an inquiry and, among them, individuals who have had very successful careers. I encourage you to continue the practice, even beyond the job search process. In a way, it’s an aspect of the dying art of good manners.
You bring very good writing skills to a job opportunity. And the fact that you can take rejection standing up indicates that you have what ultimately separates good writers from ordinary ones-the ability to take a punch and learn from it how to anticipate the next one.
As a good writer, you also seem to have good analytical skills in conversation, which are highly valuable in all businesses-private, corporate, non-profit, and, in particular, entrepreneurial ventures. You also have a very mature and engaging personality that would work well in many environments, and you have what a lot of young people fail to bring to job opportunities-energy driven by curiosity, a desire for knowledge, and great listening skills.
So, you’re probably wondering at this point, “why didn’t this guy hire me?”
Very simple. You’d kick your own teeth out in this environment after about two months. Maybe sooner. The pace here is excruciatingly slow, and while the work environment is congenial, the campus idyllic, and the people very friendly-it is not a place for someone with your level of energy and drive. Higher education employment is a marathon, not a sprint. And in my estimation, you need to blast your way through a collection of sprints before you’re ready for the slow burn of a marathon like this one.
Plus, you’re a writer, not a PR person. There’s a significant difference. And your writing suggests, to me at least, that you have the skills to write in interactive media, not just newspapers. In fact, as you might know, newspapers are evolving into interactive media, and that means there’s a tremendous upside to that world. And it’s not at a place like (OUR COMPANY). It’s in an arena where other young people are tossing spaghetti against the wall and watching impatiently to see what sticks. Energy begets energy, if you get my drift.
Frankly, Nate, you belong in a more progressive arena than (HERE). Minneapolis? Toronto? Boulder? Austin? San Diego? Vancouver? Go to one of those ubiquitous “Best Places to Live and Work” stories in magazines like “Outside” or…hell, Google any magazine or website-they’re all constantly, desperately publishing such lifestyle guides. If you don’t want the big metropolis, there are thirty or forty medium size cities in the U.S. and Canada where life is on the move. I think you belong, at least for now, in such a place. Maybe, when you’re 35 or 40, you could return home and light this place on fire with the experience you will have gained.
I love this region and want very much for local college graduates to stay here and help change the atmosphere. You may have decided to do that. But my read, for what it’s worth, is that you need to burn your high octane energy on a way faster race track than (HERE).
One other morsel of advice: don’t use the same pitch for every job opportunity. Your Clark Kent approach was fun and inventive; but it won’t work in all places. Learn more in advance of your interview about the climate and business style of the employer, and, when in doubt, opt for the conservative approach-the straightforward business cover letter and resume. You’re a good writer; you should be able to make straight copy just as interesting as creative copy. Same thing goes for your attire. You had the jacket and the hip almost-dressed up look going on, which was cool, but unless you’re certain such attire will fly, it’s best to put on the suit and tie, especially in a conservative community like (HERE). It’s less important that you express who you are through your outfit than it is through your mind, words, and actions. As my mother once said to me when I was your age and long-haired and full of fire, “If you’re in a tux in a room full of tee shirts and shorts, you’re the best dressed guy in the room no matter what they try to tell you otherwise.”
Best wishes for great success in your search. I’m sure you’ll find it.
(Links today via – NYT Online, Wikipedia and YouTube)