Monday, September 18, 2006

Rinse and repeat

It seems like a never-ending race; though I’ve reached a milestone of sorts, it isn’t the finish line. Finishing school might just be the beginning.

It was a way to make it through, a mind game of sorts. Tell yourself you’re almost there, that the end is in sight. But it’s a mirage. You get there, only to be told the finish line has been moved, that you have farther to go.

I wrote about the game a while back, and got knocked about a bit for not challenging the rules. And, while I’d love to be among those who get to play “outside the box”, it isn’t really all that simple. Not that I think it would be. But, some implied that it could, no, that it should be done, although no ideas were put forth.

People want to standardize the job application process, and for good reason. The time expended by both sides makes simplification preferable. By following a widely accepted practice, a certain amount of automation can take place, and with that, the ability to conserve resources. Thus, the request for standard materials – resume, cover letter, work samples – by firms both progressive and conservative. As much as we might desire individuality, uniqueness, we are willing to follow established conventions if they offer certain advantages. As some might say, “why reinvent the wheel?”

But, when the challenge was set out to “be a designer” and break with the rules, I was ready to try. Or, I am ready to try, once I figure out what to do. That’s the problem with trying to break with the status quo; you need to understand it, excel at it, before you can take a step beyond it. I’m still working on the understanding part.

When I worked for my alma mater, I spent a lot of time counseling students on their job hunts. Who should I work for? What goes on my resume? What should I look for? And, there were some standard answers, helpful those at that stage in their lives. Advice like, try and do different internships each summer, to get a broader range of experience and exposure to different types of firms; Use networks, social or otherwise, to find that first job, because someone is more likely to hire a friend/child of a friend than a stranger off the street; Emphasize skills you feel set you apart and make sure your work samples support your assessment of your abilities. No, they were not particularly complicated answers, but for most students, it was the right amount of guidance. More than anything else, the students were looking for a cheerleader – someone to boost their confidence, give them the courage to try. And that’s what I was there to do.

But, now, I have to ask myself those questions. And being my own personal cheerleader is a bit harder. It’s easier to tell others to just go for it. The reversal seems ironic.

The problem, for me, is the questions I have. Like, how important is the experience I have right now, at the beginning of my professional life? Is it who you work for, rather than what you work on? Do big names really mean the things we think they do, and should getting their names on my resume be a priority? Is the sacrifice of big city experience worth it? Could I get everything I want and still go home?

Big questions, no answers. No one really knows, since everyone has a different set of goals in mind, a different balance of priorities. They were the same questions I asked myself as I prepared to leave school the first time around. And, well, we all know how that went. But, I bided my time, took some chances, and had some different experiences to help me grow. At least, that’s what I tell myself each month, when I see that loan repayment leave my account. As for the questions, asked before…well, the answers still aren’t there.

All I do know is that I am at it again. Looking for a job, a place to learn the practice of this art I have studied for a bit too long. More school, really. Only, if I get a job, I’ll be paid for the time I put in. And that will be nice. I think.

Here’s to hoping that, this time, things turn out a bit better.


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