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Playing for the Endgame at Entry Level

Allyson | February 22, 2011

Julie Andrews might tell you that starting at the very beginning is a very good place to start, but when facing the prospect of a long wearisome job search after graduation, it may be quite discouraging advice. Even worse, when you, the entry-level job seeker or college student, find yourself three months into a job search and you still feel like you are at the very beginning, such advice becomes all but erroneous. Therefore, I am going to advocate starting at the end.

I’m at the end of my entry-level job search now. After graduating with a B.A. in 2009 and finishing a master’s program in 2010, I had only one job offer for poor pay in an expensive city, and I turned it down. Now, closing in on a year after I finished my master’s program, I still don’t have a permanent job though I spent three months working remotely for that same firm, and I expect a job offer from one company this week, while I have a second interview with another and a contact at one other working to get me in at her office.

In the last year, I have read every job related article I have seen on the front page of my homepage. I have purchased at least four full length career planning books and have read at least two of them. I have applied for every job I felt myself qualified for, and many which were more than a stretch. I have interviewed, moved, interviewed some more, and been repeatedly disappointed. However, it is only recently that I started thinking about the endgame.

The endgame in the job search process is the point at which things start to come together, momentum shifts in your favor and you close in on the elusive job offer. It’s the point where good applications get easier to send out (maybe because you’re simply too exhausted to put the two hours into researching each company you write a cover letter for), second interviews become more frequent (because you’ve worked out the kinks in your interview technique), and the light at the end of the tunnel becomes brighter (because you can feel that you are getting close). The endgame is the point where strategy becomes exponentially more important than volume.

At the beginning of the search, volume is the most important factor. Lots of leads, lots of contacts, lots of applications, lots of interviews. This is important for practice, but in the endgame, practice is over and strategy becomes paramount. In order to be the champion you need to Outwit, Outlast, and Outplay. You must outwit the questions meant to throw you off your game and the projects designed to expose your areas of weakness. You’ll have to outlast all the other candidates. When at last the job offer comes, you’ll need to outplay the future employer at the negotiation table.

Keeping the endgame in mind from the very beginning will not only keep you on your toes, it will keep you motivated and make the whole process less tedious. The way to start out with the endgame in focus is to know where you want to go. Identify, visualize and prioritize the job you want and the industries you are interested in, where you want to live, and what you want to make. Being realistic about this will make you much happier in your job search and much more productive. The idea to live in Kansas and make $80,000 a year writing screenplays is not feasible. Decide what’s most important to you in the end, at the beginning. For me, it is living in an exciting city with opportunities for career advancement and lateral movement: the actual job and salary are secondary. For you it might be writing screenplays.

My endgame plan looks like this:

Priority:
Geography (Boston, New York, or Austin);
Salary (enough to pay my student loans and only have to put 25% of my take-home pay toward rent);
Job (Financial Planning, Writing, or Event Planning)

Strategy:
Outwit (research company, industry, job, and key players, and impress with any projects/assignments during the interview process);
Outlast (stress my flexibility and versatility, keep in constant contact with potential employers so I’m not forgotten);
Outplay (research entry level salaries, cost of living and benefits, pit job offers against each other in negotiation and make my ability indispensable)

What does your endgame look like?

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