By Kirstin Garriss, Desk Assistant, NBC News, Washington, D.C.
When you graduate college, the only thing you want more than that cap and grown, is to be able to answer one simple question: “What are you doing after graduation?”
Thankfully, when I graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in May 2011, I had an answer. I was going to be interning with NPR’s Talk of the Nation in Washington, D.C. But that’s all I had…one more internship and one more season to figure out what the heck I was going to do with my life.
Well, my internship came and went and I still had no real job. I had more job experience in the world of journalism but nothing full time. But despite some hurdles, I was able to survive what I like to call ‘fun-employment’. I never heard someone use that phase until this past fall but it helps take the sting off the term unemployment.
Now don’t get me wrong, it was rough not having any steady income for several weeks while living in a new city with the hopes “landing my next gig” but I did it. I made it and the thing is I didn’t do anything special, I just kept living.
After my internship ended and my summer housing expired, I moved in with family in White Plains, Md. (yeah, way out there — about an hour plus from Washington, D.C.) to stay close to the area just in case I could land something there. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too long. About a week after I finished my NPR internship, I was hired back with the same show, as a temporary Editorial Assistant — same staff, better pay and more responsibility — awesome, right? Well that only lasted for five weeks before I really became fun-employed full time.
So what do you do when you think you’ve hit rock bottom? Well, let me tell you.
Rest, relax and recharge
When I told my parents that I didn’t have any more temp work with NPR and that I would continue to live in Maryland with family, one of the first things my mom told me to do was rest. She said you’ve been working hard all summer, then you jumped straight into some temp work so just take a break and relax for a few days.
And I did just that. The first day was great, the second day was good but by day three of “resting” I was anxious to be busy again. So when day four hit, I decided to start going to Starbucks or little coffee shops in the area to get a change of scenery from the couch and just surf the web for anything — interesting news articles, internships, blogs and yes, jobs.
Staying in the KNOW
While I was living the fun-employed life, I still continued to keep up with my news. Just because I didn’t have to read the news anymore for a job or an assignment, didn’t stop me from being up-to-date with that was happening. As a journalist, you have to know some news and it’s good to keep up with at least the major news stories affecting your city and of course, your country.
So I made it a religious habit to watch the local news almost every night. I was starting the process of applying for jobs in local news and there’s no better way to see what you could be doing in the future than to watch it every night!
Plus it was good to get to know the market I was living in — get to know the faces, names and local stories that were important to the community because if I did get a D.C. interview those were things I would need to know.
Update your contacts
Even in the midst of my unemployment, I always kept my journalism and past job contacts in the loop with your current situation but I was always hopeful. I never complained about not having a job, I would just update them on how I was doing, tell them about the past work that I had just finished and let them know where I was applying — because you never know who your contacts may know and that could lead to another connection for a potential job.
Apply, apply and then apply some more
And of course, I would apply, apply and then when I thought I was done applying, I would take a break, get some Starbucks and apply for more jobs. It was obviously one of those things you didn’t want to do all day but you had to. You have to constantly apply for jobs and cast your net as far and as wide as you can do you can so you can get that call back, follow up email and even interview.
Using your environment
Even though, I was living an hour and half away from the city, I would still visit the city occasionally; but it wasn’t often because it would 1. Cost money to get there, 2. Money to do things there and 3. I didn’t have a steady income every two weeks anymore. But because I was so close (i.e., not five hours away if I had been in North Carolina) I knew I had to visit it when I could and take advantage of the city and its opportunities.
For example, when I wanted to take a break from applying for jobs, I would search for and then attend any journalism related events in the city — whether it was a forum, event or networking night — if it was journalism related, I was there. And I did that to make sure I continued to get my name out there, to meet new people who worked in D.C. (which is where I wanted to be) and just to keep my sanity while getting out of the house.
And finally, after all this that’s when all my hard work and pure luck combined and I landed my first gig. I was on twitter one day when I saw that the Washington Association of Black Journalists had tweeted about a Mega D.C. Networking Night and I knew I had to attend. It was hosted by all the area journalism groups, including WABJ/NABJ and the Society of Professional Journalists. With a crowd like that, I knew I would meet some interesting people and possibly some influential contacts. Well, little did I know that I would meet my new boss.
After about two hours of networking, I was heading out and saying goodbye to a woman whom I had met earlier and she quickly said you need to talk to that man over there because he works NBC News! So without any hesitation, I introduced myself, gave him my elevator pitch and we chatted and exchanged business cards. Later that night, I sent a follow up email with all my work — resume, video reel, writing samples (you name it, I sent it) — and then when days, I had an interview, then I landed a job and the rest is history.
Now, I know this may not happen in the exact same way for others but it’s definitely worth a try. But the biggest thing I had to do EACH and EVERY day I was “fun-employed” was to stay POSITIVE — that is key. Yes, you will get frustrated that you don’t have a job. Yes, you will question, did I not get enough experience in school? Yes, you will wonder when will this end? But it’s when you remain positive and when you least expect it that opportunity will come. And if you’ve been ready, then you will get it.
So embrace your fun-employment and don’t let that time get the best of you, make the most of it!