My Year-End Job Search Advice

forest Boy how time flies! Incredibly, we’ve made it through another year.

2010 was an interesting year for me, comprised of what I see as two separate phases: the last six months of business school, and the first six months of the rest of my life.

Anyone who’s gone to business school can speak to how intense the experience is. For two years you push yourself to learn, study, compete, and succeed – in the classroom, among your friends, and especially in the job search. You also sacrifice; your life revolves around being a student and everything else often takes a back seat.

As cliché as it sounds, business school is all-consuming (that whole “seeing the forest through the trees” thing doesn’t always apply to us MBAs).

Like any good business school student, I took my two years in school very seriously, working hard to ensure success for my job search. After all, I often reasoned, the whole point of going to business school is to get a job!

Just out of curiosity, I went back and looked over my 2010 calendar. From January to December I went on 28 job interviews and reached out to another 64 people for informational interviews, or 1.8 interviews of some type per week.

I wrote countless cover letters, recreated my resume practically every week, and scoured the job boards for openings. I networked, I applied, I interviewed…and nothing happened.

In fact, while I left business school in May thrilled and excited to find a job, by the second half of 2010 I felt a bit like the low squeal of air being let out of a balloon very, very slowly.

By late October, I was officially deflated.

Things were just not working out like I’d planned. I wasn’t finding the job I wanted, or dare I admit, the job I felt I deserved (even if they won’t say it out loud, I believe every MBA feels a sense of job entitlement from the minute they step on campus because, again, the point of business school is to get a better job).

For a while my apparent inability to turn a job interview into a job offer just ate away at me.

With time, though, and a lot of soul searching, I realized that no matter how much I wanted to control the outcome of my job search, I had to let it go. This was clearly something I could not fix all by myself, no matter how much I wanted to.

So, with that, I tried to relax and remember the big picture.

And when I did, I suddenly saw all the important people, experiences and traditions that I’d neglected during my job search. I saw my husband, my family, and my friends. I saw birthday parties and holidays, yoga classes and hikes outside, and weekend movies and dinners out. In essence, I saw a world filled with people who love me, and whom I love – and I decided right then and there that it was time to start participating in the fulfilling life I already had, with or without a job.

In hindsight, getting an MBA was the best career choice I’ve ever made. It gave me skills and experience and confidence unlike anything else, and I am so proud of how far I’ve come.

Yet I also believe that getting an MBA was one of the most selfish things I’ve ever done.

Business school gave me permission to focus on me, and only me, for two years. And when the final result didn’t initially turn out the way I had hoped or expected, I could only conclude that I had somehow failed. It sounds extreme now looking back, but at the time, that’s how I felt.

I am certain now that I haven’t failed.

Instead, what I have done is realized that business school is just one piece of my life story. There was life before business school, and there will certainly be life after business school. No matter how enormous the experience has felt, my post-MBA job search is actually just a blip on the radar.

Ironically, the moment you stop worrying about something is the moment it happens. I am pleased to say that I’m finally making some great progress on my job search, and I’m feeling hopeful for good things in the New Year. But it hasn't been an easy year for me, and unfortunately I know the same is true for so many other job seekers out there today.

And so, with that I’d like to leave with you a few words of unsolicited advice as we close out 2010 and move towards 2011:

To the Class of 2011 – and to those brave members of the Class of 2010 still pounding the pavement – I say: pick your heads up. See the forest, not just the trees. Know that your MBA job search is just one stop along the long chronology of your professional life. It doesn’t define you as a person, or determine your success or failure. It’s just a job. And you will have many in your lifetime.

And to everyone who’s helped me throughout my own search: I want to offer my most heartfelt thanks. It really did take a village to find me a job! And I am so grateful for the village I have.

Happy holidays to each of you and best wishes for a terrific (and employed) 2011!

Ashley's Note: I originally wrote this post for Vault's CSR blog, In Good Company, as part of their 2010 CSR Year in Review series. I encourage you to check out all of their guest bloggers - there's some great CSR learning there!