From First Job to Dream Job

by | Posted April 29th, 2013

I started at MSU in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities in 2008. So, a couple of things here: The fall of 2008 was the beginning of the Great Recession, and of all things to invest in during turbulent economic times, I’d chosen a program that elicited a chorus of truly unoriginal jokes about job prospects wherever I went.

Junior year I found a second home in the Professional Writing program. And while the economy had seen some recovery, the doubters’ chorus had just become louder in its refrain: I would graduate and go live in my parents’ basement.

I had an entirely different set of plans, though. Plan A was still to immediately find a great job that would rocket me to stardom. If that didn’t work out by the end of my lease, plan B was to crash with family on Lake Charlevoix while continuing my job search. I have the greatest parents in the world, but moving into their basement was somewhere around plan X.

My job search prior to graduation was largely unsuccessful. I had little time, my portfolio wasn’t done, and I was trying to plan for my future in a field that only fills vacancies in the present. But following my graduation ceremony, I started making progress. I cast a wide net, searching a number of job sites, reaching out to my network, and researching the companies where I’d be happy to work for free (but looking for opportunities to be paid). Nine applications, three interviews and two offers later I’d accepted a job as the Visual Communication Coordinator at Adrian College.

Relocating to the small town that is Adrian, Michigan was never something I’d considered. However, I would have moved to Antarctica to be titled a Visual Communications Coordinator and to be given the opportunity to work in higher education marketing, so relocate I did. When I applied, when I was interviewed, and when I was hired, I felt really prepared to do the work I’d been hired for. There were a few quite practical things I wasn’t prepared for, though.

  1. I underestimated how hard it would be to move somewhere I’d never been, away from everyone I’d ever known. While I’d do it again tomorrow, I wish I’d better appreciated the support system I was leaving behind and the work it was going to take to forge new relationships.
  2. As many internship and work experiences as I accumulated over my four years at MSU, I did not yet have a grasp on workplace politics. Nor did I understand that navigating social aspects of my workplace would be a frustrating and unwritten responsibility of my job.
  3. Not everyone I encountered would have the same appreciation and respect for great communication that I’d assumed it demanded.

It’s funny seeing those basic lessons articulated, because they are such practical lessons, but it took landing my dream job to realize that no matter how much I love a position, it’s never going to be a constant dream.

While learning those things, I was still strictly following plan A. I’d capitalize on the incredible opportunity Adrian College had afforded me for a year or two, and then begin the search for the next step in my career (read: rocket to stardom). Then, something that wasn’t part of any plan intervened. I got an email about an open job. The job description was drool-worthy, I had it on good authority that the person running the department was incomparable, and best of all it was at MSU. I’d only been at Adrian for five months, but I applied. Perhaps I’d never hear back. Perhaps I wouldn’t get an interview. Perhaps I wouldn’t get the job. But plan A became plan B and I submitted my application.

When I heard back and when I had an interview, it was much different from the time before. Five months of work had given me a lot confidence. Suddenly, I wasn’t struggling to think of quality questions to ask during the interview to prove myself. I had a list full of questions and I really wanted answers. What kind of manager are you? How does work flow in the department? How does leadership outside of the department understand the role of communications, if at all? I stopped feeling like I was following a script and felt instead like I was part of a conversation.

When I was offered the job I weighed my options. Adrian was a small place, but was my position worth leaving behind? Especially when all (inexplicable) conventional wisdom says stay in your first job for a year? Was this new job the next step for me? And if so, was I ready for the next step?

In the end, the answers were all yes, and so I took several terrifying steps into my supervisor’s office, resignation letter in hand. I was incredibly lucky to give my resignation to someone who was so understanding of my career ambitions, who made the transition easier than I could have ever hoped. I was also incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to assist in the search for my replacement, a process that helped me see the other side of the job search, and an experience that will make me a stronger applicant in the future.

Armed with the kind knowledge only experience can provide, I feel more prepared to conquer challenges as they inevitably arise. Settling in at my new dream job, I see immense value in questioning conventional wisdom. Sorting out HR paperwork for the second time in a year, I’m beginning to see similar value in the stability conventional wisdom provides. Fortunately for me, this particular dream might allow me both.

Olivia Asiala is the digital communications specialist at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine. Find her on Twitter @OliviaAsiala.