When Can I Jump In? The Post-University Employment Struggle and Being Bad at Double Dutch

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Me, confident and hopeful on my graduation day.

One year ago, I had finished my 93-page undergrad thesis, passed all my exams, and was excitedly waiting to cross the stage to accept that rolled up blank piece of paper that symbolized my Bachelor of Arts degree in the next month. I was also applying to jobs and enjoying some fun life moments like attending my bridal showers and making DIY decorations for my upcoming wedding.

 

I started my job search in February 2016, I had hoped that just maybe I would be that exception in today’s society – maybe I would get a job in the industry out of university!

No, I was not an exception.

I didn’t go to university right out of high school and I was graduating at age 26. While some of my peers were afraid of what was coming next, I was chomping at the bit to jump into a career in the communications field. The thing is that there was never a good opportunity for me to jump, it was Double Dutch skipping all over again (I’m really quite terrible at that game). Entry level jobs didn’t seem to exist and online job applications meant that I was just a faceless number to potential employers.

Time passed and I had gotten a handful of interviews, but they were far and few between. I always felt confident about how the meetings went and knew that I could handle the jobs, yet someone with more experience would always win out in the end. When thinking about that all too common interview question, “what is your greatest weakness,” it was clear to me – my greatest weakness was that I hadn’t been given a chance yet. How was I supposed to get the necessary experience to land a job without landing a job?

Scrolling through Indeed listings, most openings required 2-5 years of experience in the communications industry. I often came across the specific requirement of paid experience which meant that unpaid internships weren’t being valued either. I was doing everything right according to people that I spoke with and articles that I read when looking for advice.

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A screen shot of an advice article I had been reading approximately seven months ago that I posted on Instagram.

Then one day, a few weeks ago, a university peer posted a promising message about how she had managed to get a job closer to her house and wanted to pass along suitable resumes to her employer as they were looking to fill her position as soon as possible. I quickly messaged her letting her know of my interest and then began designing a fun custom resume that I spent a couple of hours on. I mirrored design elements of the company’s website, even screen-capturing the site to ensure colour matching (thank you eyedrop tool) and including brand related imagery. I felt really good about my resume and my peer sent it to her connections.

Not too long after the resume submission, I got a call from the PR Manager and she expressed how excited she was to bring me in for an interview – she loved my resume! Like so many interviews before this one, I went in with my head held high and the confidence in myself, knowing that I could rock this job. Arriving very early, I spoke with the office manager and one of her coworkers about our love of dogs and felt like I would fit in at the office. The interview itself was nothing like my previous ones, the Founder and PR Manager were interested in getting to know my personality and we barely discussed the position.

I left feeling really great, I had a positive connection r2d2with both interviewers and I gave it my all to show my eccentricity. I mean that I really gave it my all and I’m not just saying that. In the interview, I did chimpanzee noises, I showed them the difference between that and my gorilla impersonation, did my

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Remember, Elaine’s dance is all about the kicks and the thumbs.

R2D2 sound (the one that he makes when he goes flying), I did the Elaine dance (from Seinfeld), and I talked way too much about pop culture. I made them laugh quite a lot and the Founder of the company implied that I would be getting a second interview.

 

That weekend, I received an email from the PR Manager with an assignment to complete. Chris is currently away for work, and luckily, I didn’t have much planned so I dedicated approximately eight hours of my weekend to hitting the assignment out of the park. I had fun designing visual content for hypothetical social media posts, answered questions about target marketing toward millennials and centennials, as well as thought critically about which trendsetting online presences could gel well with the company. I managed to send the assignment back within 24 hours and I was feeling fantastic. I hoped that everyone else would slack off and be way off base (it’s a competitive job market which brings out an ugly side).

The PR Manager loved my work. We scheduled a lunch meeting for the following week as a second interview and she asked if the company could use my May the Fourth visual content on their social channels. I was ecstatic, but I still didn’t get my hopes up. Fast forward to the second interview, I found out more about the job, met with the designer who I would often work with, and hoped they didn’t think that I talked too much. An hour and a half went by, we parted ways and It felt promising.

 

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Please watch Kristen Bell’s happy tear reaction when she found out that she was going to meet a sloth.

The next day, this past Tuesday, I got an email with the job offer. I cried almost immediately. They were happy tears of relief that I didn’t know I needed until that moment. This past year has been so incredibly hard, sure, I’ve been applying to jobs in pyjamas on my couch, but the emotional rollercoaster was exhausting. I texted and called my close inner circle to tell them the news, finally I had something good to share about this painful process and I wanted to shout it from the proverbial rooftops. I had to wait all day to share the news with my husband (his mornings are my nights as he is working in Kuala Lumpur), but when I did, it finally felt real. That night, I had the best sleep I’ve had in a long time.

 

 

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My second interview outfit with some red and black Smoke’s inspired plaid!

I start my new job this coming Monday and I cannot be more excited. I am officially the full-time Marketing Coordinator of Smoke’s Poutinerie Inc. and I am confident that it’s the right place for me. Lucky job application number 108!

 

The moral of the story is, that it is so hard to get a job these days even when you graduate with the top grades in your class and know that you can do the job. Our parents didn’t go through what we’re going through in order to start careers so we look to each other for advice, sympathy, and validation. I am here to validate what you’re going through. Your time of post-graduation unemployment may be one of the hardest times of your life, especially when OSAP comes calling after six months and you start paying the monthly interest to maintain your mountainous debt at it’s current peak.

What I learned during this year:

  1.  Looking for and applying to jobs is itself a full-time job
  2. Custom resumes can catch an employer’s eye, but sometimes you do the work with no result because life is unfair
  3. You will deal with jealousy, it’s hard to watch your peers get jobs when you’re struggling, but try to remind yourself of all the good stuff going on in your life too (writing this blog often helped me do that)
  4. We all need the job so try not to hate whoever gets it
  5. Sometimes you need to cry, our current job market is difficult and stressful – your tears are warranted
  6. Depending on your loved ones does not make you a failure, it means you’re lucky to be loved, accept the help
  7. When you start to lose your confidence, keep applying and fake some self-assurance
  8. Keep track of online application deadlines so that you don’t miss out on an opportunity
  9. Take a break when you need to, it can be super overwhelming and you deserve a day off
  10. Most employers will not accept tangible copies of your resume and cover letter at all anymore, my attempts never helped me get any further
  11. There are always other perfect jobs for you out there even if you don’t get this one
  12. Don’t burn bridges because you never know who might pass your resume along to the right person
  13. Pet a lot of dogs – best piece of advice I can give you, they help destress me a lot

My story was a long one, but a fruitful one, and I hope that my honesty validates your own personal experiences. Getting the job feels amazing, but it in no way negates how terrible my year of unemployment was. Be angry, be sad, feel all of the emotions that come with constant rejection and minimal finances, chumbabut use those emotions to fuel your efforts in applying to jobs. As Chumbawamba once said, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you are never gonna keep me down,” make that song be about you (Did your family also order their CD from Columbia House, but only really listened to that song?).

Remembrance Day in Canada: Intergenerational Storytelling

(Photo in the Header image provided by Sam’s great-uncle from WWII)

Tomorrow is November 11th and Remembrance Day is important, but many of us (young people especially, including myself) don’t truly understand and appreciate this day of memorialization. We learn a moderate amount from textbook stories in secondary school history classes, but how impactful are facts without personal connections?

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Two posters I drew and entered into a Remembrance Day contest when I was 11 years old.

I grew up looking at the faces of soldiers or concentration camp prisoners in captioned photographs and felt incredibly bad about what they went through. I cannot, however, imagine the emotions that these photos must evoke when those faces represent one’s friends and family – it’s this special link that I find fascinating.

The thing about history books is that they often generalize or focus purely on overall facts which can dehumanize the tragedy that is war.

This is why I wanted to reach out to my peers, to see if they could share stories that have been passed down to them, share their personal experiences with Remembrance Day, and to share something about their loved one that had nothing to do with the war. I ended up only needing to talk to two friends who had expressed interest because they both provided me with a surplus of material. They are wonderful young women and I thank them for providing all of the photos in this blog as well.

Two soldier’s lives are to be featured today: one who is still alive and one who died in combat overseas.


Poppies for Poppy

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John (in the middle) and his two brothers Walter and Nick.

My friend Sam is 22 years old and she is lucky enough to have learned a lot about her grandfather John (who she calls Poppy) from the man himself as he is still alive and well at age 89.

John joined the army at 16, he was quite a bit under the age requirement, but the war was coming to an end and the Canadian army needed more men. He was to join his three older brothers who were already fighting in WWII.

“He went to basic training, and, as he tells it, he had the time of his life,” Sam comments, “he absolutely loved it.” Apparently, John really enjoyed the training schedule, the camaraderie, and the physical activity. Sam states that “he often speaks about his time in the army as the best time of his life.”

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John’s army class.

By the time that John finished training, but before he was deployed, the war had ended. He was one of the lucky ones. His three brothers Nick, Donny, and Walter all made it back home to Canada with photos depicting the innocence and youth of their fellow soldiers overseas.

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A collection of photos from WWII that one of John’s brothers took while overseas.
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Sam’s family has kept these two historical documents from the time: Ration Cards and a Prayer Book.

John’s wife Isla, Sam’s Nana, also had three brothers who fought in the war. Unfortunately, Isla’s family wasn’t as lucky as John’s – two of the three brothers died in combat. Isla’s WWII memories differ from her husband’s quite a lot. “She lived in Scotland, and had a much harder time than my Canadian-born Poppy. When she’s speaking about that time, she most often talks about rationing – and we actually still have some of her rations cards that she saved.” Sam recalls that even today, her Nana “never puts more on her plate than what she will eat, and all of her grandchildren are frowned upon when we don’t finish.”

After the war, John and two of his brothers started a moving company that they sold while Sam’s dad was still in high school.

“I can’t say that I have ever really spoken to my Poppy directly about Remembrance Day,” Sam confesses, “though when I was younger my father took me over to grab a bunch of Poppy’s war photos for me to take to school. It is around this time where he most often speaks about how much fun he had during training.”

Sam’s take on November 11th is honest and similar to what I would guess many other millennials experience. “Remembrance Day is kind of just another day to me – it’s actually my boyfriend’s birthday so it’s not exactly a focus, as bad as that may sound. I participate in the moment of silence every year, and am completely aware of what it represents, but at the same time, it doesn’t ever have a lasting impact on me.”

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John last Easter at age 88, showing everyone how it’s done!

Fun fact about John: “My poppy love love loves hockey (and being active in general)! My youngest brother is the only one in my family who still plays competitively and not in a beer league. My Poppy often goes to his games. My Poppy himself played hockey until he was 80, and I actually had a supply teacher in high school recognize my last name because he knew my Poppy and uncle for that fact.”


Descendants at Dieppe

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Hanna (one of my bridesmaids) and I at my wedding.

Hanna and I have been best friends since we were 11 years old and she’ll be turning 26 this month! She broke our childhood pact to visit Europe together, but it was for a good reason – for a life-changing university history trip! Hanna’s relation to her great-great-uncle may sound distant, but her connection to him and her family’s history is admirably strong.

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Left: George Sr., Margaretta, and their children Rennie, Mac, and Jimmie. Photo take in 1927. Right: Jimmie Burnett’s picture in the paper “Those Lost at Dieppe.”

Jimmie Burnett was 19 when he was killed in combat, but he had enlisted when he was only 16. In order to do so, his dad helped him lie to the Canadian Military and said that his son was 18 years old. Private Jimmie Burnett’s tombstone at Dieppe, the Normandy beach town where he was killed, says that he was 21 when he died, but it is actually two years off.

“He was my grandfather’s uncle on my dad’s side, Papa was named after him (Jim) and was born in ’42 about a month before the family got any confirmation that he had been killed.” Jimmie Burnett was killed on August 19th, Hanna explains that “the allied forces tried to gain a stronghold and failed miserably in 1942 (trying to create a second front and alleviate the eastern front where Russia was struggling to hold off Germany).”

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The original telegraph informing Jimmie’s family of his death and a sympathy  note from Buckingham Palace.

“I first started to learn about him when I got accepted into this History class in university that studied war and memory and particularly how we memorialize Canadian efforts in WWI and WWII. Papa had started doing some family research and when I got our assignments for the class, which included a soldier biography, I hit the ground running. We got hold of his military records and chatted with his youngest sister who was just a kid when he went to war, Margie.”

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Jimmie Burnett’s military records. Left: Letter written by George Sr. confirming his son’s falsified age. Right: A list of Jimmie’s personal effects.
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One of Hanna’s photos from her trip.

On the aforementioned European university history trip, Hanna was able to discuss the battle of Dieppe with her classmates while standing on the same beach where her great-great-uncle had been killed. At this point, she was knee deep in research and very connected to Jimmie. “I just remember bawling my eyes out when one of our profs asked ‘how do you feel being here?’ Dieppe was a huge loss of life – I think the casualty rate was like 95% – and I couldn’t believe that the allies had chosen such an easily defensible place to attack the Germans.”

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Hanna was also able to visit Jimmie Burnett’s grave site the next day. Luckily, her peers were very supportive. The combination of a number of emotional moments on her trip contributed to her feeling closer to her family than ever before. Hanna admits that she felt a stronger connection to our collective history and had never felt more patriotic than she had during that time of her life. She discloses that she felt especially “patriotic because the war ended a terrible evil in the world and was fought with purpose. Jimmie, like his brother, his sisters, and mother were a part of that.”

The pride that Hanna has in her family history coexists with her general heartache over her family’s loss. “I was so proud but also endlessly sad – my brother was 19 at the time. Could I imagine him going to war?”

When I asked Hanna about how she felt about Remembrance Day before and after her research, she told me that her family had already taught her that “it was a day worth really respecting.”

“You wear the poppy and you’re told as a kid that Canada has this really great reputation as a peacekeeping nation and between that and a number of wars, many people have given their lives in service of our country. But to form that connection and to become a part of someone’s military story, that changed me. I think about Jimmie and his sacrifice every day, but particularly around Remembrance Day and August 19. I have had it memorialized on myself with a tattoo so that I never forget not only his sacrifice, but also just him. Jimmie the 16-year-old kid who protected his family and loved his siblings and was this unique person. My Papa never got to meet his uncle but feels this huge connection to that lost part of his life. I now feel the same and on Remembrance Day get to share that sense of loss, respect, admiration and support with others all across the country.”

Fun Fact about Jimmie Burnett: Hanna discovered some personal anecdotes when talking with Jimmie’s sister Margie. “We found out some amazing stuff – like how he was this devilishly charming guy with a reputation for the ladies, even as a 16-year-old and he went AWOL a whole bunch of times during basic training because he kept sneaking off to hook up with chicks.”

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Jimmie Burnett (on the right) and his two high school friends who tragically all died in combat at Dieppe.

I believe that oral story-telling and passing down personal documents is the most important part of historical education. We all get the overview of what our nation tells us happened in textbooks, but it’s the individual experiences that will further the appreciation of Remembrance Day for younger generations.

Do you have connections to anyone who has felt the harsh reality of military pursuits past and present? Let me know in the comment section, everyone’s story is important – no matter how great or how small.