Three months after graduation, I began to feel the waves of job search anxiety and depression creep into my mind.
As my summer school teaching position at Summerbridge San Diego drew to a close, fear gripped me: I would be unemployed, living at my parents' house, with my expensive Bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature hanging next to my Honor Roll plaques in my dad's den.
I didn't know what to do, so I turned to the website that had landed me that summer job in San Diego: Idealist.
I learned of Idealist after a career counselor gave me a list of employment search engine sites. I saw Idealist among the list and thought, “I'm an idealist. I have my years of campus activism and Women's Studies classes to prove it.”
At that time, I wasn't very clear on the career path I wanted to take. I had a broad range of experiences, internships, and work-study positions from fashion to documentary filmmaking to social justice education.
I had a vague interest in working abroad because I had studied French and Spanish in school. To be completely honest, I wasn’t very clear on where I wanted to live or what I wanted to do. I had a lot of passion and motivation, but I wasn’t sure how this could materialize into real work.
All this began to change for me when I saw a job posting in Guatemala to teach social studies.
Atitlan Multicultural Academy wanted a full-time teacher for the 6-12th grades. The description called for an experienced teacher who could integrate world issues and cultural understanding into the classroom.
As a recent graduate, I knew I’d have way less experience on my resume than other candidates, but the mission and name of the school resonated with me so deeply that I had to apply.
My major in college was in Comparative Literature and Society, so I'd taken my fair share of courses in Ethnic Studies, Women's Studies, Anthropology, and Sociology. I also had spent a lot of my extracurricular time in consciousness-raising groups on campus. Every week, my classmates and I organized discussions about social justice, anti-racism, and feminism. Although my experiences wouldn’t stand in for a teaching credential, I’d had years of experience creating safe spaces for open discussions around complex issues.
How I crafted my application
Like I do for all job applications, I tailored my resume and cover letter to match the mission and philosophy of the organization. Back then, I believed that if I could show that I understood the deepest goals of the organization, then I could show why I’d be a good employee.
I highlighted my experiences interning and leading campus clubs in multicultural education and my commitment to social justice. Because Atitlan Multicultural Academy caters to the Mayan population in town, I also stressed my studies that related to indigenous culture and Latin America.
What I did to prepare for the interview
Before the interview, I googled the school and the person who’d be interviewing me and found out she had an ethical fashion side hustle. I’m also interested in fashion and social justice and had a fashion internship early on in college, so I made a note to ask her about that towards the end of the interview.
I always like to prepare for my interview by reading everything about the organization and formulating questions. If you’ve ever been in a college seminar class where you need to prepare discussion questions, you can think of your interview questions like that. You want to show that you’re knowledgeable about the organization and that you’re contributing some original thought to your questions. Googling “best interview questions to ask” will leave you sounding generic at best and unprepared at worst. I used the question about ethical fashion as a way to show that I researched the school and also connected with the hiring director on a deeper level.
During the interview, we had a deep conversation about our mutual interest in global development, social justice education, and a little bit of fashion. I demonstrated my knowledge, and I was eager to be mentored and learn more on the job.
After I was hired, the director of the school told me directly that the position was either going to go to me or a woman who’d been teaching for much longer than me. She said I was more enthusiastic and passionate about education and social studies and that I was seemed eager to grow and adapt to circumstances, a key asset when working abroad.
How Idealist helped
Fast forward three years, and I've now lived and worked in Guatemala and China at fulfilling jobs that pushed me to expand my skills and impact the world in a positive way. Looking back, I couldn't have done any of it without Idealist.
I know a lot of people in their twenties live in what I like to call, “resume hell,” submitting resume after resume and hearing no response. You might begin to wonder if any of your hard work will pay off with a real job.
So how did my job search eventually led me to teach social studies in Guatemala? I'd like to share a few secrets that helped me along the way and how I used Idealist to launch my career:
- Be a Proud Idealist. Your drive to make an impact gives fresh energy to non-profit organizations. Showing your unbridled enthusiasm for female empowerment or inter-cultural psychology feels like a shot of espresso to hiring managers. In industries where burnout is common, young passionate professionals come to an organization with fresh eyes and beating hearts that give juice to the organization.
- Expand Your Search Area. Let's pretend you want to move to Seattle because Seattle has a strong community of social justice minded professionals and beautiful outdoor landscapes.. If you just search for Seattle, you’ll only find organizations that work in the small city of Seattle proper. You can expand your search settings “within 50 miles of Seattle,” and you'll pick up way more job postings that will still allow you to live in Seattle. I made sure to search for “Latin America,” “Guatemala,” and other combinations of search areas to make sure I didn’t miss out on a job posting in a place I’d like to live.
- Connect with Your Interviewer. Most people posting on Idealist are heart-centered, passionate types. All the people who've interviewed me through job postings on Idealist have now become my friends and champions of my career. Job interviews at organizations that have posted on Idealist have felt amazing because I've been able to connect with the interviewers about my diverse interest areas. I make sure to not only research the organization but the person interviewing me. Like the ethical fashion connection I made, you might be able to demonstrate your passion and interests in a way that can show your breadth as a future team member.
- All Your Random Bits of Experience Matter. On that same train of thought, a lot of twenty somethings worry they have too many random experiences that don't amount to a real career. The truth is quite the opposite. My college friends and I had spent Spring Break in Guatemala, and this helped me to land my job. My fashion internship in college helped me connect with the director who also ran an ethical fashion business as her side hustle.Many people in the world are multi-passionate idealists like you. Part of our drive as human beings is to find and connect with like-minded people who want to change the world, so don't be afraid to talk about these things if the interviewer asks you about it.
- Sign Up for E-mail Alerts: Signing up for e-mail alerts helps you never miss a new job posting in your desired field. You can put in all your criteria and have Idealist e-mail you when similar jobs are posted. This can help you rise to the top by making you appear proactive in the minds of the hiring managers. This is only true if jump on the job openings and are the first to apply with a tailored resume and cover letter. . Pro tip: Have multiple e-mail alerts for job search criteria because different opportunities will show up based on your selections. I had a search open for different categories such as arts education, women’s empowerment, and youth.
- Use the Advanced Search Options: Want to work remotely? Have a lot of experience in education and art? Fluent in Spanish? You can highlight these options in the advanced search options
Doing a job search can often lead to anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem, but it doesn't need to.
About the Author: Kassy Lee is a career coach who helps insecure, overwhelmed, and scattered 20-somethings find joy and purpose in the workforce. She’s had jobs painting murals with students in Guatemala and writing plays with young learners in China. She’s a published poet who can be found hiking or reading in her free time. Join her on her website, on Facebook or Instagram.