When I graduated from university in 2013, I didn’t really feel like I was qualified to do anything, but I thought that being an educated, articulate, well-traveled polyglot would make employers swoon. And then I tried to join the global workforce and my fear of “professional inadequacy” was confirmed. I sent resume after resume to companies in the U.S. and the U.A.E. and I couldn’t seem to catch a break. However, the only thing that was worse than rejection for me was the complete apathy that I faced from employers. Every time I received an auto-mated email saying that I might not receive a rejection letter because there were too many applicants, I used to feel a mixture of anxiety and anger. I couldn’t stand the idea of being in “professionally purgatory.” Surely if a company could send me an auto-mated email saying that there were too many applicants, they could also send me an auto-mated email saying “that I didn’t make it to the next phase” I often thought to myself. But, the emails never came and the depression settled in.
After months of searching, I eventually found a job in the U.A.E that I was very overqualified for. At the time, I felt depressed because I felt that my job reflected my worth in the eyes of the professional community and apparently they didn’t think much of me. Not only did this erroneous belief lower my self-confidence, it also mortally wounded my self-esteem and fighting spirit. Although my “professional depression” did linger for several months, my “professional dissatisfaction” did eventually motivate me to throw my hat back in the “job seeking ring” again. A moment of clarity that I am very grateful for now. During the “5-week vacation” that followed my resignation, I promised myself that I would apply to every job and internship under the sun using the most confident personal narrative I could muster in my “professionally depressed” state. And at the end of my 5-week deadline, I started as a virtual intern with a Dubai-based startup, Melltoo Marketplace, and my personal and professional lives have never been the same since.
Unfortunately, my story is just one of the many sad stories that reflect the changing nature of the job market in the MENA region. A change that might be natural, but is proving to be a very painful transition for employers and employees alike. For university students who have just graduated, for students who are entering their last year of university and young Arabs looking for job opportunities, I urge you to keep the following things in mind, so you can find a great job and avoid being the main character of your own “professional melodrama:”
1) Get career counseling early
One of the biggest regrets that I had after graduating was that I didn’t take advantage of all the free career counseling and resources that my university offered to me throughout my time there. I know that the future can seem daunting for young people, but you have to prepare for it whether you like it or not. So, I urge all current university students to visit their university’s career services center and schedule a meeting with a counselor to talk about their career ambitions. If you’ve already graduated, don’t worry, you still have options. Many universities have vast alumni networks that you can take advantage of, so you should make sure to contact your university’s career center to see if they have an alumni club in your city or major. If you find one, make sure to join it so you can start to build up your professional network and potentially find a job. Even if your university doesn’t have a career service center, there are plenty of online groups, services and tutorials that you can use to help you with your job hunt.
2) Don’t under estimate your potential
When you graduate from university, it’s so easy to underestimate yourself, because you’re young and you don’t feel “good enough” to be a part of the workforce. So, you start to sell yourself short even before you put the proverbial pen to paper to write about yourself. A cover letter or resume is more than just a piece of paper that lists your educational and professional achievements, it’s a document that needs to convey your unique personality, aspirations and skills to a potential employer. This might sound ambitious, but it is possible to do, and increasingly necessary, if you want to stand out in the current labor market. Before you write a cover letter or a resume, make sure to sit down and honestly reflect on your past experiences, so you can convey them fairly and creatively. In this case, “creativity” is not a synonym for lying, it is a call for young job seekers to look at their professional experience, no matter how limited it is, in a holistic way. Every job teaches you soft skills and hard skills and you shouldn’t undersell them to be modest. “Professional modesty” won’t get you anywhere in this day and age, so don’t bother using it. When you’re writing your resume, you should also consider including an objective, an interests and volunteer work section, so you can have another space to express your personality. If you’re really struggling, there are people out there who can help you perfect your resume!
3) Treat every job like a professional foothold
As cheesy as it sounds, there really are no small roles, just small people. Having been underemployed, I understand how the frustration of under appreciation can drive you to become depressed and apathetic. However, in time, I also learned that nothing is a waste in Life, unless you allow it to be. Every job can teach you something, even if it is just patience or perseverance. Do you have a lot of down time in your job? Read a book, get an online certification, learn a language. Do you work in an administrative job? Network with people, improve your computer skills, implement new organizational systems. Do you flip burgers? Learn the basics of restaurant management, customer service and conflict resolution. There is always something that you can learn, but first you have to learn how to find opportunity where there is seemingly none. You might not be where you want to be now, but only you can stop yourself from getting where you want to be by overlooking the learning opportunities that every work experience has to offer you. If you’re still not convinced, just know that adversity can make you a more interesting job applicant, if you know how to convey your struggles and triumphs effectively to a perspective employer.
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