I graduated from college last year and what I assumed would be an easy task of searching for a job and establishing a career has quickly become a source of constant anxiety. I found an internship at a newspaper here in Dubai last year. It didn’t amount to much, and I wasn’t offered a job afterwards. This wasn’t too heartbreaking, though. I assumed I’d continue my education, and decided to enjoy some time off before university. Cue COVID-19 destroying my plans for higher studies and forcing me to hunt for a job while I stayed at home. 

As a creative, I assumed that it would be relatively easy to find a job. After all, everyone needs content, right? With the world turning to the internet, it’s important to have good content. I know how to write well. That’s what I learned in college and that’s what I did at the newspaper. I wrongly thought that this would be a piece of cake.

Almost five months later, I’ve grown to loathe every job posting site available and question myself in ways I haven’t before. I tried my best to hunt for a job. It felt like screaming into the void. Hours would be spent scrolling LinkedIn, Indeed, Oliv and Ojo. Initially, I would apply to be a content writer because that’s something that I’ve done before, but as the weeks passed by I started to branch out.

I took a course on SEO in order to boost my skillset and started applying as a digital marketer. I would spend hours crafting cover letters for each posting and re-making CVs to highlight the kinds of skills they wanted. One particular low point was when I was interviewed for an unpaid internship as a content writer for a small brand back in June.

Since I didn’t particularly like content writing as a career (I do not like writing promotional content but it helps to pay the bills), I didn’t want to do something I didn’t enjoy for just anything. Three months later, and I still hadn’t found a job I liked or one that paid. I realized this in September, and I hated myself for it. I followed companies on LinkedIn and reached out to recruiters, I asked my friends for any openings where they work. I’ve asked my parents for help as well, to see if they knew anyone who would hire me. 

After a few rejections and countless ‘non-responses’, I wondered if there was something wrong with me. “It’s difficult to find a job during a pandemic”, my friends would say. “The market is terrible right now”, my mom would justify. A part of me understands that a lot of people have lost their jobs and there isn’t enough to go around. A smaller, insecure part of me screams at how I haven’t even been called for interviews in weeks. 

Coupled with the reduced number of job openings in the first place are the constant ghosting and lack of responses from recruiters and job posters. I have applied to hundreds of positions – both in my city and abroad. Because work from home has become the norm, I was able to apply for positions outside the country.

The lack of responses was, honestly, appalling.

Despite the hundreds of applications I sent, I didn’t manage to qualify for second rounds, assessments, and interviews. The ones I did qualify for, I was unfortunately ultimately not chosen as a suitable candidate. How do I know this? Because their potential ‘start dates’ have passed by without a single email confirming or denying my acceptance. Despite sending follow-up emails, I’ve gotten no response and it’s worn me down.

What annoyed me was that I would get a positive response during the interview but no follow-up thereafter. I would send follow-up emails but to no avail. After a point, I stopped asking; if I was selected, I would get a follow-up email and if not, I didn’t want to hound the recruiter. Ghosting hit me much harder because I would have positive expectations from the assessment or the interview and get absolutely nothing in return. It made me feel small. I felt like I wasn’t even deserving of an email.

It went from being insulting to being demeaning.

I remember for one particular job posting I was sent a questionnaire and invited for a video interview. Right before the interview ended, the recruiter said, “You should be proud. We received over 700 applications, but we sent the questionnaire to about 90 and invited 15 for a video interview. We’ll have an in-person interview next week to further streamline the process, but it’s impressive that you made it this far.” Honestly, I was proud. Next week came and went, with no email or request for the in-person interview. It was honestly rude and hurtful. I thought the interview went well and now I didn’t even deserve a “Sorry, we found a better candidate” email?

I had been steadily applying for jobs since February and I’m wiped out. As lockdown restrictions were lifted, interviews were taking place in offices again. Coming into the office was another source of anxiety. I’m at-risk (I have asthma), and I was genuinely afraid of going to the office. I made sure to take precautions but it was still stressful. Thankfully, there are still plenty of work-from-home options and video interviews. I was still asked to go for in-office interviews and that was another source of tension. 

Job searching is draining, to begin with. I have seen countless tweets and posts online that talk about job hunting being emotionally exhausting. It feels like a full-time position in and of itself. The satisfying part is finally finding a worthy fellowship at the end.

It’s an exhausting journey but reaching the end goal makes it that much sweeter.

Of course, I know I’m not the only one with difficult-to-answer questions about their career, especially during a pandemic. As the months passed, I did find ways to cope with the rejections, the lack of responses, and the fewer opportunities available:

– I opened up to my friends and my parents. It was difficult to start the conversation, but it helped lift a burden off my shoulders. It also made things easier at home. My parents became more accepting when I told them I was still looking. My mom has become more supportive and they’re excited that I’m still writing and publishing. They’re supportive of what I do and they’re glad I’m safe at home.
– I did my research. Interviews were pretty new to me (video or otherwise), so I made sure I read up on adequate etiquette, the types of questions to ask and answers to give, and how to present myself.
– I worked on other hobbies and paid attention to other things. I focused on my own blog, took up knitting, and started reading more. What’s cool is that I am now a very skilled beanie-knitter.

This year has definitely had its ups and downs. My career felt like it was going to tank before it even began but I’m grateful for my friends and for my family. I’m lucky that I have a home to stay in while I hunted for jobs. It is humbling to know I have the privilege of being able to do what interests me, instead of what pays the bills. I’m also lucky that I found something that I enjoy doing. I thought I’d never get over the highs of college, but I like what I do now. It’s an interesting feeling to have.

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  • Natalia Ahmed

    Natalia Nazeem Ahmed is a budding writer and editor with a BA from Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts in Pune, India, with a major in English Literature and a double minor in Philosophy and Film Studies. An avid reader, her goal is to build a career out of her fiction and non-fiction writing. In her spare time, she loves to knit for her loved ones.