Before you roll your eyes thinking this post is another guttural spew of “follow your dreams”, let me explain. Everything leading up to my current career wasn’t because of money or connections. What I did, you can do too. And spoiler alert: it wasn’t easy. So, I’ll just jump right into it. The first this I did was…

I expected to fail.

That sounds counter-productive, but hear me out. As a graphic designer and advertising major in college, I dreamed of working for a Google-esque ad firm with ultra-modern furnishings and vibrant decor alongside a bearded team of quirky, tech-savvy hipsters. So I scoured the internet for ad firms near me that matched my expectations and I applied to every. Single. One.

Before I get to the overwhelming response (or lack thereof) from said firms, I have to elaborate on how I prepared. If you checked out my post about what I did differently in college, you’ll know that I put a lot of work into setting up an elaborate portfolio to go with my resume.

The more effort you put into marketing yourself to an employer, the more likely you are to raise some brows and stand out from your competition.

Does it pay off every time? No. But instead of balling yourself up in a corner feeling defeated, which I may or may not have done, keep building your skills. Get certifications online, train yourself on acquiring new skills or just work on some fun side products. Stay engaged in the industry you want to be a part of.

So I did. And after all of that hard work applying to big time firms, guess how many responded:


I didn’t get so much as a “thanks for applying, but you’re not nearly bearded enough for our quirky team.”

You’re probably thinking by now, ‘Whitney, you really suck at this encouragement thing.’ Hang in there – I’m getting to the best part.

No matter how matter times you’re shot down, remain persistent and explore different avenues.

Ziprecuiter turned out to be a great resource for me, as well as posting my portfolio on several different design sites like CarbonMade, Dribbble, and DeviantArt. I wanted to ensure that when employers Googled my name, they would find nothing but samples of my work and qualifications.

When applying for all these different positions there is one thing I cannot stress enough:

Set standards for yourself.

I did the research for the expected pay rate for entry-level positions in my industry in my location. Based on that, I demanded a quality work environment at fair pay with benefits and nothing less. Never be afraid to set those expectations for an employer – as long as they’re within reason. If anything, it sets a precedence for the confidence you have in your quality of work and any employer with sense will see that.

What you should take away from this is that employers will see the person you brand yourself to be. What does that mean? Meg Guiseppi of CareerCast says it best:

“Successful job search is all about differentiation. When you clearly stand apart and above others competing for the same jobs, you generate interest and are much more likely to land interviews. Personal branding makes this happen.”

The best part about self-branding is that a lot of your competition has not thought to do it. Take advantage of the opportunity to stand out and, with time and patience, you will make it into your dream job.

One thought on “How to Actually Land Your Dream Job After College

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