Why it's Nearly Impossible to Get Your First 'Real' Job (and what you can do about it)

As mindyourmind's Program Manager, Melissa cares deeply about helping those struggling with their mental health. Her weekly blog, 'Radical Transparency', helps break down barriers by sharing the inner working of the program and fielding qustions from users. She is also a passionate gamer who envisions games as a way to create a better world.

This week we’re welcoming two new staff (Jennifer and Sierra), and meeting a potential third. All three are student placements from varying programs, and both J and S are here full-time. And that’s got me thinking about the struggles of finding paying work placements, and ‘real’ jobs after graduation. 

How I ended up here

My journey is one that’s probably becoming the norm. When I started here at mindyourmind in 2012, I was a new graduate with a history of part-time jobs, a graduate degree and some volunteer experience. For years I’d been doing what we’re all told—working for free (or being underpaid) to get the experience that would eventually (hopefully) get me a good job. 

Three months out of school I was already desperate to find work that would make ends meets. I met with an old professor who, by a strange string of events, was doing some work with mindyourmind. She recommended I apply to their posting for a Project Coordinator—I did, but I didn’t get it. I was disappointed, but not surprised. I didn’t have any experience in project management after all. But then someone took a chance on me again. 

So I started on a six- month contract as a Research Assistant. It was good, straightforward work, but I felt like I couldn’t stop looking for my next job. As luck would have it, the Project Coordinator position I’d applied to six-months earlier fell empty the same week my research position wrapped up. So I slid somewhat awkwardly into my new role. After struggling with the ups and downs of learning (or unlearning) how to speak my mind and follow my gut, I found it a deeply rewarding (but unexpected) dream job. I stayed in that role for three years before I moved into the Program Manager role. 

How does success happen?

I generally associate it with three things:

•Passion

•Luck

•Knowledge 

And I’d say it’s in that order of importance. 

Whenever I meet with potential staff, I’m not looking for a checklist of skills or a certain education. I’m looking for someone who really cares. Maybe they care in a different way than me, or care about a different aspect of youth wellness and engagement, but they care. Honestly, it’s even better if they have a different viewpoint from me.  

I’m looking for people who want to learn and make a difference. And if they have the passion, and I can give them a chance, they’ll learn what they need to learn naturally. 

What can you do about youth unemployment?

That depends on who you are.

If you’re an employer: Take a chance on people. Show them that they have value (yes, that means paying them) and you’ll all benefit. Don’t focus on specific requirements or skills that you can’t justify. Be willing to invest in someone. When you meet with an interviewee, think about what you see in them-- where their natural aptitudes are. Look for the person who can do the job, not just the person who’s already done it. 

If you’re a youth: Don’t give up.  That thing you love—you’ll find a way to make that passion into a career. But be warned, if you’re anything like me, it won’t be what you expect. I always knew I wanted to help people, but I’m not a front-line worker. I never could have been a nurse or a teacher. But what I get to do how is help a team of exceptionally strong and passionate people all do what they do best. And I’m happy in the role of facilitator—even if it’s not what I imagined.