Maybe I’m just not sexy enough for San Francisco. That’s the resounding message I’m picking up from my post-college summer job search. As the world’s startup capital and the center of innovative opportunity, San Francisco seemed to be the ideal city in which to earn a degree in business. Fresh with a bachelor’s in entrepreneurship and hospitality this spring, I figured I’d nab an entry-level job with ease. With five promising business internships, near-perfect grades and a willingness to live in the office, I felt desirable.
Guess what? The tech gold rush has attracted more young talent from all over the world than you could ever imagine. And they all want a piece of the action.
There are over 1,250 San Francisco listings on indeed.com under the keywords “entry-level business jobs”, and every day in my Outer Richmond apartment, I dutifully scroll through thousands of job descriptions on at least 12 job-related sites. Two months and 100 applications into my search, I received my first and only job offer.
The 4oish operations manager, conservatively dressed in a white blouse and black slacks, took me to a diner where she shared her passion for the company and goals for 200% growth, while treating me to a small carrot juice. She seemed nervous – the first of several bad signs – but managed to slip the bomb into our small talk as if I wouldn’t notice. I was to sell Internet subscriptions on the street for no pay and no benefits. Commission only. I was interviewing to hawk subscriptions, not that different from an earlier generation’s cliché bad entry-level job, cold calling to sell magazine subscriptions.
My interviewer called me several hours later to offer me the position and congratulate me on my success. I politely declined the opportunity and made a mental note to avoid interviews where the other applicants in the waiting room think skate shoes are formal attire.
Other recent graduates tell me similar hard luck stories. Like aspiring actors in Los Angeles, they scrape by in minimum wage jobs with the hope of scoring a breakthrough role, and spend an astounding 60% of their income on housing (yes, rent is stupidly expensive here). But I found two clear truths early on in my San Francisco job search: I couldn’t afford to work for tips, and I couldn’t compete with the droves of 27-year-olds who already had their first (and second) jobs behind them. So I put my faith in the numbers, submitting 200 applications over the next month. And yet, somehow I didn’t score a single promising lead. By then I’d exhausted my contacts and broadened my search without any positive results. Doubt sunk in, and I began to wonder if I should have taken that first humiliating “non-job” offer. Meanwhile, I was drowning in emails from hiring managers in desperate need of cocktail servers, door-to-door salespeople, and retail attendants.
Maybe data could save me. I started tapping LinkedIn Analytics to learn more about who was being offered the jobs. Astonishingly, about 30% of the applicants for entry-level jobs in SF are either masters students or already have advanced degrees. How can I get an entry-level job if 27-year-olds with masters degrees are willing to work for the same lousy pay? And how do I get into a respectable MBA program without any work experience? My advisers, professors, friends, and company connections had no advice – other than to ask me if I had checked Craigslist.
Needing a fresh approach, I started reaching out to third-party recruiters, cold-emailing CEOs, and contacting local alumni to scratch and claw my way past the walls of computer screens and into an interview at my top choice, Pandora. After all, I surmised, how could the popular music site not want a grad with a degree in entrepreneurship who plays the drums for the Bodacious Ancients on the weekends? (Forbes recently ranked my college, The University of San Francisco, in the top 20 nationally for entrepreneurship.) With hands-on resumé help and a referral from the director of business operations at Pandora, a forwarded resumé from the head of HR and a third-party recruiter’s direct recommendation, I finally secured a prescreen interview for an entry-level project manager position.
My preparation was thorough: I scoured the net for press releases, reviews, and reports, studying job descriptions and reviewing pointers on interviewing, readying for my golden moment. I put on my best slacks and shirt, and got the hair just right. I felt good. Maybe today I’d finally get a break. After all, Pandora’s headquarters is not even in San Francisco. It’s ten miles away over the Bay Bridge in downtown Oakland.
But it was almost over before it began. The conversation was brief and inconclusive. Pandora would “get back to me” if a hiring manager wanted to speak further. It’s been two long weeks and still no word from Pandora.
San Francisco is the city I love and hate. How can it be that I rose to the top 5% of my class with a highly monetizable dual major yet I struggle to secure even an initial interview? The dog days of August approach – when the lucky ones with jobs go to the beach. My family and former coworkers encourage me to solider on, confident that I will find a reasonable job. But as the bills pile up, there will come a point when persistence and faith no longer gets me through the week.
There are plenty of good jobs waiting for me just beyond San Francisco.
Mick Jones of the Clash sang it best, “Should I stay or should I go?”
In the end San Francisco let me stay. After enduring four months of daily rejection I finally landed a job at Twitter. Five days, two interviews, and a personal reference from a friend completely changed my world. I now spend my days as a Marketing Coordinator: planning, developing, and launching countless sticker and emoji campaigns, a little known yet growing niche in consumer marketing. I’m fueled by the challenge that I’ve got so much to learn in this new territory, and yet I’ve never felt so alive.