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Sarah Ostrow '18

Once while I was still at Hamilton, I had a conversation with a recent graduate that would change the course of my career. I was a creative writing major and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. The alum was a friend of mine, a couple years older. She was telling me when her time at Hamilton came to a close, she didn’t  know what to do either. Like me she felt immense pressure to find some sort of suitable employment as quickly as possible, but didn’t want to rush into a job she might not like in a new place where she didn’t  know anyone. 
So, she did the opposite. Her best friend had locked down a job in a cool city, so she decided to move there and take time to figure things out. She was volunteering, taking classes, working in a café… all in all, she was doing exactly what made sense for her.
None of this was groundbreaking stuff, but at the time I was floored. I took  it for granted that from senior year onward, hunting down a job offer was going to be my top priority. The concept of putting other things first—friendship, community, self-discovery—felt foreign. I gained so much respect for my friend at that moment, while privately acknowledging that I’d never be able to deprioritize my own post-grad job search like that.
I wasn’t wrong. I spent the summer after graduation in a rigorous course on book and magazine publishing, followed by an anxiety-fueled month of job applications. Eventually I was lucky enough to land an entry-level position at a small publisher in New York City. 
Publishing isn’t always a glamorous industry, but the magic of working with books is real, and my coworkers were incredible. For quite some time, it felt like a dream job. Until gradually, it didn’t. There was nothing wrong with the role itself, but after two years in it, I just couldn’t see myself there long term. And I couldn’t stand living in New York, with the noise and the crowds and the miles upon miles of concrete. 
And yet I had come to New York because I wanted to work in publishing, and I wanted to work in publishing because reading and writing had been my passions for as long as I could remember. It would be ridiculous to throw that all away.
I circled back to that conversation with my friend. In the years since, she’d figured out exactly what she wanted to do with her career and was pursuing it with verve. I started to think about all the other career advice I’d come across over time, all of which required taking a leap of faith. 
I finally decided to take that leap. But unlike my first job hunt, I wasn’t going to clutch a single career idea and run with it. I was going to give weight to other important things, like proximity to friends, fulfilling places to live, and opportunities to grow as a person as well as a young professional.
Eventually I found this marketing position in Burlington, Vt. that seemed perfect. Vermont was about as far from New York City in a philosophical sense, as a place could get. It was also where one of my best friends from high school lived. Marketing, though I didn’t have any experience in it, was a role that required excellent writing and communication skills, skills I’d developed in college and continued to use every day in publishing. And the company was a tech startup, an opportunity to work in a rapidly growing field and to learn about a million new things.
The only problem was the job listing. Under the “responsibilities” section, the part that described what the daily workload would look like, there were seven bullet points. I didn’t have experience with a single one of them. Several included acronyms— BM, CPL, CTA—that I hadn’t even heard of.
My narrow job experience felt like a huge obstacle here. How was I going to take a lifetime of reading, writing, and editing jobs and spin it into something appealing to another employer? I read online that a lot of people, particularly women, are hesitant to apply to jobs if they don’t meet every listed requirement. The general consensus is that we should muscle away our imposter syndrome and apply anyway. But what if we met zero of the listed requirements?
I knew I didn’t have a prayer of getting an interview. But I wanted to be the kind of person who moved to a cool place, who picked up new skills while putting down roots in a great community. And I knew that to make that happen, I was going to have to step out of my comfort zone. So I applied.
The creative writing major in me would like to end this story on some elegant, expressive note. But I think there’s probably a bit of concrete advice in order. I’ve been at this Vermont startup for almost a year now, and I’ve learned a few things I wish I’d known as a prematurely panicked senior.
That bit about applying even if you don’t fulfill all of the job criteria? That’s absolutely necessary. If someone’s going to reject you, let it be the hiring manager reading your cover letter—don’t reject yourself before you even get your foot in the door.
The part about applying to a marketing job with no marketing experience? It turned out all those people who said that going to a liberal arts college to practice critical thinking and clear communication were right. (Even if it was a tad frustrating to hear them bring it up again, and again, and again.) Marketers are storytellers. My creative writing degree is serving me just as well as a marketing degree at another school would have. And if I had majored in a STEM field? I could still be a marketer, because marketing is an extraordinarily data-driven practice. It’s really not about the major, or the prior internships, or the job experience. It’s about leveraging the skills you’ve got.
When I spoke to that Hamilton alum, all those years ago, the biggest thing I felt was relief. I just wanted to know that things would be OK after graduation. She was living proof that you could take a detour or two and be more than OK—that you could thrive. If there’s one piece of career advice I wish I could shout from the rooftops, that would be it.

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