April 20, 2020

GUEST ROOM | Graduating Jobless

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I graduated from Cornell with a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering in 2016. Not only did I graduate without a job offer, but I never even had an interview. I certainly applied to plenty of jobs and I went to all the career fairs.

Overall I think I had a relatively normal and generally positive experience at Cornell. I joined the marching band and the bread club, where I made lifelong friends. We road tripped to Canada on long weekends and played drinking games on Wednesdays. I spent two and a half years at an excellent on-campus job as a research assistant doing integrated circuit design, which is what I wanted to do for my career. I thought my grades were good, and I worked hard to get them. Looking back, I could have gone to the career center more or submitted more job applications or taken an extra semester to graduate. But I don’t regret the decisions I made. Even on a good day, I felt like my schedule was absolutely relentless and each day was an exhausting sprint to keep up with my coursework. Anyone who says Cornell is easy is a liar. I was completely burned out by the time I graduated. So, I understand why my job hunting was a bit lackluster.

I dreaded graduation day. It felt like a bad joke. I was very envious of my friends’ jobs. It seemed like everyone was graduating with an exciting new job and moving away. Their lives were all moving forward, and mine was moving backwards. Admittedly, I did not take it well. Why didn’t I get hired? What was I going to do? I felt embarrassed and angry, like I wasted my time.

My lease in Ithaca was ending and I didn’t have a new one. I absolutely refused to move back home. While my parents had never been helicopter parents, they did not hesitate to tell me they were disappointed. I wanted to stay in Ithaca, but they pleaded with me to come home. We reached a compromise — I would move to Texas and live with my uncle’s family. I had only visited their home in Texas once before, when I was 14. A week later, my car was packed and I drove to Texas with my best friend.

Things did not improve. I totaled my car on the drive to Texas. I struggled to hold any job. I was fired from a job cleaning kennels and another job waiting tables. I filed eight W-2s for my 2016 taxes. I continued applying for engineering jobs, but I didn’t even get rejection emails.

I landed a job at a casual seafood restaurant and it was a great fit for me. I loved the food, I actually made friends and my management team was great. I was making enough to get my own place and start saving. I hugely improved my salesmanship and interpersonal skills. As an engineer, I definitely needed that. They put me into management fairly quickly, and I was thriving. I continued applying to engineering jobs without any luck. When I met with career advisers, they told me my applications were good and they didn’t know why I wasn’t getting responses from employers. I strongly considered changing my career path to restaurant management, but I just wasn’t ready to cut the cord on engineering.

After quite a bit of deliberation, I applied to the master’s program for electrical engineering at the University of North Texas. It is not nearly as prestigious or rigorous as Cornell, but I could commute without quitting my job and I could pay for it out of pocket. I started my master’s degree in the spring of 2018. As time went on and I made friends at UNT, I gained a lot more respect for UNT and also saw Cornell in a different light. I honestly loved my time at Cornell, but the social environment at Cornell was filled with humble bragging, anxiety and elitism. In undergrad, I felt like I lost focus of what was really important. Graduate school at UNT wasn’t like that. I realized my thesis would indicate the quality of my work, rather than the pedigree of my university. I quickly familiarized myself with the career center services. They taught me to network and to choose quality over quantity in my job hunting efforts. I had faith that I would receive a job offer when the time was right, and that the time just wasn’t right yet.

It became increasingly difficult to balance work and school. As an introvert, the restaurant job required me to be very outgoing and it consumed too much of my energy. As much as I loved my job, they recently had some upper management changes that I disagreed with. After months of agonizing over the choice, I quit the restaurant job in March 2019 and dove deeper into my engineering studies.

Being unemployed again was less scary this time. I made huge strides in my thesis. I redid my budget and gave myself until the end of May before looking for new restaurant jobs. More importantly, I doubled down on my engineering job hunt. At the end of April, I noticed that Texas Instruments had recently posted a huge number of internships. I have always wanted to work for TI, because they are the leaders in integrated circuit design. I applied to many interesting jobs, but as they were just online cold applications, I didn’t expect any responses.

I went home to see my parents on a whim. School was done and I didn’t have any immediate job prospects. Then Texas Instruments called me to set up an interview. And then another one. I was shopping with my parents when TI called with an offer to start at the end of May. The internship itself was an absolutely wonderful experience and better than I could have imagined. By the end of the summer, they gave me an offer to return full-time after my graduation.

I finished my thesis recently and I graduate in two weeks. I have been in close contact with my manager and HR at TI. They have assured me many times that my job offer is still valid and unchanged, despite the coronavirus pandemic. I will start next month, and they are mailing me all the supplies I need to begin working from home.

I’m so incredibly thankful for the journey I’ve been on these last four years. I’m grateful for the amazing experiences I had at Cornell. I’m grateful for the kindness of my family in Texas for welcoming me into their home. I’m grateful for the lessons and skills I learned in restaurant jobs, which I would have never learned otherwise. I’m grateful for UNT for reigniting my passion in engineering. I’m thankful for my friends who supported me, regardless of my employment status. Of course, I’m thankful for Texas Instruments. They’re the only engineering job interview I ever had, and they’re the only one I needed.

I wanted to tell this story because I feel like I lived what many Cornellians fear most. Graduating without a job is scary, now more so than ever. But Cornell did not teach us to back down from a challenge or to give up. It made us strong and resilient. You can and you will get through this. For me, the four years after graduation were far more tumultuous than the ones prior, but I came out stronger for it. Remember to be thankful, stay humble and stay safe. I promise, things will get better

Jacqueline Horn ’16 is a graduate of the College of Engineering. She now lives in the Dallas Fort Worth Area. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically this semester.