“I think the only thing that changed was that the other party was willing to take a chance on a fresh graduate”
Sophia Cheong awoke many mornings with a dull dread that so many people share; she did not like her job.
Like many recent college graduates who land their first jobs in their field, Ms Cheong, 25, discovered quickly that what she went to school for — business administration at Fullerton College — was not something she actually liked to do.
Few people prefer work to pursuing their own interests, but Ms Cheong wanted to spend her days motivated and interested in what she was doing. Over the course of 2019 and 2020, she became increasingly more convinced that she wanted a change.
But the coronavirus pandemic was in full swing, and more than a hundred million Americans were out of work — could she really afford to leap into the flooded labour pool and seek out a career change? Considering she would be applying as a candidate with no prior experience in whatever field she jumped to, the risk seemed overwhelming.
On the recommendation of friends, she joined a coding bootcamp, and soon fell in love with her studies.
“Friends of mine introduced me to the bootcamp and coding which led me to realization that coding is my calling,” she said. “I started to get more happy when studying for coding vs waking up to go to work.”
As she was discovering her passion, the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses to tighten their purse strings, and hers was no exception. When her employer made its staff aware that they would be looking to cut positions, she decided to offer herself up to be voluntarily laid off. She was looking to leave anyway, she reasoned, and figured it would be better for her to go voluntarily than someone else lose their job against their will.
So she left, moved back in with her parents, and jumped into the bloated pool of unemployed Americans, beginning what would become a months-long search for work that would result in hundreds of rejections and barely any interviews.
“Being unemployed and applying to jobs was my full-time job. I applied 5 days a week, Monday through Friday, from 9AM-5PM,” she said.
The job application slog can be a grueling, time-consuming process. Most employers require not only a cover letter – tailored to their company, of course – a resume, and then often a lengthy online application that collect most of the same information already found in the requested documents.
But she pressed on, determined to land a job doing work that energised her.
“I admit there were time where I wanted to give up on searching because I felt like nobody was going to take a chance on me, but during those time I would just take a break away from the computer and take some time to myself to recharge my energy,” she said. Mental health must always come first.”
Months dragged on, and the rejections began to pile up. She was not alone in her struggle; many of her bootcamp cohorts were also struggling to find employers willing to take a chance on them.
Ms Cheong knew that she was working at a disadvantage; there were ample candidates looking for work with not only her skills, but also professional experience – something she lacked. To bolster her chances of being noticed, she began researching the hiring managers of each job she applied for, and sent an outreach letter introducing herself.
“I would never cold apply, I would always research on who to out reach to after applying to a position,” she said. “If you send an application, you must also send an outreach email to the recruiter/hiring manager to be noticed. You are no different than 50 per cent of the people applying, and the other 50 per cent probably have more experience – to be noticed you must reach out and network.”
After nearly half a year of searching, Ms Cheong determined she had been rejected a staggering 357 times, landing only two interviews during that time. Thankfully, one of those interviews paid off.
In October, Ms Cheong announced in a LinkedIn post that she had finally found a job. To her amazement, the post blew up, drawing tens of thousands of likes and congratulations. A flood of messages poured in, some asking for advice, others offering congratulations and others still hoping to network.
“My inbox was flooding over with support, congratulations, asking for advice, networking … I felt very overwhelmed with joy, all the support and love I got was great,” she said. “I was also filled with happiness when I was motivating others to keep pushing. ”
Her story even caught the attention of the media, landing her an interview with BuzzFeed.
She now works as a full stack engineer for HOMEE Inc, an info-tech company based out of Tampa, Florida.
When asked she thought changed that finally landed her a job, she said that nothing changed on her part – she kept doing exactly what she had been for the better part of six months. What changed was that someone decided to take a risk on her.
“I don’t think anything on my part changed when I got hired,” she said. “I think the only thing that changed was that the other party was willing to take a chance on a fresh graduate.”