Get off the Pile: Zach Zimmerman ’13

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On today’s edition of Get off the Pile, Zach Zimmerman ’13 shares how he persevered during a frustrating job search and how LinkedIn and a UVM connection helped him land his job. Here’s his story in his own words:

Zach Zimmerman

A little background:

The career I have embarked upon now can be traced back to my senior capstone internship with the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at UVM. I received special permission to study the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), a triple-bottom-line alternative to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), in a graduate level Ecological Economics course.

Upon graduation, Prof. Jon Erickson offered me a paid position as a contract research analyst on the GPI. For the next three years, I balanced this contract work with my commitments as a musician, performing and recording with various bands in Burlington. I enjoyed the freedom of contract work and the skills and experiences that it provided.

And because I was unsure of what sort of career I wanted, splitting my time between this role and my creative endeavors felt comfortable and natural.

Time for a change:

By fall of 2015 I was feeling dissatisfied with the lack of structure in my research role, and knew that I’d have to pursue a higher degree in economics to continue growing in that role.

Increasingly unsure that this was the correct path for me, I moved home to the suburbs of Massachusetts, where I set out to find a job in the Boston metro area.

The search:

The search was more challenging than I had originally anticipated.

I set a goal of living at home for no more than two months, sure that setting this limit would motivate me to put all my energy into the search. However, my lack of formal experience in an office and a crisis of confidence contributed to job search anxiety and feelings of inadequacy.

I sought to develop my existing professional relationships while being more open to building new ones, and became more critical not only of the roles I was considering, but of the ways in which I presented myself in cover letters.

There are lots of resources—perhaps too many—that aim to help job-seekers understand how to write cover letters, but through trial and error I learned how simple they are:

  1. State what you’re applying for;
  2. Show that the company and role excite you, and
  3. Explain (succinctly!) how your experiences make you capable of performing all of a job’s responsibilities.

Landing the job:

Ironically, the job I landed in was one of the first jobs to which I applied.

Before I had even left Burlington, I searched LinkedIn for UVM graduates working in environmental roles in Boston, and found Stephen Hart ’12, who was working at Earthwatch Institute, an environmental citizen science non-profit. We scheduled an informational interview, and with his encouragement I applied for the position of Program Coordinator.

I was not offered the position the first time around, but Stephen and I stayed in touch. When I was notified through LinkedIn that he had received a promotion, I knew there would be an opening soon. I wrote a new cover letter (and marveled at how much my writing had improved in the half-year since beginning my search) and within 10 days of applying I had interviewed, received and accepted a job offer, and started my first day.

I’ve been working as a Program Coordinator at Earthwatch for the last two months and have my UVM connections to thank for it!

Zach’s Get of the Pile Advice:

1. Think creatively about your experiences. A major element of my role at Earthwatch is customer service, a skill I developed primarily through working in food service as a server and barista. I also highlighted the relationship-building skills learned through my many years as a musician and event planner.

You can take experiences from any job and apply them to your current focus — just be thoughtful and honest about what you learned.

2. Be thoughtful and human about networking. Rather than approaching it with a mindset of “who can help me get a job”, consider “who can help me understand more about the profession(s) I may want to be a part of”.

Many people will be flattered to share their experiences if you frame it as a learning opportunity rather than a favor to be repaid.

3. Practice good mental hygiene during the job search. It is can be easy to fall into defeatism, and you’ll wake up realizing that you spent two weeks being too unsure of yourself to send out a single application.

Recruit friends and family to support you—tell them that you may need encouragement or advice, and show your appreciation when they offer it. There is light at the end of the tunnel!

4. Don’t put too much weight on discovering your career or landing your dream job right out of school. We all know people who know what they were put on this planet to do. That doesn’t mean you’re disadvantaged for not being one of them.

Every application and every job is an opportunity to reflect on what you like, want, and need in a job and in life.