I built a career on a 2nd-grade education. It taught me 3 ways to shine as a 'less qualified' job candidate.
- Samarah Cohen only had a second-grade education and a GED when she started her job search.
- She struggled at first, but found success after learning how to stand out to potential employers.
In the last few years, finding work has become even more of a challenge for people who are unemployed. I remember when my now-wife was laid off early in our relationship and how she struggled to find a new job, even though she was highly educated and had several years of work experience. After witnessing her job search, I assumed I would struggle to find work.
At the time, I'd recently left an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community with no professional work experience and only a second-grade education and GED under my belt. Once I started to apply for jobs, I realized I'd grossly underestimated how difficult it would be to find work as a person with a physical disability and a lack of traditional education and work experience.
Many companies will judge intelligence and capability by the level of education you've received or the amount of work experience you have. I sent out so many job applications and rarely got responses, despite the fact that I was fully capable of performing well in the positions I applied for.
My applications were ignored due to my mostly empty résumé. I started my job hunt a year and a half ago. Today, I'm partially employed by a local coffee shop and also work as a freelance writer online. Here are three things that have set me up for success as I build my career:
1. I focused on writing strong cover letters
When I began seeking secular employment, I was never sure what to write in my cover letter because I didn't have any of the qualifying work experience many employers demand. As a result, my cover letters were largely empty, and an empty cover letter next to an empty résumé is almost always ignored.
One day, I decided to write a cover letter about why my résumé was so empty. I explained my story, and wrote down every skill I'd acquired in my life that qualified me for the position I was applying for. Immediately after I sent in that application, I received a call about the position.
I didn't wind up getting it, but the feedback I received drastically changed the way I approached my career. The person on the phone told me that while a résumé is nice, a cover letter is what really sells a person's application. It's the first glimpse into a potential employee's personality and work ethic, and it can make a hiring manager want to reach out.
I took this piece of advice to heart and noticed a huge change in the way I was approached by employers after that.
2. I tried to be flexible, but I always set boundaries
When you have no work experience, it's hard to be picky about the kinds of jobs you apply for. When I first started, I applied to a lot of manual-labor jobs — working in daycares, as a barista, or in a bakery. As a physically disabled person, this kind of work is harmful to my body and, in hindsight, I never should have applied to those jobs to begin with.
I was doing myself more harm than good by applying to and accepting jobs that were far too physically demanding for me. Often, I would lose the job just as quickly as I gained it. I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of putting your own needs first, even when you're in between a rock and a hard place.
You're no good to yourself or an employer if you're suffering and unable to perform certain tasks that need to be done. The better you know yourself, the better off you will be in paving a path for your future career.
3. I remained patient
This is a big ask. I know because I was often told to be patient as well, and I thought it was useless advice. I felt anxious and overwhelmed every time I was denied a position or when I didn't receive a response to an application I worked hard on. This anxiety discouraged me from submitting job applications because the pressure and guilt felt too much to handle.
I had to remind myself that while things seemed bleak in the moment, they would get better. That somebody would look at my cover letter and take a chance on me. My patience is what has led me to where I am today.
I began freelance writing about my experiences being raised as an Orthodox Jewish woman. I sought out local businesses and spoke to business owners face to face about my work experience, which eventually led me to being employed today. By being kind to myself and sticking up for myself when needed, I was able to start bringing in a second income for myself and my wife.
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