One day at the start school year, barely a month into my first year of college, I scurried off to the library in a dress shirt and trousers to print out ten copies of my resume, which I had only scraped together the night before. It was a tragic sight — the resume, that is — sparsely populated with the limited accolades I had earned during high school. In a rush, I plucked each page off the printer and hurried away.
The existential dread did hit me at some point later that day. As I stood in line at the career fair, I started to wonder if I was being overzealous. I didn’t even know what I wanted to study in college, let alone what the company I was waiting in line for actually did. I wondered if I was moving too fast, if the half-windsor knot around my neck was crooked. And looming over all these concerns was the bigger question: What am I going to do in life?
Two career fairs, one LinkedIn profile and five resume updates later, I still don’t have the answer. If anything, the uncertainty has gotten worse. And while I have explored opportunities outside the professional world, I have also continued my fruitless job search.
Starting my second semester of college, I have started to see the process for what it really is: an exercise in dealing with the uncertainties and self-doubts of adulthood.
Prior to college, I could always be prepared. I went to kindergarten to master phonics and went to middle school to learn algebra. In high school, there were test prep books and always tests to prepare for. The college application process provided me with a healthy dose of the unpredictable. But even then, there was the sense that the time was right, that 18 was a good age to move away from home and start anew, wherever that would be.
Fast forward to now, and any sense of preparation starts crumbling away. Reading the qualifications for practically any summer internship is a sobering experience. In most cases, I am hopelessly unqualified.
So why apply at all?
I still don’t know what I’m doing — if the frantic fray of employment is the best way to spend the summer. Maybe two months of research would be better? Maybe I just need some time to think. In light of such indecision, I would like to keep my options open. While each job I apply to is a Hail Mary, it marginally boosts my chances of finding somewhere to work for the summer.
The whole process is also a fantastic experiment with failure. I’ve been rejected in the past, from sports teams and clubs and colleges. But my recent adventures have shown me how to fall on my face with flying colors. Apply to ten companies. Get rejected from eight and ghosted by two. Apply to other places. There is no time to wallow in self-pity, and so the rejections have started to feel not so bad at all.
Of course, the challenge of being a first-year remains. It is a curse that has required me to intentionally overlook calls for “junior and senior applicants only” and to apply anyway. I once considered making the font for my class year smaller on my resume, hoping recruiters wouldn’t notice it. I decided against this when I realized that everything else about my profile would immediately expose my youth and inexperience.
But I suspect that I am not alone — that we all start with this freshman resume, one that requires us to use our imaginations in creative, slightly misleading ways. Every resume, after all, presents a version of ourselves we want to be. It’s a kind of desperate aspiration that compels us to flex our own competence when we are unsure what competence even means.
So many of us feel like we are faking it, and so many of us feel like we are underqualified. For first-years, this may be especially true. I doubt these anxieties will ever fully fade. Deep down, I have the sneaking suspicion that I will never feel truly ready.
Three years from now, I will be a senior, with graduation right around the corner. I will step past the Van Wickle gates and into the real world. I hope I will be wiser then, more certain of my convictions. Most likely, however, I will feel as I did but five months ago, like a first-year at his first career fair.
When that feeling returns, I will be prepared. I will know the weight of ignorance and inexperience. I will know what it is like to hold out hope in the face of impossible odds. It’s all just an act, but an act that we can perform with some confidence. Walk up. Give a firm handshake. Pass over the resume and hope for the best.
Johnny Ren ’23 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.