After ten years of working retail—where I daydreamed daily about being a technical communicator—I tiptoed into the community despite having nothing to show for the ambition and skillset I knew I had. The universe tilted in 2013, and I had an opportunity to get an advanced degree where I could pursue this dream. What follows is a brief recounting of the mistakes and misadventures that led to my first tech comm job at the tender age of 36. Hopefully my story will help or resonate with new and prospective students, seasoned professionals, those changing careers, and the tired and huddled masses yearning to break in.

At East Carolina University (ECU), I had a three-month internship that was cut to four days because of changes in the company. They agreed to let me work just enough hours for the internship to count. Despite this, I kept a positive attitude and worked hard on the off-chance they’d decide to keep me after seeing my performance. A month-long position doesn’t look good on a resume, but I pressed forward. I still maintain contact with my former boss, whom I lean on for references or advice when needed.

I joined STC Carolina while in school, first as a volunteer, then Programs Director, and now Communications Director, and I’ve produced some resume-worthy pieces as part of my duties. I was on the website redevelopment team, where I participated in every step of the process. I’ve attended conferences and job fairs and expanded my network which led me to enter—and win—STC’s student infographic contest. I’m also scheduled to have an article published in Intercom, the STC magazine, in November.

Cue a year-long montage of me writing and refining resumes and cover letters, then learned I was doing it all wrong. The valuable and meaningful connections I’ve made at STC and ECU were able to direct me towards success. I started getting phone interviews, then a few in-person interviews, but none led to a job. I felt hopeless, as though all this work, experience, and drive didn’t mean anything to anyone. Still, I kept the candle burning. Each iteration of my resume and cover letter became better than the last.

Finally in 2016, I had a wonderful phone interview with a company in Texas. They wanted me to fly out for an in-person interview. The boss thought I was a perfect fit, but a blizzard closed the airports, and when I called to reschedule, I found out there was a hiring freeze.

For over a year, I was getting endless cold-calls from recruiters for short-term contract positions. I applied for all of them. Among them was a position that I was sure I was unqualified for because I matched most of their requirements, but lacked some significant ones. They still wanted to meet me, and I had an in-person interview thinking it would lead nowhere. Those seemingly significant items were neither brought up nor were actually part of my duties. I was able to speak authoritatively and confidently about the work I had done and met what they were looking for perfectly. They were impressed by the work products that I thought didn’t matter. I was offered the position the same day.

Ironically, an hour after accepting the position, another company called that I previously applied to. I declined for obvious reasons. A hurricane also delayed my ability to start on time, leaving me restless with anxiety that not only would this contract get canceled as a result, but that I had flushed away that other opportunity. However, those worries were unfounded. It’s a late beginning to a career I’ve wanted for so long, but I’m finally happy to be doing it. Success is so much sweeter when you’ve struggled for it.

You cannot know or predict how things will go. You never know what experience and work will be valued by others. It’s all important. You don’t need to apply to a job that matches all of your qualifications. You can come within a mosquito’s eyelash of getting a job only to have those prospects thwarted. And you most certainly will have more rejections than you can count before something comes along. But to quote one of my favorite musicians, Jeffrey Lewis, “As long as failure is only ninety-nine percent, it’s not impossible.”

Jonah Swartz

Jonah Swartz

STC Carolina Communications Director