He scanned my resume for 45 seconds and handed it back to me with a red pen. "Take this pen and circle the word 'Texas' everywhere you see it," he said.
Fair enough. University of Texas alone gave me three red circles -- two for degrees and one as my employer. Internships in Houston and Austin gave me another five. Then there was my address, scholarships, volunteer programs and (you can see where I'm going with this) soon the page was bleeding Texas, Texas, Texas.
"You see my point?" he asked. "You're one of the most experienced and well-rounded candidates I've seen, but it's a good thing you're here in New York this summer. If you hadn't done something to break up all that Texas, I would have passed on that resume."
I must admit, I was offended at first. I had lived and studied in Texas for four years and worked no less than two jobs at a time to gain experience, all while taking a full course load. Until that summer, I couldn't stop taking classes to move and work a low-/no-paying internship in the big city where life cost three times more than I could afford. Still, I'd managed to work on global brands, try different disciplines and make good contacts. Texas had treated me well. I wanted to tell him to cut me some slack -- I'm not even from Texas!
He explained that when hiring for entry-level positions he sees hundreds of resumes and hedges his bets on whom to interview. Not only does he have to find a candidate who's qualified for the job, he has to find one who's likely to keep it. Often he'd take a candidate through to the final offer only to have them back out because the cost of living in New York was too high (you mean I'd have to live in Jersey!?) or worse, they'd accept the job, get homesick after six months and then quit to move back. The whole process would drain his time and leave him back at square one. He assured me that he had nothing against Texas; he just avoids candidates who haven't demonstrated an ability to change. He'd learned to look for an important quality when hiring: bravery.
Sometimes recruiters don't care where you come from; they care where you stay too long. Whether working for two years or 20, we all get stuck in ruts. For me, it was a Texas rut. For others, maybe it's a brand rut, an agency rut or another that's become too cozy. It takes effort to be brave, stretch your backbone and show that you're not afraid to take on something new, but it's crucial. Bravery is especially important for the young -- if we don't have the guts to do something brazen when the slate is still clean, when will we?
I'm aware that the timing of this post sucks. It's hard to justify doing something slightly crazy when everything in this business is in flames. Two weeks ago I took a big risk: I left a steady gig working with an agency I loved because my gut told me it was time to move on. It was an extremely scary, yet sound decision.
Now I'm betting it all and traveling around the country looking for the next step. I'm doing informational interviews, calling on contacts and pounding the pavement. In the last 12 days I've hit seven cities and heard tons of advice. I don't have an address any more—just my suitcase, an air mattress and a laptop. You could call me homeless, but my friend Caleb Kramer and I prefer the euphemism "digital nomad."
This won't be forever; when I find a good offer, I'll settle down and stay.
It might sound stupid, but it's exciting, it's gutsy and it seems to be working. Now that I'm in active pursuit, opportunities are starting to roll in. I'm working on freelance projects, advancing through rounds of interviews and meeting smart people in unexpected places. This approach certainly isn't easy and it might fail, but early results suggest that it's more productive for my job search than any amount of resume-fiddling I could do in Texas.
Next stop on my tour is New York. I'll have Texas over my left shoulder, and though I'll miss it, I won't be looking back.