AWNY member Kelli Armstrong on the highs and lows of job hunting in NYC

After losing my job in Australia in 2013, there was nothing left to do but pursue my dream of moving to New York.

I spent seven years working for a magazine in Australia that gave me access to many of the globe’s A-list celebrities, and many a D-lister too! While I was often tapping away at menial office tasks at my desk, the perks were incredible and included beachside photoshoots in Thailand, interviewing Hollywood’s red carpet regulars inside their spectacular homes, and flying to New York at a moment’s notice to go on the set of a TVC in Central Park.

After returning from a business trip to the US, I was called to a meeting with my editor and a representative from Human Resources. I was given a two-week notice period and talked through my redundancy. I was a week away from a planned minibreak to Hong Kong and two months away from Christmas. As the previous seven years flashed by my eyes, suddenly all I could see ahead of me was unemployment and my mortgage bills.

For the next few months I pondered the future and one visual kept coming back to me: New York City. For years I’d talked about moving there and I’d come close once but hadn’t followed through because I was reluctant to give up my job. Now I had no commitments, no excuses. I packed myself up and head to the bright lights of the Big Apple in June 2014.

My work plan was to freelance from New York until I landed my dream job in publishing. I’d loaded myself up with confidence and references and was sure I’d secure employment within a few months.

How I was wrong!

Everyone knows about the E3 visa agreement the US has with Australia (a visa is allocated upon receipt of a job offer, provided the relevant criteria is met). I hit the ground running, applying for more jobs than I ever had in my 20 year working life. Mediabistro, glassdoor.com were great resources. I would also directly target the career pages on the websites of companies I was interested in, I made a list of all the companies I wanted to work for, and I targeted connections on Linkedin. I found this to be helpful and would recommend it to anyone. I found this received a response 60-70% of the time; Americans are all about connecting and I was very impressed by the amount of people I’d never met before who would go out of their way to meet for a coffee and throw me some ideas and connect me with their contacts via email.

After three months it was hard to stay motivated and negativity was creeping in when not only was I not getting hired, I wasn’t even getting an interview. Of the three interviews I did get at that time, it was only through knowing someone who’d handed over my resume. But still, no job.

New York had certainly lived up to its reputation as the most competitive city in the world. I discovered early on that living in New York is not all warehouse-style apartments, shopping at Barney’s and wandering around the MOMA. I had to dash back to Australia to sell my 4WD to continue to fund myself!

I also quickly learnt this is a ‘who you know’ kinda town. I needed introductions to all the right people in my industry and sought them out with gusto. Mid-week margaritas with friends of friends, coffee with gracious people I’d connected with on Linkedin. Americans bolster you with a ‘can do’ attitude and I still marvel at the amount of people who took time to guide me, connecting me with their contacts, and answer my many questions on how the hell to get a job!

As five months set in I was given a lifeline. A friend-of-a-friend connected me with a big department store. The next week I got a call from the department store as they had a position going and had received my resume. Was I interested? Was I what!!

Two days later I had back-to-back interviews with HR and the copy director for a copywriting position, followed by a lengthy edit test and another interview with a senior copywriter. I’d been warned by HR that it would be a six-interview process followed by a two-hour IQ/psychometrics test to make sure I fit the company culture. This test was quite difficult and antiquated but I must have passed because I was offered the job. I had to cop a massive pay cut and a drop in seniority but it was a foot in the door, sponsorship, and medical insurance. The holy grail!

I’m now 9 months into my job and recently celebrated 16 months in this frenetic city. New York is a city of high highs and low lows and sometimes I wonder when it will all really come together for me. But it’s a city that gets under your skin; loud and obnoxious while being warm and embracing. For those who are wanting to give it a go, here are my top job hunting tips:

1. Polish your resume (and call it such, not a CV). Americans like it to be one or two pages long only. Keep it to bullet points.
2. Connect on LinkedIn, make a list of the companies you want to work with and don’t be afraid to ‘reach out’
3. Tell everyone about your ambition (without sounding desperate!). I got my job through a friend of a friend’s school friend’s husband – you just never know where a conversation will lead!
4. Don’t give up! It was hard to stay motivated after 40 job applications and not many bites. While job hunting I did an online course in content management to improve my skills and confidence.
5. Apply for jobs out of your comfort zone. You don’t have to have 100% of the skills to get the role. I’ve had a slight change of career, although it’s still writing, it’s a whole new digital environment and I was given an opportunity.

Kelli Armstrong still freelances for Australian titles such as Marie Claire, The Collective, Women’s Health and Yahoo7. She also blogs about her love of travel and health at http://www.health-bird.net