The Quarter Life Crisis

Finishing my master’s program, moving from one country to another and applying for jobs has kept me busy over the past few months. Before all of this started, I had a few weeks time to breathe in December and January. Back then I was not in a good place. I was insecure what I (really) wanted and felt like I was cheating myself. A classic case of quarter life crisis.

Let’s be honest here: Most of us give up our childhood dreams sometime during high school or a few months after graduation. We give up crazy dreams of becoming Indiana Jones (in my case) for a safer and more suitable career. We realize that we’re probably not going to substantially change the world (or in my case, find the Ark of Testimony) and try to find happiness in a more realistic approach to things. And although we grow up and with that accustom to our not-so-dreamy future life, this feeling keeps creeping up.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy with my choice of study. I’m really really really good at what I do. I get to be creative, analytical and strategical (all of which are among my favorite ways to think) and usually get to see quick results of my work. It was a lucky choice for me to go from engineering to business and later marketing. It combines what I’m good at and what I like to do. I believe that for personalities like me who are literally on the edge between introvert and extrovert, marketing is a great field to work in.

But then there are these certain situations. When somebody asks you what you do for a living and wrinkle his or her nose when you reply marketing. Because that’s not special, it’s not glamorous, or directly making the world a better place. In my experience, marketing and sales is associated with superficiality and not-so-smart people. Every time this happens to me, I feel like I have to defend myself (and the whole field for that matter); tell the opposite person, that my IQ is among the top few percent of population, that I’m an ace in math and that marketing can certainly also make the world better (no cancer researcher would get funding without it). But this weird feeling stays behind. This feeling of not living up to a certain potential. Of doing something “everybody thinks is easy”.

Maybe I should have tried to become Indiana Jones. I would have probably failed hardcore, but people would have appreciated the spirit. “Living the dream.” Then again, what is it that 5-year-old Nicole liked so much about becoming an archeologist? I thought about this for a while (while listening to The Velvet Underground, highly recommended for this kind of thinking) and came to the conclusion, that Indiana Jones is awesome, because he’s smart and badass and especially not afraid to take risks for his beliefs. He’s also stubborn and proud, something I think more people should be when it comes to fighting for their ideas and ideals.

Reflecting on all of this, I realize that I’m not that far away from Indiana Jones after all. I consider myself to be pretty badass, especially in fighting through the lows but also in using the highs to improve instead of staying still. I can be stubborn when it comes to fighting for an idea. And then there’s one more thing: Indiana Jones is charming. It’s a main driver to his success. You can be sharp as a knife, but if you’re not charming, nobody will believe in you. And that’s why Indiana Jones would be great in marketing. And it’s also why I’m in marketing. You can excite people for an idea and then actually execute it. It’s awesome. It’s not easy at all. You actually have to have good ideas and be able to communicate them.

So, I’m not really giving up my childhood dream. It just looks a bit different. This realization is more important than you might think. Finishing up studies, a major chapter in life, can be pretty scary. You ask yourself a bunch of substantial questions. You’re scared. You’re insecure. You question life’s purpose, your own purpose. You question your wants and beliefs. It can be tough. It can be depressing, especially as most of us don’t know where and as what they’re going to work in the near future. It’s important to stay confident in yourself and what you chose to do. Starting off your career will still give you many possibilities to change and develop new passions, as well es fulfill old dreams. So reflect, believe in your choices and be patient (for now).

 

 

 

 

 

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Why applying for Jobs will offend you

In a few months I will officially be able to call myself Master of Science in Marketing, so I have recently started applying for jobs in both Berlin and Stockholm. Although this is my first official “post-graduate” job, I have already worked fulltime for around 2 years besides my studies, have done various internships and have worked part-time along my studies since 2009. I finished my business Bachelor before anyone else in my year and achieved a grade highly above average. Besides my Marketing Master, I have been taking courses in Decision Support and Risk Analysis and also have otherwise not been lazy – using my spare time to learn Swedish or practice my SEO skills. I guess you would assume finding a nice position would come easy to me.

Still, the past weeks that I spent applying for jobs have been among the most frustrating of my life. I can call myself lucky to land an average of 2 interviews a week – however, I don’t feel too happy about that at all. And here’s why.

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Hello, Goodbye – Most companies will reply to your application within 2 weeks (Germany) or 4 weeks (Sweden). If you get an interview, it will usually be with a recruiter and probably on the phone. The first interview is to check if you are at least slightly similar to what your CV indicates and usually takes around 30 minutes. After the first interview I have so far always gotten very positive feedback and been told I would be seeing an actual decision maker in my next interview – however this happened around half of the time. I never heard back from the other half. Being raised with manners and knowing that it doesn’t take longer than 2 minutes to write a quick “Sorry, we have decided you are not a good match after all”-e-mail, I have a hard time not getting offended every time this happens. The good thing is, that you do learn to keep your hopes low and it’ a pleasant surprise to actually hear back.

WTF did I just read – I am confident that I have a very clear CV that leaves no room for misunderstanding. My cover letters are structured and never longer than a page. Still it happens that people get my data wrong and I receive e-mails stating “We’re looking for someone with master’s education“ (can you even read?!) “We need someone that is fluent in English and German” (I’m native in both) or “Because you are a graduate we can only offer internships” (Seriously?!) In the beginning I answered those emails indicating that I had exactly that, but I figure that most recruiters don’t actually bother to look into a candidates’ profile twice – just because they didn’t get it the first time. Don’t get offended! I always do a very intense double-facepalm and tell myself that I wouldn’t want to work for a company that recruits this sloppy anyway.

Superman or the Toothfairy? – Just reading position descriptions can be very frustrating. At first glance it seems like everybody wants a person with various degrees, 150 years of working experience, 12 languages and on top of all that is an ace in communication. In the beginning I tried to find positions that didn’t ask for more than 2 years of experience and in general seemed closer to reality – however, you usually end up with a company that simply wont pay you what you deserve which may be the secret reason behind giving only few requirements. I’ve made better experiences with applying for positions that sounded like they were looking for more advanced applicants. Why? Because actually, it is hard to find people who are fluent in 4 languages, have relevant experience and are nice. Most interviews and offers I’ve gotten came from applications for jobs that sounded highly out of my league – so be confident and don’t get put off by all the qualifications.

Intelligence Tests – Ok, I have to be honest here, this is the most offending part for me. I once applied for a very basic PR position and was asked to do a pretty demanding intelligence test. During another interview they asked me to calculate degrees on a clock in the middle of talking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m usually good at these things and solve them, but I feel like it’s absolutely unnecessary to have a person with several degrees, experience and that has already been through interviews and proven to be real do tests like that. Especially, if they are totally irrelevant for the actual position. I turned down a job offer, because they kept sending me tests throughout the whole process. To all recruiters out there: This is one of the worst practices you can do in terms of positioning yourself as a decent employer. Actual talents will look for someone who appreciates them and their time.

Personality Tests – Isn’t this what you have 2-3 interviews for? After going through interviews’ with a company it regularly happens that I get sent an online personality test. Every time this happens, I feel like I’m back in middle school, doing tests like “Which Harry Potter character are you?” I think personality tests are the wrong approach to finding out if somebody fits a position for several reasons: 1. They are easy to manipulate (trust me, after you’ve done one you know exactly what to click to match a certain position’s requirements), 2. They don’t say much about the actual person in a business context (i’m an introvert according to all of these tests, but I bet non of my former employers or colleagues would think I’m anything else than extroverted and open) 3. They are a turn-off. Honestly, I’m 25. I don’t want to waste 20 minutes on your stupid test. Just talk to me.

Perception of Time – This is one of the worst parts of applying for me personally, as I can be impatient. In the end of each interview I ask when I will hear back from the company and how the process is going to continue. Usually you get to hear something like “by the end of this week” or “latest next Wednesday”. Never in the history of applying and interviewing has this proven true. All companies got back to me days or even weeks later or after I contacted them again. Dear employers and recruiters, if you don’t know how long a process will take, don’t give clear dates as it will definitely piss whoever’s applying off. Nobody likes waiting.

We want you, but we don’t want to pay you – This is probably something a lot of younger people and graduates have to deal with. After going through interviews for a payed position, it has happened to me several times that in the end I was offered an unpaid internship or shitty-pay traineeship instead. I know that everybody has to save money, but offering people who already have experience this will not only kill their confidence, but also most likely not get you the talent. Personally, I know that I have more experience and qualifications than people should have when starting a traineeship. So why would I do that again just so you can pay me less? I’m not even going to talk about offering unpaid internships to people after interviewing them for “real” positions. Those employers land on my never-again list without a glance

Cash, Cash, Cash – Most companies will ask you for a salary estimate in the beginning. You would assume that if they continue with the process that means that you’re going to be offered a salary around your estimate. Sorry to shatter your dreams, but many companies don’t care about your salary expectation and may still try to pay you way less – especially if you’re a graduate. So here you either need to have awesome negotiation skills or be prepared to turn down a job if it’s too far off from what you want to be payed. There’s no shame in that! You know what you’re worth.

Finally, let’s talk about the by far most frustrating (and potentially offending) part of applying: not getting the job.

Here’s the good news: In most cases you won’t even get reasons for not being hired. It’s usually just a 2-line e-mail stating that somebody matched their requirements more closely. You can get over that, no problem. But what about the other cases? Here are my 2 favorite experiences so far: One popular Swedish Start-up interviewed me several times and then actually sent me an e-mail asking when I could start and come in for all the paperwork. After that I didn’t here back for a week, which lead to me sending an e-mail asking for clarifications. I then got an answer that there had been changes in the organization and that currently no new positions could be filled. WTF? The other time I had a very promising last-round interview with the actual manager, telling me how I was his favorite out of the 140 applicants, but that he simply didn’t want to hire a girl again, as there were already 3 women in the 6-people team. I mean thanks for the flowers, but didn’t you know that before interviewing a female?

I could go on and on about frustrating sides of applying but the good news is, that a lot of times it’s actually nice too. You get to know different companies, improve your self-selling skills and hear a lot of good feedback. And eventually you will land an awesome job. If all the applying and waiting stresses you out anyway, you might want to read my post on mastering stress.

Now good luck on not getting too pissed on the way to your dreamjob!

 

 

How to master (extreme) Stress

Having moved house soon 15 times during 25 years of my life – 7 of the moves being across countries – I’ve become an expert at mastering stressful situations. The following things have helped me deal with situations of extreme stress – by no means am I a doctor; consider these tips that may or may not help you in similar situations.

What triggers stress? – Stress is triggered by hormones. Different situations and environments increase the amount of cortisol our body produces. This effect was carefully established by nature to make our bodies react better to dangerous situations. However, in today’s busy society stress isn’t only triggered by life-threats but also by situations that make us feel insecure, under pressure, lonely…the list of stress-triggering feelings is endless.

Uncertainty – Personally, my worst trigger for stress is uncertainty. It go through all kinds of possible (and impossible) scenarios in my head, ending up in a never-ending spiral of angst. Of course the easiest way to release stress in this case is to achieve certainty. An example is the fear of failing an exam. By studying harder and getting thoroughly prepared on time, you will not only increase the chances of passing but also actively increase the certainty of passing.

Unpredictable Situations – But what can you do when you don’t have the means to gain certainty on your own? Moving house (especially across borders) is a good example for this. A lot of paper work is involved, finding house in a foreign country, getting rid of housing where you are living now, leaving friends and family, switching jobs or studies, understanding the new country’s system and culture and – in many cases – not being able to speak its language fluently yet. On top of this the actual transport has to be organized, options have to be evaluated and the budget planned.

List it! – The first time I moved from Germany to Sweden, I planned little, freaked out a lot and in the end got more or less lucky with most things figuring themselves out. The second time I didn’t take those chances. After spending nights worrying about the unclear, I started listing things that I wanted to get done or gain certainty about. After working through most of the paperwork I could do in advance and making clear schedules for the paperwork to come, I felt much better. Being an expert in packing, I decided to not worry about that until a few weeks prior to the move. However, to budget transport we needed to know approximately how much stuff we would bring. In order to plan this better, I started making lists of what to keep and what to part with. Some of the things we decided to give away I put on ebay (check out my last post). We measured out the furniture we would bring – this is not only good for transport, but also to get a clear overview of how to arrange everything in the new home which we (welcome to the struggles of moving across countries!) wouldn’t see until the day we actually moved in.

Goodnight, sleep tight –I stress the most right before going to bed when I recap the past day and predict the coming day in my head. The closer to the scary situation, the harder it is to get a good night’s sleep. There’s not ultimate solution for this, but the following things have helped me: I go through the lists to remind myself that things are planned. I go for a short walk around the area to catch some air. I distract myself with a good book and put my computer and phone far away – that way I can’t be tempted to be caught up in a cycle of googling worries and scenarios for hours. Besides, staying away from technology before bedtime will generally help you to rest easier.

Positive Distraction – I’m by no means a fan of ignoring problems or avoiding stress completely, but I do believe that some types of distraction can benefit you in nerve-racking times. The most important form of distraction for me is exercise. Though a situation can be emotionally exhausting and you may feel tired constantly, it’s still imported to reach a point of physical exhaustion. Going for a run or doing strength workouts will not only distract you for an hour, but it will also help decrease your cortisol levels, help you concentrate and in general reach a better body/mind balance. I usually set specific goals for a stress-period like “I want to run 20km” or “I want to do 50 push-ups”. If it’s a reachable goal, it helps you stay confident when getting closer.

That being said, here are some more small changes you can make to improve your resistance towards stress:

  • Reduce caffeine intake (bye, tripple-espresso!)
  • Increase vitamin intake (more fruits, more sunshine)
  • Try out some basic yoga or meditation (breath!)
  • Plan clear breaks from your routine (short trips, meeting friends)
  • Talk . Tell you friends and family about your worries. You’ll be surprised how much another person’s perspective can put things into perspective.
  • Do something creative every now and then (painting, writing, singing)

Good luck with whatever stressy situation you’re going through right now – try out some of the things and you’ll manage just fine!

 

 

The Minimalist Wardrobe: How to downsize

When I first started getting interested in a minimalist lifestyle, not buying anything new wasn’t the big difficulty, but how to reduce what I already had. I somewhat followed my instinct, but looking back it could have been easier with more guidance, so I decided to create this small guide to help you downsize your wardrobe.

The Throw-out – This step is important to achieve an overview of your belongings. Go through your entire closet item by item: pants, sweaters, dresses, coats. Get rid of anything you haven’t worn in the past year. If you own items you consider investment pieces, but you don’t wear them – put them platforms like ebay, Vestiaire Collective or Trendsales. Getting some money back will make parting much easier. The same goes for cheaper and basic clothes that you don’t really wear anymore. Sell them on a fleamarket or ebay or donate them to local organisations.

Be Honest – Now you should be left with things that you ideally have worn within the past months making this next step significantly harder: Be honest to yourself. Do you need 6 pairs of black jeans? 8 basic shirts? 4 blazers? Pick your favorites of each type and give away the others. How many you may want to keep is up to you and depends on circumstances like your job and hobbies. I don’t need more than 2 blazers, because there’s rarely an occasion for me to wear them. On the other hand I do however need different types of shoes, because I have to go out with my dogs in any type of weather. Try to part with as much as possible, but don’t make it hard for yourself in the beginning as this may kill the the enthusiasm for minimalism.

Style & Matching – If you want to keep downsizing in the long run, you will have to own and invest in pieces that are easily combined with anything in your wardrobe. If you like wearing striped shirts and sneakers, you probably don’t need lacey skirts or colorful sweaters. Instead, basic jeans or a jeans skirt could match. Keeping a few statement pieces isn’t a problem, but I would make these the exception and try to make 85% of the wardrobe compatible. This probably means sticking to few colors – in my case it was black, grey, navy and dark green. One of my statement pieces is a bright red bag, which lightens up all my outfits. Rationally looking at your own style can be tough, so I suggest to do so over a period of a few weeks, closely watching what you wear on a daily basis.

Sort it & Watch it – Find a way to organize your clothes for a visual overview. Sort them by type and color and try to hang as many as you can (I forget about half the items that I have folded somewhere!) The clearer overview and sorting will help you keep track even better of what you’re wearing how often. If you notice an item being worn less, lay it off.

How many clothes should I own? – Some people own no more than 2 items per type, others are content with 5. Personally, I enjoy owning less and less, but this is only possible if you know your style well and have the financial resources to invest in exactly what you want – or already own it. My closet has shrunken in size and grown in quality over a long period of time. Give yourself time and let the minimal lifestyle grow on you.

As mentioned before: Becoming a minimalist is a process. You will grow more and more comfortable with less and less.

How to find housing in Stockholm

When it comes to housing, Stockholm is probably one of the hardest markets. I keep getting questions about how I found housing, so I decided to write this post as a little helper for the lost.

Firsthand Housing — Firsthand is (besides actually buying an apartment) the most valuable contract to get. It means you are renting directly from the owner. The only way to get this type of housing is by signing up for the housing queue here. However, to get a place in the city center you must be on this list for around 15 years. To get a decent place in the outer parts of Stockholm 8 years can be enough — if combined with luck. Firsthand housing is usually cheaper than secondhand housing, but most of all it’s safer, as it is legal by all matters.

Student Housing — Student housing can be obtained by queuing in the same list as mentioned above or by queuing here. On the 2nd list you may be lucky to get a place within 1–1,5 years. However, you are only allowed to keep the place as long as you are studying full-time.

Secondhand Housing — Secondhand housing is when people who have a firsthand contract from the official housing list, rent the apartment out to yet another person (or sometimes even that person to another and so on). This can be legal or illegal, depending on contract details and circumstances. Secondhand contracts are usually more expensive than firsthand ones. A studio apartment, which is around 6000kr rented firsthand, can easily cost over 10000kr when rented secondhand. Yet as a foreigner this is almost the only way to get a place in Stockholm. The best place to search is here.

Flatsharing — Flatsharing is becoming more and more popular in Stockholm. Room prices can highly vary. The average lies at around 5000kr for a (more or less) well-located room. With a lot of patience, you may be lucky to find something cheaper. Many rooms are already furnished which can save you additional costs. However, contracts are usually short-term and you have little to no rights, meaning that if you get kicked out, you literally get kicked out. Therefore it’s vital to find someone to live with that you can trust. It’s also worth mentioning that most apartments in Stockholm tend to have small rooms, so a room most likely wont be bigger than around 12sqm.

Buying — Amongst young Stockholm people it is becoming more and more popular to buy an apartment right after finishing school or during the first years of study. This is mainly due to the fact that housing keeps increasing in value and the banks have very low interest rates, making it actually cheaper to buy than to rent longterm. As a foreigner this might not be your first choice, but something you should consider if you decide to stay in the Capital of Scandinavia for longer.

General Tips — The best source to search for housing when you are not in Stockholm is blocket. Hundreds of rooms and studios get listed every day and the activity rate is high (which of course can also be a disadvantage). When I was searching for housing from abroad, I also used airbnb. I wrote to some hosts asking for long-term contracts and got several positive answers. Besides Airbnb, facebook is a good source for housing search as well. There are many groups to find housing in Stockholm, yet the risk to be scammed is high, so never pay in advance before getting a key and seeing the place.

In general I have to admit that yes, it is hard to find housing in Stockholm. But with some preparation and good social skills it shouldn’t be a problem. Just be patient and smart about it.