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Gen Y money: Job hunting is that much harder when you’re broke

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Thanks for reading our Gen Y money blog, where a recent grad chronicles her real-life journey to becoming a financially independent adult.

I've learned a number of valuable lessons during job interviews: ask the right questions, avoid wearing grey (should you be prone to stress sweat), and have at least $10 in your pocket at all times.

Job hunting isn't free. Not only is it time consuming, the constant rejection and overwhelming feelings of desperation can be costly on one's sanity. As a recent grad tackling my student debt, I've found that the most frustrating job-hunting costs are financial – in particular, the unexpected, minuscule expenses that add up just enough to bruise my bank account.

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When I started my job hunt last year, I was still on a student budget and was in no place to make any explicit job-hunting expenses (i.e. hiring an employment agency or a resume-editing service). Instead, it was the implicit costs, like printing copies of my resume, transportation to and from interviews and investing in proper interview attire that weren't accounted for in my day-to-day budget.

"Impress for less" became my motto.

I washed my interview outfits in my bathroom sink and hung them to dry in my shower to save on laundry (much to my roommate's dismay). To preserve paper and ink, I recycled the same "questions to ask potential future employers" questionnaire I'd created on multiple interviews. Whenever a phone meeting was requested, I asked if they would consider Skype or a Google Hangout instead to stay within my monthly minutes, and I learned that the handful of companies who agreed to meet me halfway were those who considered me as a serious candidate.

I also started walking to and from all of my interviews. To preserve my only presentable pair of "interview shoes," I wore flat, comfortable walking shoes and would pack my heels to slip on just before the meeting.

On one occasion, I realized that I had forgotten my "interview shoes." Horrified that my first impression might be tainted by the massive white scuff on my ratty black walking flats, I ran into a convenience store fifteen minutes before my scheduled interview and purchased a black permanent marker, which I then used to frantically scribble over the scuff in an attempt to make it less offensive. Fortunately, it worked on the shoes – unfortunately, I didn't get the job and was out $5.

I tried to avoid "meet for coffee" interviews, mostly because they reminded me of blind dates. Despite my best LinkedIn "creeping" efforts, it was always unnerving trying to spot my interviewer in the coffee shop. Even more awkward was the do-you-pay-or-do-I-pay-let's-just-go-Dutch bill struggle. Although most companies would expense my coffee order, a few situations had me searching feverishly for the least expensive item on the menu and praying to the career deities that my debit card would process yet another surprise $5 purchase.

It's difficult to support a job hunt with little or no income. Since I've been employed, I've been doing my best to start good saving habits, partially because I want to buy a house someday, and partially because I know that if I ever find myself unemployed, my job hunt will warrant a "job hunting expense" budget (or emergency fund, depending on how you look at it).

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Job hunting is like any investment – you have to put in a certain amount of effort and money in order to get value. Despite the fact that my bank account balance frowned at all the little purchases, my job hunting expenses weren't a waste of money. They ultimately helped me gain valuable interview experience and challenged me to figure out creative, thrifty ways to put my best self forward.

Overall, what every small purchase really added up to was a crash course on how to market myself on a shoestring budget. The individual lessons I learned have also come in handy – I now carry a black permanent marker in my work bag, just in case.

Follow Victoria Hoffman on Twitter: @victoriahoffman

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