When Daniel Seddiqui graduated from the University of Southern California in 2005 with a degree in economics, he never dreamed he’d have difficulty finding a job. But after three years and more than 40 rejections, he still wasn’t gainfully employed. That’s when he took matters into his own hands, setting off on a yearlong, cross-country voyage to learn more about American culture and the skills needed for a successful career. He shares details about his weeklong work experiences in “50 Jobs in 50 States: One Man’s Journey of Discovery Across America” ($15.95, Berrett-Koehler Publishers).
What was your post-college job-hunting experience like?
I felt like it was just the norm to graduate and get at least an entry-level job, and then buy a house and meet your wife. But none of that happened for me. I was pursuing positions in economics, accounting and investment banking. And I ended up tutoring elementary-school kids for $10 an hour. I thought, “Wow, I have a degree from USC and it’s come to this?” I had to be adaptable and come up with other solutions, like volunteering. I was using all of my savings, and I had to even beg my parents for some help. I was wondering where I was going to fit into society.
How did you come up with your plan?
I really had nothing to lose when I came up with this idea. I lived in five states in a three-year period and experienced culture shock everywhere I went. I felt like I had been living in a bubble in California. I was being exposed to different cultures and people, and that really made me curious about what not just me but everyone could learn from this experience. Curiosity is really what compelled me to do this.
Your goal was to find jobs that reflected the culture of each state. How difficult was that?
It made it easier in terms of narrowing down what I wanted to do and really focusing on that. But it made it more difficult because I was really limiting myself. For Nevada, I wanted to work as a hotel manager on the Strip, and everyone either rejected me or never got back to me. So I had to find an alternative; I worked at a wedding chapel. I always had a plan B. It would have been easy to find a job at Taco Bell in every state. But I chose [this approach] because I thought it would be the best way to understand our country and what really shaped it.
You held a lot of interesting positions — peanut sheller in Georgia, roustabout in Oklahoma.
I wouldn’t have seen myself doing 90 percent of these jobs. It was just surreal to be walking on stilts in an amusement park in Florida, wearing makeup and an Egyptian costume. When would I ever in my life have had a chance to do this? Going miles underground in a coal mine in West Virginia, working on a border patrol in Arizona — there were all these outdoor jobs I would have never thought of doing. I would have chosen a different major if I had done this before I went to college.
Which jobs did you enjoy least?
I did not like being a park ranger in Wyoming. It was so lonely and felt like it was a really solitary career. Marine biology wasn’t what I expected — it was more fundraising and making people aware of what’s wrong and what’s being destroyed instead of going out and scuba diving. But I never backed down from anything. I knew that this is what some people do for a living; I could do it for a week.
What did you learn from all of this?
I know that it’s cliche to say, but if you want to do something, you can do it, no matter what kinds of obstacles are thrown your way. I had every single kind of obstacle thrown my way, from being rejected all the time to nobody believing in me. But if you’re your own best friend and you have that internal drive, nothing can stop you.
Had you been doing anything wrong during your years of job hunting, or were you just the victim of bad timing?
I can’t blame the economy at all. I do believe to this day that everyone chooses their own destiny. I was just like everyone else sitting on the computer and looking online rather than putting myself out there and building a network. I think the worst thing to do is to send resumes blindly. Yes, I got a lot of interviews, but I never got my break.
How did your odyssey impact your career?
There are several avenues I’ve been thinking about taking. One is creating a college semester program [based on my experience]. Why go to college and invest all that time and money if you don’t really know what you want to do? I think it would be best if kids got exposure to different careers to help them decide what they want to do long term. I’m also considering becoming a dietician, which was one of my favorite jobs I did.
What advice would you give to recent college grads who are on the job hunt themselves?
Don’t limit yourself. Not everyone is going to be entitled to a job. Just because you got this degree doesn’t mean you’re going to get the job you’re yearning for. You’ve got to be adaptable. It’s harder than you think to get what you want, especially nowadays. It takes perseverance, networking, risk-taking and endurance. My book isn’t a how-to book, but it shows people what it took for me to create opportunity
Written by Express Contributor Beth Luberecki
Photo by Daniel Seddiqui