Countless college grads have been in Daniel Seddiqui’s position, i.e., unable to find a full-time job in their chosen field. After graduating from the University of Southern California with a degree in economics, the California native endured the disappointment and frustration of more than forty unsuccessful job interviews. Then he conceived the idea that would change his life, not to mention his fortune: He decided to spend fifty weeks, working fifty different jobs (paid or unpaid), one in each state, preferably in the industry most commonly associated with each.
It was a daunting task to sell potential employers on his concept and secure the first few opportunities. But media attention helped legitimize his quest, and he managed to find work everywhere he went—as a cheese maker in Wisconsin, border patrol agent in Arizona, and corn farmer in Nebraska, to name three.
In the following Failure Interview, Seddiqui discusses how he overcame such an abundance of rejection from potential employers, what he learned from the experience, and what he hopes readers will take away from his forthcoming book “50 Jobs in 50 States” (Berrett-Koehler), which reaches stores March 15.
How did you come up with the idea to work 50 jobs in 50 states?
I was struggling to find a career path on my own, and I was very curious about what kind of opportunities were out there in America. Growing up, I used to stare at maps and wonder what people lived like in places like Alabama and West Virginia. But in terms of a job search, I felt like I had to create an opportunity to myself.
How did your parents respond to your concept?
My parents are pretty conservative and they wanted me to find a full-time job after college in finance or banking and live a normal life. But nothing was working out for me, so my parents were getting frustrated and not supporting me at all. When I told them my idea, they thought I was getting even more off track. When I pulled out of their driveway, they said, “We’ll see you in three weeks.” They didn’t think it would be possible—financially, physically, or emotionally.
You experienced a lot of rejection in terms of your job search. How did you overcome it?
Rejection to me is not failure. I think it’s just one step from being successful. I feel that every rejection I go through is one step closer to an acceptance. That’s how I felt on my job search. Getting rejected after all those interviews was demoralizing, but I never lost hope. I don’t think the rejection bothered me as much as what I was going through in terms of my finances. I was wondering where I was getting my next meal. That was hard to deal with. But the rejection I got used to [laughs]. It’s kind of a good thing for dating [too].
How did you determine the quintessential job for each state?
Everyone knows that Wisconsin is known for cheese, so it made sense to be a cheese maker, for instance. Everyone knows that logging is a big industry in Oregon, so it made sense to do that. But I didn’t get everything I wanted. I got rejected from every single hotel in Las Vegas, and I ended up working at a wedding chapel.
Since we’re in the midst of tax season, did you have to file taxes in all the states where you earned income?
I did. I had to file 36 [state] returns. I hated that.
What were the most unpleasant jobs?
Incorporating companies in Delaware was really boring. And meatpacking was unpleasant, because I had to listen to other workers shooting cows in the head. If you even get a glimpse of it, it’s pretty disturbing.
What did you learn from the overall experience?
You really can turn failure into success. It’s all about the five elements [Perseverance, Risk-taking, Adaptability, Networking, and Endurance] that I talk about in the epilogue of the book. Perseverance is the most important thing. You set your mind to something, and no matter what obstacles are thrown your way, you can overcome them if you have the will.
What would you like readers to take away from “50 Jobs in 50 States”?
I want them to get a better understanding of America as a whole in terms of what kind of environments and cultures and jobs are out there. I want them to know that there’s a world around them that they should understand. Personally, I started to respect and appreciate where things come from—the meat on our plates and the gasoline in our cars. It was nice to work side-by-side with people who shape our country.