My daughter is graduating this week from college with honors in History and Literature. She’s an excellent researcher, and has worked for multiple professors, as well as a skilled comedic and creative writer. And she loves biology and medicine–some of her research has been there as well.
Ok, I’ll stop bragging now…but can you tell I’m really proud of how hard she’s worked and interested in the world around her she is?
The challenge for her and many other grads is finding–and getting–that right first job. Many college graduates have the same challenge–with so many interests, how do you pick the right career? And if you spent your time at college exploring an array of topics, instead of just focusing on building a resume, will someone give you a chance?
When I was graduating college. I had a degree in English, and an emphasis on poetry.
Many people told me to “follow my bliss” which in my opinion now is terrible advice (I’m glad to share my reasoning if you’re interested). The problem was, I didn’t know what my bliss was.
My boyfriend at the time (who is now my husband) had a bliss–baseball. He went into the minor leagues the day after we graduated. But me? I liked a lot of things but didn’t have a burning desire to do any one thing more than the others.
I really struggled to figure out what I wanted to do. I applied to government jobs, investment jobs, marketing jobs and research jobs. I also applied to law school. I was constantly filling out applications, conducting informational interviews and agonizing with friends over what I should do.
It was a scary and stressful. It seemed like all my friends knew what they wanted and had been preparing for it their whole life. Meanwhile, I was all over the place, talking urban reform one minute and corporate strategy the next.
Many of the hiring managers saw a lack of focus instead of what I’d hoped they’d see–intellectual curiosity, hard work and an ability to connect the dots. One interviewer actually asked me “How do I know that you won’t spend your days looking out the window and thinking about poems when I need you to analyze real estate portfolios?”
Eventually, I found my way into a 9 month program in the City of New York. It promised exposure to government, but also a chance to work closely with businesses doing economic development across the 5 boroughs. I think the main reason I took it was because it was only 9 months long and promised another inflection point to see whether I was on the right path.
Working for the City might seem like a detour, or a waste of time, but I learned a lot about what I did and didn’t want to do. I expanded my network and proved my ability to manage projects, which helped me get my next job.
Looking back now, many years later, here’s what I wish I could tell my younger self:
“Robbie, you may not like your first job and your career path probably won’t be a straight line. But you will figure it out and find your way. And there are many paths that will lead you where you want to go. Keep trying things, and keep taking moments to step back and reconsider where you want to go. Eventually you’ll get there.”
One of my favorite authors and thinkers, Daniel Pink, created this image for people “reinventing” their careers, but I actually think it’s just as useful for college grads who are just entering the job market.
This is the advice I would like to share with all of the college students who see many paths they’d like to go down and worry that they won’t be given the chance to pursue any. Allow yourself to explore multiple paths, and if you can’t decide which is best, just try one. It’s OK not to know where you’ll end up–trust the process. And in the meantime, stay busy, with part-time work, internships, passion projects and research that will help open doors, while giving you insight about which doors you most (and least) want to go through.
And don’t be shy about asking others for advice. What Pink calls “dormant ties”–your freshman-year advisor, the parents of the kids you babysit for, family friends, and even fellow alums from your school–can all provide perspective and insights about what might be right for you. They might even know of an opportunity. Check out my #linkedinlearning course on networking, which I’ve made free for you (first video is embedded below).
Finally remember, your friends and family know you and can reflect your strengths and interests back to you when you don’t see them so well. You know you’ll do the same for them, and for the people that are coming down the path behind you.
It’s not the easiest year to find a job. But perhaps this extra time to reflect, explore and experiment might actually help you find you way to the career that’s right for you.
Best wishes to the Class of 2020.