by Amy Jaffe, Career Counselor at Heart At Work Associates
For those about to graduate from college, this is a season of celebration. Commencement speakers have been chosen, graduation parties are being planned, black robes and caps are being fitted. It’s a time when families and friends honor a significant accomplishment in a young person’s life.
For the graduate, however, this may be a complicated and emotional time. Though many will embrace the transition from the structure, routine, and homework of collegiate life, the nearly endless possibilities of what comes next can be overwhelming. For the first time in years, there may be some fundamental questions that don’t yet have answers – where will you live, where will you work, how will you support yourself financially?
Understandably, many graduating seniors are too consumed by the responsibilities and obligations of their academic requirements to give these questions much thought until right around graduation. This often results in a fair amount of anxiety and, in some cases, paralysis. Making decisions can become incredibly stressful.
Having worked with many college seniors and other young adults in the “quarter-life” stage, I’ve developed a few strategies that can help a recent graduate get “unstuck” and moving down a productive path:
1. Avoid the “Major” trap. Many recent college grads feel compelled to pick a job that’s closely related to their college major. But having completed a Sociology major doesn’t mean you have to be a sociologist! College is a time to develop fundamental skills—how to investigate and research, how to write, and how to balance your schoolwork and social life. Most employers—especially those trying to fill entry‐level positions—are more concerned with a candidate’s attitude, resourcefulness, and ability to learn than any specific skill set.
2. Assess yourself. So, if you’re not going to find a job based on your major, how do you find a viable career option? Career assessment tools can help. Through the self-assessment process you will identify your skills, interests, values, and motivators as they relate to work. Knowing these can help you clarify and identify good career choices. A key to finding a satisfying career – as opposed to “just a job” – comes from recognizing your unique qualities and how they can best be used to contribute to an employer.
3. Get informed. The art of “strategic conversations” is the best‐kept secret to finding a job. Are there careers that you have always been curious about? Even if you think it’s totally unrealistic, what’s your dream job? It’s very worthwhile to learn about an occupation before diving into it. By talking with people in a variety of careers, you’ll hear about the day‐to‐day realities of a range of jobs—even juicy details like salary.
4. Hone your branding materials. Every job search requires an effective resume, an articulate cover letter, and polished interviewing skills. First‐time job seekers may have less confidence about their accomplishments and limited experience with articulating them to strangers. Good interviewing skills are not something you’re born with; only practice makes perfect. Likewise, developing a targeted resume will help you feel more confident and prepared to meet a prospective employer.
5. Find a mentor. Talk to someone 5 to 10 years older; perhaps an alum from your college or university with the same major. You’ll discover that they—and, indeed, most people—followed a winding path before finding their ideal career. A mentor provides guidance as you navigate your own career path.