It is graduation season when colleges across the country will send forth 1.8 million newly minted graduates into the real world. Graduates will hear from commencement speakers who will inspire them to pursue their lofty dreams and passions, implore them not to settle and to use their talents to make the world a better place. I love these speeches yet while they are inspirational, they aren’t all that helpful to a confused college graduate. Why? Because they tend to elevate, not diminish, the stress of “what’s next?”. As a recent college grad, what you really need is practical advice for finding your first job after college.
College graduates are stressed over fear of making a mistake with the first big independent decision in their lives. Lives that likely have been perfectly choreographed to this point. Adding to that pressure is stress from self-doubt, student loans, and figuring out what’s next when the array of choices is wider than a Las Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet.
According to the recent Accenture Strategy “College Graduate Employment Survey”, only twelve percent of college students will graduate with jobs secured. We all know someone from our college years that had it figured out long before they arrived on campus. They had a clear list of goals, balanced a crushing course load and participated in endless extra-curricular activities. I definitely was not part of that group. If you aren’t either, do yourself a favor and suspend your self-judgment and instead congratulate yourself for making it this far.
Your first job out of college will not determine your life’s path. Rather, it is an opportunity to develop your skills, learn what you like doing (or don’t), and are good at. Careers are journeys. While some careers are linear, most are not. Ask older friends and family members what their first jobs were after college. You may be surprised at what you hear.
So how do you navigate the next big step in your life? Here are some suggestions to help you get started.
Acknowledge your fear. It’s okay to be confused and unsure. It is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s normal.
Convert your fear into action. Spend time reflecting on what you’re naturally good at and enjoy doing. This will be hard, harder than you think. Answer the following questions:
1. What do I seem to do easily and well?
2. How much does money matter to me?
3. What do I care about so much that I will do it no matter what?
4. If I could have anyone else’s life, whose life would I choose?
If you’re stuck, have a friend interview you. Knowing yourself, what matters to you and motivates you, can help you choose a path that is a better fit for your needs, skills and interests. Using your priorities to evaluate options will help you to make better choices for you.
Craft your story. All interviews start with “Tell Me About Yourself”. You want your story to be sticky, as in memorable enough that it sticks with the interviewer. What life experiences helped to shape you? Your story should be professional (hint, work in a few strengths) and personable, maybe even a little bit quirky.
Know how your talents can help the employer (not vice versa). Companies hire because they have a need. Your interests are an indicator of the passion and the energy that you will bring to a role. Employers want to hire real people, so relax, be yourself and not whom you think you need to be to get the job. The sweet spot is finding an opportunity where your skills and interests overlap with what the employer needs.
Be realistic. Your first job will not be perfect. You will have to do things that you consider menial but they will be counter balanced with opportunities to learn, develop and contribute to your company’s mission. Treat every assignment as an opportunity to demonstrate that you were the perfect candidate for the role. You’ll be amazed by how quickly you’ll get more responsibility and more interesting assignments.
Don’t go it alone. Utilize all the resources at your disposal. Looking for a job takes time, a lot of hard work and resilience. It’s also a skill that needs to be honed and developed. Good coaches don’t let their athletes go on the field on game day without lots of practice and a game day strategy. Looking for a job is no different.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.” It’s great advice for new college graduates. Some of the steps along your career journey may be sideways and that’s okay. Have faith, trust in your talents and go ahead, take that first step. It might just take you places that you never imagined.
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This post originally appeared as a guest editorial in the Maine Sunday Telegram.