As I reluctantly begin to introduce the phrase “senior in college,” into my vocabulary, one thing is becoming clear: the real world is coming. Fast. There seems to be a myth associated with graduating college that maintains that along with your diploma comes the requirement to make one single choice that will define the rest of your career and by proxy the rest of your life. For our parents’ generation, that may have been true – missing the post-grad boat and failing to land your dream job (or any job at all for that matter) may very well have sealed your fate as the twenty- thirty- forty- and even fifty-something with the crappy dead-end job. But our career market is a world away from that of our parents. It’s a popular factoid that the average American in today’s job market changes careers a whopping seven times throughout their lifetime. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics disputes this figure, stating there’s no way to quantify what a “career change” actually entails, it is clear that it’s no longer commonplace to stick with one company or even one field throughout the course of your adult life. Read: stop freaking out about failing to land your ultimate job before June of your graduation year.
I recently met with two very successful professionals in their respective fields who where wholehearted devotees of the “Careers are a Journey” school of thought. The first was a member of Chicago royalty – a real estate magnent part of the billion dollar elite. Needless to say, I was drinking up all of the career wisdom he had to offer at a small dinner party he hosted at his multi-million dollar gold coast home last week.
His best advice? Make your 20s valuable – in terms of learning experiences that is. According to this well-seasoned business mogul, you may very well hate the first 6-8 years of your career. Our economy is no longer designed in a way that facilitates landing your dream job fresh out of undergrad. But that doesn’t mean that you have to waste your twenties at menial entry-level positions.His advice was instead of accepting a crappy version of the career you really want, do something different for a few years that you can learn a ton from. For example, if you’re at all interested in politics, move to D.C. and intern for a senator – go to the source of what you want to build a career out of.
The point of your twenties is to build your resume – and having experiences that are different will set you apart in a sea of candidates following traditional career paths.
My second piece of advice from someone who had experienced my same post-grad anxiety, came from my old editor at my current internship. She hired me last spring but left after she landed her dream job as Executive Director of a non-profit this June. Determined to follow my own networking advice, I asked her out for lunch last week just to pick her brain and it turned out that she was a wealth of information. Although she only turned 30 this year, this was her third career move. A journalism grad, she started out working at a large media company, she then moved to the magazine I currently intern at and set a goal to become editor in five years. She did it in three. She then found herself asking “What next?” and says she spend the next two years trying to figure out what would really constitute a fulfilling career for her.
She advised me to get good at knowing your own strengths and what what makes you happy, which will make it easier to narrowing the focus in a job search. The next most important thing you can do is learn how to sell yourself. Ask, “what kinds of experiences do the job I’m applying for require, and how can I apply the experiences that I already have to that set of requirements?” For example, as executive director of a non-profit, my ex-editor is in charge of running a board of 25 people. She had never even sat on a board let alone run one, she confessed to me. However, as editor, she had managed a staff of 18 volunteer bloggers, and was able to sell that experience in her interview in a way that was convincing enough to get her hired.
She also emphasized the fact that her current job was obtained not through traditional means, but through a connection she had made professionally years ago. Again, I find myself stressing the importance of networking. She advised me to not only be making new connections but to also make sure to keep in touch with old ones – there’s nothing wrong with sending a “life update” email to an old boss or connection that you may have built a relationship with.
As far as making new connections goes, she has found the most success by channeling her inner JFK and asking not what her new connections can do for her but what she can do for her new connections – when you make yourself invaluable to someone they’ll be much more willing to help you out.
And finally, she advised me to take some deep breaths. “No one knows what their life’s passion is at 20,” she said. “You’re not making one single choice as to what your life will be – you’re just starting your career journey.”