A Quintessential Careers Special 15th Anniversary Report
What’s the best advice for a college senior or recent grad that has absolutely no clue what kind of job s/he wants?
Compiled by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
We invited 15 of the top career and job-search experts — our Quintessential Careers Career Masterminds — to share their advice with our readers as part of our 15th anniversary. This question is just one of several, which you can find here: Expert Job-Search Answers and Advice from Career Experts.
Best Advice for College Seniors/Grads Who Are Lost About Career Choice
Breathe! Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that “if I don’t make the perfect decision, it’ll be a disaster.” The truth is, every job experience is recyclable — you can learn something from any job experience. Approach career opportunities with the perspective of, what can I learn from this, how can I extend my network, and, most importantly, how can I bring value to the employer. Look for opportunities that will allow you to do different things: a startup, a small organization where you wear many hats, a larger organization that has opportunities to transfer or serve on multidisiciplinary/cross-functional teams. And, be intentional about evaluating where you’re going: at six, nine, or 12 months, stop and look at what you like, what you don’t like, what your options are, etc., so that you don’t get stuck in a rut and lose sight of where you can go.
Of course, knowing your strengths is an excellent starting point. Sync those up with an industry you’re passionate about (provided the industry isn’t in a stagnant or contracting phase), and you’re on your way.
— Susan Whitcomb
I wrote a book on this exact challenge. The original title was How to Get Any Job with Any Major, and in the second edition they changed it to How to Get Any Job: Life Launch and Re-Launch for Everyone Under 30, or, How to Avoid Living in Your Parents’ Basement. First of all, this is where someone can really benefit from career counseling, as distinct from career coaching. A skilled career counselor can cut through confusion and help build a career exploration plan, which may involve interviewing people in the targeted field [see our informational interviewing tutorial], or job shadowing, or taking a quickie class at one of the “open university” options available in every major urban center. Career exploration helps a young person discover whether a career idea is viable and attractive. Only then should s/he begin looking for a job in that field!
One problem I’ve run into in working with college students, which I do all over the country in workshops and lectures, is that they are working off of bad scripts handed to them by the media and their parents. We are facing, right now, a re-evaluation of what a college education is, and what it is for. We need more career exploration before job search, and we need vastly improved approaches to job search. You cannot get a job with little experience out of a stack of 200 to 1,000 resumes. The less experience you have, the more important it is that you use hidden-job-market techniques.
It is an absolute tragedy that half of college graduates are now taking a job that does not require a college education. We have to address this issue as a society. If you have to take a survival job while you keep looking for a professional-track job, then, by all means, do so. But don’t for one second stop your search for a position that requires a college education.
— Donald Asher
Internships, paid and unpaid, are an excellent way to learn about an industry and/or specific job that you may be interested in. Not only will you gain invaluable experience that will make you highly marketable but you will also be able to better identify whether or not you are well suited for your ideal position. Another benefit to internships is being exposed and becoming comfortable with interoffice dynamics and interpersonal professional relationships. Many students have taken for granted that they spend most of their time behind their laptops, phones, iPads, and other gadgets, and their professional communication skills may suffer.
Talk to people a few years older than you. Ask them what they like and what they don’t like about their jobs. Find out what things they would do differently. Learn from their mistakes. Ask mentors, teachers and friends what they think you might excel at. Set up an informational interview with someone who works at a job that you may be interested in.
— Lindsey Pollak
Perhaps the best advice is to assure you that you are in a very, very big club. Few college seniors or recent graduates know what kind of a job they want, especially if you expand the time horizon beyond the first few years after graduation.
I recommend they look at three factors: competencies (what you’re good at), interests (what you like to do), and values (what is important to you). Grab a piece of paper and list as many words or phrases under each as possible. Then look across those columns for common themes. Maybe you’re good with animals, care about them, and feel their health is important. If so, look for a job in veterinary care — even if you don’t become the veterinarian.
— Steven Rothberg
No worries on this issue. Here’s the reality: you don’t need to know what you want to do for the rest of your life. You just have to pick something to do first. Choose something that will, at minimum, pay your bills and help you figure out what you want you like to do. Smaller companies and non-profits may give you an opportunity to try out many different roles. On the other hand, larger companies provide lots of opportunity for upward movement.
So… how to pick the first job? My advice is to do a competency-based resume and put it out on Monster and LinkedIn. See which recruiters come knocking and you will have a good idea of what message your profile is sending.
— Maureen Crawford Hentz
Go easy on yourself — your first job will definitely not be your last, nor is it likely to be indicative of what you’ll do for years to come. Find a place where you can dive in and learn from great people, regardless of the industry.
— Tory Johnson
Understand that EVERY job is temporary. What you choose to do now will most likely not be what you are doing in five years. Thus, the most important thing you can do now is some serious professional assessment to determine your strengths and the careers they fit with. Then, select one or two careers to explore and conduct as many informational interviews as you can in each field to see which one would be best for you right now. Your career goals should be short-term and focused on playing to your strengths. This will help you find a first job that you feel more confident in, helping you to do well and gain professional momentum. From there, you can plan the course corrections you need to make each year to find the ultimate career path for you.
— J.T. O’Donnell
As Don Tapscott (in Grown Up Digital) says, It’s not what you see, it’s what you notice, that matters. Often the clueless college senior or grad just hasn’t noticed what skills s/he is using when s/he is happiest. Start paying attention. When you think to yourself, “I was working hard today (at this or that) and really enjoyed myself,” pay attention to what skills, what knowledges, you were using. In other words, if you are clueless, start looking for clues.
— Richard Nelson Bolles
One of the best indicators in my experience of future career interest is high-school career interest. Asking yourself what kind of people you hung out with and what kind of activities you liked doing in high school — are good indicators to what you would like to do in your career. In college, your choice of the major is influenced by thoughts of how you would like to make money. But in high school, the choice to be on the school newspaper or to be a volunteer at a hospital or to be on the debate team or to be the social party animal all point to careers in similar pursuits.
Another way that helps informed career decisions is asking the question “what kind of difference what I’d like to make in the world or society.”
Lastly, just opening your eyes and going through the Sunday newspaper with an eye toward what careers you see to open up possibilities for career choices. The most important advice is to make sure that you take the time now to explore as many different possibilities as possible. Changing careers later on is always more work than starting off in the career you like.
— Jack Chapman
Get to work. You have to try a lot of things — kiss a lot of frogs.
Read Dick Bolles book, What Color Is Your Parachute?
See also our College Student, Recent Grad: Career and Job Resources.
Our 15 Quintessential Careers Career Masterminds
- Donald Asher of Asher Associates
- Richard Nelson Bolles of JobHuntersBible.com
- Jack Chapman of Lucrative Careers, Inc.
- Deb Dib of Executive Power Brand
- Louise Fletcher of Blue Sky Resumes
- Maureen Crawford Hentz
- Tory Johnson of Women for Hire
- J.T. O’Donnell of CAREEREALISM
- Lindsey Pollak
- Teena Rose of Resume to Referral
- Steven Rothberg of CollegeRecruiter.com
- Miriam Salpeter of Keppie Careers
- Eric Shannon of LatPro, Inc.
- Wendy Terwelp of Opportunity Knocks
- Susan Whitcomb of The Academies
Find more information about each of our 15 Quintessential Careers Career Masterminds.
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