Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Careers, Confidence and Confusion

Last night while speaking to and interacting with Arizona State University students, many of them graduating in May, I noticed a familiar look of concern and bewilderment across their faces. After spending six years of my life as a university career coach, adjunct professor and student adviser, I know the look. Everyone wants the secret sauce to getting a job or finding a career path. Here's a bit of the advice I offered:

1) Get experience in the world of work and in navigating life. That includes everything from studying abroad to volunteering to being a lifeguard during the summer. Every experience matters and employers pay attention to more than your GPA. They want to know you can navigate life. Package your expereinces in away that gives the employer a reason to believe you can do the job.

2) Be flexible. Be brave. You may have to move to a new city, state or country for a job. Say yes to opportunities to find out what you like and don't like. If you choose not to move, you are choosing to accept what is available in the job market where you have chosen to stay.

3) Your degree is only an invitation to the party. Your personality, attitude, intelligent questions, prior experiences get you in the door. Your eagerness to learn and listen keeps you at the party. People hire people who are intelligent, kind, authentic and who get things done. 

4) Make your experiences relevant to employers. Confidently package what you have done. Stop apologizing for what you have not done. Your study abroad trip, internship, volunteer work, part-time job demonstrate something about you. Tell your story in a compelling and relevant way.

5) Believe that you are created for a unique purpose, even if you don't know what it is yet. Stop comparing yourself to others. Everyone is equipped with a specific set of strengths, gifts and talents. You have to try new and sometimes uncomfortable things to discover what they are.

6) Careers rarely move in a straight line. Do not fear the zigzag. Just keep moving forward in the discovery process. Life is too full of change to be afraid of it. Believe your dreams are possible.

Those of us in higher ed have not always painted an accurate picture for students of careers and discovering your life's purpose. I am sorry for that. Students, please stop taking advice from everyone who wants to give it to you. Talk to and listen to those who know the current employer trends and thinking in the job market. Make sure your advisers have experienced life themselves. One day I want to write the ultimate career guide for undergraduates. For now, this will do.

What do you think?