Many of my clients are seniors in college and awaiting May graduation with some dread. The reason? They haven’t been focused on career; instead, they’ve had their heads down, working away at school to produce good grades. Yes, they’ve discussed the idea of a career and a job ad infinitum, late into the night with their friends—but unfortunately that’s a far cry from actually taking concrete steps to figure out what they want to do and where they want to do it.
They exude insecurity—these smart, talented young adults graduating from top schools—and almost to a person believe that their peers are ahead of them, know what they want to do and are on track to find a good job, while they are languishing, rudderless. Here is my advice to these prospective grads:
Know that you’re not alone.
The majority of college grads have no idea what they want to do in their careers. Period. Regardless of the number of students clamoring to be interviewed by Goldman Sachs when they’re on campus, it’s important to realize that this is not an indicator of career direction. Far from it. Mostly it’s a sign of desperation and confusion, not to mention lack of ability to dig deep to figure out what they should ultimately be doing for work.
Ignore the big guys.
One of the best ways to explore various career tracks that could be right for you is to find the organizations that are not the usual contenders on campus, and find a way to get introduced. Speaking with people inside organizations of interest, just for information, is a great way to discern whether you might want to work there. Read LinkedIn profiles of people who work there, read Vault.com interviews, attend industry panel discussions where those people are speaking, find personal connections to those who could be in a position to hire you. If you haven’t already had a summer internship for an investment bank or consulting firm, you’re very unlikely to get hired by them right out of college, so stop beating a path to the same door as everybody else.
Meet alumni from your school.
For perspective and direction, it’s a good idea to meet alumni who have been working for the past couple of years to get some career advice. It will also give you a chance to gloat that you’re graduating in a year when there are actually jobs to be had. You can be sure that someone who graduated in 2008 or 2009 and got a job has a great story to tell. A lot of prospective grads find it easier to contact alumni from their school, feeling they’re less likely to be rejected. Take advantage of that connection and see if those alums can help you find a job in your field of interest.
Know that sometimes it’s just about getting a job.
If after a lot of good discussions and soul-searching you still don’t feel secure in a career choice, don’t despair. Often it’s more important to get in somewhere and learn more about what you do and don’t like to do than to pressure yourself into discovering your dream career.
Your work-life will be long and you are destined to have multiple careers. The key thing right now is to get some experience within an organization so you have some credentials and know-how for the next job.