By Griffin Guinta
“So, what are you doing after graduation?,” seemed to be the only question family, friends and even my dentist had regarding my imminent departure from UT. The question came in such high frequency that I contemplated making up a semi-plausible scenario, such as volunteering for NASA’s next Mars mission or dropping out of college to join a traveling circus.
Instead, I simply opted for a brief: “Probably go to graduate school at some point. Applying for jobs in the meantime,” because honestly that’s the truth. Of course, no one deliberately means to put pressure on you by asking what you want to do with your life–it’s one of those quintessential icebreaker questions for young twenty-somethings- but it does get you thinking. Why is there so much societal pressure to have a definitive label? Would the question be better satisfied with a one-word answer, like “doctor” or “lawyer”?
Perhaps not though. Even my friends in medical school and law school have a hard time wrestling with what specifically they want to do with their lives, or where they’d go if they decide against their current trajectories.
Leaving college is arguably the hardest transition we grapple with in our young adulthood, but it doesn’t have to be an excruciating process in which we tearfully eat our last meal at the Caf and wonder how many cups of ramen we’ll have to endure for the next year. The (major) key is to prioritize becoming the person you want to be and let your career be a product of your character, discipline, and hard work. As the great UCLA coach John Wooden once said: “Don’t let making a living stop you from making a life.” That said, the key word is discipline. You can be the friendliest person in the world, but that doesn’t mean anyone is going to hand you a job. Keeping yourself motivated and driven when you feel like giving up is half the battle.
Here are some steps I’ve been taking as a second-semester college senior who is still trying to figure it out.
1.) How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
I would personally never eat an elephant, but the metaphor contains an important subtext: make everything an incremental process. If you’re applying for graduate school or your first big time job, make it a goal to fill out two to three applications a week. It saves you from bogging yourself down early on in the semester with hundreds of job searches while also preventing you from only starting the career hunt the day after graduation. Keep track of who you’ve contacted and don’t be afraid to follow up if they don’t respond for a few weeks. Needless to say, be polite in your follow-ups and don’t become irritated or annoyed–you may have accidentally been sent to their spam inbox the first time.
2.) You’re Not Married to Your First Job
According to a recent CBS News report, “among [the] 2,134 workers surveyed, 47 percent of college graduates did not find a first job that was related to their college major.” I take this two ways: 1.) Don’t be discouraged if you’re not working in your desired field right off the bat, as any professional experience is beneficial. 2.) You may find that you like a new field better than what you spent four years studying, and that’s perfectly fine as well. If making a lot of money instantly isn’t a huge concern, take a risk and carve out an adventure for yourself. Teach English in a foreign country for a year, work on a cruise ship and see the world, learn a new skill, or take a gap year to do the things you were too busy in college to do. Worst case scenario you’re 22 or 23 and have a wealth of new experiences, ideas and enlightenments. A break from academia won’t drain your knowledge or negate the four years you spent pulling all-nighters for finals.
3.) From Sorority President to Unpaid Intern
To add to that last point, the first job may feel like a step back. (Obviously there are exceptions, but on the whole, CEO positions typically aren’t being handed out to 22-year-olds.) If you’ve made it this far at UT, you’ve probably held some kind of leadership position, been involved in several organizations, and held prestigious internships along the way. Which is why you’ll likely feel wary at the idea of filling up someone’s coffee or being the errand person. However, within that backbreaking, undervalued job is a foot in the door, and that’s better than nothing. I recently interviewed Boston Celtics VP of Communications Christian Megliola, and he offered some valuable insight into early career moves. For one, he said, bosses and employers are always looking at work ethic. “I don’t like the idea of capping the number of hours an intern or entry-level person can work. For me, the person with the biggest motor is usually who sticks around. I’m looking to see who is willing to go above and beyond the required amounts, and there’s usually one or two that end up standing out. Ultimately, that’s who I hire,” he said. In essence, you can only climb the ladder if you’re on it to begin with.
4.) Let Me Tell You About My Best Friends
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you’ve probably met a decent contingent of people throughout your college experience. Whether or not you still like those people is a different story, but the point is, you interact with people daily, be they professors, bosses, co-workers, roommates, or best friends. It is about what you know, but who you know can give you an edge initially. It’s important to start forming those connections now, even if you feel limited in your amount of connections. Be bothersome. If you want to be an accountant, ask everyone you know if they’re acquainted with any accountants in the area. They may know a guy who knows a woman who knows another woman who knows a guy’s cousin’s sister-in-law who runs an accounting firm. Reaching out to local businesses isn’t necessarily going to seal you a job, and you’ll have to go through the application process like everyone else, but you may snag an opportunity or a crucial piece of advice you may not have gotten had you not reached out. What’s the worst that can happen? They send you an e-mail angered by the fact that you’re a motivated person looking to learn from a seasoned professional?
I am not currently and will never pretend to be an expert in this process. All the advice listed above is a compilation of advice passed on to me by parents, older siblings, bosses I’ve had thus far, and testing out some of these methods and seeing which ones work and don’t work. In short, don’t panic, just prepare.