If you’re a recent college graduate, or know one, the phrase “I don’t know what I want to do!” may be familiar. Many 2014 graduates are still pounding the pavement to find that first opportunity.
As a parent of a recent college graduate and a career coach for five years at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, my advice is to take the pressure off of yourself: your next step in life does not have to determine the rest of your life. Instead, change your mindset to see what you can learn and how you can leverage each experience for the next opportunity. That is what I’ve done in my career. It has spanned from marketing to professional voice-over artist to doula to event coordination to college instructor to now coach and executive director. It’s been a twisted path filled with bumps and wrinkles, but a very fun journey.
As you embark on this exciting phase of your life, here are six steps you can take to help you along:
1. Make a list of the skills you have acquired and traits you have demonstrated through school, volunteering, work, sororities/fraternities, clubs, and school projects. Pay attention to what you enjoy, the times you get lost in activities, where you derive your energy, and feedback you have received. Employers are looking for people who have shown they are trainable, adaptable, good communicators, creative problem solvers, can take initiative and have a personality that will complement their team.
2. Be able to articulate examples of when you used those skills and traits. Use the Star Method to tell the story of your achievements. An interview is a way to get to know you. Rather than talking about how you will perform in a job, sharing examples of ways you have solved problems and created results is a much more powerful glimpse into who you are.
3. Don’t get hung up on finding a job that fulfills your passion. If you find a job that matches your passion, you are lucky. But for many of us, that is not possible. What is possible is considering how the things you are passionate about can inform the skills you want to use on a job. For example, if you love to garden, you don’t need to work as a landscape architect or at a nursery in order to like your job. Think of what it is about gardening that gives you energy and makes you feel fulfilled. What are you doing when you get lost in the activity? Perhaps, you like nature, creating beauty, working with your hands or seeing the results of your labor. Now think about all the different types of jobs that you could do that would include all or some of those personal parameters. Also, your greatest passions may be the activities you do outside of work that are afforded because you collect a paycheck. They may be what keeps you passionate about life and gives you the get-up-and-go to do your paid job.
4. Meet as many people as possible. The majority of people find jobs through personal connections. Matt Youngquist, the president of Career Horizons says at least 70 percent of jobs are not published because so much hiring is friends and acquaintances hiring other friends and acquaintances. Create a spreadsheet and track your family, friends, neighbors, coaches, professors, guest speakers from class presentations, and summer or school year employers. You’ll be surprised how large your network really is. Follow up with each one and see if they know about any jobs that may fit your interests and skills. For me, my best strategy has been to meet as many people as possible, find out about their careers, tell them what I like to do, explain what I think I am good at and ask them what thoughts they may have for me on where I might find a job fit. I always, always, always ask who else do they think I should talk to, with the hope that they will connect me with a few more people.
5. Keep at it. It can take a lot of time and effort to get to the next step. Make sure to celebrate each little success and surround yourself with people who will encourage and support you. Be that person to yourself, too.
6. Don’t be afraid to jump and in and try new things. Once you get a job, know that even if it is not ideal, it can help you learn what you like and don’t like and what you are good at and not. After gaining experience, you can leverage the skills and knowledge you obtain to transition to the next opportunity. That’s the way careers progress and each step is important, so don’t be afraid to see where your next step will take you!