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!
While attending college graduation at Trinity University recently, I watched many bright, accomplished young people cross the stage to accept their diploma, including my daughter. She, like many of them, does not have post-college plans. While that is fine – it’s hard to have your life figured out the second you graduate – what worries me is how many of her friends plan to move back home indefinitely.
In 2012, a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data found that 36% of the millennial generation, 18-31 year olds, is still living at home with their parents, 18% of whom are college graduates. Sixty percent of all young adults receive financial support from their parents. According Wall St. CheatSheet these young people are hindered by a still weak labor market, high cost of living and significant college debt, making a move out on their own more difficult financially and less appealing.
While the job market and mounting student debt are important contributing factors to the number of college students who move home, I also believe the attitudes of many parents and care-givers, as well factors like children being able to stay on their parent’s health coverage plan until age 26, make it easy for our children to not grow up, to “boomerang” back home, especially compared to when we, their parents were growing up.
In 1983, the year I graduated from college, the New York Times cited that year and the previous to be the “bleakest years for college graduates in decades.” I moved back home for 6 months and worked part-time, while I searched for a professional job. Once I secured a position, although I only made $1000 per month, I found a small, inexpensive place of my own that I shared with a friend. That was what was expected. While my mother still enjoyed spending time with me,she also really enjoyed my emerging independence.
Today, even though first post-college jobs appear harder to obtain, according to Forbes Magazine 4 million jobs are currently unfilled in the U.S. Forbes writer Adam Lewis said, “When it comes to this mismatch between unemployment numbers and vacant jobs, blame is cast in all directions: Job seekers are unwilling to move cities or work in unfamiliar positions; Employers are holding out for the elusive ‘perfect candidate’; and schools just aren’t providing the right skills.” This millennial generation is characterized by their willingness to trade off a higher paycheck for meaningful work, in the location they desire with the flexibility to live the lifestyle they choose and since those jobs are hard to find, one may argue that it’s not that college grads cannot get a job, but that they are waiting for the “perfect” job to land in their lap. I saw this first-hand in my many years of coaching college students in finding their career paths. Trying to find that perfect, fulfilling job is difficult and some graduates are paralyzed with the job search. Moving back home can feel comforting, like stepping into a security net.
So many young adults have moved back home that in her book New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time, Gail Sheehy adopts provisional adulthood as a stage development for 18-30 year olds. Who is allowing this period of extended adolescence and what is the impact?
In my opinion, while of course acknowledging there are other factors like the rising costs of student debt, I believe it is parents’ responsibility to launch their children after college, letting them both succeed and fail on their own. If college graduates are funded by their parents indefinitely, they are robbed of the important life and developmental experiences: gaining confidence in knowing they are in charge of their lives and can support themselves, learning how to be self-reliant and resourceful, understanding what is important to them, making compromises and sacrifices to get a start in a field that truly interests them. When we, as parents, make it too easy for our children, they delay stepping into full adulthood.
So what? Besides the personal impact to young people, living at home after college also considerably affects our economy. Existing home sales are affected. The millennials are not moving out and buying homes at the rate of previous generations. Besides paying a mortgage, they are also not purchasing furniture, decorating, and laying out their cash for all that it takes to maintain a home. There is a considerable impact to our economy when college grads end up sleeping in their childhood beds well into their late 20’s.
I enjoy my daughter (and sons) as much as anyone and there is nothing that makes me happier than having a house full of family. So it is tempting to encourage her to move back home to live, considering her first job out of college may not pay well. But, I believe my role as a parent is to gently nudge her along to her own uniquely carved out life. She needs to feel good about the choices she is making. She needs to find her values. She needs to know how it feels to earn a lifestyle.
Suzanne McFarlin has raised four children and is a Board CertifiedCoach, as well as Executive Director of Greater Tucson Leadership. She is a Public Voices Thought Leaders fellow, a program of the OpEd Project