Career Advice for Today's College Grads From a Generation Xer
During this college graduation season, I've written a bit about what graduates should do to find a job and then what they should do as they embark on their careers. As a 40-something I like to think I've been out of college long enough to know some things, but it's also been recent enough that I remember what it was like to be a professional newbie.
Just like the end of one season and start of another, I have been reflecting. I guess you could say I have insight and advice to spare. Read on.
1. Be kind -- to everyone.
I asked my circle for their guidance, too. Hope, a copy editor at the second newsroom I landed in after college, wrote back, "Be kind and respectful to the secretaries and custodians. You may need them in your most desperate moments, and they know EVERYTHING."
Hope's words reminded me of how I made friends with copy editors and photographers, because they were really great people. I later discovered the added perk of talking through edits to my stories and almost always having photographers assigned to my stories even on little notice. I once had a boss say I cared too much what people thought of me. He was mistaking kindness. And I would care if people found me unkind. It's always good to be kind.
2. Be flexible and open.
All I ever wanted to be was a writer, a journalist specifically. But with a struggling newspaper industry I found I had to reinvent and reimagine myself. You might have to, too. And it's OK. So long as you focus on what you are good at, your talents -- no matter the industry -- it will be OK.
While I didn't picture a career in PR and communications, it makes sense. It works, and I enjoy it. First and foremost I'm a writer and storyteller, and people always need good writers and storytellers.
3. You might think corporate culture doesn't matter, but it does.
The best jobs I've had have been those in which the culture of the organization is one that I can feel good about. But how can you tell? There are a few ways.
It starts before you even take the job. The best jobs I've had have been at places that allowed me to meet everyone I'd be working with before I joined. Back in the day, that two-day newspaper interview process was grueling but worth it. I could (and did) ask things like "If this job is so great why doesn't anyone else want it?" If you'd like that transparency, ask for it. Ask to meet potential teammembers.
Another telltale sign is how would-be bosses talk about their teams or others they work with in the organization. I've turned down jobs because it seemed like the person I'd work for was disgruntled or wouldn't have my back. So ask prospective bosses about the culture of the organization.
One time I did just that, and the would-be boss told me he brought his young children to the office on the weekends while he worked. It wasn't a requirement, he said. But the way he said it, I wasn't so sure. Why would he do this? Why would he tell me this? Needless to say I was relieved to not advance to the next interview stage -- and if I had advanced, I would have removed myself from consideration. So there is another piece of advice here too: Trust your gut.
Once you are on the job if your boss starts talking dirt about your colleagues, know that you are on borrowed time. Might as well start looking for your next gig, because he or she is talking about you and does not have your back.
4. Build relationships.
I used to say that the news industry was small. But it's really our world that is shrinking. You never know who can help you, so take time to build relationships.
Most of my jobs and new clients have come because of personal relationships. Take time for coffee dates, networking groups and keeping up with your network via LinkedIn. Throughout your career, be quick to ask those in your circle what they need -- a referral, a reference, an introduction -- rather than quick to always ask for what you need.
The mission of Next Steps Navigation is helping college graduates navigate the ups and downs of finding their place in the world, by finding their right next step. Recognizing the huge gap between getting a college degree and the realities of entering the workforce, we developed our coaching program to help families navigate this critical transition. We’ll meet you where you are and get you pointed in the right direction to choose a job – and a life – that you love.