Your twenties are going to be among the most volatile, crazy hard periods in your life. Even when you finally think you’ve “figured it out” and have reached a point of stability, life comes around and backhands you across the face. Add to that the enormous pressure of trying to find a job in a recessed economy, and it’s no wonder why so many recent college grads, from 2008 onward, wind up sleeping on their parents’ couches watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy on Lifetime.
No one is immune to the existential crisis that occurs after graduating from college. Everyone from your local stoner to your Phi Beta bimbo is going to say at some point within two years of graduating, “What the hell am I going to do with the rest of my life? Why has everyone else ‘figured it out?’ ”
There is nothing I or anyone else can say or do to help you get over that “Oh crap” moment. It’s inevitable. But, I can help put you in a position to have a lot of choices and options when that “Oh crap” moment occurs
1. Learn a Foreign Language/Study Abroad
Yesterday, I listened to Donna Karan deliver a keynote address to a room of about 1000 young women at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. At one point Donna Karan asked the entire ballroom whether anyone had been to or worked in Haiti. One girl raised her hand, and Donna Karan immediately said, “When I’m done speaking, I want to meet you in person and talk to you.” That’s right—one of the top designers in the fashion industry wanted to meet a lowly college senior just because she had studied abroad in Haiti. I wouldn’t be surprised if this girl got a job offer.
It honestly boggles my mind when people with the financial means choose not to study abroad during their college career. In the first place, you get an amazing education experience, both academically and culturally. Also, the friendships you make are probably some of the most important and long lasting in your life. Just this summer, I gave a tour of Boston to one British girl I met while studying abroad in England. She also works in PR and advertising, which are two fields I’m interested in exploring.
Most important of all, the jobs that you want and that have the greatest perks are all abroad. It is so essential to study abroad so you can hone your language skills and make the important contacts that will help secure you some form of employment after you graduate.
2. Get on LinkedIn
I haven’t really appreciated how fantastic a resource LinkedIn is until fairly recently. I always thought it was a lame version of Facebook, and I also didn’t like the idea of my peers being able to see what was basically my resume. I used to be really embarrassed about my accomplishments, and being overly humble is something that I still struggle with. LinkedIn is one of those sites where you just have to put everything out there and get over it.
LinkedIn is phenomenal because not only are there job postings on a daily basis, but you can directly contact hiring managers and senior associates and build relationships with them. I don’t know anyone who got offered a job by just submitting their resume through an online portal. Having at least one point of contact at the companies you apply to is critical in separating you from the reams of resumes that are submitted for each job post.
LinkedIn is something you can start using even as a freshman, and it does not matter if you don’t actually know the person you’re connecting with. I’ve requested connections with everyone from CEOs to Human Resources personnel to Administrative Assistants, and at least 80% have accepted the connection request. Companies are always looking for raw new talent, and as long as you keep your profile updated, it’s entirely possible that employer could directly contact you to offer you a job.
3. Talk to People
I hate “networking” because it seems so contrived and artificial. I don’t think you should ever go into any kind of career fair or conference aiming to “network,” but rather to talk to people and hear their stories. “Networking” is all about you. Talking to people requires a give and take.
Remove your earphones when you’re walking outside and actually smile at people and say “Good Morning” or “Hello.” Talk to anyone and everyone , from the ten-year-old you see walking his dog to the street vendor hocking purses to the mean-looking woman in the power suit. It will only serve to build your confidence and make you comfortable speaking to your interviewers, who more often than not will be complete strangers.
If talking to random people in the street intimidates you too much, start by raising your hand in class. This especially applies to the 100+ lecture classes with the hotshot professor. If you can work on keeping your voice from quavering in front of 500 Econ 101 students, you will definitely be ahead of the curve.
4. Become Besties with at Least 5 Professors
This is especially critical if you intend on attending any form of grad school. Professors are great for recommendations, employment references, and even helping you find a job. Start out seeking potential mentors in the form of professors as a freshman, so you can work on developing the relationship over four years. It will save you so much hassle when you’re scrambling to find people to validate your abilities as a human being and potential employee.
5. Attend Conferences
This past weekend I had the privilege to attend Harvard University’s Women in Business Intercollegiate Business Convention 2012 and the Brown University/Rhode Island School of Design-sponsored A Better World by Design Conference 2012. Between both of these conferences, I met people from Facebook, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Arnold Worldwide, Digitas, Novartis, Mullen, Teach for America, NBC, Credit Suisse, Oliver Wyman, Google, McKinsey, Bain, NYU Stern School of Business, Tuck, HBS, Maternova, Cleverhood, and Creative Placement.
These people now have a person in mind when they read my resume, and I also have their direct contact information. The first thing I did after attending panels and breakout sessions was to whip out my blackberry and connect with the speakers on LinkedIn. They accepted the connections immediately, and now I have several message threads being exchanged back and forth from the companies that I want to work for.
Plus, you usually get a lot of awesome swag at these conferences, and you probably won’t have to go to Staples for at least two years.
6. Befriend Upperclassmen and Graduate Students
They will be the career fair representatives at your school. Helping them win at Flip Cup may significantly help your chances. Being a drunken mess at every party may hurt in more ways than one.
7. Take at Least One English Class and a few Economics Classes
If you’re even remotely considering the possibility of working for a business, be it Sephora’s corporate headquarters or Hasbro, make sure you know how to write and how to think like an economist. Business is all about the bottom line and being able to persuasively communicate. Economics will give you that substantive background. English will give you the tools you need to be a proposal-writing fiend and a force to be reckoned with at Board Meetings.
8. Do Something Incredible, Off the Beaten Path
Scale Kilimanjaro. Work eviscerating chickens at a farm like Beresford of Tiverton. Develop a biodegradable toothbrush. Work as an au pair in Paris. Do something unique and crazy that will set you apart from the flock of sheep and leave your interviewers begging for more.
9. Fail at Something
You can’t really intend true failure, but you can create the circumstances in which it can arise. Take risks and work on projects that have a slim chance of success. Really put your heart and soul into it. If you succeed, that’s great. But, if you fail you’ll be at the same level as your interviewers, and it will definitely make you more hirable.
I have yet to sit through an interview where I wasn’t asked to describe a time when I failed and how I overcame that failure. Outside of academics, most college students really haven’t failed at anything, and recruiters don’t like that. They want to hire people who can bounce back from big disappointments, move on, and make adjustments.
Also, failing at something will make it so much easier for you to deal with all of the disappointment that comes from being rejected during the job application process.
One time, I actually tried to go all meta on an interviewer when she asked me to describe a time when I had failed. I started talking about not having a job offer after applying for 4 months. I thought I was being clever, but I think it only ended up making her think I would be a poor candidate because no one else wanted me. So, when you fail at something, make sure it’s legit.
10. Mentally Prepare Yourself for All of Your Best-Laid Plans to Unravel
No matter how hard you plan. No matter how closely you follow Tips 1-9, shit will hit the fan. It’s a growing up process coming to accept that you can’t control or prepare for everything and that no matter how hard you try, sometimes things just don’t work out. To quote Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, “It’s not your fault.”
I can give you a personal example. For the entirely of my life, I was so sure that I wanted to be a lawyer. From 6th grade to my senior year of college, I studied my butt off and took every opportunity to learn what it took to be a good lawyer. I thought it was my destiny. After all, it was in my blood. My grandfather was one of the top civil lawyers in Pakistan and my cousin worked in the Hague on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
My first semester of law school went off to a good start, but then two things happened. In the middle of the semester, I became totally disenchanted with the rat race and how I couldn’t afford to show any weakness to anyone. I liked my friends and all, but I hated not having a moment to relax and only breathing in the law at all times of the day and night. Plus, aside from Legal Research and Writing, which I loved, all of the classes became painfully boring and monotonous.
At the same time as my first semester, my dad became very ill with what eventually became diagnosed as Lymphoma. None of us saw it coming that for literally over a year he would go through two week cycles of intense fevers, chills, vomiting, and coughing.
January 2012 came around, and I made the very difficult decision to give up my coveted position at Georgetown Law to move back home and take care of my family. It’s been a rough road, and we’re not completely in the clear yet, but I’m so glad I came home to help my dad out. It has brought my family closer together, and had I not moved back home, I would not have the three amazing jobs that I currently have. I never thought I would be a teacher or a freelance writer, but both are things I enjoy immensely and I actually wake up at 5 AM everyday because I’m so excited to go to work.
Life is funny. Try to plan only two days in advance. Otherwise, enjoy the ride.