by Joan Graci
Because higher education doesn’t bridge the gap between curriculum and real world demands, many millennials are drowning in student-loan debt or being under-utilized in the workforce. In order to combat the famous catch-22, “you can’t get experience without having experience,” fresh graduates are investing in more higher education in hopes that another degree will provide answers to the age-old question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”
So, how do you get experience without having any? The first step is to identify the most strategic first job available – one that sets the foundation for a sustainable career and gives you the tools you need to reach that next step. Easier said than done, right? With employers who are sometimes hesitant to hire new grads, and no real direction, getting that first gig requires new graduates to get creative. My advice? Take control of your career by getting a variety of experiences early on – even if it’s unpaid internships or volunteer positions, seek out help – such as a mentor in your desired field – to guide you through the process.
Here are some tips for starting your career that they didn’t teach you in school!
1. Be strategic about your first job.
View your first job as a means to accomplishing a specific goal. If you graduated with a general degree and aren’t sure how it relates, no problem. Approach this first job through a self-exploratory lens to help you better understand your likes and dislikes. Find out what duties and responsibilities you gravitate towards. Working on short-term assignments is a great way to get a variety of experiences, and once you’ve figured out your niche, you can use this knowledge to assure employers that you know what you’re looking for. Employers are much more interested in real-world applications versus theories, so if your goal is to get as much experience in your field as possible, find a role that gives you a wide range of exposure.
2. Don’t commit to more education before mapping out a career plan.
Hold off an investing in more higher education until you’ve done your vetting. Believe it or not, your major doesn’t always translate into the dream job you envisioned in college, so it’s best to clock some time in before committing to more years of school. Once you’ve done that, write down your goals, and be honest: is a higher degree required in order to take you to your final destination or could you get there sooner with online courses, night classes, or specialized certifications? Then and only then does the university of your choice deserve your money.
3. Seek out experts to guide your career journey, not mom and dad.
Despite their best intentions, family and friends make bad career counselors. Forget the fact that most people are unaware of the vast movement in job creation today. Your parents are most likely traditionalists who are still driving “doctor,” “lawyer,” or “teacher” into your mind. And because they want what’s best for you, their advice comes from a place of emotion rather than logic, which means it’s completely biased. Do some research, get on LinkedIn, and start networking. Find experts and thought leaders in your field, and ask how they achieved their success. They’ll guide you through the process and help you grow your professional network. Get your resume out to various employment agencies in your area, and, if you’re eager to see some results, try a career coach for a more personal, hands-on experience.
4. Rely on science rather than intuition.
Career assessments are incredible tools for answering the “I don’t know how my skills, experiences, and behaviors are relevant in the business world” problem. I know what you’re probably thinking – “Isn’t that the stupid questionnaire I took in high school that told me I’d be a great mechanical engineer or bus driver?” There are some incredible behavioral assessments out their backed by researched-to-death data that employers use on their candidates in order to make better hiring decisions. Our favorite is made by TTI Success Insights. It uses your basic human tendencies, such as how you communicate with others and what motivates you in life to tell you which work environments and occupations you’re best suited for. These underrated tools have been instrumental in my success in helping new grads find their career passions and land entry-level positions they love.
5. Think “specialty.”
The more you can acquire in-demand skills, the more marketable you become in the talent world. Go on Indeed.com to find out what specialty jobs are related to your desired field and are located in your area. Take note of the amount of entry-level positions available. You’ll want to see a high number since that signifies a talent shortage. Look at the job descriptions, and build the skills you need for that level. My daughter did this by working in one department of human resources while volunteering in another. This catapulted her career by an entire workforce level because of her diverse experience at such a young age.
6. Consider these in-demand occupations.
Forbes just released The 10 Most Promising Jobs of 2015, based on stats courtesy of Glassdoor, and none of them include doctor, lawyer, and teacher. Instead, Physician’s Assistant, Software Engineer, and Marketing Manager were some of the highly-touted roles. Be open-minded to new opportunities, research all the new and exciting jobs out there, and talk to people on the front lines. Believe me, your background is much more pliable than you think.
With years of experience analyzing the real truth of what employers are thinking and feeling, Joan has already helped thousands of job seekers transform their careers. As President and Founder of Career Reform, It is her life’s mission to fearlessly share proven career strategies with job seekers of all backgrounds and levels of expertise. Joan writes for The Buffalo News website and recently published her first book.