It’s your senior year of college, or perhaps you’re about to finish a graduate degree. You’re one step closer to earning well-deserved paychecks at your first post-school job.  But you’re not sure what your next steps should be. Maybe you don’t know what you want to do or where to apply. Maybe you’re concerned about taking a job that could derail a career trajectory you’ve dreamed of. Or maybe you realized during college that you’re actually interested in work that isn’t related to the field you’re earning your degree in. What do you do now? First things first, don’t panic!  

To help you navigate your way through the job market before you graduate, check out this list of some of the top 5 cited pieces of career advice from 40 top professionals interviewed on T4C:

  1. DO WHAT INTEREST YOU.  Whether it’s in the field you studied or not, focus on finding a job in a field that will interest you.  That doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily stay in that field forever. Sarah Smith, special counsel with the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, encourages everyone — no matter how much experience you have — to seek work you care about. “We owe it to ourselves to put ourselves in the best place we can,” she shared in T4C episode #69. That’s because life is too short not to be happy at work. Note that not knowing what you want to do is also OK. Shopping around, trying different jobs and careers on for size, or asking your boss for new tasks to work on to help you grow, are all great ways to learn what you like and don’t like.
  2. FAILURE IS OK. Peter Loge, associate professor at the School of Media and Public Affairs, at The George Washington University and author of Soccer Thinking For Management Success, wants all of us to stop being afraid of making mistakes and instead look at our failures and fumbles simply as opportunities to improve, learn and grow. Peter explained in T4C episode #52 that having a job that continuously gives you the chance to learn is something we should all seek out. We need to realize sooner rather than later that constant learning does not always mean we’ll have constant success. And that’s OK.  In fact, it’s human.
  3. FAKE IT ‘TIL YOU MAKE IT. You’ll probably be nervous when you start a new job. Your co-workers might seem to have it all figured out, but in reality they don’t or at least they didn’t when they were in your shoes. We’re all trying our best to get it right. Jonathan Karp, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing, shared in T4C episode #136 he learned early in his career that practically everybody “fakes it” or maintains their confidence while working on unfamiliar or new projects. Learning that helped Karp become more relaxed in every job he’s pursued since. Remember that you’re not the only person who’s nervous, and that it’s OK to ask for help from your peers. Don’t sweat the small stuff!
  4. FIND GOOD MENTORS. “Mentors are always available everywhere. You just have to take the initiative and really try and find them,” said Guy Raz from NPR’s top-ranked “How I Built This” podcast in T4C episode #1. It can be daunting to ask someone who inspires you, or who you want to work with someday, to be your mentor. But why not try asking them how you can be helpful to them because it’s also a great way for you to learn more about their job and it gives them first-hand insights into your skills and interests. Don’t be too afraid to give it a try.  Shoot them a message and if they say no, try someone else!
  5. BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE. Knowing when to take a break from work is critical for your mental and physical wellbeing. If you’ve been staring at a computer screen non-stop for hours, get up and take a walk. If you’ve had a demanding week, give your friends or family a call and catch up. And if you’re unhappy with where you are professionally, make a move and try something new. Marie Appel, manager for statewide analytical initiatives at The Commit Partnership, urged all of us in T4C episode #12 to remember that we’ll always have options. So listen to your mind and body, and try to establish a healthy work/life balance whenever possible. You’ll have more energy, your mood will improve and you’ll be able to perform your best when you’re feeling calmer and happier.

Unlike many of you, I’ve already been out in the working world in between college and grad school.  As someone who’ll be finishing my 2nd year of graduate school at the Merrill School of Journalism in May 2020, I’ve been paying especially close attention to these words of wisdom during my summer 2019 internship at Time4Coffee.  I now see that there is no one “right way” to land a dream job.  We need to stay open to accepting work that may seem to be off our desired career track. And we need to learn to embrace the zigzags, work hard and try to approach each job with an open mind, ready to learn new skills and have new experiences.

And most importantly, we need to trust our guts.  If your job doesn’t feel right, it’s OK to leave it and try something new. And we need to be aware that while there’s no such thing as the ‘perfect’ job, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other jobs out there that could be a better fit for your evolving interests, your work ethic and your lifestyle!

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