This is a wake-up call for graduating college seniors in the Class of 2020 that you may not hear from other adults in your life.

I can only imagine how your parents would react if brave college career counselors were to tell you what I’m about to say.  [And maybe some are – and if so, good on them!]  Fortunately, I don’t have to field phone calls from pissed off parents who’ll read me the riot act because I told their child the hard truth — even with their costly college diploma almost in hand. 

So, here it is — my most sincere advice about how to think about finding a job when you graduate, especially for those who won’t have the luxury of someone else paying their bills in the short or long term, is to put practicality ahead of ‘passion’ in your post-college job search.  

Or said another way, now isn’t the time to listen to the favorite career advice mantra of the last 2 decades – to just ‘follow your passion.’  Honestly, it’s not great advice for young graduates under any circumstances, but especially now.

In a few weeks, tens of thousands of you will wrap up your college experience without the pomp and circumstance you’ve worked so hard to enjoy.  And no doubt the commencement address you’d have heard, delivered by a celebrity or otherwise famous person, would have encouraged you to follow your dreams and ambitions into meaningful careers.

That’s what commencement addresses are designed to do – inspire you.

So perhaps you should look at what I’m trying to tell you as a corona-proof version of graduation advice – the rhetorical equivalent of a bandana and gloves. 

First, I’m so very sorry you won’t get to enjoy the exhilarating experience of graduating with your friends and family on-hand to celebrate with you.   I know you understand these are extraordinary times; and many of you have already made your peace with that big disappointment.

But over the last couple of weeks I’ve been speaking with a lot of you, including some students who are graduating in May, and I fear the full magnitude of what’s happening to the U.S. economy, and the potential impact of this crisis on all our professional lives, hasn’t yet sunk in.  

Unless you’re an American history major, it’s likely been a long time since you’ve heard a teacher talk about the Great Depression of the 1920’s in this country. And yet, the last time 22 million Americans filed for unemployment, as they have over the last month, it was during the Great Depression.  

And millions more furloughs and layoffs are on the horizon.

My friends, it’s time for you to start thinking realistically, not idealistically, about your immediate futures. What do I mean by that?  I mean sacrifice prestige for practicality. Get a job that pays the bills, allows you to work from home or otherwise, gives you a safe work environment.

So, instead of Time Warner, think telemarketer.  Instead of Citibank, think customer service agent. And, instead of Virgin Media, think virtual assistant.

And before you click away to another more upbeat post, I urge you to keep reading because it’s not all gloom and doom!

If you’re worried that taking a practical job like one of those mentioned above will tank any aspirations you may have had for future professional success, you’d be wrong to be so pessimistic. 

In fact, there are countless successful professionals today who started out their post-college lives in less than sexy jobs.  Much less sexy.  And yet, many of them might go so far as to attribute their future success to those early jobs. I’ll explain why in a minute.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to interview hundreds of people about what they do in their current jobs, and how they built their careers, on my Time4Coffee ‘virtual networking’ podcast.  It’s a podcast I started in 2018 to help all of you — college students and young professionals — gain access to the same amazing career advice from people you might not otherwise meet.    

So please believe me when I tell you that spending the next year or two, maybe three, in a job you won’t love, and might not even like, will still build important hard and soft skills that will be valuable in more prestigious industries.

Among those I’ve interviewed who got off to a less than glamorous start:

  • Robert Draper, bestselling author and New York Times’ magazine writer, worked odd jobs for 4 years including editing technical translations and supporting a small lab making synthetic drug-free urine.
  • Steve Blank, serial entrepreneur and godfather of the Lean Startup Methodology, loaded horses onto air cargo planes at Miami International Airport.
  • George Leon, founder and CEO of Cakewalk Entertainment & former EVP at Sony Pictures Entertainment, worked during and after college as a bill collector for an ambulance company.
  • Mei Xu, founder of Chesapeake Bay Candles and Blissliving Home, graduated during the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising in Beijing, and was ordered by the Chinese government to go to a warehouse 8 hours from the capitol to track mineral deliveries.
  • Andrew Dana, founder and owner of award-winning Timber Pizza and Call Your Mother deli, graduated during the 2008 Great Recession, and worked selling power windows and siding.

And like these men and women, one of the most important and valuable soft skills you’ll hone will be grit.  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that ‘grit’ and a firsthand experience with ‘failure’ are among the most frequently cited qualities hiring managers have told me they seek out in the young people they hire – no matter what the industry. 

No doubt, the coming months and years will test you, as they will test us all, in ways we can’t begin to imagine.  But your ability to persevere and accept a decent job you find to pay your bills, rather than holding out endlessly for that ‘perfect’ job you’ll love, will pay you back in spades over the coming decades. 

Remember, your professional life will probably last at least 50+ years and will have lots of zigs and zags.  As someone who is on her 4th career, your professional interests, passions and priorities will unfold in ways you can’t predict.  Coronavirus pandemic anyone?  But so long as you work hard and develop valuable skills like those mentioned earlier, I am confident you will have many more opportunities, in the years to come, to aspire towards and land your dream jobs.  

How you choose to step into the working world in coming weeks will become the first chapter of your own ‘I remember when’ story.  One you may proudly share with future graduates some day at their commencement ceremony — about how members of the Class of 2020 graduated at an extraordinary time in American history and persevered, even succeeded, nonetheless.

[***Here’s a link to a list of companies that are hiring right now***]

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