I don’t remember how old I was when I found out Santa Claus wasn’t real, but I’m quite sure it was years before I graduated from college. I’m guessing the same is true for all of you too.
So then why do many college graduates still believe in another fairy tale of sorts – that ‘perfect’ jobs exist?
I get it.
The desire to hold on to the magic of our childhoods is powerful. That’s why when my then 9-year old young son started to suspect Santa might not be real, and asked me point blank if he was, my answer was simply: ‘Santa Claus exists for those who believe in him.’
But, my young friends, especially those graduating in May or June of 2020, I’m not going to parse words with you.
This may not be more serious that COVID-19, but it’s much more serious than Santa’s workshop. It’s about your future work life and your immediate and longer-term happiness.
Here’s the straight up truth: perfect jobs don’t exist and there is no one perfect job for you.
Let me address the perfect job myth first.
Every job, including those at the most senior level, has its upsides and downsides. But hopefully, the upsides far outweigh the parts that suck.
For example, you may not love the subject matter of the work you’ve been assigned, but you are learning new skills and methodologies, and you’ve got supportive colleagues. Or you may not love your colleagues, but you believe in the mission of your organization, you’re interested in the work, and you have a good salary and benefits package.
To find everything you want in a single job, especially for entry-level jobs, is as likely as your catching Santa coming down your chimney would have been when you were 5. No doubt the closest you got was a plate with cookies crumbs on it.
To think otherwise is to set yourself up for repeated disappointment and missed opportunities for professional growth. The reality is that your first couple of jobs out of college will probably involve a lot of administrative, rote and research-related tasks.
And your 20’s aren’t simply about paying your dues. They’re about getting your foot in the door and learning the best practices of a particular industry or industries.
That brings me to the other myth: there is no one perfect job for you.
Instead, there are a bazillion potential industries where you can work doing all kinds of different jobs in or outside your field of study. In fact, with rare exceptions, most hiring managers for entry-level jobs could care less if you majored in philosophy or poetry or physics.
What they do care about involves a mix of hard and soft skills: critical thinking, strong written and spoken communication, empathy, curiosity and a willingness to work hard as part of a team.
I hope that brings you comfort to know that they aren’t looking for unicorns or members of some secret society of rocket scientists! Frankly, if you’re someone who has held down a part-time job or had to pay your way through school – you’re more likely to impress future employers with your grit, time management and work ethic, than if you’ve got a 4.0 grade average.
I’ve learned this firsthand as someone who has hired staff in several industries and as the host of the Time4Coffee podcast which features ‘caffeinated career conversations’ or virtual networking coffees with professionals in dozens of different careers.
Here’s something else I’ve learned – it doesn’t matter where you start your career – especially if you aren’t particularly passionate about a particular industry or field, as I wasn’t when I graduated from college.
In that case, your North Star should be your interests or the activities that bring you joy.
For example, today I may be an entrepreneur and podcast host, but when I graduated from college my first job was working as a Trade Representative, or glorified translator, for an American Trade & Finance company based in China. I’d studied political science and Mandarin as an undergrad and was interested in adventure and travel. Kamsky Associates seemed to check those boxes.
As it turns out, even though I enjoyed speaking Chinese, I didn’t end up liking that job much. So, I quit and moved back to the U.S. to try my hand at journalism.
The mission of journalism better resonated with my values and storytelling on radio, and television, played to my strengths. I stayed in that field for 20 years. And while many of the jobs I had during those two decades were far from perfect, I enjoyed and frequently even loved, a lot of what I did.
Here are more tips to help you thrive as a professional in your 20’s:
- Prepare to work well over 40 hours a week
- Offer to take on extra projects and assignments
- Figure things out on your own and be a self-starter
- Manage up well and make sure to meet deadlines
- Identify a mentor and take them out for coffee
- Read articles/books and keep learning in your free time
This is the time of your life when you’ll be honing fundamental, and even unique skills, that can make you a much more valuable hire in the years to come. It’s also when you’ll gain more insight into who you are and what kind of career really excites you.
That’s the sweet spot which will give you the latitude to land an even better job, that while still not perfect, will be closer to the Platonic ideal.