Many college graduates think in finite terms when it comes to completing their postsecondary education and starting a job after graduation. To them, it’s a simple formula in which a certificate or degree results in a job. Nothing further needs to be done.
The reality, as these students will discover, is quite different. That certificate or degree and maybe even the initial job obtained after graduation are more of a ticket into the work world. Here, graduates must demonstrate continually that they possess the knowledge and skills needed to hit the ground running in that new job and to survive the various ups and downs of the economy and job market. Most graduates are typically not well prepared or informed about what follows this entry into the professional arena where things are not as defined as simply getting a degree and job. A long-term, more proactive mindset is needed.
Therefore, here are six tactics for seizing long-term career success.
Lead, Don’t Follow
This first point is one that is difficult for many of us to grasp, especially fresh out of the education/career starting gate. More experienced individuals, such as older friends, relatives, and professors, often seize this opportunity to tell us what we should do. They often try to describe what the field or work world is like based on their perspective. College graduates have a tendency to relinquish power to these experts, to wait for these advisors to make connections for them. There is a subliminal belief that some external individual or entity (e.g., the college) should and will provide a good career or course of action upon graduation. Many graduates are too passive when it comes to the job search. For example, see the discussion on Brian Kim’s blog related to this prior to the recent recession and economic downturn (8 August, 2006).
Although these people, and organizations like the job placement services at colleges and universities (e.g., Michigan State University ), are usually good resources for new graduates and career beginners, college graduates should consider the advice given, but still chart their own course. You know better than anyone else why you chose the certification or degree you earned and what sort of job and career will make you happy. Therefore, create and stick to your own plan. There are useful guides like this one from Princeton University to help you lead yourself to career success.
One good way to utilize personal and organizational resources is to make them partners in the plan you create for yourself. Share your goals and plan with everyone you know: friends, family, professors, and others in your life. Make connections via social media outlets, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Market your ideas and interest in collaboration with those you meet. Don’t hesitate to reach out to others. Make cold calls both virtually and in person. Take advantage of professional organizations in your field. Concept Marketing Group provides a helpful database to get you started.
Trust (Almost) No One
As you move forward engaging yourself and others in your education/career plan, do be a bit cautious. There will be people who support you. They will not only consist of family and friends, but also the allies and mentors who come into your life as you travel your career path. However, with economic downturns and uncertainties, competition in the job market is tough. People work to survive, so think in terms of the innate survival instinct we all posses. Edwina Martin of The Chronicle of Higher Education provides an excellent example of career betrayal in her recent post, “On the Job Hunt, Trust No One,” (6 August, 2012).
Although this was written for faculty seeking tenured positions, her advice is wise for anyone in any profession. There will be people who will not be happy with you, your work, or you in the current position you hold. The more success you have, the more these job jackals will surface. They may be ‘frenemies,’ co-workers who pretend to be confidants while really working to undermine your efforts to succeed in secretive, passive-aggressive ways. Not only consider what they may be doing and saying about you to others, but also how they may be depicting others and the context of your job to you. For example, you may have a co-worker sharing comments a supervisor allegedly made about how he/she was dissatisfied with your work when in reality, no such comments were made. The goal is to get you to sabotage your own future in some way, maybe by confronting the supervisor.
In general, be vigilant, but not overly paranoid. Always work to be a professional who is able to set aside your emotions for the good of yourself and others involved.
Each of the keys shared in this post and many of your career activities will involve research. Think back to the types of sources and various approaches to information gathering you were trained to use while in school. Perhaps in freshman composition, for instance, you learned about primary research, whereby you become the frontline investigator. In this approach, you may speak to other professionals in your field of interest, shadow and observe them as they work, or look up statistics on job options, employment outlook, and salaries that exist within uninterpreted sources of information like the U.S. Census .
On the other hand, you may also have learned about secondary research. Here you might make use of existing job search or networking sites and the advice provided by others. You may look at professional organizations, attend workshops they present, or read professional journals and newsletters, all with an eye toward learning what the opinions of others may be on your chosen profession.
Don’t think only in terms of job searches and other such basic tasks. Study how others network with one another via social media. Research areas of need in your field. Look into ways you may be able to meet those needs in a unique way that may help guide you to further career success.
From the time you begin your postsecondary education and throughout your career, you must learn to self-advocate and create your own opportunities. Yes, some will come to you, but more often than not, you can’t settle for simply knocking on doors. You must open your own door and invite others in to network new opportunities.
Blogger Leo Babauta provided an excellent list of steps to consider in his post, “Can’t Find a Dream Job, Create Your Own,” (23 February, 2011). He shared the following tips:
• Discover your own “big idea.” What do you love to do?
• Find funding. You don’t have to pay for everything on your own. Others will help support your venture.
• Practice makes perfect. Get good at what you do.
• Build an audience by providing valuable information or a service.
• Make money by building a variety of reliable income streams.
Although Babauta focused the piece on people who were unemployed, this advice can work for those who wish to stay fresh and secure in their careers.
Enjoy the Journey
Finally, view your education and career as a lifelong journey rather than a single stagnant, definitive act. Keep the excitement and momentum going as you continually find new ways to learn, chart new directions, and find new friends and opportunities. A true career is more than a job; a true education is more than a degree. Both are vehicles to help you traverse a path of your own choosing through life, so chart and secure your own course. Then enjoy!
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