Career Transitions

Turning chaos into careers.

What to Do If You're Graduating Without a Job

It's time to start wandering. Wisely.

It's graduation time again. The news media is filled with articles about jobs-- or the lack thereof.

They'll tell you what you should have majored in-- if only you had known where the economy would be in 2011 when you were a high school senior in 2007 (or earlier).

There's a harsh tone to online article comments implying that you are to blame for choosing an "irrelevant" major, ignoring the fact that if everyone majored in specific career-related majors those fields would soon be over-saturated as well. It isn't about your major: it's about the opportunities which are sorely lacking in virtually all fields. The job market is to blame, not the people who are trying to find the jobs. I was even asked to write a guest post (for the Wall Street Journal's excellent Hire Education blog) about students who have done everything right in the job search but still don't have a job.

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According to some surveys, as many as 85% of you will be returning home after graduation. And unless you have selected a pre-professional major that directs you to a specific career (and that career field has job openings), it is likely that you will spend some time wandering over the next few years. The economy practically demands it at the moment.

If you've read my book or my Psych Today blogs about the value of a liberal arts education, you know that I place a high value on wandering as a career strategy.

Not aimless wandering mind you, but what I like to call "Wise Wandering."

Wise Wanderers know that the poor job market is an explanation, but don't make it an excuse. Wise Wanderers develop a plan. They start by setting goals. They keep an open mind. They focus on what they are learning, not on arbitrary standards of success or failure.

Where would you like to be a year from now? Don't know? Then that's your new goal.

Know what career you'd like to pursue? Can you start tomorrow? If not, then identify the steps you need to take. 

Need some inspiration? Watch this great video.

So are you ready to wander? Here are some quick steps to get started:

1. Remember that your situation is temporary. I know it feels like everything you do right now is somehow permanent-- that if you don't get that ideal job you're destined to fall behind, or if you don't know what you want to do, you'll never know what you want to do. It just feels that way. Waiting periods are always challenging-- check out my post about the "hell in the hallway."

2. Be open to opportunities. Recognize that a first job is just that: a first job. It might turn into the career of your dreams, or it might just provide the information you needed to know that the career field isn't for you. My first job in retail management lasted all of 6 months before I quit to take a job in a nonprofit organization-- and a 20% pay cut. Best decision I ever made. This doesn't mean that it's right for you-- just try to keep an open mind. Focus on whether your decisions move you forward.

3. Place your emphasis on learning, not arbitrary standards of success or failure. What will you learn by pursuing this opportunity? What new skills could you develop? Whom might you meet? What might you know a year from now that you don't currently know?

4. Chaos theorists like to talk about emergence. Novel-- unpredictable-- events emerge. There's a bumper sticker that says it less eloquently-- as in "stuff happens." You can't predict when and where something will emerge in your life that will lead to a new future, so the best you can do is keep an eye out for it. Say yes. Put yourself in places where it's more likely that things can emerge.

5. What would you like to have on your resume a year from now and how can you create that, even in a nontraditional way?  Consider creating a "gap" experience. Gap experiences are more common in England than in the USA, but basically they are short-term experiences designed to give you a break between college and career-- a chance to learn more about yourself. Gap experiences allow you to take a year to focus on something unique-- teaching English abroad, doing a mission, volunteering in a foreign country, etc. You don't have to leave the country-- or even your town-- to craft your own "gap" experience. Think about what you care about: what causes are important to you? Is there a way you can work on that issue this year?  

6. Create your online brand. If you haven't already, it's time to create a LinkedIn page that will present you in the best possible light to potential employers. Make sure you headline includes key words related to your desired career field or the skills you're most proud of. Start a Twitter feed with professional-related tweets. People will start to follow you-maybe even people who can help you find a job.

So, just in case you read through this blog without watching the video, here's the link again. I dare you not to feel at least a little inspired.

©Katharine Brooks, 2011.  All rights reserved. Follow me on Twitter  and Facebook. Photo credit.

Post-script: I can't end this post without a shout-out to my seniors from the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas at Austin who, every year, teach me much more about the job search than I teach them. Hook ‘em Horns, y'all. And wander wisely.

 

Katharine Brooks, Ed.D., is the Executive Director of the Office of Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University. She is the author of You Majored in What?

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